On the evening of January 11, 2022, at 7 pm, Bishop Gary Mueller called to order the online Special Session of the Arkansas Annual Conference.
Arkansas Conference Lay Leader, Kathy Conley, offered the opening prayer as she spoke words of hope in the name of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
Bishop Mueller opened the Special Session committed to transparency by himself and the Appointive Cabinet. He stated, “We as an Appointive Cabinet are proud that the United Methodist Church has made the care and healing of survivors a priority during the entire negotiating process with those representing the victims and the Boy Scouts of America. We believe it is important for the entire Annual Conference to have the opportunity to speak a strong and public word to those who were sexually abused while participating in scouting ministries chartered by United Methodist congregations – rather than a small group speaking on behalf of the Annual Conference.”
Bishop Mueller continued to state that the Special Session was vital to allow the body of the Arkansas Annual Conference to determine how the Annual Conference would pay the settlement payment and contributions to the Survivor’s Fund.
“We believe decisions about important issues need to be made by the entire Arkansas Conference that has access to as much information as possible, instead of just a few individuals speaking on behalf of the Annual Conference,” Mueller added.
In addition to the purpose shared by Bishop Mueller, he shared, “it is essential that the Arkansas Conference make a visible commitment to keep all children in our care safe by evaluating and updating policies and protocols related to the well-being of children… In sum, this is the Annual Conference’s work, not just a few individuals. And that is the work you have before you tonight.”
Rev. Clark Atkins, the Secretary to the Annual Conference, presented organizational matters, including the Session Rules.
Amy Ezell, Director of the Center for Communication, shared instructions for asking questions correctly, and Todd Burris, Director of the Center for Administrative Services, provided instructions for voting.
The majority approved the Session Rules.
Bishop Mueller then invited the Arkansas Conference Chancellor, Michelle Ator, to present an overview of the Boy Scouts of America Bankruptcy Settlement.
This presentation included information on the case’s background, mediation thus far, the proposed proposal agreement, the payment model, and the next steps.
Ator explained that she sees both sides of this issue because she has represented clients on both ends. “Given all considerations, the amount that our conference has been asked to pay, and the steps that we have been asked to take, is in the best interest of our conference and local churches, to accept the settlements before us.”
Ator shared further that, “Settlements are (created) to achieve peace. Trials of this kind are not in the best interest of the mission of our church. This settlement is fair from a legal standpoint. It also sends a message that ARUMC is working collectively towards justice and healing in our communities.”
Todd Burris, Director of the Center for Administrative Services, presented the Arkansas Conference financial allocations.
Bishop Mueller then called upon Rev. Jim Polk, Assistant to the Bishop, to share remarks on the future of the United Methodist Church with the Boy Scouts of America.
Rev. Polk opened his presentation by sharing how much scouting has positively affected his life.
Holding the Eagle Scout rank himself, Rev. Polk shared, “Many churches in the Arkansas Conference have proudly chartered scouting units for years. They have seen firsthand the value of scouting and its ability to strengthen young people’s lives, today for both boys and girls, young men and young women.”
Polk announced that along with all the work that is being done to properly respond to past issues, “There is a United Methodist sub-committee that is working with BSA leaders and the General Commission on United Methodist Men to develop new options for ongoing relationships between the BSA and United Methodist organizations, (that include) safe and supportive options for all involved.”
“Efforts are underway to create a new ‘affiliation agreement’ that could eventually replace the current charter agreement and provide more clarity on insurance coverage for sponsoring groups. It will potentially place greater responsibility on local BSA Councils for the recruitment, vetting, and training of scout leaders and developing a facilities use agreement that will be acceptable to both local United Methodist churches and local BSA Councils,” Polk added.
In closing, Rev. Polk spoke directly to the Arkansas United Methodist churches with current charters and those considering future charters. “Keep things as they are for now and wait just a little longer for final recommendations to come to us from the General Commission on United Methodist Men. I am confident that with the new options being developed, these relationships will continue, perhaps in slightly changed forms, but stronger and safer than ever.”
Bishop Mueller then called upon Rev. Rashim Merriwether, Special Assistant to the Bishop on Ethnic Concerns and Initiatives, and Kathy Conley, Arkansas Conference Lay Leader. They offered a presentation on the first Resolution from the Cabinet.
This Resolution entitled, “Resolution of the Arkansas Annual Conference to Support the Healing of Survivors Affected by the Boy Scouts of America,” was adopted by an overwhelming majority of 97%.
Bishop Mueller then called upon Rev. Brittany Watson, Arkansas Conference Council on Finance and Administration Chairperson, to present legislation on how to pay our Conference’s share of the Boy Scouts of America settlement.
A majority of 97% adopted this piece of legislation; therefore, the Arkansas Conference commits to paying $292,144.00 for its share of the “Survivor Trust Fund.
To assist the denomination in reaching the total of $30 million, the Arkansas Conference will pay its share in full to the fund established to fulfill this purpose immediately following the final court-approved legal settlement. The Conference will use money from undesignated reserve funds to pay the Conference’s fund share. The Conference will be able to make this payment without affecting the working budget.
Rev. Dr. Blake Bradford, Dean of the Cabinet, presented the second Resolution, entitled, “A Resolution Regarding the Formation of a Task Force to Look Into Our Policies Concerning the Safety of Children, Youth, and At-Risk Adults.”
This Resolution was adopted as well, with an overwhelming majority of 95%.
Rev. Dr. Ulysses Washington closed the Session with a prayer of hope and healing in moving forward.
Bishop Mueller and Rev. Clark Atkins offered special thanks to the Conference staff for all of the work that went into preparation and production of this called Special Session: Sara Andrews, Danielle Atkinson, Todd Burris, Day Davis, Amy Ezell, Palmer Lee, Jim Polk, Melissa Sanders and Jacob Turner.
Also recognized were Rev. Judy Rudd, Conference Parliamentarian, and especially Michelle Ator, Conference Chancellor.
The Special Called Session had over 480 voting participants and was viewed live (in its entirety) on Facebook by approximately 80 people.
For more thorough information on this Special Called Session, the minutes will be posted here later this week.