1:00 P.M. EST July 19, 2010
Bishop Jeremiah J. Park opens the 211th session of the New York Annual
(regional) Conference with 120 pushups. A UMNS photo courtesy of the
New York Annual Conference.
View in Photo Gallery
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
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
Indiana United Methodists pack groceries at a community food bank during a Day of Outreach to Muncie on June 12.
A UMNS photo courtesy of Indiana United Methodist Communication.
View in Photo Gallery
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, Mich., 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
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
- 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, 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. Follow her at http://twitter.com/umcscribe.
News media contact: Linda Bloom, New York, (646) 369-3759 or email@example.com.