Annual Conferences Feature Petitions, Push-Ups
July 21, 2010
A UMNS Report
By Linda Bloom*
When Bishop Jeremiah Park wanted to demonstrate the connection between spiritual and physical health to United Methodists in the New York metropolitan area, he took off his jacket.
Then he dropped to the stage and did 120 push-ups, as church members counted along.
It was all part of the fun – and commitment – evident at the 2010 New York Annual (regional) Conference in June.
Each spring and summer, the U.S. conferences of The United Methodist Church meet to conduct business, pass petitions on social issues, install new clergy, and hold worship services. Moods range from sober to buoyant as delegates confront budget problems, ponder the future of the denomination and rejoice in the faith that makes it all worthwhile.
With several mergers, the number of conferences was reduced from 62 to 59 this year, but more people than ever were following the proceedings as numerous conferences took advantage of new technology to stream their sessions live over the Internet and posted news on Facebook and Twitter.
Some went even further. The Eastern Pennsylvania Conference offered interpretation in American Sign Language, assistive listening devices and on-screen transcription of the spoken word for deaf and hard-of-hearing people. A big-screen reader enhanced written materials for persons with visual disabilities.
Discussions and deeds
In a number of localities, discussions were punctuated with deeds.
More than 630 Indiana Conference delegates and guests donned bright orange "Practice Faith" T-shirts, for example, to mark their second annual Day of Outreach to Muncie, the meeting's host city. Joining 150 local volunteers, they sorted food, picked up trash, repaired homes, visited seniors, and performed other duties for the community at 30 locations.
North Georgia gathered more than 850 volunteers from the conference and surrounding community and packaged 200,230 dehydrated meals through Stop Hunger Now to be sent to feed school-age children in Nicaragua.
Many conferences had made generous contributions for Haiti earthquake relief throughout the year, and President Gesner Paul of the Methodist Church in Haiti visited some of them.
In Grand Rapids, Michigan, Paul thanked the West Michigan Conference for the more than $614,000 donated so far, and blessed those participating in a six-day, 400-mile bike ride from the Indiana state line to the Mackinaw Bridge to raise more funds for Haiti.
Battling malaria in Africa has become a priority for many annual conferences, particularly through Nothing But Nets and the denomination's "Imagine No Malaria" campaign. Illinois Great River delegates approved a major fundraising campaign with the goal of raising between $2.1 million and $3.5 million for Imagine No Malaria.
The California-Nevada Conference replaced the bishop's annual reception with a basketball-themed fundraiser, "Slam Dunk Malaria," in which the youth delegation raised $4,682 for Imagine No Malaria – $1,040 of it through texting.
In Central Texas, Bishop J. Michael Lowry dressed in a mosquito costume to promote Imagine No Malaria. Besides raising about $35,000 in an offering, conference members sold the pipe-cleaner mosquitoes that landed at their seats for another $3,540 and pledged more than $100,000 in an "A Pound-a-Weigh" weight loss project that ends in November.
One of the top issues of social legislation was the call for comprehensive immigration reform. Supporters included the Iowa, Northern Illinois, Eastern Pennsylvania, New York, Central Texas, Rio Grande and North Carolina conferences.
Members of the Iowa Conference supported a resolution calling for "continuing intercessory prayer for comprehensive immigration reform … that is fair and just."
Human sexuality is a perennial topic for resolutions at annual conference sessions. In Minnesota, delegates endorsed eight petitions that ask the 2012 General Conference, the denomination's top legislative body, to remove discriminatory language against homosexuality in The Book of Discipline.
Seven United Methodist gay and lesbian families shared their stories with delegates of the California-Pacific Conference. The speakers represented a range of ages and included married couples and longtime partners; clergy and laity; gay, straight and transgender; family members; men and women.
In the Baltimore-Washington Conference, delegates tabled four pieces of legislation on homosexuality and instead listened to a panel discussion on the topic, followed by small-group conversations. Western Pennsylvania agreed to have continuing dialogue on issues of homosexuality.
California-Nevada passed a resolution calling for local churches to become bases for "confronting unjust heterosexist structures." North Carolina approved a resolution on non-discrimination towards lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender individuals. The Detroit Conference supported changing Michigan's Ethnic Intimidation Act to extend protections to people such as lesbian, gays, bisexual, and transgender persons who are victims of hate crimes and discrimination.
How to change the reality that nearly 2.5 million Floridians live below the federal poverty line was part of a larger discussion on global poverty during the Florida Annual Conference. Members also wrote letters to their U.S. Representatives, asking them to urge Congress to fully fund the international affairs budget, which provides funding for hunger, poverty, and disease prevention programs abroad.
Reacting to a state case, the Tennessee Conference affirmed the denomination's stance against the death penalty and called upon Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen to commute the death sentence of Gaile Owens. On July 14, the governor announced he was commuting the sentence of Owens, convicted in 1986 of accessory to the first-degree murder of her husband. She is now eligible for parole in late spring 2012.
Among other legislation:
· Minnesota denounced a 2010 U.S. Supreme Court decision that corporations' financial support of political candidates is a form of constitutionally protected free speech.
· California-Nevada supported a bill that would exclude offenders under the age of 18 from being sentenced to "life without possibility of parole" and approved a resolution supporting self-determination and independence for the people of East Turkistan.
· Rocky Mountain called for a February Valentine's emphasis on Global HIV/AIDS.
· New York supported a global health initiative for mothers and babies.
· Detroit and Northern Illinois called for the divestment of funds in companies that profit from the occupation of the Palestinian territories.
· Peninsula-Delaware voted to reach out more aggressively to people with disabilities and their families and caregivers, as well as persons with mental illness and their families.
· West Virginia called for a complete investigation into the April 5 explosion at the Montcoal Mine in Raleigh County and recommended new legislation to be created as needed to protect miners.
· Western Pennsylvania urged action to remove barriers to safe, accessible, and affordable housing, and to repeal Pennsylvania's gaming laws and encourage abstention from gambling.
· Arkansas asked churches to evaluate their environmental impact and reduce their carbon footprints.
Bloom is a United Methodist News Service multimedia reporter based in New York.