News Archives

United Methodists celebrate clergywomen at annual gatherings

LINK: Click to open full size version of image
A UMNS photo courtesy of the Minnesota Annual Conference

Bishop Sally Dyck leads worship at the Minnesota Annual Conference in St. Cloud.
July 7, 2006

A UMNS Report
By Linda Green and Milse Furtado*

At regional gatherings this year, United Methodists celebrated the 50th anniversary of clergywomen receiving full clergy rights and affirmed their commitment to helping the U.S. Gulf Coast recover from last fall’s hurricanes.

While those topics dominated the United Methodist Church’s annual sessions in May and June, church members also tackled a wide range of other concerns, including social issues such as immigration and gay marriage, the strengthening of ministries around the globe and the possible mergers of some annual (regional) conferences.

Sixty of the 63 U.S. conferences had filed annual reports by July 7, along with a handful of conferences in Europe and Africa that had gatherings in the same period.


Fifty years ago, following action by the denomination’s General Conference, 27 women took the initial steps toward full clergy rights. Today, 9,749 clergywomen worldwide serve the denomination. At its meeting two years ago, the General Conference mandated 2006 as a yearlong celebration for the denomination. As of 2005, about 22 percent of United Methodist clergy were women.

LINK: Click to open full size version of image
A UMNS photo by e-Review Florida

The Rev. Beth Gardner, pastor of First United Methodist Church, Bunnell, Fla., is ordained at the 2006 Florida Annual Conference.

Bishop J. Lawrence McCleskey highlighted the 50th anniversary in his state of the Western North Carolina Conference address. “We have passed the time for any church ... to object to a pastoral appointment because the appointee is female.” He told the conference that 50 years “is long enough. Be ready. It’s that simple.”

Members of the Yellowstone Conference were told by Minnesota Bishop Sally Dyck that “even full clergy rights, however, is not full acceptance. ... We are becoming the church our grandmothers envisioned us to be, thanks be to God. And thanks to the men of the church who opened the way. Now it is up to all of us to ?pay it forward’ and keep the light alive for women everywhere.”

Hurricane response

Along the Gulf Coast, conference members expressed thanks for the outpouring of support they have received since Hurricane Katrina, which made landfall Aug. 29, and Hurricane Rita, which followed a month later.

Ed Blakeslee, Mississippi United Methodist Katrina Response coordinator, emphasized the connectional system as vital to recovery efforts. “We still need prayers, and we still need help,” he said.

LINK: Click to open full size version of image
A UMNS photo by Fred Koenig

A youth choir performs at the Missouri Annual Conference in Springfield.
The Mississippi Conference gave thanks for the $4.9 million received as of May 31 through the United Methodist Committee on Relief and other appeals for Katrina relief and rebuilding.

The Rev. Paul Dirdak, director of UMCOR, praised storm recovery efforts throughout the Louisiana Conference. Nearly a million volunteer hours have been recorded in the state through the efforts of mission teams that have come from all over the United States and as far away as Mexico and South Africa to provide assistance.

United Methodists in East Texas contributed more than $2.2 million to hurricane relief efforts. Area churches spent an additional $2.6 million ministering to evacuees in their communities — providing shelter, food, transportation and other support. The Texas Conference’s Southeast District, where all 52 United Methodist churches and more than 94,000 homes were damaged by Hurricane Rita, has been assisted by 203 teams of 2,150 volunteers since October. Those work teams have volunteered more than 53,000 hours, which if billed at the national average construction salary of $18, would have cost more than $1 million, a conference official said.

In an effort to provide long-term recovery and relief assistance, Northwest Texas adopted a giving goal of $10 a month for all conference clergy and lay members for the church recovery efforts related to the Gulf Coast hurricanes. The New Mexico Conference also encouraged giving $10 a month until the next conference session to Louisiana pastors and churches, as a way to build connectedness.

The Virginia Conference dedicated health and recovery and relief kits, and four tractor-trailers were needed to transport the items. In addition, the conference collected $54,387 in monetary donations.


Several annual conferences reorganized to serve local congregations more effectively. Some redrew district lines and some considered merging. Eight annual conferences voted to create new conferences or to begin merger process plans and discussions.

LINK: Click to open full size version of image
A UMNS photo courtesy of the Baltimore-Washington Conference

The Rev. Ann Leprade dances during a worship service of the Baltimore Washington Annual Conference.
The North Indiana and South Indiana conferences are a step closer to uniting into one following an affirmative vote tallied by both conferences. A task force is to develop a merger plan for recommendation to the 2007 Indiana annual gatherings. If approved by both conferences, and later by the United Methodist North Central Jurisdiction gathering, the merger could take effect in 2009 or 2010.

