Focus on spiritual revival amid business of Annual Conference 2015

By Amy Forbus and Eric Van Meter
Editor and Special Contributor

With the theme “A Call to Spiritual Revival,” the 2015 Arkansas Annual Conference focused on awakening to the work of the Holy Spirit in the churches and communities where United Methodists of Arkansas live and serve. The Annual Conference gathered June 14-17 at Bank of the Ozarks Arena in Hot Springs, under the leadership of Bishop Gary E. Mueller.

Karon Mann delivers the Laity Address on Monday morning of Annual Conference 2015. AUM PHOTO BY AMY FORBUS

Karon Mann delivers the Laity Address on Monday morning of Annual Conference 2015.
AUM PHOTO BY AMY FORBUS

Both Bishop Mueller and Conference lay leader Karon Mann addressed spiritual revival in their addresses to the body.

Mann shared stories from around the state that show spiritual revival is already beginning to happen through United Methodist individuals, local churches and ministries.

“The personal part of preparing for spiritual revival—the recognizing of our need for obedience to God, the personal willingness to listen for God’s voice and live out his calling in our world—it begins right here, in our own hearts,” Mann said.

Mueller encouraged members of the Annual Conference to look for signs of spiritual revival, and gave some tips for recognizing it.

Bishop Gary Mueller gives the Episcopal Address on Monday morning of Annual Conference 2015. AUM PHOTO BY AMY FORBUS

Bishop Gary Mueller gives the Episcopal Address on Monday morning of Annual Conference 2015.
AUM PHOTO BY AMY FORBUS

“You’ll know you’re experiencing spiritual revival when a group of people in your church—it doesn’t have to be everyone—when people begin to fall deeply in love with Jesus…. When you change from being a group of individuals into a movement committed to engage the mission field…. When people start asking you, ‘What in heaven’s name is going on in that church?’” he said.

Hope for revival appeared in the nine provisional members of the Annual Conference who were ordained at Tuesday night’s Service of Ordination and Commissioning, two as deacons and seven as elders; and in the seven persons, all pursuing ordination as elders, who were commissioned as provisional members of the Annual Conference. The combined average age for these groups was 35.7 years.

Guest preachers

The Rev. Paul Rasmussen served as one of the guest preachers for the 2015 Arkansas Annual Conference. AUM PHOTO BY AMY FORBUS

The Rev. Paul Rasmussen served as one of the guest preachers for the 2015 Arkansas Annual Conference.
AUM PHOTO BY AMY FORBUS

The Rev. Paul Rasmussen, senior pastor of Highland Park UMC Dallas, Texas, preached during Sunday night’s opening worship as well as Monday night’s service. At the Sunday night service, which carried the theme “Awake,” he encouraged those gathered to persevere in the face of research that indicates the Church is dying.

“The message of God is not dying,” he said. “We can be part of it, or we can sleep through it. But we need to wake up.”

He reminded listeners that every church can do something with the gifts and resources it already has. “How do we wake up? By making the most of every opportunity…. Sometimes we like to sleep through the opportunity before us in order to dream about the one we don’t even have yet.”

Bishop Young Jin Cho leads the Arkansas Annual Conference in a time of prayer.  AUM PHOTO BY AMY FORBUS

Bishop Young Jin Cho leads the Arkansas Annual Conference in a time of prayer.
AUM PHOTO BY AMY FORBUS

Virginia Area Bishop Young Jin Cho opened the Monday morning session with a meditation on the process and power of prayer. Cho urged the church to go beyond mere knowledge of God or strategy for ministry. Instead, he said, we need to develop a close relationship with God rooted in a dialogue of prayer. “Prayer is the major thing in our life and ministry,” he said. “Prayer should go first.” He guided the body in prayer for revival using Tongsung Kido, a Korean tradition of individuals praying aloud simultaneously around a common theme; and then in intercessory prayer with a prayer partner.

The Rev. David M. Wilson, superintendent of the Oklahoma Indian Missionary Conference, led an Act of Repentance Service Toward Indigenous People. The Cherokee Choir of Tahlequah, Okla., offered music and readings as part of the service.

The Rev. David M. Wilson of the Oklahoma Indian Missionary Conference and Bishop Gary Mueller preside over Holy Communion as part of the Service of Repentance and Reconciliation Toward Indigenous People. AUM PHOTO BY AMY FORBUS

The Rev. David M. Wilson of the Oklahoma Indian Missionary Conference and Bishop Gary Mueller preside over Holy Communion as part of the Service of Repentance and Reconciliation Toward Indigenous People.
AUM PHOTO BY AMY FORBUS

“The Act of Repentance is truly all about relationship—our connection together as people of God,” Wilson said. “We are called this day to remember our connectedness, to fellowship in justice and walk together in peace.”

