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2016 Wisconsin Annual Conference

The Wisconsin Conference celebrated their theme of “Bountiful Harvest” as a culmination of a quadrennial theme, “Live the Fruit of the Spirit” at their annual session, which took place at the Madison Marriott on June 10-13.

Highlighting several guest speakers

Guest speakers included Jim Winkler, president and general secretary of the National Council of Churches; Bishop Sharon Rader; the Rev. Chebon Kernell, executive secretary for Native American and Indigenous Ministries for the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries; Richmond (Virginia) Area Bishop Young Jin Cho; Ashley Gish, Imagine No Malaria assistant campaign director; and Patrick Friday, director of the Global Ministries’ In Mission Together program.

Jim Winkler led Bible studies on Saturday and Sunday, discussing human rights and social justice issues as they relate to the political climate in the United States. He asked the conference to discuss how to determine false versus authentic prophets, how fear manifests in our lives, and how we respond to that fear as a faithful child of God. “Fear stands for false evidence appearing real,” he said. “Fear feels more real and more urgent than love. It holds us back. But we are not powerless to influence our times. The answer is Jesus Christ,” he said.

Bishop Sharon Rader preached during the Retiree Recognition and Worship Service on Saturday afternoon. She spoke on the theme of “The Road Goes Ever On and On” and read from the Scripture Genesis 12:1-9. She said, “You may be leaving one form of ministry, but the road goes on and on. As long as you have breath, there is more to be done, more to be learned, more to give, more to receive.”

The Rev. Chebon Kernell spoke from the heart at Sunday’s Walking the Trail of Repentance” Worship Service about his ancestors, who were forced out of their homes, told they could not wear their native clothes or speak their native language, and women and children were killed and kidnapped — all in the name of Christianity. He asked Wisconsin to truly look to the Gospels for direction, and to work for repentance daily. He said repentance is like discipleship; you don’t simply give money to your church once and never give again. “We must work every day to be better than yesterday. I hope; I pray; I implore you the moment you walk out these doors, that you are not the same person,” he said.

Bishop Cho delivered an inspiring sermon at the Service of Licensing, Commissioning, and Ordination titled “I Chose You.” “We did not choose the Lord; the Lord chose us,” Bishop Cho said. “If we are called by God, our life is no longer ours, but the Lord’s.” He said this call is an amazing grace that shows the unfathomable love of God. “Do you feel this love in your heart?” he asked. “If you feel deep gratitude for God’s love, you will truly enjoy your ministry.”

Ashley Gish spoke at a Saturday night dinner celebrating Wisconsin’s giving to Imagine No Malaria, and said she is in awe of the conference’s work. “When I look at a room full of people like you, I see people that have dreamed big dreams and don’t back down. What you’ve done is truly incredible, and I know it wasn’t easy.” She said The United Methodist Church is serving as a model for other churches in the way that we place a priority on Abundant Health. She added that “while the people whose lives you have saved in Africa may not know your names, they know your love through your efforts.”

Patrick Friday thanked Wisconsin for its consistent support for missions on Sunday. “I can’t get away from Wisconsin people in the mission field,” he said. “It’s really amazing to see the good work you do.” But he challenged United Methodists to do more. “We are one of the most generous churches, but how can we do better?” He said that In Mission Together is all about focusing on global and local missions 50/50, and moving from short-term, needs-based relief to long-term, asset-based relief.

Ordaining all women and denomination’s first Hmong

At a historic Licensing, Commissioning, and Ordination service, an all-women class of nine ordinands was ordained to be elders and a deacon. Among them was the Rev. Mao Vang Her, the first Hmong woman ever to be ordained as an elder in The United Methodist Church. This happened as The United Methodist Church celebrates two denominational anniversaries this year: the 60th anniversary of full clergy rights for women, and the 20th anniversary of the Order of the Deacon. South East District Superintendent and Dean of the Cabinet, the Rev. Deborah Thompson, said that in light of celebrating the 60th anniversary of clergy rights for women, she is thrilled to see an all-female ordination class. She spoke about her own struggles in the 1970s, when there were no people in her annual conference that looked like her. “Now, to have the first Hmong and female to be ordained as an elder in the whole United Methodist connection is great. I know God calls females to lead God’s church and to make it better.” In addition to the nine ordinands, 14 people were licensed as local pastors, four were commissioned for the work of an elder, one was commissioned for the work of a deacon, and two ordained elders were received by transfer from other Methodist denominations.

Honoring relationships with our Native American brothers and sisters

An Oneida drum circle called Sky Ridge shared songs and sanctified the plenary and worship space to begin our annual conference session. Sunday’s Walking the Trail of Repentance Worship Service featured a sermon from Chebon Kernell, special music from a group of Oneida singers, and liturgy adapted from Anita Phillips’ book “On the Spirit Walk.” The service also included a presentation of a drum commissioned by the Native American Ministries Wisconsin Plan on behalf of the conference to be presented by Bishop Jung to the Wisconsin indigenous nations as a symbolic gesture relating to the Acts of Repentance. The maker of the drum, Napoleon Janczak, explained that drums are sacred and used at ceremonial gatherings, celebrations, birthdays and for healing. “This drum brings together all people, natives and non-natives,” he said. “Today is a big step in that you recognized us and allowed us to speak to you. My hope is that this drum follows along after we’re gone, that the reins will be carried further on, and that this tradition will carry on.”