Along with the Detroit Conference, West Michigan members voted to enter a process that would, if successful, merge them into one Michigan Area conference in 2009. Representatives from the North Central New York, Troy, Western New York and Wyoming annual conferences have been meeting to explore the possibility of uniting some or all of the conferences. A joint committee will present findings at the 2008 Northeastern Jurisdictional Conference in Harrisburg, Pa.

In his opening address, Bishop Robert Schnase called on the Missouri Conference to face the reality that during the past 40 years, the population of Missouri had increased 29 percent while membership in the United Methodist Church had dropped 32 percent. A task force was commissioned to evaluate every aspect of ministry in the annual conference in the coming year with an eye to aligning mission, ministry and money. The goal is to boost worship attendance in the conference by 5,000 within six years.


LINK: Click to open full size version of image
A UMNS photo courtesy of the Illinois Great Rivers Annual Conference

Children sing at the Illinois Great Rivers Annual Conference.
The immigration issue played a role in U.S. annual conference proceedings as it has done in border states in the country. Six annual conferences urged churches to take action and called on elected officials to support fair and just immigration laws.

Wisconsin passed a resolution on U.S. immigration policy that calls upon elected officials to enact dignity and humanitarian policies to ensure the safety and basic human rights of immigrants and refugees. The New England Conference voted to commit to study and prayer on local and global issues of migration, to oppose any further militarization of the Mexico-U.S. border, and to support comprehensive immigration reform.

Rio Grande called on its 95 congregations to become sanctuary churches, recognizing that reaching out to immigrants is part of an evangelical call. “We are called to extend ?radical hospitality’ to all, regardless of origins or status,” the conference members said in a resolution on immigration reform. The conference also called on elected officials to allow undocumented immigrants, who are contributing to U.S. society, to remain in the states and become permanent residents and eventually citizens; increase visa numbers to eliminate long waiting periods for families; and provide for guest workers to receive fair wages, fair treatment, protection under the law and status as permanent residents.


Media throughout the world have highlighted instances of torture and abuse of prisoners and detainees by the U.S. military and government agencies. Both Detroit and Northern Illinois declared opposition to the use of torture by the government. Northern Illinois approved a resolution stating that the use of torture by the U.S. government is “both widespread and systematic.” It condemned “any and all” use of torture against U.S. detainees “for any purpose” and demanded legislation be written to “cease and desist from these un-Christian practices.”


At least six annual conferences declared opposition to war against Iran and support for peace in the Middle East. Central Texas postponed indefinitely affirming the Council of Bishops’ Resolution on the War in Iraq. The Pacific Northwest Conference urged attention to all human rights abuses in the Middle East and to work for implementation of an international bill of human rights.

LINK: Click to open full size version of image
A UMNS photo courtesy of the California-Nevada Conference

Full clergy rights for women in the United Methodist Church are celebrated at the California-Nevada Annual Conference.
The South German Conference also issued a resolution expressing concern about the current political conflict involving the European Union, the United States and Iran. The conference opposes all military options and supports stronger diplomatic efforts.

Northern Illinois acted on breaking down the walls of hostility between Palestinians and Israelis, North and South Koreans, and Christians and Muslims. North Central New York approved a process of dialogue, shareholder action, and as a last resort, divestment from companies “that are supporting in a significant way the occupation of Palestine by Israel.” The preamble to the resolution noted the success of divestments in changing the policy of apartheid in South Africa.

The New York Conference passed a petition calling for the impeachment of President George Bush. The petition laments the president’s actions regarding Iraq and Iraqi detainees, wiretapping, the response to Hurricane Katrina, and the treatment of prisoners at Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib. “THEREFORE, the New York Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church considers these to be high crimes and misdemeanors and urges the impeachment of George W. Bush,” the conference said.

Marriage and homosexuality

As U.S. courts hear judicial requests to define marriage as the union between man and woman, at least eight annual conferences took action on the issue.

Wisconsin reaffirmed a 2005 motion opposing the proposed state constitutional marriage amendment and supporting an informed, respectful dialogue with people of all opinions. The Dakotas Conference adopted a resolution affirming laws defending marriage and adopted a resolution rejecting a South Dakota ballot measure against same-sex unions. The adopted resolution cites potential discrimination of elderly people living in same-sex households in rural areas, saying: “The full repercussions of the law are not known.”

