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2018 New York Conference


Laity and clergy of the New York Conference gathered from June 7-10 at Hofstra University for the 219th annual conference. Bishop Thomas J. Bickerton presided over the session with the theme, “Pathways & Possibilities: Transforming the World.”

Bickerton preached at the June 7 opening worship, offering a message charged with some stark realities, but with a clear message of the hope. Relying on the words from Paul in 2 Corinthians 4, he noted the apostle’s use of the word heart.

“We live with heartaches every single day. Something pierces our souls everyday. Something to discourage you; something to tempt you to be less than God calls you to be. The miracle of the story is that Paul’s faith and love remained intact through it all,” Bickerton said. “Paul never lost heart . . .

“It’s important for us to love each other,” Bickerton said. “If you don’t feel the spirit in this place today, it’s not God’s fault!”

“It’s all about a heart of faith; trust in God’s providential care,” the bishop said. “Prison, beatings, and even the foolishness of others could not ultimately harm his soul.

“We’ve got a guy in our history like that. John Wesley failed in secular life, and then went to Aldersgate and discovered what he needed,” the bishop said.

Bickerton’s episcopal address referenced the Lewis and Clark expedition and the book, “Canoeing the Mountains: Christian Leadership in Uncharted Territory,” in stressing a new investment in leadership training across the conference.

“If we buy into the fact that the world in front of us is uncharted territory that we don’t know how to navigate, then we have to learn how to fail,” Bickerton said. “It’s not all going to work, but if we don’t try, we know for sure that we will fail.”

“We can navigate the high mountains by choosing to walk together,” Bickerton said lamenting the vicious game of winners and losers that arises in times of conflict and the hate that populates so many social media posts.

“We need to use our voice on behalf of another” so that women in ministry are treated with respect, and racism on all levels is declared wrong, that immigrants feel welcome, and the words and actions that have made LGBTQIA people feel less than accepted and loved are stopped, the bishop said.

“I don’t have a crystal ball about the special session in February . . . I’m just guessing like you are,” he said, “but of one thing I am certain, the church we love cannot stand still or we will die.”

“How do we find strength? Come to the font.

“How do we build trust for walking into uncharted territory? Come to the font.

Chicago Area Bishop Sally Dyck, preached at the June 8 service of legacy, remembrance and trust that wove together the truth of the harm done by the segregated Central Jurisdiction of the Methodist Church with a remembrance of those who had died in the last year.

Dyck began her message with part of a poem by Seamus Heaney:

History says, don’t hope

On this side of the grave.

But then, once in a lifetime

The longed-for tidal wave

Of justice can rise up,

And hope and history rhyme.

In referring to Romans 8:38-39, Dyck suggested that this passage that is used to assure a personal relationship with God also speaks to differences between people.

“Nothing can separate us, you and me, my theology and yours . . . nothing between your soul and mine” Dyck said. “Nothing can separate us – not racism, not sexism, not sexual identity, not nationality. Nothing can separate us, but it does . . . so we lament and we repent because racism still separates us . . .

“We have people who’ve led us in small waves or tidal waves of justice,” Dyck said. “It happens in the room where the decisions are made . . . it happens when people speak up and do the right thing . . . at the right moment. People risked even when they were uncertain . . .

“Nothing can separate us from God and the love of Christ Jesus other than our own sinfulness. Let us work for that tidal wave of justice where hope and history rhyme,” Dyck concluded.

Dyck also preached at the June 9 “passing the mantle” service:

“You gotta have grit to be in ministry . . .Grit is the persistence to pursue your goals despite adversity,” she said, noting that books have been written and studies made on the subject of grit.”

Though difficulties will come, and anxiety can set in, and maybe even a little sabotage, the bishop urged reliance on intentional spiritual practices and authentic social interaction. Dyck also encouraged the new clergy to cherish all the moments of grace that shine through.

“When that child, that confirmand, that older person gets that they are a beloved child of God, it makes all the difference in the world,” Dyck said. “Count on grace . . . look for the grace to shine through.”

Bishop Bickerton, preaching at June 10 ordination service:

“I’ve never had this combination before today – confirmands and ordinands,” he exclaimed. Bickerton suggested to the young people that they might one day find themselves on the stage answering the same questions as the ordinands.

