by Bob Wilson, New Zion lay delegate to the West Ohio Conference
Be not afraid, God is with us. God is with us, Be not afraid.
This statement was declared time and time again at this year’s annual conference. The focus this year is: Be not afraid, facing the future. (Isaiah 43:1-2.) This will be the theme for the next four years.
The prayer that set the tone for this year’s conference is:
Holy God, as you have gathered your people together, generation to generation, to share in your life, so gather us together in the work of this Annual Conference, that through your gracious presence, we might grow more fully into the likeness of Jesus Christ, and move devoted to serving the world as a people generous in mercy, courageous for justice, and bold in love. In the name of Jesus Christ, and in the power of the Holy Spirit, we pray. Amen.
Sunday, 7:30 p.m.
Once again, I would like to thank New Zion UMC for the privilege of being your laity delegate to the 2017 Annual Conference. We arrived Sunday evening in time for me to get registered, and then to attend the opening service. As we entered Hoover Auditorium, we heard and saw a youth choir singing and playing beautiful hymns on bells. We then sang “How Great Thou Art” and “Guide Me O Thou Great Jehovah.” If you can imagine 3000 plus people singing these hymns, then you know how truly blessed we were. The Roll Call of the Victorious was called. Bishop Palmer’s sermon was called “Treading the Verge of Jordan.” We then closed the service by singing “In Christ Alone.”
Monday, 10:30 a.m.
After an inspiring worship service in which the Lord’s Prayer was played with a solo hand bell, the General Session began. Some of the activities were: Rules Committee report; Preliminary Nominations Committee report; Extended Cabinet introduction, Missional report, Laity Address, and Light the Way presentation.
Let me say a few words on the Light the Way Campaign. Last year Bishop Palmer announced a major campaign effort to begin new churches and to help existing congregations to prepare for a new lifecycle of ministry. The time is right to focus our mission efforts here in the 58 counties that comprise West Ohio. The goal is to raise 5 million dollars to create 12 new churches and help 325 churches begin new lifecycles. Did you know that 50% of Ohio is not affiliated with a church at all?
After lunch, we heard an exciting message from a woman who was incarcerated at the Women’s Prison in Marion. Three women from Whitehall UMC involved with the UMC All in Community visited her. When she was released, they invited her and her children to their church. She said that until they visited her, she felt unworthy, and that no one could love her because of the crime she had committed. Because of the outreach of these women and their church, she is a different person who has experienced God’s love.
The Corporate Session of the day started with recommendations which pertained to finances for 2018 and Equitable Compensation and 2017 board of Pension & Health Benefits. Connectional giving through apportionments is the main source of support for our mission and ministry. 2017 connectional giving provided 75% of conference income. Churches paid 75% of what was apportioned which was nearly $1 million below plan. The total amount of apportioned connectional giving in 2018 will be $19 million dollars. After we voted on the above recommendations, we were dismissed.
We reconvened at 7:00 for General Session with the Episcopacy Committee Report . This report is about the Bishop’s office and staff which includes new faces coming and old ones leaving. The Bishop and Episcopal staff are working hard to connect and convene United Methodists to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. Bishop Palmer gave the Episcopal Address which focused on the question: “What do we have in common with other Christians? It should start with what we have in common and not what divides us.”
Deuteronomy 31:6 and Joshua 1:9 were included in the address because they fit with the conference theme of “Be not afraid.” The Light the Way Campaign was again mentioned and the question was asked: “Why does the church continue to exist? Bishop Palmer answered the question with: “To glorify God, and to make disciples. Everything else is decoration.” The church is God’s strategy for evangelism. Two things that define this campaign are:
- INVEST IN EXISTING CONGREGATIONS WITH THE VISION TO SPARK A NEW LIFE CYCLE OR EXPAND THEIR REACH.
- INVEST IN FAITH COMMUNITIES THAT OFFER THE LIGHT OF CHRIST TO A HURTING WORLD.
Tuesday, 9:00 a.m.
The Light the Way Worship Service with Missional Offering started with the Ebenezer UMC Church Choir singing hymns in the African Language. The opening hymns were: Come Thou Font of Every Blessing, Rise, and Great Are You Lord. The scripture for the morning was Matthew 5:13-16 followed by the message by the Bishop, “Holding up the light.” Bishop Palmer talked about “big lights and small lights. Which are you? Light exposes and it does not blend in. The church should do what only the church can do. We need to poke holes in the darkness that surrounds us.”
The Missional Offering was then taken from all the West Ohio Churches including New Zion. We gave $200. It was later announced that the offering totaled $72,397. From the 5K race that morning and other private sources, the Light the Way Campaign has raised $1.2 million dollars. As we closed the morning service, we all were led in singing, “We Are Holding Up the Light of God.” People started to move into the aisles and dance up and down Hoover Auditorium singing the anthem. “What a blessing.”
General Session was convened and we discussed and voted on a recommendation which was handed to us by General Conference from 2016. It was titled: We Are God’s Children. In general it states, “Therefore, be it resolved that the West Ohio Conference of the UMC affirms the human rights of all migrants, immigrants, refugees and foreign students and others on extended visas to the United States, and through its offices and congregations will seek to provide opportunities for such persons to attain legal status if they so desire.” This recommendation received plenty of debate and a few amendments to the wording, but was finally voted on and the recommendation passed.
At 1:30 we had a teaching session led by Dr. Elaine Heath. Dr. Heath is a theologian, preacher, teacher and writer who serves as the Dean of Duke Divinity School. Her message was titled, “God Unbound: Wisdom from Galatians.” “God is doing a new thing, but the vast majority of Christians can’t see it. Lay people are the hope of the new church.” She gave examples from all over the world of lay people changing the way their church operates so they can reach certain people in their community.
The Order of the Day included a message from the Bishop of the Ohio East Conference, The Board of Ministry report, and the names of the 2017 pastoral candidates for graduation. A report of the Commission of the Way Forward was given. We dismissed for supper. Later on that evening the ordination services were performed.
Wednesday, 8:30 a.m.
The morning worship service included a Missionary Commissioning. A young woman named Lori Elizabeth Heft was presented to the conference to be consecrated as a missionary. She took the stage and was led by Bishop Palmer in some questions. One of them was: “Do you sincerely believe that you have been led by the Spirit of God to engage in this work and to assume its responsibilities?” She answered: “With Christ’s help, I will.” She will be serving the church in the Middle East.
We then entered another teaching session with Dr. Elaine Heath. We had more reports from various organizations within the conference. One of those reports from was a West Ohio project called Wings of the Morning. The conference had raised over $2 million for an airplane for the North Katanga Conference in Africa. This plane is being used to fly people from remote areas that need medical attention to cities where they can get help. Several stories were shared by the pilot. A student from Africa University which is supported by our conference, spoke about what the programs offered there. 674 students will graduate this year. This is another example of our connectional giving.
At 1:30 we convened for General Session. More reports were given by different agencies supported by UMCOR such as International Child Care. One example that was given was Grace Children’s Hospital in Port a Prince, Haiti. It treats over 400 patients a day. Each patient receives medical care at no cost.
The attendance report was given. There were 907 clergy, 955 laity, 188 spouses, and 188 visitors, for a total of 2,238.
When you, as a delegate, can see where your apportionments go, it makes a difference when you can see and hear the impact each individual church can make.
We then entered the closing worship service. The final litany ended with this: “It is time to go, to carry with us the courage we have found in this place, and face the future unafraid. We are not afraid! God is with us!”