The Holston Conference passed a resolution “affirming laws defending marriage.” The resolution states, “?Be it resolved that we continue to affirm the United Methodist stance on marriage and support laws in our state that protect the definition of marriage as the union of one man and one woman.”

Petitions passed by the Minnesota Annual Conference recommend changes to the Book of Discipline that would make the church’s ministries, including membership, ordination and marriage, open to all people, regardless of sexual orientation and other factors.

LINK: Click to open full size version of image
A UMNS photo courtesy of the Kentucky Annual Conference

Bishop James R. King preaches during a worship service at the Kentucky Annual Conference in Bowling Green.
The California-Nevada Conference sought to “liberalize” sections of the Book of Discipline, passing resolutions dealing with marriage, human sexuality and sexual orientation, and would remove restrictions on ordaining gay clergy, celebrating homosexual unions and funding gay caucuses. The conference also voted to prohibit discrimination in receiving members into United Methodist congregations, and voted to oppose controversial Judicial Council Decision 1032.

Numerous conferences considered resolutions about the decision, which sparked churchwide debate when it was issued by the church’s top court last fall. That decision and a related judgment, Decision 1031, dealt with the case of the Rev. Ed Johnson, pastor of South Hill (Va.) United Methodist Church, who blocked a practicing homosexual from joining the congregation.

Johnson was placed on involuntary leave by his clergy peers last June, but the Judicial Council ruled in his favor in October, and he was returned to his pulpit. The council reaffirmed its decision in May.

While the denomination’s Book of Discipline holds gay people to be people of sacred worth, it also officially states that the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching.

At least 15 annual conferences stated that homosexuality is not a barrier to membership; four said it is a barrier to membership; and two said it is not a barrier for ordination.

The Rocky Mountain Conference invited pastors to “voluntarily relinquish the authority granted them by the Judicial Council Decision 1032” and receive those willing, after suitable instruction, to affirm the membership vows.

The Florida, Peninsula-Delaware and North Carolina conferences also considered statements or resolutions on the Judicial Council’s decisions.

Florida delegates discussed a statement of support for a pastoral letter written by the denomination’s Council of Bishops in response to Decision 1032. The letter affirmed inclusiveness in church membership, stating “homosexuality is not a barrier.”

A second resolution, titled “Integrity,” expressed gratitude to the Judicial Council for “affirming the crucial role of pastors in the reception of new members, advocating a lifestyle that is compatible with Christian teaching and maintaining the integrity of membership vows.”

A third resolution asked for a petition from the Florida Conference to the General Conference to amend Paragraph 214 of the Book of Discipline to include a sentence that prohibits the exclusion of individuals from membership based on their sexual orientation or “gender identity.” The conference did not approve the resolutions but referred them for later discussion.

Health care

In early June, a United Methodist physician described United Methodist clergy as being among the least-healthy professional groups in the United States. Numerous conferences addressed funding health care plans for clergy — both active and retired — and lay employees. In the Mississippi Conference, more than 100 runners and walkers participated in the second annual 5K run/walk, a new wellness event. A bike ride called Circuit Ride preceded the annual conference gathering.

LINK: Click to open full size version of image
A UMNS photo by Caryl Kelley

District superintendents are sent forth during an appointment setting ceremony at the Florida Annual Conference.
The Arkansas Conference added a new strategic initiative to its vision statement, emphasizing the importance of self-care for clergy, staff and laity and to facilitate health ministries for body, mind and spirit through its churches. The conference also introduced “Holy Healthy United Methodist Church,” a three-year, faith-based health and wellness program for the conference. In endorsing the program, Bishop Charles N. Crutchfield pledged that he and the nine district superintendents would attempt to lose a combined 100 pounds by the next annual conference session.

Wisconsin affirmed a Wellness Covenant to increase attention on both spiritual and physical health. The Peninsula-Delaware Conference’s board of pension sponsored a health fair during its annual gathering, where it introduced a new wellness program for staff as well as anyone interested in a healthier lifestyle. Bishop Marcus Matthews led a health walk around the University of Maryland-Eastern Shore campus.

Global connections

In the spirit of Methodism founder John Wesley, who said the “world is my parish,” 10 annual conferences established relationships with areas and churches inside and outside the United States. The Desert Southwest Conference voted to partner with the United Methodist Mission Church of Honduras, and the Alaska Missionary Conference will deepen its ministry with the native people of Alaska as well as strengthen its growing connection with the Oklahoma Indian Missionary Conference. Oregon-Idaho signed a new partnership agreement with the Liberia Annual Conference.

