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2018 Michigan Annual Conference

 

A half century of making disciples and transforming the world came home to the Grand Traverse Resort in Acme, Michigan, where the 2018 Michigan Conference was in session May 31-June 3. Bishop David A. Bard opened his second annual conference in Michigan with the words, “Y’all came back! And you’re still beautiful.”

An opening video on May 31 celebrated 49 years of United Methodists in the Detroit and West Michigan conferences making disciples and transforming the world in the state. Strong leadership of women, wise financial stewardship and strong hearts for mission were all showcased. Remembered, too, was the moment three years before when Bishop Deborah Lieder Kiesey announced the intention of both annual conferences to moved ahead toward union.

“It was not the first time, but the right time,” noted narrator Marsha Woolley. On June 3, that promise was realized as Conference Lay Leaders John Wharton (Detroit) and Anne Soles (West Michigan) put their lighted tapers to the Unity Candle representing the Michigan Conference. Bishop David Bard blessed that union: “In friendships made, in ministry shared, the good done through the power of God’s grace in Jesus Christ continues to radiate.” And the people said, “As we are already one with Christ, we become one with each other and one in ministry to our state and world.”

As annual conference drew to a close, Superintendents were commissioned to pick up the baton and lead nine new districts into new relationships around a fresh vision. Emphasis was again placed on the focus of the new Michigan Conference for equipping the local church for Christ-centered ministry and mission.

Of the Four Areas of Focus of The United Methodist Church, three in particular were advanced in the development of the Michigan Conference. A new director of clergy excellence and a new associate director for lay leadership development will address the development of principled leaders. A new Office of Congregational Vibrancy — a six-member team — will lead the Michigan Conference in congregational development. A new model for promoting mission giving, EngageMI, was introduced that includes ministry with the poor and improving global health.

While the Michigan Conference is not a legal entity until January 2019, United Methodists will begin functioning as a new conference on July 1, 2018.

The theme for the 2018 Annual Conference, ENGAGEwith, was lived out in times of worship, learning, decision-making, celebration, giving and dedication.

Preachers came from within the Michigan family, all reflecting on a common Gospel passage, the Good Samaritan.

  • From “A Classic Love Story” shared on Thursday morning: “Eternal life, love of God and neighbor, has something to do with being able to be moved by the hurt and pain of others, even others who are other.” (Bishop Bard).
  • From “Who is my Neighbor?” shared on Friday morning: “Some folks try to take a pass on the grace of God, the invitation of the Holy Spirit, the love of Jesus Christ, because we assume there’s a price for everything.” (the Rev. Ben Bower, pastor Redford: Aldersgate United Methodist Church)
  • From “Go and Do Likewise!” shared on Saturday morning: “I know that the day after the special session of the General Conference is over, the needs of the world will still be the same … And I can absolutely guarantee you something else. There will still be a United Methodist Church, I don’t know what it will look like, but you can be sure that there will still be a United Methodist Church and God will still be calling our church to be I mission in the world and to love ” (the Rev. Kennetha Bigham-Tsai, chief executive of the Connectional Table)

Teachers also came from ministries around Michigan. Nine TOM Talks (Transformational Outreach Ministries) offered presentations from 20 individuals on engagement with communities, schools, the poor, the struggling, Hispanic/Latino neighbors, youth, the world, refugees and the church. The Rev. Paul Perez, associate director of mission and ministry for the Michigan Conference, provided context for the TOM Talks: “We will hear from some of our own firebrands in Michigan about how they are putting Old Man Wesley’s advice into action. The hope is we will catch a few of their sparks.” Perez continued. “In highly contentious and unsettled times are we just a big hot mess? … John Wesley’s answer to spiritual malaise was missional.” His advice to those in a “discipleship funk,” is to “be vulnerable with the vulnerable.”

The Michigan Annual Conference did more than look back. It looked forward to the 2019 special called session of the General Conference. Bishop David Bard talked about his participation on the Council of Bishops and his perspective on the work of the Commission on A Way Forward and the One Church Model recommended by the Council. “The appeal of the model for me and many of the bishops, is that the model is relatively simple (requiring no constitutional changes), it holds together important values that have been articulated in this process (expanding United Methodist witness, recognizing different contexts of ministry, seeking as much unity as possible given our diversity), and it offers space in two sense — space for and space between.” He then offered conference members four things “you should do now.” READ MORE.

Bishop Bard also spent two hours after the 10:30 pm close of legislation on Saturday evening engaging interested people in a Question and Answer around the Commission on A Way Forward and the 2019 General Conference.

Resolutions passed by the Michigan Annual Conference included two that spoke to LBGTQI inclusion. Conference members approved the statement: “We acknowledge we have sinned in how we have sometimes treated those marginalized (people of color, Native American, women and LGBTQI).”              

A delegate to the 2019 special called session of the General Conference, the Rev. Melanie Carey, presented a “Call for Unity in Diversity” saying, “John Wesley argued that diversity provides opportunity for us to grow in holiness … This resolution gives us space for grace and to disagree agreeably …. And gives the opportunity to send that message to the General Conference in 2019.” A substitute motion urging the Michigan Conference’s adoption of the One Church Model, on behalf of Minnesota clergyman David Meredith, a married gay man, was defeated. The original resolution was passed overwhelmingly.

Other resolutions: 1) call for support of the Poor People’s Campaign with prayer and witness; 2) call for Michigan legislators to advocate for a state ban on private ownership of AR-15s; 3) call for Michigan legislators to support 17-year-olds to be considered juveniles in criminal court; 4) call for U.S. Senators to end U.S. military support of the Saudi coalition for war on Yemen

Ministry was celebrated with the ordination of five elders and three deacons and the commissioning of nine elders; average age 35 years). Twenty-nine clergy retired.

Statistics 2017-2016

Detroit Conference

West Michigan Conference

Membership

75,351 (down 2%, -2119)

51,705 (3% down, -1,688)

Worship

34,432 (down 3%, -1102

30,2077 (1% down, 302)

Church School Attendance

8,615 (down 1%, -146)

7,168 (no change)

Professions or Reaffirmation

1,526 (up 132)

965 (down 91)

Adults/Young Adults Ch Sch

19,005 (down 3%, -663)

14,674 (down 12%, -2,615)

Worshippers in Mission

21,781 (up 9%, +1,913

14,594 (down 5%, -930)

 — Kay DeMoss, senior writer and editor for the Michigan Area