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2017 Wisconsin Annual Conference

 

The Wisconsin Annual Conference celebrated the first theme of the new quadrennium, “One With Christ,” on June 16-19 at the Madison Marriott West.

Here are the highlights:

Learning from inspirational guest speakers

Guest speakers included Adam Hamilton, founding pastor of the United Methodist Church of the Resurrection in Leawood, Kansas; the Rev. Marcia McFee; the Rev. Steve Zekoff, Wisconsin Conference benefits officer; the Rev. Amy Valdez Barker, Connectional Table executive secretary; and Bishop Heon Young Choi, resident bishop of Dongbu (Eastern Region) Conference of the Korean Methodist Church.

Bishop Heon Young Choi preached during opening worship, beginning by presenting a colorful rainbow stole as a gift to Bishop Hee-Soo Jung. Bishop Choi thanked the Wisconsin Conference for welcoming his delegation of visitors, and for being in a sister partnership with the Dongbu Conference for the last 13 years. During his sermon, Bishop Choi reflected on the relationship between the two conferences. He said, “I think God wanted us to come together to combine our strengths in order to fulfill God’s work. By walking together and working together for God’s glory, our sister relationship can do more valuable work and fulfill God’s will.” Click here to read the full recap of opening worship.

The Rev. Adam Hamilton led three teaching sessions focused on three aspects for creating or renewing dynamic churches: effective leadership, inspiring worship and intentional missional outreach. Hamilton said that all religions are struggling to retain members. Not only are church members getting older and not being replaced with younger members, but also many people consider themselves spiritual, but not religious and therefore don’t go to church. Despite this, Hamilton’s church has grown extensively and consistently since its inception. His secret? “I don’t know,” he said. “I feel like I’m just taking notes out of John Wesley’s playbook.” Still, Hamilton said the three topics of his weekend lessons — leadership, worship and missional outreach — are the values he prioritizes as his church continues to grow and thrive. Click here to see recaps of Hamilton’s lessons.

The Rev. Steve Zekoff, who is retiring from the conference this year after 40 years of ministry, preached during the retiree service. He spoke on the theme of “Goodbye Tension; Hello Pension” and how his ethnic background relates to the church. “Overlaying my stew of ethnic identities has been my life in the body of Christ as manifested in The United Methodist Church,” he said. “We all have a stew.”

Zekoff explained that your retired status couldn’t remove the essence of being a United Methodist clergy member. “For any of us to believe that our part of the body should be removed is to deny the contributions we made,” he said.

Those retiring represent more than 450 years of service, all contributing an important part to what makes up the body of Christ, he said. “You are entering into a season of recharging, and will be entering new adventures, activities and opportunities,” Zekoff said. “But the church remains in your DNA.”

Bishop Hee-Soo Jung preached during the service of licensing, commissioning and ordination. During the service, five people were ordained as elders, two people were recognized as elders, three people were commissioned for the work of an elder, one person was ordained as a deacon, and 13 were licensed as local pastors. Bishop Jung encouraged all of them to remember several main things: First, that the mystery of “One with Christ” expresses the ultimate desire for our life and ministry; second, to remember your role as a servant leader; and third, to work together for unity. Bishop Jung also talked about the stoles that the ordinands received, and how they represent the symbol of a towel. “When I was ordained, I saw myself as a servant — a servant of servants of God. This is still my definition of ministry. My prayer is a radical version of discipleship for you. In this vigorous act of hope, you will be a servant for all, daringly transposed into a vison of astonishing inclusiveness by restoring community in every place in Wisconsin.” There were 45 participants in the conference choir, and an offering for the Clergy in Transition Fund raised $2,221.06. Click here to read the bishop's full sermon. Click here for pictures from the service.