Celebrating Imagine No Malaria

At a special dinner on Saturday, Jean Nicholas, director of development, announced that conference exceeded its goal of raising $1 million for Imagine No Malaria, thanks to gifts from all 460 United Methodist churches in Wisconsin ranging from $5 to $60,000. We actually raised more than $1,023,000, Nicholas announced. She thanked the 111 churches who set goals, calling them “the pace-setting marker that told us we could do this.” She also recalled many ways in which Wisconsin churches and people of all ages raised money for Imagine No Malaria over the past two years, from walks to lemonade stands to motorcycle rides and so much more. “Churches were willing to step out in faith and invite people to participate,” she said.

Thanking Bishop Jung for four years of leadership

Saturday evening’s dinner was also dedicated to celebrating Bishop Jung’s visionary episcopal leadership. Dan Schwerin, chair-elect of the Conference Episcopacy Committee, said that what strikes him the most about Bishop Jung is how generous he is. “He goes to churches and talks about abundance and it’s not a program — it’s just who he is.” The Rev. Amanda Stein, current chair of the Conference Episcopacy Committee, thanked Bishop Jung for visiting all churches in Wisconsin. Mary Anne Cotter, on behalf of the Methodist Federation for Social Action, presented the Perry Saito award to Bishop Jung.

At the end of the evening, the bishop said, “I am humbled and grateful — there are no words to express how I feel. You ignite the fire as Wisconsinites and United Methodists. There is tremendous joy surrounding this place. We are for God, no matter where we are. I hope God sends me back.”

Imagining Wisconsin anew

During his State of the Church Address, Bishop Jung said we are entering the next phase of our efforts to Imagine Wisconsin Anew. This vision includes helping create new faith for new people in new places, revitalizing and reenergizing local church ministries, creating multicultural competency and engagement, serving the needs of people through mercy and justice ministries, and nourishing body, mind, soul and spirit through Soul Food.

One way the conference is accomplishing this is through new church starts and the Institute of Congregational Development, a new program designed to train pastors and leaders in church development. Twenty-six people graduated from the institute this year and were recognized on Sunday morning.

Throughout the weekend, conference leaders reflected on the positive effects of redistricting the conference from eight to five districts. Bishop Jung said in his State of the Church, “We have finished a full year with five new districts, each with its own district superintendent. Already, we are feeling the benefits of improved relationships. We are focusing on leadership and leadership development for new ministries, for emerging ministries, and for existing ministries.”

In her Cabinet Address, District Superintendent and Dean of the Cabinet, the Rev. Deborah Thompson, added, “We are seeing an increase of time that District Superintendents are spending with our churches,” she said. “This shift has resulted in several of our districts seeing a significant increase in apportionments received.”

Conference Lay Leader Deanna Shimko gave updates on laity initiatives in the conference during her Address, including the Third Annual Bishop’s Convocation with Laity Leadership held in March, which offered laity a unique opportunity to learn, to engage, to be equipped to live out Imagine Wisconsin Anew.

Approving several action items

During plenary sessions, all action items presented were approved, including some that were amended. The 32 approved action items included a 2017 Budget of $ 7,032,028, a Call for Repentance Actions, a Native American Partnership Agreement, a Feasibility Study for a Major Financial Campaign, a Call to Observe United Methodist Children’s Services Sunday, a Call to Observe a Sunday to Pray for Persecuted Christians, and more.

Giving generously

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

  • Opening Worship (offering for New Faith Communities Planting): $1,839.70
  • Walking the Trail of Repentance Service (offering for Native American Emerging Ministries): $3,509.69
  • Ordination and Commissioning Service (offering for the Clergy in Transition Fund): $1,582.94
  • Ingathering for Midwest Distribution Center: $4,892.02 and 8,369 pounds of donated items.

Announcing a just resolution to clergy complaint

Bishop Jung announced in a press release a resolution to a charge against retired clergy Rev. Janet Ellinger. A complaint was reported earlier this year because she conducted two same-sex marriage ceremonies.

According to Bishop Jung, the Wisconsin United Methodist Church sought a just resolution that witnessed to mercy, grace, justice and an affirmation of the years of faithful service by the clergy person, as well as the extent to which she has effectively upheld the spirit of The Book of Discipline over the years. It was agreed that fairness and a just resolution would not demand the surrender of credentials. It was also jointly agreed by the complainant and respondent that both would abide by the decision of the bishop.

Friday, during a private clergy session at the annual meeting of the Wisconsin Conference, the Rev. Ellinger addressed the clergy and expressed her admission and regret for offending anyone.

Source: Michele Virnig, Wisconsin Conference director of communications