Something More Important

You could spend all day reflecting on your life – but there’s something far more important you need to do. You could check off another thing on your bucket list today – but there’s something that matters a whole lot more.  You could take hours coming up with a list of reasons why life hasn’t worked out the way you want – but there’s something way more pressing. What is it? Fall more in love with God. Do this and you’ll be amazed what today will be like – regardless of what today actually is like.   

Daily Digest – Thursday, May 30, 2019

Daily Digest – Thursday, May 30, 2019

By Caleb Hennington

Digital Content Editor

Laity Address

Arkansas Conference Lay Leader Karon Mann opted to deliver a slightly different version of her Laity Address than in year’s past.

Along with Associate Lay Leader Kathy Conley, lay leaders from each district of the Arkansas Conference joined Karon onstage to talk about the different ministry work that each district is undertaking.

Cathy Blackwood (Northwest), Jimmie Boyd (Southeast), Regina Norwood (Central), Kathy Conley (Northeast), and Jim Kimzey (Southwest) spoke for each of their districts during the Laity Address.

Speaking for the Southeast District, Boyd — Director of the Arkansas Conference Lay Servant Ministries — mentioned how even smaller churches can work to serve their community in big ways.

“My church, Mount Olivet, is a smaller church, but with our food pantry, we serve more than 60 families from all across Cleburne County,” said Boyd. “And when you have someone that comes into your pantry and says, ‘if it wasn’t for y’all, I think I would have died’ that brings it all home, folks. If we can save one person, it’s worth it all.”

Disaster Response Report

Byron Mann, gave the VIM and Disaster Response report today, giving the assembled body an update on the flooding situation along the Arkansas River.

Mann gave an update on what kinds of donations are needed from people and encouraged everyone to donate money and not flood buckets or health kits.

“The reason we aren’t asking for buckets and health kits right now is because we just received a delivery of 38 pallets of buckets. What we really need right now is churches to volunteer to help out their local community and to donate money, preferably cash, to the Arkansas Disaster Relief fund.”

To donate, click here and select Arkansas Disaster Relief.

Rev. Dr. Greg Jones

The keynote speaker for Annual Conference this year is the Rev. Dr. Greg L. Jones, Dean of the Duke Divinity School at Duke University.

The Rev. Dr. Greg Jones gives the keynote address at the 2019 Arkansas Annual Conference. | Photo by Stephen Gideon

Jones focused his speech on reminding the United Methodists in the room about the rich tradition of mission work — reaching every person for Jesus — in our denomination, despite all of the many problems the United Methodist Church is currently facing after the 2019 special session of General Conference.

Jones used Numbers to illustrate how many of the Israelites were content to continue wandering in the wilderness or return to Egypt — to slavery and oppression — rather than face their fears and enter God’s promised land.

“Every one of us has a ‘Back to Egypt’ plan. We see what scares us; we want what’s familiar instead,” Jones said. “Part of the problem we have these days is that in the midst of our bewilderment, in the midst of change, in the midst of division, in the midst of the complaining and whining, in the midst of our complaining about leadership, we’ve lost our sense of mission and our sense of confidence in who God is and what God is doing in the world by the power of the Holy Spirit.”

Jones brought the mission of United Methodists back into full focus during the remainder of his sermon, reminding those in attendance why we believe what we believe as Christians, and the power to in all of us to do good work through that belief.

Jones will continue his keynote address at 9:45 a.m. on Friday, May 31.

Delegate Elections

During the second day of delegate elections, the voting members made it through a few more rounds before filling the remaining laity and clergy spots for General Conference 2020.

The fifth clergy ballot produced two delegates who made it over the minimum threshold for election: the Rev. Elizabeth Lynn Kilbourne (53.63%), senior pastor of North Little Rock First UMC, and the Rev. Jessica (Jessie) Waddell Teegarden (52.60%), an ordained deacon in the United Methodist Church.

Teegarden is the first deacon elected by the Arkansas Conference to the General Conference delegation.

“I am overwhelmed with emotion with the opportunity to represent Arkansas at GC 2020 and grateful for the support of my colleagues in ministry. It is especially meaningful to represent young clergy women and the order of deacons,” Teegarden said.

“I am grateful for those who have paved the way and supported the need for deacons’ voices to be present at the table, especially Rev. Laverne Keahey and Rev. Lu Harding who have served on jurisdictional delegation and as alternates in the past. I pray that we will continue to ‘make history’ and continue to elect new, young, and diverse voices to the delegation.”

For the laity, it took one more round of voting than the clergy ballot, but the final two General Conference delegates were selected in round six.