Honoring our relationship with Dongbu Conference

During the laity session on Friday, June 17, Conference Lay Leader Deanna Shimko welcomed and introduced members of the Dongbu Annual Conference delegation, who were also presented with gifts. Bishop Heon Young Choi, Shin-Jin Park, Chul-Hee Lee and Soon-Jeong Park greeted the laity and talked about the history of Dongbu’s relationship with Wisconsin and how it can continue to grow. Shin-Jin Park hopes to establish missional relationships between our conferences’ United Methodist Men and Women, to have laity accompany pastors on exchange trips, to engage in a dialogue of reducing the use of nuclear weapons worldwide and to continue to work together toward the reunification of Korea. “When we focus on what’s going on in the world, we can accomplish so much,” he said. “Let’s pray together and participate together.”

At a dinner banquet on Saturday, members of the Dongbu Annual Conference, former Wisconsin bishops, and Wisconsin cabinet members gave thanks for the Dongbu Conference and Wisconsin Conference’s sister relationship, and reflected on their hope for the future. The Rev. Forrest Wells, North Central District superintendent, gave an overview of the history of our sister relationship. In 2004, Bishops Sharon Rader and Oh-Suh Kwon signed the official agreement that initiated our sister relationship at Chuncheon United Methodist Church. Since then, groups from both conferences have visited each other every year or every other year. “We have welcomed our Korean friends to Wisconsin many times,” Forrest said. “Each time we visit Korea, we visit the Korean Demilitarized Zone and pray together…. We are together in mission and ministry.”

Making anew Wisconsin: Feasibility study extended

The Rev. Amanda Stein and Randy Chapin, co-chairs for the Make A-New Wisconsin Task Force, presented the results of the yearlong feasibility study for a major financial campaign in the Wisconsin Conference. The James Company and the task force are recommending a second year of the study, to be completed within the original $60,000 budget established at the 2016 Annual Conference. The resolution to continue the study was approved during Sunday’s plenary. “There is support for the vision and an eventual financial campaign,” Stein said. “But we heard you loud and clear that we are not ready. Wisconsin has a heart for service, and connecting with those in need. We are proposing another year of work without additional cost to you. We need to better establish this vision.”

The James Company believes the Wisconsin Annual Conference is positioned to undertake a $5 million financial campaign over a five-year period to fund critical priorities and build capacity for the financial health of the congregations and the conference. A yes/no recommendation will be presented to the 2018 annual conference.

Preparing for special General Conference

During Plenary, General Conference Delegates Lisa King and Barbara Dick provided an update on General Conference legislature and work. King explained the purpose of the special session of General Conference to be held February 23-26, 2019 in St. Louis. The members of the Commission on A Way Forward are expected to complete their work in 2018, and make recommendations to the Council of Bishops, and then the Council of Bishops will make the report that will be acted on at the 2019 special session. All current members of the Wisconsin delegation have committed to attend and serve this special session. A new delegation will be elected for the 2020 General Conference.

During the laity session, Bishop Jung talked about the ongoing work of the Council of Bishops Commission on A Way Forward. “The members are working very hard, and I think they constantly claim clearly to all of us, we as The United Methodist Church, we still have strong faith. That faith will hold us together. This wind of challenge, trouble and disagreement makes us strong.”

Listening to ideas from youth

On Saturday evening, 13 youth members of the annual conference hosted a panel discussion on two main topics important to them: mental health issues and youth involvement in worship. In talking about youth involvement, the panel presented statistics that they found about their generation, Generation Z. They reported that 96 percent of Generation Z have smartphones, so it’s important for churches to bring technology into worship, and include youth in the setup. Other ideas the youth gave included incorporating interactive sermon portions using technology, such as conducting a live poll during a sermon using an app, or asking youth to look up a definition or concept during a sermon, and having them report the answer. The youth also discussed their ideas for reaching out to unchurched youth through such activities as a youth band, intramural sports and community service. They all expressed their interest in having discussions on mental health on a regular basis with church leaders. They suggested dedicating sermons to mental health, becoming familiar with local hotlines and resource centers, publicizing camp opportunities, and inviting mental health professionals to visit the church on a regular basis. They stressed the importance of talking to both kids and parents, to try to destigmatize the issues, and to avoid being judgmental. “If we have depression, we don’t want to be singled out, or have special treatment,” they said.