“We’re not called to walk on water. We’re called to believe in God, trust in God, and love one another,” Bickerton said. “Love one another deeply, intentionally, every moment of every day and you’ll see the transformation that I’m talking about.

“The world is falling apart . . . some say the church is falling apart, but we can go another way,” he said. “We can set this place ablaze for all that is right and holy!”

One of the conference’s key tasks was the election of a new delegation to the 2019 special session of the General Conference. After problems with the electronic voting devices, paper ballots were used to elect four clergy and four lay delegates, along with four reserves in both categories. Those elected were:

  • Lay delegates: Fred Brewington, Gail Douglas Boykin, Jorge Lockward, and Dorothee Benz. Lay reserves: Tiffany French Goffe, Ann Craig, Roena Littlejohn, and Karen Prudente
  • Clergy delegates: Tim Riss, Noel Chin, Kristina Hansen, and Alex da Silva Souto. Clergy reserves are Vicki Flippin, Sheila Beckford, Martha Vink and Sungchan Kim.

Out of the 16-member delegation, seven self-identify as LGBTQ; 11 are persons of color.

In legislative action, all of the petitions – except one that was tabled – were passed on the consensus calendar. One dealt with the work of GC2019 and reaffirmed the conference stance to remove all language excluding “homosexuals” from the life of the church, and urged consideration of the marginalized in any proposed changes in church structure, even deferring those changes “as long as it may take to discern God’s justice for all the beloved community of the church . . .”

Other petitions garnering consensus condemned Trump administration policies threatening the civil rights of immigrants, refugees, African Americans, women and LGBTQ persons; renewed a call for peace on the Korean Peninsula; petitioned Congress to reinstate the Adoptee Citizenship Act; called for a conference policy of 10-12 hours of mandatory training on the challenges of racism each quadrennium for all leaders, from the bishop on down to lay servants; and commended First & Summerfield United Methodist Church in New Haven, Connecticut, for providing sanctuary for immigrants facing deportation.

The conference also:

  • Celebrated the “passing of the mantle” from the retirement class to the commissioning class. The retirement class of 25 had given 702 years of combined service. Eight were commissioned as provisional elders, and one as a provisional deacon. Fifteen local pastors were licensed at that service, also.
  • Commissioned Debra DeMerritt as a deaconess.
  • Remembered 44 people who had died in the last year at a memorial service. They included clergy, spouses of clergy, widows and widowers of clergy, children of clergy, and laity.
  • Remembered the harm caused by the segregation of the Central Jurisdiction and repented from the church’s complicity in the institutional injustice.
  • Signed a covenant with the Methodist Church of Puerto Rico to continue support of the island’s recovery from Hurricane Maria.
  • Voted again on Constitutional Amendment I, with the corrected language.
  • Passed a 2019 budget of $8,419,242, a one percent decrease from the 2018 spending plan.
  • Elected three new conference trustees.
  • Collected 4235 hygiene kits and $5,760 for UMCOR, along with 308 school kits, 25 birthing kits, 11 layette, and one sewing kit, and 14 cleaning buckets.
  • Received offerings totaling nearly $53,000. Young Clergy Debt Assistance: $22,886; Puerto Rico Response: $11,070; Black College Fund: $8,564; Bishop’s Partners in Mission: $8,282.
  • Discussed in plenary the new fees for visitors to GC2019 which prompted an offering of $2,196 for travel expenses.
  • Hosted 125 youth and adults to pack 30,000 meals for Rise Against Hunger.
  • Sent eight volunteers to work on UMARMY projects at three homes on Long Island as a pre-conference mission activity.

Membership for 2017: 96,425; down 2,001 or 2 percent from 2016

Worship attendance for 2017: 29,344; down 29 or less than 1 percent from 2016

Online worship attendance for 2017: 2,225; new accounting for 2017

Church school attendance: 6,928; up 527 or 8 percent from 2016

Professions or reaffirmations of faith for 2017: 1,709; up 123or 8 percent from 2016

Adults and young adults in small groups for 2017: 13,667; up 31 or less than 1 percent from 2016

Worshippers engaged in mission for 2017: 10,565; up 1,913 or 22 percent from 2016

Submitted by the Rev. Joanne S. Utley