Regional Conferences Gear Up to Reach Out

April 07, 2011

A UMNS Report
By Barbara Dunlap-Berg

Annual Conference Session time is approaching, and United Methodist representatives are getting ready to debate issues – and to reconnect with friends and colleagues. But in most conferences, the action goes far beyond the meeting room.
Sure, in this pre-General Conference year, it will be a time to elect delegates to the denomination's top lawmaking assembly in 2012, ordain new clergy, and remember colleagues who have died during the past year. Several conferences will hear from megachurch clergy leaders such as the Revs. Adam Hamilton,* Rudy Rasmus, and Mike Slaughter.
But amid the "traditional" activities on Annual Conference Session agendas, United Methodists plan to reach out in ministry with the poor, strive for healthier lifestyles, and much more.
In the Eastern Pennsylvania Conference, Bishop Peggy Johnson is excited that young adult laywoman Jennifer Berry-McNulty will present the opening sermon. "Twelve people … did a trial sermon in front of a team of Conference folks, and one was selected," Johnson said.
The Peninsula-Delaware Conference, also led by Johnson, will do a weeklong mission immersion during the sessions. Volunteer-in-mission teams from across the Conference will rehabilitate local homes in the area near the meeting site.
The Louisiana Conference selected May 14 (on the same weekend as the Rethink Church "Change the World" event) as "A Day of Caring." Local churches in the Conference will participate in ministry with the poor. The results of "A Day of Caring," along with other emphases on ministry with the poor, will be the central focus for the Annual Conference Session.
Looking inwardly, outwardly
On the final day of the West Michigan Conference sessions, 12 "disciples" from every church will be invited to attend "Miracle Saturday." Up to 5,000 people will experience a day of worship, fellowship, and connection as participants seek God's call to engage in ministry with the poor. The day will feature two special guests – Thomas Kemper, top executive of the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries, and Rasmus, co-pastor of St. John's Downtown United Methodist Church in Houston.
Offerings received during the Memphis Conference sessions will support a covenant with the Eastern Mexico Conference of The Methodist Church of Mexico. Bishop Raul Garcia de Ochoa of the Eastern Conference will preach, and he and Bishop Richard J. Wills Jr. will sign the covenant. Youth will work on mission projects and attend a concert by the Christian band, Building 429.
Northeast of Memphis, Tennessee Conference representatives will concentrate on the fourth of Bishop Robert C. Schnase's five practices for fruitful congregations, Risk-Taking Mission & Service. "We've been really hammering our Conference on actually putting this into practice," said communicator Kevin Sparkman. Special offerings will benefit the Tennessee Storm Relief and Recovery Ministry and the Haitian Mission Project.
But local church representatives will be encouraged to look inward as well as outward.
The Oregon-Idaho Conference will focus on building healthy, vital congregations. Communications Director Greg Nelson said the Conference is working "to put in place a shift of perspective and paradigm that really recognizes that the local church is where disciple-making happens. This means eliminating much of what Annual Conference Session has been for years and making room for quality leadership development while we have 600 of our Conference leaders together."
Empowered for future ministry
For the second year, the South Georgia Conference will sponsor "A Healthier Me: Mind, Body & Soul," a time set aside for an intentional moment to refresh and renew. Clergy and laity will be encouraged to focus on some aspect of creating a "healthier me." Options include physical activities such as a 5K run/walk, a five-mile walk, a body prayer, and an aerobic class. Workshops will zero in on maintaining Sabbath living, eating healthy, and interactive prayer.
In the United States, the first Annual Conference to convene will be Red Bird Missionary, meeting April 29-30. Two Western Jurisdiction Conferences, Desert Southwest and Pacific Northwest, share the distinction of being the last to meet, June 23-26. The most popular date for U.S. Annual Conference Sessions is June 8-11, with 13 Conferences convening at that time.
In Africa, Europe, and Asia, four Annual Conferences met in March, and two will convene in April. Most will gather in May, June, and July. The Serbia/Macedonia Provisional Conference has the latest session, Sept. 22-25.
In the United States, no mergers are on the agenda, although next year, representatives will vote on a possible merger of the Rocky Mountain and Yellowstone Annual Conferences.
"Annual Conference Session," concluded Bishop Johnson, "is a time for holy conferencing, where the worship and praise of God is first and foremost.
"Then we embody that spirit of unity in the things we do: the votes we take, the love we share, the gifts we bring, the passages of ministry we celebrate, and the people we empower for future ministry."
*The Rev. Adam Hamilton will be guest speaker at the California-Nevada Annual Conference Session, taking place June 15-18.