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United Methodists focus on missions, evangelism at yearly meetings

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A UMNS photo by John Lovelace

Bishop Rhymes H. Moncure Jr. washes and dries the feet of candidates for ordination during the United Methodist North Texas Annual Conference ordination service.

July 8, 2005

A UMNS Report
By Allison Scahill*

United Methodists, gathering for their yearly U.S. meetings, welcomed new bishops, focused on issues such as health care and diversity, and raised millions for tsunami relief and missions. 

Evangelism and disciple-making inspired the central themes for many conferences this year, as members focused on the United Methodist Church’s basic mission of making followers of Jesus Christ. Bishops encouraged members to get out of their comfort zones and share their faith. 

“We are called to minister in new ways and in some of the old, old ways with a twist,” Bishop Jane Allen Middleton told the Central Pennsylvania Conference. “The words ‘we have never done it that way before’ are to be expunged from your vocabulary. 

“Each of us has an impact on hundreds of people a week and we must use our influence for Christ. Our culture is counter-Christian,” she said. “Reality gladiators have returned to entertain the masses. Yet, as Christians we must stop living vicariously and live a real Gospel mandate.” 

Ministering took many forms, such as going into the streets and feeding the needy, gathering supplies for the United Methodist Committee on Relief, and holding potato drops – a staple at many annual conferences. The conferences contributed more than $5 million to tsunami relief. 

At the Oklahoma Indian Missionary Conference, outreach included sending a letter of support to the people of Red Lake, Minn., who are still recovering from a school shooting last spring. “We want the people of the Red Lake community to know that we are still praying for them,” said the Rev. David Wilson, superintendent of the conference. 

An unusually high number of U.S. conferences welcomed new bishops, following last summer’s election of 20 new bishops and the reassignments of many others. All 63 U.S. annual conferences met in May and June, but the 10 million-member denomination has 52 other conferences that meet at different times of the year in Europe, Africa and Asia. 

Leading his first North Texas Conference, Bishop Rhymes Moncure Jr. established an ethos of servanthood by washing the feet of the candidates for ordination. 

An order of business for every conference this year: voting on eight amendments to the church’s constitution, referred by the 2004 General Conference. In reports filed with United Methodist News Service, the U.S. conferences said they approved the amendments, though not all of them approved every amendment. The changes must be ratified by a two-thirds vote of the denomination’s 115 conferences. The denomination’s Council of Bishops will later review, verify and report the results. 

For some conferences, this season was a time of celebrating milestones and achievements. In the Estonia Conference, the first women clergy ever for that Baltic church were ordained elders. And at least 12 conferences were honored by the denomination’s General Council on Finance and Administration for paying 100 percent or more of their apportionments. 

The conference season was memorable — for good and bad reasons — for the Southwest Texas and Rio Grande conferences. The good: the conferences, which share a bishop, met jointly for the first time in nearly 150 years. The bad: a gastrointestinal virus infected almost 300 people. Get-well messages were sent to each victim. 

In Missouri, conference members discussed a recent court ruling in which the conference was ordered to pay $6 million to a couple in a case of alleged pastor misconduct. The court found that the conference failed to supervise a pastor who was later accused of raping the woman, who was serving the congregation as part-time music director. A conference attorney said post-trial motions asking for a new judicial ruling in favor of the conference, a reduction in damages and a new trial have all been filed.  


Conferences throughout the connection supported a wide variety of missions and outreach around the world.  

Members of the North and South Indiana conferences raised more than $75,000 to rebuild the Methodist Church in Banda Aceh, Indonesia, following the Dec. 26 tsunami. 

The U.S. conferences gave more than $93,000 to the Central Conference Pension Initiative, in support of pastors and their dependents in parts of the world where pension systems are nascent or nonexistent. 

Western North Carolina adopted a conference-wide mission initiative to raise $2 million for Africa University.  

More than 2,000 people in the Mississippi Conference celebrated “No More Hungry Neighbors” with the Rev. Ken Horne, executive director of the Society of St. Andrew. Horne preached, and the conference collected $150,069 to establish a Mississippi office of the Society of St. Andrew for gleaning and food distribution. 

Several tons of canned soup and $1,600 were collected for the Delta Dream mission center and food pantry in the Arkansas Conference. The Arkansas Tech University Wesley Foundation has already raised $14,000 for a facility at Kamina University in the Democratic Republic of Congo. 