The service brought together traditional Native American languages and music alongside acts of worship in English, and included Holy Communion. The Act of Repentance was part of an ongoing process to improve relations with indigenous persons, as set forth by a resolution at the 2012 General Conference.

The Rev. Lisa Yebuah, pastor of inviting ministries at Edenton Street UMC Raleigh, N.C., preached the closing worship service, focusing on the belief that an act of blessing has power beyond the moment in which it is spoken. “They’re words that can create new realities,” she said.

The Rev. Lisa Yebuah preached the closing worship service of the 2015 Arkansas Annual Conference gathering.  AUM PHOTO BY AMY FORBUS

The Rev. Lisa Yebuah preached the closing worship service of the 2015 Arkansas Annual Conference gathering.
AUM PHOTO BY AMY FORBUS

She ended her sermon by offering blessings for different groups of people in the room: district superintendents, pastors, pastors’ families and laity.

Insurance and apportionments

Other business included voting to end the Conference’s self-insured healthcare plan for clergy and Conference employees, effective Dec. 31.

The action, which was proposed by the Conference Board of Pension and Health Benefits, includes a recommendation that any local church/charge with full-time clergy increase the salary for each of those positions by $12,000. The net result should still be a savings to churches without a loss for the clergy, although actual premiums will vary.

Board chair the Rev. Dennis Spence said that the change makes the most sense of any option, given the shifting landscape of health insurance in the United States.

“We began [the insurance plan] because we could provide better coverage at lower cost,” he said. “Now, we can’t provide better coverage at even a reasonable cost.”

Nine persons were ordained into full connection at the 2015 Arkansas Conference. Front row: Andrew Kjorlaug, Michelle Morris, Bishop Gary Mueller, Sam Meadors, Mark Cloninger. Back row: Jacob Lynn, Dixon Platt, Chase Green, Paul Atkins, Daniel Thueson. AUM PHOTO BY AMY FORBUS

Nine persons were ordained into full connection at the 2015 Arkansas Conference. Front row: Andrew Kjorlaug, Michelle Morris, Bishop Gary Mueller, Sam Meadors, Mark Cloninger. Back row: Jacob Lynn, Dixon Platt, Chase Green, Paul Atkins, Daniel Thueson.
AUM PHOTO BY AMY FORBUS

Another major vote approved a new formula for calculating apportionments. The Arkansas Tithe Initiative marks a move away from expense-based budgeting in favor of a revenue-based approach. The Conference Council on Finance and Administration studied other annual conferences and General Conference data to before making the Tithe Initiative recommendation.

Beginning in 2017, Arkansas Conference apportionments will be figured as 10 percent of a church’s adjusted gross income as reported monthly through clearly defined guidelines. According to projections set forth by the council, the new formula should result in a net decrease of nearly $800,000 in total apportionments and pension payments for 2016.

Resolutions

The Arkansas Annual Conference approved sending to General Conference 2016 a petition concerning juvenile justice. The Conference approved the resolution urging that federal, state and local governments adopt sentencing laws and procedures that eliminate life without parole sentences for juvenile offenders. It will be forwarded to the 2016 General Conference for consideration.

Two other resolutions came to the floor for debate, both dealing with human sexuality. The first, “Resolution Regarding Use of Language,” which sought to send a petition to General Conference to “move the United Methodist Church to a more honest and complete statement about human sexuality,” proposed amendments to Paragraph 161F of the 2012 United Methodist Book of Discipline, the church’s law book.

Bishop Gary Mueller, right, recognizes the ministry candidates approved for commissioning at the 2015 Arkansas Annual Conference. From left: Todd Lovell, Sara Bayles, Colin Bagby, Jonathan Griesse, Carissa Rodgers, John Michael. AUM PHOTO BY AMY FORBUS

Bishop Gary Mueller, right, recognizes the ministry candidates approved for commissioning at the 2015 Arkansas Annual Conference. From left: Todd Lovell, Sara Bayles, Colin Bagby, Jonathan Griesse, Carissa Rodgers, John Michael.
AUM PHOTO BY AMY FORBUS

Discussion of this resolution began with a new process developed over the past year by the petitions and resolutions task force. After the presentation of the resolution, members of the Annual Conference held conversation in small groups, followed by prayer with those same groups. Speeches for and against the resolution followed, guided by Robert’s Rules of Order. The task force’s process would have then included the vote, followed by passing of the peace, but the process was interrupted for lunch recess, and the Conference took up other business for the remainder of the day.