Many conferences voted to give their annual gift from the United Methodist Publishing House — money given to support clergy pensions — to the Central Conference Pension Initiative. The initiative is raising money and developing systems to provide pensions for retired pastors and their survivors in Africa, parts of Europe and Asia.

HIV/AIDS has become a pandemic in countries across the world, and 11 conferences collected offerings for the Global AIDS Fund. Yellowstone encouraged all conference churches to observe Global AIDS Sunday annually on Valentine’s Day or the first Sunday after Feb. 14. It was suggested that observances have a central theme of “Have a Heart” with “Honor Those You Love: Give to Fight Global AIDS” and “Make a Difference in the Lives of Others” as sub-themes. Seventy-five percent of the special offering will go to the appropriate UMCOR Advance, and 25 percent will be retained to support AIDS ministries within the conference.

LINK: Click to open full size version of image
A UMNS photo courtesy of the Kentucky Annual Conference

A child brings forth a basket of bread during a worship service at the Kentucky Annual Conference.
The United Methodist Global AIDS Fund Committee is sponsoring “Lighten the Burden,” a gathering of United Methodists working to fight AIDS set for Sept. 8-9 in Washington. The conference offers opportunities for learning, skill-building and networking and includes speakers, workshops, inspiration and discussion groups.

The importance of native languages and its use in the churches of the Oklahoma Indian Missionary Conference was the basis for an approved resolution calling for the organization of a native language contest to be held at the annual conference session. The contest is aimed at promoting the use and teaching of indigenous languages.

In addition, wording was added to the resolution stating that: “THEREFORE, we recognize in spite of America’s efforts to limit the official language to English only, that we have a right to speak the language of this land, and that using our languages is an important expression of our original sovereignty.”

Bishop Benjamin Boni of Côte d’Ivoire, the bishop in charge of the new church-related mission in Senegal, presided over the mission’s first annual meeting June 17-18.  A large crowd celebrated the new United Methodist mission, including church leaders from other denominations, United Methodist churchwide agencies and officials from the Senegalese government.

At the annual meeting, the 15 Senegalese United Methodist congregations reported on their work, including advocacy for health care, job training and farming ministries for women, children and youth. Nine candidates were approved for ordination as elders, pending one more year of study and trial. In a country where Christians make up only 4 percent of the population, United Methodist congregations in Senegal are steadily growing. In 1989, the United Methodist Mission in Senegal began, and the first congregation was founded in 1995.

Last fall, the directors of the Board of Global Ministries officially made the mission initiative in Senegal a mission. The churches have between 30 and 100 members each.

New and discontinued churches

LINK: Click to open full size version of image
A UMNS photo courtesy of the Kentucky Annual Conference

The praise band leads worship at the Kentucky Annual Conference.
Five conferences celebrated 21 new church starts or new congregations, and five conferences discontinued 14 congregations. South Georgia affirmed the ministry of congregational development, and eight new church starts, nine revitalized congregations and 19 Hispanic congregations are now under the congregational development umbrella. Alabama celebrated efforts to start 10 new congregations in the next year.

Southwest Texas adopted a bishop’s initiative on new church development, designed to reverse three straight years of membership losses in a region with major population growth. The plan includes authorization for a capital fund-raising campaign for starting new congregations and ministries and revitalizing existing congregations.

Other news

Annual conferences also ordained clergy, licensed local pastors and commissioned others, conducted remembrance services, hosted the Africa University choir and participated in activities to help the poor and hungry.

Nine conferences reported increases in giving for churchwide apportionments, including Texas, which paid 100 percent of its apportionments for the first time since 1972.

The Iowa Conference had a morning of “worshipful work” that included a “blitz build” of a Habit for Humanity house in Ames, eight other hands-on projects and 16 workshops.

*Green is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in Nashville, Tenn. Furtado, an intern at United Methodist Communications, is a senior communications major at United Methodist-related Rust College in Holly Springs, Miss.

News media contact: Linda Green, (615) 742-5470 or

Related Articles

Women take lead in conferences 50th anniversary celebrations

U.S. United Methodist membership drops below 8 million

Research firm explores state of the United Methodist Church

State of Church report will include inside, outside views


The Annual Conference

2006 Annual Conference Reports

Facts About Church Structure

Council of Bishops

International Clergywomens Consultation