The people of the Desert Southwest Conference collected more than $10,000 and filled four pickup trucks with construction equipment for Habitat for Humanity. 

In West Virginia, churches contributed more than $1 million toward a Major Funds Campaign goal of $5 million, supporting programs and ministries in the conference, and United Methodist Women in the conference raised about $1 million for missions. 

Members of the Eastern Pennsylvania Conference had four mission opportunities: helping prepare meals and serve clients in a soup kitchen, taking sacrificed and donated meals to homeless people, assembling health kits for UMCOR and sharing faith with people on the street in a Faith in Motion walk. 

The Holston Conference raised $45,417 for Change for Children, which benefits needy children in Holston and in Africa.

Bishop Thomas Bickerton of the Western Pennsylvania Conference announced a major initiative to send mission teams to refurbish the second floor of the United Methodist Church in Moscow, where funding cuts are endangering the program to train local pastors for the growing church in Russia. 

Churches in the Wisconsin Conference provided more than 10,000 items for newborns in Sierra Leone and Liberia, as well as 300 flood buckets and 220 health kits, 134 nursing uniforms, textbooks and other medical supplies for the nursing school at Ganta Hospital in Liberia. Wisconsin also provided 171 new bicycles, along with numerous repair kits, and more than $5,000 for shipping the bikes to pastors in countries with no means of transportation.

The youth council of the Wyoming Conference set a goal to lay a mile of quarters end to end. The youth collected the coins by the wheelbarrow, as people donated lengths of quarters equal to their height of their steeple. The youth exceeded their goal—with one mile equal to $16,000—by $630. The funds will be used for youth missions and ministries, after a tithe is given to mission. 

Members of the Virginia Conference collected 34,424 health kits, 15,730 school kits, 1,116 layettes, 76 “Heart-to-Heart Kids Kits,” 22 flood buckets, 29 sewing kits and $6,500 in cash gifts for mission. They also bagged 36,000 pounds of potatoes at a Society of St. Andrew and Board of Global Ministries-sponsored potato drop and collected 42 units of blood. 

Members of the Western Pennsylvania Conference loaded trucks with 11,000 emergency kits and flood buckets from local churches for UMCOR. Collection of the kits began as an annual event five years ago but has become a year-round initiative, with 20,000 kits sent between last September’s hurricanes and June. 

The North Georgia Conference collected 150 supply baskets for hospice patients and 1,400 health kits for UMCOR; held a blood drive; collected baby blankets for a crisis pregnancy center; painted a health clinic; gathered 50 flood buckets for disaster relief; and visited 12 nursing homes. Members also repaired homes, landscaped parks and held worship services at area jails. 

The Memphis Conference learned that a new ministry by the men of the conference called “Hunters for Hungry” had raised enough money since October to underwrite 128,424 meals. 

West Michigan led the United Methodist Church in per-capita giving to the Advance at $18.61 and in the number of churches giving to the Advance—93 percent. And in the Germany North Conference, members learned that giving for global ministries increased 10 percent in the past year. 

Health care 

Health care was a key issue for many conferences.  

The West Michigan Conference called on elected officials to begin a “serious dialogue” to develop a single-payer national health care system, while Oregon-Idaho renewed its health action campaign and endorsed consumer rights in health care. 

Members of the Tennessee Conference supported a resolution asking the conference to commit to sharing information on pending changes to TennCare—the state’s health care plan for the otherwise uninsured—with its congregations and publications, and to urge lawmakers to continue to seek solutions to the TennCare crisis. 

Bishop Al Gwinn of the North Carolina Conference said the conference’s first priority must be healthy congregations. Bishop Sally Dyck of Minnesota urged members to adopt healthy habits of nourishment and exercise and to make their congregational cultures healthy. 

LINK: Click to open full size version of image
A UMNS photo by John Lovelace

The 135-voice Senior High Revelation Choir from Custer Road United Methodist Church performs at the North Texas Annual Conference.

In Central Texas, members were asked to be in covenant to honor God’s good gift of life by striving daily to walk 10,000 steps, drink six to eight glasses of water and spend 20 minutes in spiritual enrichment. 

The Detroit Conference adopted a resolution to call on Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm to establish a commission to study the financing of health care in Michigan and to ensure that all citizens have access to affordable health care and mental health care. 