When the matter came back before the body, the Rev. Andrew Thompson made a motion to postpone indefinitely discussion of the resolution. Fifty-four percent of those present voted to table the resolution, ending the discussion and resulting in no vote being taken.

The remaining resolution, which came from a group of members of First UMC Little Rock, was withdrawn by its presenter, Carol Roddy, amid debate over whether the petition was properly before the annual conference. It was entitled “Option of Clergy Person to Perform Ceremonies of Same-Gender Marriage or Civil Unions if Legally Permitted in Jurisdiction Where the Clergy Person is Appointed.”

Following his election to lead the delegation to the 2016 General Conference, the Rev. Mark Norman offers a prayer for the remaining election process.  AUM PHOTO BY AMY FORBUS

Following his election to lead the delegation to the 2016 General Conference, the Rev. Mark Norman offers a prayer for the remaining election process.
AUM PHOTO BY AMY FORBUS

Historic elections

Among those considering petitions and resolutions at the denomination’s General Conference in 2016 will be the Arkansas delegation, elected by the members of the 2015 Annual Conference.

As the first-elected clergy delegate, the Rev. Mark Norman made history as the first African-American to lead the delegation to General Conference in the history of the Arkansas Conference or its predecessor bodies. Other clergy delegates to General Conference, which meets May 10-20, 2016, in Portland, Ore., are the Revs. Dede Roberts, Rebekah Miles and John P. Miles II.

Conference lay leader Karon Mann became the first female elected to lead the Arkansas Conference lay delegation to General Conference since the 2003 unification of the Little Rock and North Arkansas Conferences. Other lay delegates to the 2016 General Conference are Todd Burris, Karen Millar and Asa Whitaker.

Members of the Arkansas Conference delegation to General and Jurisdictional Conferences. Front row (General and Jurisdictional Conference): Karen Millar, Todd Burris, Karon Mann, Mark Norman, Dede Roberts, Rebekah Miles and John Miles II. Back row (Jurisdictional Conference and alternates): Pam Estes, Makala Strang, Brian Swain, Brandon Bates, John Embrey, Wes Hilliard, Maxine Allen, Elizabeth Fink, Miller Wilbourn, Brittany Richardson Watson, David Bush and Katye Dunn. Not pictured: Asa Whitaker (General and Jurisdictional Conference).

Members of the Arkansas Conference delegation to General and Jurisdictional Conferences.
Front row (General and Jurisdictional Conference): Karen Millar, Todd Burris, Karon Mann, Mark Norman, Dede Roberts, Rebekah Miles and John Miles II. Back row (Jurisdictional Conference and alternates): Pam Estes, Makala Strang, Brian Swain, Brandon Bates, John Embrey, Wes Hilliard, Maxine Allen, Elizabeth Fink, Miller Wilbourn, Brittany Richardson Watson, David Bush and Katye Dunn. Not pictured: Asa Whitaker (General and Jurisdictional Conference). AUM PHOTO BY AMY FORBUS

The eight delegates to General Conference also serve as Jurisdictional Conference delegates, alongside eight additional persons elected to the delegation for that gathering. The South Central Jurisdictional Conference will gather July 13-16, 2016, in Wichita, Kan., to elect new bishops to succeed those who are retiring.

Clergy delegates to Jurisdictional Conference are the Revs. Wes Hilliard, Brittany Richardson Watson, John Embrey and Maxine Allen—the first African-American clergywoman to be elected to the Arkansas delegation. The Revs. David Bush and Pam Estes were selected as clergy alternates. Lay delegates to Jurisdictional Conference are Elizabeth Fink, Miller Wilbourn, Brian Swain and Brandon Bates, with Makala Strang and Katye Dunn as alternates.

Statistical report

Membership in United Methodist churches of Arkansas at the end of 2014 stood at 132,250, a decrease of less than 1 percent from the previous year’s membership total of 132,438.

Average worship attendance in 2014 stood at 50,216, a slight increase over the 2013 average of 50,169. Average Sunday school attendance stood at 20,792 attendees, down from 22,032 in 2013. Professions of faith across the Conference showed a 4 percent increase, from 1,943 to 2,031.

“At first glance these figures may be disappointing, but let’s not lose sight of the fact that these numbers are only important because of the lives they represent,” said Todd Burris, director of administrative services for the Conference, in the statistical report he delivered during the opening business session.

“Last year, over 28,000 of you were engaged in a mission project serving more than 1.3 million people—disciples making disciples equipped to transform lives, communities and the world. Praise be to God.”

For more photos from Annual Conference, visit the Arkansas UMC on  Flickr.