Arkansas Annual Conference 2022: REset, REpair, REnew

Arkansas Annual Conference 2022: REset, REpair, REnew

June 2 – 4, 2022

written by Amy Ezell & Colleen Holt

Wednesday, June 2

The 2022 Arkansas Annual Conference opened on June 2, at the Hot Springs Convention Center in Hot Springs, with meaningful worship, vibrant music and prayers. The Praise Band led by Brooke Sanchez-Hobbs of Pulaski Heights United Methodist Church, blessed all with worship each day and was made up of members from Bella Vista, First Jonesboro, and Pulaski Heights United Methodist Churches. 

Bishop Gary Mueller welcomed those gathered and immediately referenced the tension and uncertainty concerning this year’s Annual Conference. He told of a shirt he had seen that said, “Stay Calm and Trust the Holy Spirit.” He reiterated that all will be well, and we will be amazed at what happens when Jesus is “in the house.”

In the Episcopal Address (video), Bishop Mueller said we must take a leap of faith right over all the things we have wanted to focus on. “We must see beyond ourselves and see what God is doing. It takes work – discernment, acts of humility and listening to what God really wants. It takes a leap of faith to see people other than you as being valid, to set aside your own agenda.” Paul told the Corinthian church that they were a broken church, but they could find a way forward in unity by taking exactly that kind of leap. “The same thing will work for us.” 

In closing, the Bishop said we must “practice being the church in our current heartbreaking condition by being witness to how Jesus operates, allow people to find where they need to land and work in ministry together. A leap of faith church does not have to solve every issue we think divides us. We CAN be a leap of faith church. Is the United Methodist Church willing to take this leap? That, my brothers and sisters, is the question. It is the question every one of us will have to answer.”

The business session (video) included Conference Cornerstone Ministry reports given by Rev. Rashim Merriwether, Special Assistant to the Bishop on Ethnic Concerns and Initiatives and Senior Pastor at Hunter FUMC; Amy Ezell, Director of the Center of Communication; Michelle Moore, Developer of Clergy Recruitment; and Mary Lewis Dassinger, 200,000 More Reasons Project Coordinator. 

Following the initial reports, Bishop Mueller invited Dan Krause, General Secretary of United Methodist Communications, to present the Epikoinonia Award to Center for Communication Director, Amy Ezell, for excellence in Communication Ministry.

Other actions included a presentation from Rev. Wayne Clark, President and CEO of the Methodist Foundation for Arkansas; the presentation and adoption of the Committee on Finance and Administration report, which included the budget and adoption of the session rules, the agenda for the conference, and the consent calendar.

Late Wednesday afternoon was devoted to honoring those who are being commissioned and ordained into ministry (video). Answering the call into Christ’s priesthood included Chase Burns and Lyn Poplin, ordination as elder; Ryan Bacchus, Virginia Brown, Annie Lankford, and Timothy Rushing, commission as provisional members preparing for ordained ministry as elders; and Edna Hargraves, recognition of orders from a sister denomination. This special worship included words from Bishop Mueller and a Service of Holy Communion.

An additional joy to this worship service was the presence of all of the children who were Camp Tanako campers.

The first day was full of joy and anticipation as the people of the Conference were able to convene after using hybrid and online means for the last two years.

Thursday, June 3, 2022

Day two of the Annual Conference opened with powerful spoken word through the art of poetry given by Lo Alaman, Houston-based minister and creative poet, along with music and prayers presented by the conference’s House Praise Band (video). 

During the business session, the Laity Address was given by Kathy Conley, Arkansas Conference Lay Leader, who appeared along with the Board of Laity. She told the Conference that these board members seek to be the voice of the Laity in the Conference and in the world. She emphasized living a life based in faithfulness. God is writing God’s story through us, and every day we get to live out this story in the world. “We are serving as the author of our story and God’s story… Be the light to a hurting world and to love like God loves.”