Social issues 

Members in several conferences approved resolutions opposing the death penalty, in keeping with the denomination’s official stance. Those included Eastern Pennsylvania,

Wyoming (New York), Troy (New York and Vermont) and the Dakotas conferences. 

Eastern and Central Pennsylvania and Wyoming also adopted resolutions opposing the proliferation of alcohol sales. 

Jim Winkler, top executive of the United Methodist Board of Church and Society, challenged members of the North Indiana Conference to continue their efforts to fight legalized gambling and celebrated no expansion of gambling in Indiana this year. 

Members of the West Virginia Conference approved resolutions urging the state governments of Maryland and West Virginia to stop the spread of all forms of gambling.

The West Michigan Conference urged congregations to offer more programs to older adults as an alternative to gambling. 

The California-Nevada Conference called on the U.S. government to end the war in Iraq, and to work with the United Nations for a withdrawal of all U.S. forces and the transfer of power to Iraqi leadership. 

On issues of sexuality, the Baltimore-Washington Conference affirmed a resolution for a series of dialogues on issues affecting gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people.    

Meanwhile, the New England Conference adopted a nonbinding “sense of the body” resolution related to clergy participation in same-sex unions and marriages, recognizing that ceremonies celebrating homosexual unions should not be conducted by conference ministers or conducted in conference churches. The resolution also stated that New England Conference United Methodist ministers might still “participate” in such ceremonies. Bishop Peter Weaver stated that the motion was only advisory and held no status of law or rule.

The California-Nevada Conference resolved not to define the words “practicing” or “practicing homosexual” as contained in the 2004 Book of Discipline – which prohibits the ordination or appointment of a person who is a “self-avowed practicing homosexual” – unless the General Conference or relevant annual conference has defined the terms. The resolution followed a recent church appeals committee ruling that overturned the conviction of the Rev. Irene Elizabeth “Beth” Stroud of Eastern Pennsylvania for being a practicing gay clergywoman. The ruling was based on the appeals committee’s finding that neither the General Conference nor Stroud’s annual conference had defined the term “self-avowed practicing homosexual” as required by Judicial Council. 


During a “Service of Confession and Recommitment to Disciple-making,” North Alabama members confessed their conference’s unfaithfulness to remain in some transitional communities and to grow as multicultural churches. Members of the Western New York Annual Conference affirmed plans for racial and cultural diversity training by the Commission on Religion and Race. 

Hispanic ministries were affirmed and expanded around the connection. With a conference theme of “Esperanza,” or hope, West Ohio members lifted up the development of ministries in Hispanic communities in their area, and the conference received more than $135,000 for the ministry. 

The Tennessee Conference directed each district to create an office for a coordinator of Hispanic ministries in the coming year, to be staffed by a Latino or Latina person. Greater New Jersey added its Cape Atlantic Cooperative Hispanic Extension as a conference Advance Special. And Iowa recognized 24 Hispanic ministries and formed a partnership with the Rio Grande Conference. 

Native American ministries also were lifted up. South Carolina adopted a “Resolution on Reconciliation with Native Americans,” which calls for the conference to support and assist in upholding the American Indian Religious Freedom acts and encourages local churches to participate in Native American Ministries Sunday. The Northern Illinois Conference held its first ever Native American worship service.

The Oklahoma Indian Missionary Conference passed a resolution asking high schools and universities to end the practice of using Native American images, people and symbols as mascots. 

Members of the North Indiana Conference learned the newly formed Church Development Ministry team will focus on strengthening and growing ministry with African Americans and Hispanics in addition to church development. 

The Missouri Conference’s Sunday morning worship service celebrated African Americans who remained in the denomination through past years of racism. The Rev. Emanuel Cleaver II, pastor of St. James United Methodist Church in Kansas City, Mo., and U.S. congressman, preached. 

Tennessee members resolved to support the celebration of Martin Luther King Jr. Sunday in conjunction with Human Relations Day/Ecumenical Sunday as an annual event in their conference.

*Scahill, a mass communications major at United Methodist-related Baker University in Baldwin City, Kan., is an intern with the Convergence Team at United Methodist Communications. Tim Tanton, managing editor for United Methodist News Service, contributed to this report. 

News media contact: Tim Tanton, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or

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2005 Church Conferences

United Methodist Committee on Relief

The Constitution of the United Methodist Church