State of the church: Bishop calls us to have faith

In his State of the Church Address, Bishop Hee-Soo Jung said that the church is in a turbulent time.  “Now is a critical time for us to answer loud and clear, ‘Yes, Lord, we have faith!’” the bishop said. “Certainly, we still experience the storms. There is a storm in our church over sexual orientation and gender identity.”

However, we have faith that our Commission on a Way Forward, formed at the direction of the last General Conference to guide us through the storm, will serve us well, he said. According to the bishop, there are other storms in our conference. “But I believe Christ is helping me be the shepherd for our leaders; to help them navigate the waters when they get stirred up,” he said.

We have proven our faithfulness in what we accomplished in our Fund for Discipleship, the expansion of our camp facilities and our Imagine No Malaria campaign, the bishop said, “and I have no doubt that we will rise to the occasion to fund vital mission and ministry in the future.”

The Council on Finance and Administration is helping us allocate resources effectively, and our goals include renewing existing churches to become vital ministries, developing mercy and justice ministries in every community in Wisconsin, opening our doors to new and different generations and cultures, and feeding the hunger of a broken and hurt world. Read full presentation.

The Rev. Deborah Thompson delivers cabinet address

In her Cabinet Address, the Rev. Deborah Thompson, district superintendent, said, we were delighted at the North Central Jurisdictional Conference consecration service when “we found out that Bishop Hee-Soo Jung, our beautiful bishop, and his lovely wife Im were returning for another quadrennium.”

Thompson’s address presented some of the highlights of 2017 in Wisconsin. She talked about the spiritual pilgrimage that the cabinet and other leaders took to Korea to spend some time with the Dongbu Conference. “What a spiritual revival we experienced!”

We are in alignment with The United Methodist Church as we Imagine Wisconsin Anew, Thompson said. “We are planting new faith communities, developing new Christian leaders, establishing relationships within our multicultural communities, focusing on revitalizing our churches, standing up for justice, helping to provide food for the soul and body, and ministering to the poor.”

Thompson also offered praise for the Institute of Congregational Development, which provides training for clergy and lay leaders to help their churches develop new faith communities, and learn about revitalization efforts. We are also connecting across the Wisconsin Conference to build missional communities, she said. Read full presentation

Deanna Shimko delivers laity address

In her laity address, Deanna Shimko encouraged laity to be proactive to form relationships and exchanges between local congregations in Wisconsin and the Dongbu Conference. She reported that laity throughout our annual conference continue to form laity circuits, which are ideal to provide a long-term presence for sustainable, relevant and meaningful services with communities. Shimko thanked all laity who are in service in many places, capacities and ministries across this conference, in the local churches and in our world. She applauded the 95 people who attended the Bishop’s Convocation with Laity Leadership, and the nine graduates of the Faith Alive! Class. She reminded the conference that the laity on the Conference Board of Laity are volunteers, “who are a faithful, dedicated, generous and loving community in service to you and God.” Read full presentation

Approving several action items

During plenary sessions, 27 action items (some amended) and a number of other motions were approved. The approved action items/motions included a 2017 budget of $ 7,032,028.

Action also included support for a continuation of a feasibility study for a major financial campaign, a call to observe Mental Health and Disabilities Awareness Sunday, a call to welcome the migrant and refugee, a call to protect peaceful assembly and religious expression, and a call to hold Israel accountable for its actions in Palestine. Annual conferences members also voted on amendments to the denomination’s constitution. The amendment votes will be reported to the Council of Bishops. Read more.

Giving generously

Annual conference members gave generously to special offerings and ingathering during conference:

  • Opening worship (offering for Milwaukee Urban Ministry Fund): $2,377.79
  • Ordination and commissioning service (offering for the Clergy in Transition Fund): $2,221.06
  • Ingathering: $1,718.03

— Michele Virnig, Wisconsin Conference director of communications