Carole Blanks, Conference Director of the Committee on Lay Servant Ministries, reported that there are 55 total Certified Lay Ministers in the Arkansas Conference. Bishop Mueller thanked Kathy and Carole, saying this ministry is not only the ministry of the present but the ministry of the future.

As the business session continued (video), Rev. Jim Polk, Assistant to the Bishop & Director of Connectional Ministries, gave an update on the results of the agreement with the United Methodist Church and the Boy Scouts of America. 

Chairperson Rev. Jimmy Mosby and Safe Gathering Task Force members Michelle Moore, Kim Anderson, and Robert McCullum were present to make a report on the work of the Task Force that was set up by Conference resolution. Kim Anderson gave a report on a review policy, recommending a broad and comprehensive approach in providing safety for children, youth and vulnerable adults in our care. Michelle Moore said the task force recommended Safe Gatherings for the background check for all who work with children, youth and vulnerable adults. Kim Anderson clarified that this will be the policy and standard for district and conference events, and that individual churches will be encouraged to use it as a model for their individual churches. Motions to adopt the Safe Gathering policy and the creation of a permanent Safe Gathering committee were both adopted.

Rev. Pam Estes, Chairperson of BOM and Senior Pastor at St. Paul, Little Rock, gave a report on the workings of the committee. The Book of Discipline outlines the work of this committee, and what it means to be ordained. Those who completed Licensed to Preach School were David Andrews, Mike Bishop, Alyssa Burleson, Corey Conrad, Lea Ann Forest, Cody Gray, Daniel Hecke, Jerome Jolly, Matthew Knight, Tylar Lee, Amy Machen, Eric Marsh, Kathy McKinney, Christopher Megee, Atticus O’Brien, Kenneth Rowland, Gary Sneed, Laura Todd, Paul Weeks, and Samuel Wilcox. Those who have completed Course of Study School were Toby Austin, Everett Blakely, Jay Clark, Keith Coker, Alicia Finch-McCastlain, Lana Gartner, Deborah Harrison, and Tammy Harrell. Presented for ordination as elders were Chase Burns, Lyn Poplin. Presented for commission as provisional members were Ryan Bacchus, Virginia Brown, Annie Lankford, Timothy Rushing.

The Barnabas award is given each year to a pastor or lay person known to have a heart for pastors, in memory of Rev. Jim Beal. The Rev. Brittany Richardson-Watson, Associate Pastor of First United Methodist Church, Little Rock, was named by the Board of Ordained Ministry to receive the 2022 Barnabas Award.

Conference Board of Global Ministries President, Brenda Norwood, introduced Dr. Dana Lyles, Director and Team Lead of Global Ministries’ Multiethnic Ministry Program. Dr. Lyles told the Annual Conference about how Methodism at its best is a missionary moment. Mission is central to the work of Methodism, a shared responsibility and privilege of all.

A celebration in recognition of the Arkansas United Methodist Church Retirees was held to end the morning’s activities (video). Those entering retired status were: Steven Anderson, 18.75 years; Janet Barrow, 6.5; Jefferey Blassingame, 21; J. Michael Callahan, 17; Kim Cloninger, 42; Steve Cook, 33; Phil Costner, 16; Alma Hastings, 9; David Hawkins, 23; Cindy Henry, 14; Daniel Kirkpatrick, 39; Byron Mann, 16; Ronnie E. Newberry, 32; Henry A. “Buddy” Ratliff Jr., 48; Randy H. Rowlan, 40; James F. Wainscott, 17.75; Mary Welch, 24; Judith J. Whitney, 22.

Bishop Mueller offered words of appreciation, reminding the retirees of the first time they remembered hearing their call, and that they had served faithfully. “God’s not finished with you yet. God still has a call on your life. Once God calls you, God’s not going to let go. You have touched lives in ways you have known and ways you will never know. The Holy Spirit uses you in ways you would not expect, cannot see, and are sometimes contrary to how you see all things work.”