Miller Wilbourn (54.17%) and Elizabeth Fink (50.25%) were elected as lay delegates to General Conference, bringing the total delegates from Arkansas to four clergy and four laity.

“I feel honored to serve as a delegate, and praise God for the opportunity,” Fink said. “I am thankful and don’t take for granted the trust that the Arkansas church has given me to continue contending for the faith.”

The final delegation from Arkansas is as follows:

Clergy – Mark Norman, Michael Roberts, Elizabeth Lynn Kilbourne, and Jessie Waddell Teegarden.

Laity – Karon Mann, Todd Burris, Miller Wilbourn, and Elizabeth Fink.

Three out of eight Arkansas delegates are under the age of 35, a noted increase from General Conference 2016 and 2019, where there were no delegates under 35 and only one alternate under that age.

According to the Young People’s Statement made at General Conference 2019, only 7% of elected delegates were under 35 years old.

Delegate voting will continue tomorrow for the South Central Jurisdictional Conference. Four clergy and four laity will be elected, and two alternates to both General Conference and South Central Jurisdictional Conference will also be chosen.


Various ministries, from committees to collegiate entities, presented their reports at today’s afternoon business session.

While some, such as the Arkansas Conference Center for Vitality, used their time to highlight new programs, learning tools and their wonderful staff, others, like the newly formed Native American Committee, used their time to focus on the issues that still need to be addressed.

The Native American Committee, which formed at the 2018 Annual Conference and is lead by Angie Gage, highlighted that indigenous people are found in almost every county in Arkansas.

Gage also stressed the need for more churches to get involved with the Native American Committee at their own congregation and the reasons why it’s important to pay attention to the struggles of Native people.

“More than 6,500 indigenous women and children in the U.S. go missing or are murdered every year. We are working to raise awareness on this issue but we need your help,” Gage said.

Another new committee that was just formed before the start of Annual Conference is the Disabilities Committee. Mark Lasater is the head of this newly formed committee and said they are hoping to raise more awareness for those with disabilities in the Arkansas Annual Conference, and to make churches and services more accessible for those with disabilities.

Later, Annie Meek came to a microphone to bring awareness to the body that those with invisible disabilities should also be recognized by the Committee and more awareness should be brought to the struggles of them as well.


During the retirement service, 26 retirees were honored. From local pastors to district superintendents and elders, their combined time in ministry added up to 660 years of faithful service.

The Rev. Rodney Steele and Bishop Gary Mueller share an embrace during the retirement service on Thursday, May 30.
| Photo by Stephen Gideon

The names of the 2019 Arkansas Annual Conference retirees, as well as the years they served in ministry, are listed below.

Charles Armour – 44 years
Velda Bell – 22.5 years
W. Clint Black – 20 years
Michael Blanchard – 8 years
Pamela S. Cicioni – 21.5 years
J. Wayne Clark – 32.75 years
C. Greg Comer – 14.75 years
W. Joe Head – 23 years
Brenton Higdem – 7 years
T. Tony Hill – 23 years
Mary S. Hilliard – 34.75 years
Donnie Hudson – 28 years
Travis Jackson – 39.5 years
Larry Kelso – 34 years
Travis Langley – 9.5 years
Donald H. Lewert – 30 years
Richard S. Mitchell – 26 years
James Scott Moore – 16.25 years
L. Glenn Pettus – 43 years
Richard Rogers – 18 years
D. Chris Rink – 15.5 years
Rodney Steele – 42 years
Martha S. Taylor – 8 years
Carla Ray Thompson – 11 years
Gregory Webb – 44 years
Richard G. Wilkins – 13.25

Local Pastor Licensing School candidates who received their completion certificate. | Photo by Stephen Gideon

Those who have completed Local Pastor Licensing School were also honored and presented with certificates.

Local pastors receiving their certificates included: Devon Arredondo, Deborah Bell, Patrick Brown, Polly Burton, Laura Butkovic, Phil Costner, Cullianne Foster, Ron Hayes, Diane Hughes, Leon Jones Sr., Hyeong Kwon Jung, Annie Lankfort, Marilyn Lecy, Mike Meeks, Kelsey Mendez, Hardy Peacock, and Nick Schimmer.

Celebration of Life

The Rev. Rodney Steele, who had just been honored in the previous Retirement Service, delivered the sermon for the Celebration of Life Service. The title of Steele’s sermon was “In God’s Heart Is Our Peace,” and he focused his message on the precious gift of life, and how we can all find solace for the ones who have left us by remembering that God’s love is sufficient.

The saints who have died this past year are listed below.