The afternoon session began with worship in memory of those who have joined the Church Triumphant.  (second half of (video). The Conference remembered the following Saints who passed away between May 15, 2021, and May 15, 2022: Rev. Charles O. Walthall, Mrs. Mildred Whitehurst, Mrs. Carol Anne Stone, Mrs. Jeanne Burroughs, Rev. Jerry Eubanks, Mr. Kim Burns, Rev. Patty Soward, Rev. James R. Bell, Rev. John O. Alston, Rev. Ben Jordan, Rev. Thomas MacMahon, Mrs. Norma Hansford, Rev. Edward E. Wyers, Rev. John F. Walker, Rev. Jerry Joe Nichols, Rev. DuBois Pettis, Rev. Edward Matthews, Rev. Garren E. Hagemeier, Rev. William “Bill” Steele, Rev. Ellis Lloyd Posey Jr., Mrs. Rozella Dublin, Mrs. R. Elizabeth Workman, Rev. Thomas Dellinger, Rev. Andy Newbill, Rev. Lowell Eaton, Mrs. Carolyn Harmon, Mrs. Patricia Wilkerson, Rev. Victor E. Green, Mrs. Mary Sue Tanner, Mrs. Marion Jane Laird Baker, Rev. Charles T. Thompson Jr.

Rev. David Fleming, Senior Pastor of Grand Avenue UMC in Hot Springs, offered a sermon to the body of the Annual Conference and families of the passed Saints, entitled “Re-Member.”

“We are the people who remember with you, who laugh with you and who cry with you in your grief. You are likewise the same for us and with each other. Memories can show us which direction we are headed. If ever we are to forget where we come from, why do we do what we do? We risk spiritual amnesia. The challenge before us is a simple one – to remember. The grief we are experiencing is not just in the church, in one denomination. It’s in the country, it’s in the world. And it’s breaking my heart,” shared Fleming. 

Following worship, the business session (video) began with a motion that legislation be adopted pursuant to P2548.2, as shown in the Pre-Conference Journal, which would outline a standard process governing requests from local congregations to amicably separate from the Arkansas Annual Conference of the UMC and join the Global Methodist Church. It was moved to defer consideration of this resolution until after the Judicial Conference rules on the use of P2548.2. The issue would be considered at the next called special session or regularly scheduled meeting of the Annual Conference. Following discussion both against and in favor of the deferment, the motion was approved.

Bishop James Edward Swanson Sr., presiding Bishop of the Mississippi Episcopal Area, gave a powerful message in the early evening worship session for Thursday (video). Bishop Swanson spoke on the theme of “Living By Faith.” Bishop Swanson is the first African American Bishop of the Mississippi Conference in the United Methodist Church.

Bishop Swanson based his sermon on the book of Habakkuk and said that before you can understand the prophecy, you must understand the prophet. To this prophet, it seemed like the wicked were winning or prospering all of the time. This book is really talking about how you understand your right relationship with God, and that God is the sum total of your life.

The true message of Habakkuk is that the righteous person will live by his or her faithfulness. Habakkuk is not afraid to wrestle even with his own understanding of God. “Have you ever had God surprise you? God will surprise you. Sometimes your enemy becomes your best friend, and your best friend becomes your enemy because it’s God’s plan, not your plan.”

The spirit-filled worship service was blessed by a closing altar call that brought many to the area in front of the stage.  Bishop Swanson and Bishop Mueller both presided at this time and all were sent forth with the charge to “Quit talking about what the church is doing, and get up and do something!” by Bishop Swanson. 

During Jason Moore’s session, attendees were presented with playdough to use to prayerfully consider how they could reshape their own ministries. This exercise proved to be meaningful as the altar was filled with handmade creations of how people imagined a future of their ministries with their church.

Friday, June 4, 2022

The final day (video) of the Arkansas Annual Conference brought great learning, introspection, and conversation about analyzing the present and looking to the future.

Jason Moore was introduced as teacher and preacher for the learning sessions. Known for his pioneering work in collaborative worship design and guest readiness, Moore has devoted the last two-plus decades to resource development, training, coaching and consulting that works for local churches of all sizes, styles, and means. He has authored 12 books and has taught in 47 states in the USA, including the Arkansas Conference. Most recently he has led Both/And worship cohorts with 42 Arkansas UM local churches.

During the session, attendees were presented with playdough to use to prayerfully consider how they could reshape their own ministries. This exercise proved to be meaningful as the altar was filled with handmade creations of how people imagined a future of their ministries with their church. 

“God didn’t cause the pandemic, but God can use the pandemic. In adversity, we can grow. If we will lean in, I think God will do good things in our worship. Our ministry began as a hybrid ministry – Paul conducted a hybrid ministry. He’s preaching to the people in person, and then from prison, he begins writing these epistles and sending them to the church. It’s a return to our roots to embrace hybrid ministry,” shared Moore.

This year, the Harry Denman Evangelism Award was given to lay member Sean Jennings of El Dorado for his work with technology during the pandemic, and to Rev. Kathleen McMurray of Pulaski Heights United Methodist Church for her work to reach out to young people in Little Rock.

One of the highlights each year is celebrating the recipients of the Harry Denman Evangelism and One Matters awards. This year, the Harry Denman Evangelism Award was given to lay member Sean Jennings of El Dorado for his work with technology during the pandemic, and to Rev. Kathleen McMurray of Pulaski Heights United Methodist Church for her work to reach out to young people in Little Rock. Green Forest United Methodist Church was recognized for receiving the One Matters Award and was accepted by Rev. Michael Bolin. They were recognized for their work at growing the membership of the church.

A resolution that had been introduced on Thursday was brought to the floor Friday morning during the business session. This resolution called for the Congressional Delegation from the State of Arkansas to support and act upon Responsible FireArm legislation. These proposed measures included:

  • Mandatory background checks for all gun sales, including gun shows and private sales. 
  • The prohibition of further sales of military-style assault rifles (most notably the AR15).
  • The prohibition on high-capacity magazines.
  • The extension of waiting periods to all firearm sales.
  • The implementation of red flag laws.
  • The expansion of mental healthcare as a guaranteed right and coverage to all persons.
  • The establishment of a minimum age of 21 to purchase a firearm.

This proposed resolution was sponsored by Rev. Andrew C. Kjorlaug, Rev. Daniel Theusen, Rev. Beth Waldrup, Rev. Charles Green, Rev. Patti Butler, Rev. Bill Sardin, Rev. Jana Green, Rev. James Kjorlaug, Rev. Sam Meadors, Rev. Paul Atkins, Rev. Claire Caldwell, and Rev. Jacob Lynn. 

The resolution was adopted by the body as presented, to request the Congressional Delegation from Arkansas to act on Responsible Fire-Arm Legislation. “It is past time for the church to speak to the least, the last and the lost,” said speaker, Rev. Andrew Kjorlaug.

Other reports given included the Youth address, the Committee on the Episcopacy, the Committee on Nominations, the Board of Trustees, the Commission on Equitable Compensation, the Board of Pensions, the Commission on the Status and Role of Women, United Methodist Men, United Methodist Women (now United Women in Faith), United Methodist Ecumenical and Interreligious Concerns, the Cabinet Report, the Commission on Religion and Race, Children’s Ministries, Youth Ministries, Board of Higher Education and Ministries, Committee on Disaster Relief, Committee on Native American Ministry, and the Committee on Disability Concerns. Reports were also given from various institutions such as Philander Smith College, Hendrix College, Lydia Patterson Institute, Methodist LeBonheur , and Methodist Family Health.

The 2022 Arkansas Annual Conference concluded with the traditional worship service that included setting of appointments and sending forth for the upcoming year. It was a blessed and spirit-filled Annual Conference.  

“…’See, I am making all things new.’” Revelation 21:5a (NRSV). 

Amen and amen.

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