Tom E. Anderson
William “Bill” Bainbridge
M. Mauzel Beal
Edward Blythe
W. Darrel Bone
Marie Katherine Byram
Novella Carter
E. Mazie Chesser
William “Bill” Cheyne
Robert Cloninger Sr.
Eleanor Gramling Forbes
Clarence O. “Dooley” Fowler
William K. Goddard
Paige Shields Gustin
Euba Mae Harris-Winton
Helen Covel Henderson
Wayne Jarvis
Susan A. Kemp
Tom Letchworth
Albert W. Martin
J.R. McElhannon
James Meadors
Calvin Mitchell
Mary Ellen Murray
Martha Ann Oliver
Virginia L. Randle
Ralph G. Riley
Danny Rogers
Judith Stroud
Billie Jean Tate
Vida L. Thompson
Gene Edwin White
Walter Mike Wilkie

Annual Conference will continue at 8 a.m. Friday, May 31 with morning worship and a business session.

Step Out Today

Sometimes God wants your life to be more difficult.  Like not hiding from others’ suffering, but reaching out. Not running away from problems, but making a difference. And not turning your back on people who make you uncomfortable, but building relationships. When you do, amazing things happen every single time. You discover more purpose, meaning and, even, joy than you ever could possibly imagine. So don’t ask God to make your life easy. Instead, ask God to show you how you can step out today – especially when  it is exceedingly difficult.

First business session elects two clergy, two laity to General Conference 2020

First business session elects two clergy, two laity to General Conference 2020

By Caleb Hennington

Digital Content Editor

After six rounds of voting – three each for the clergy and laity ballots – the voting members of the Arkansas Annual Conference chose to send two clergy and two laity delegates to General Conference 2020 in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

After voting to adopt the session rules and calling the business of the 17th session of the Arkansas Conference to order, members tried out their new electronic voting devices for the first time.

Voting members were asked to vote for four choices during each voting round, and a simple majority of votes (50% or greater) were needed to be elected as a delegate.

Before voting began, Shelby Kirk and Phoebe Sanders were asked by Bishop Mueller to come to the microphone and deliver a statement put together by a group of young people within the Arkansas Annual Conference. The statement addressed the need for more youth and young adult delegates to be elected to General Conference, and the lack of representation for young adults as delegates to General Conference, particularly in 2016 and 2019.

You can read the statement here.

Shelby Kirk, left, and Phoebe Sanders, right, read a statement put together by a group of young people within the Arkansas Conference. | Photo by Stephen Gideon

In 2019, only 7% of delegates were young people — people under 35 years old — according to the Young People’s Statement read at General Conference 2019.

The Rev. Mark Norman, Southeast District Superintendent, and the Rev. Michael Roberts, senior pastor of First UMC Conway, were the first clergy delegates elected to General Conference in the second round of clergy ballot voting. During the first round of voting, no one received a majority of votes. In the second round, Norman received 57.14% and Roberts received 50.87%.

For the laity ballot, three rounds of voting were needed before the first delegates received enough votes to be elected. Karon Mann (56.04%) and Todd Burris (50.90%) were the first two lay delegates elected to General Conference.

“I am honored to be elected as a General Conference delegate,” Burris said. “I love the United Methodist Church and pray that the love we share in Christ Jesus will unite us in a very divisive world.”

Norman, Burris and Mann were all previously elected as delegates to the 2016 General Conference as well as the called special session of General Conference in February 2019.

“It is an honor to be elected as a delegate to General Conference 2020 and to serve as the head of the delegation. I thank you for your confidence in me and promise to work diligently for the future of our United Methodist Church,” Mann said. “Arkansas delegations have a long history of camaraderie and Christian conferencing and this delegation will be no different. I thank the laity of the Arkansas Conference for this privilege!”

The voting members of Annual Conference will continue to vote on delegates until four clergy, four lay and two alternates are elected for both General Conference and South Central Jurisdictional Conference, for a total of 20 delegates.

Clergy and laity profiles can be read here.

The next business session will begin at 8:15 a.m. on Thursday, May 30 and voting members will continue to vote on General and South Central Jurisdictional Conference delegates until all spots are filled.

2019 Episcopal Address: ‘It’s Time to Double Down Boldly on Our Mission’Bishop Mueller encourages Arkansas Methodists to continue mission work in state

2019 Episcopal Address: ‘It’s Time to Double Down Boldly on Our Mission’
Bishop Mueller encourages Arkansas Methodists to continue mission work in state

By Caleb Hennington

Digital Content Editor

In his 2019 Episcopal Address to the Arkansas Annual Conference, Bishop Gary Mueller addressed the deep divides in the United Methodist Church and the hurt caused by the 2019 General Conference but reiterated the importance of “doubling down” on the crucial mission work being done by churches and ministries across the Conference.

Throughout his address, Bishop Mueller noted that this is the hardest Episcopal Address he has ever had to prepare.

“It is the hardest because our beloved church is as polarized as our nation … LGBTQIA+ persons and allies are hurting because you believe the church has pushed you out. Supporters of the church’s disciplinary stance concerning human sexuality are hurting because you feel you have been labeled bigots,” Mueller said.

“It’s the hardest because I have to stand up here in front of those of you whom I deeply love and confess I can’t take away your pain, change how people treat each other or fix The United Methodist Church – as hard as I have tried.”

In February, the General Conference of the United Methodist Church gathered in St. Louis to discuss matters related to human sexuality.

By a vote 438 to 384, the delegates voted to pass The Traditional Plan, which maintains the Book of Discipline’s current language regarding human sexuality, preventing the ordination of “self-avowed practicing homosexuals” as clergy and the performance of same-sex marriages by UMC clergy in United Methodist Church buildings.

Despite the difficulty of this year’s address, Mueller contrasted his initial thoughts by saying it is also the easiest address he’s given.

Mueller stated that he has personally experienced the truth of this year’s theme, “The Best of All, God is with Us.”

“It’s not just a catchy slogan, but a transforming reality more powerful than all the things that threaten to tear us apart.”

It is also the easiest address because of a shift in focus from the problems and uncertainty in Arkansas, to a renewed focus – “doubling down” – on mission work, according to Mueller.

Mueller gave three examples of how Arkansas United Methodists can double down on mission work: Double Down on Faith, Double Down on Being Fruitful and Double Down on Compassion.

In each example of doubling down, Bishop Mueller cited a different parable from Matthew 25, some of Jesus’s final teachings before the crucifixion.

Matthew 25:7-13 is the parable of the bridesmaids and their lamps.

“Jesus’s message to us through these words is clear. We’re not just disciples when it’s convenient. We’re disciples all the time,” Mueller said. “Arkansas, it’s time to double down on getting serious about our relationship with Jesus as Savior and Lord, double down on responding to his call to get involved in his ministry and double down about the importance of what’s at stake for Jesus, for others and for us.”

The worship band leads the Conference in a hymn during the opening worship service.

For an example of doubling down on being fruitful, Mueller cited the parable of the talents, in which a master gives three servants different amounts of gold. Two of the servants took what they were given and multiplied their earnings, but one servant chose instead to bury his gold.

The servants who invested their money were rewarded, but the one who hid away his money was rebuked.

“Jesus is telling us we are to use the gifts, resources and people we have been given to get results that actually bring about God’s transformation of lives, communities and the world,” Mueller said.

A few of the examples of Arkansans doubling down in the past and the future include creating places like Methodist-LeBonheur Hospital, Camp Aldersgate and Philander Smith College, as well as current ministries supported by United Methodist Churches, including Lucie’s Place, Breaking Bonds Ministries, and ECHO Village.

Bishop Mueller also brought up the current struggle many Arkansans are facing due to the Arkansas River flooding in cities along the river, such as Fort Smith, Dardanelle, Little Rock and Pine Bluff.

“This is something that we can all come together and help with right now. Many families are hurting right now, and they need your help.”

To donate, click here and select the Arkansas Disaster Relief Fund.

When mentioning his final point on doubling down, Bishop Mueller used the parable of the sheep and the goats. In this parable, Jesus casts away those who did not protect the least of these by feeding, clothing, and taking care of the sick and needy.

Mueller reminded those at Ozark Bank Arena that one of the major missions of the Arkansas Annual Conference is 200,000 Reasons, a ministry seeking to end childhood hunger in Arkansas. Since starting this ministry almost five years ago, that number has gone down from 200,000 hungry children to about 165,000 children.

“We can get it to 150,000 and then 100,000 and eventually zero. And we will. This is a way we can join together – regardless of whether we are liberal, conservative, in-between or confused – to double down on our acts of compassion,” Mueller said.

Bishop Mueller reminded the gathered crowd that he is aware there are still divisions within our Methodist congregations but also gave a hopeful reminder that there is still much work to be done within and outside of the Arkansas Conference.

“You are a member of The United Methodist Church painfully divided by matters of human sexuality that are beyond your ability to settle, regardless of your stance. But you also are a member of a local congregation that is still called to make disciples of Jesus Christ, who make disciples equipped and sent to transform lives, communities and the world.

“So let’s get started right now. Let’s choose to start by joining hands with Christ, who joins our hands with each other. Let’s choose to start by doubling down boldly on our mission. Let us start, my sisters and brothers.”