A powerful spoken word message through the art of poetry by Lo Alaman, Houston-based minister and creative poet, along with music and prayers presented by the conference’s House Praise Band opened the Thursday session of Annual Conference with great spirit!
Rev. Aubrietta Jones, Senior Pastor at Maumelle FUMC, gave the opening morning devotional, based on Psalms 84:8-12, emphasizing the importance of reading the Bible and your journey to be a happy doorkeeper. “The Word of God changed my life,” she said. “I learned grace through the Word of God.” She said her calling was not what she expected it to be as a young girl. The Holy Spirit has used the Bible to be a life-changing thing for me. “I was willing to be a doorkeeper for Christ,” but apparently the Holy Spirit had a different idea, as she entered ordained ministry. “It’s quite possible to see evil in others, but to see it in you?” All of us are a little wicked at times – keeping silent when we should speak up, manipulating things to keep our advantages. “All of us try to get to the tents of wickedness from time to time.”
She reassured the Conference that Christ came for his love of us and that he knew we were tempted for the tents of wickedness. “He came to save us from sin and to save us from ourselves. That work of salvation is ongoing and still available to all of us. Even unpaid kingdom workers are tempted by the treasures. There will always be something luring us away from a life of serving others, from answering God’s call. God and his purposes are forever, and the things that we do in the service of God are forever.”
During the business session, reports were given by those directing the Conference’s Lay ministries. 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 on the committee. Five individuals who are new Certified Lay Ministers were called forward, recognized, and accepted the call into the work of lay ministry. 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.
Boy Scouts of America Update
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. He said the Arkansas Conference gave $292,000 as our share of the $30 million committed by the United Methodist Church to the survivor trust fund. He also offered prayers for the survivors for the families and offered help in recovery from the sexual abuse reported in Arkansas. A Conference task force was created to take a look at the Conference Safe Sanctuary policies. Final recommendations will be coming for those churches that continue to have a BSA charter. They were asked to continue with the charter until the next steps are determined.
Safe Gathering Task Force
Chairperson Rev. Jimmy Mosby and Task Force members Michelle Moore, Kim Anderson, and Robert McCullum were present to make a report on the work of the Safe Gathering 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.
Board of Ordained Ministry Report
Rev. Pam Estes, Chairperson of BOM and Senior Pastor at St. Paul-Little Rock FUMC, 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 have 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.
Barnabas Award winner
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. Rev. Brittany Richardson-Watson received the 2022 Barnabas Award.
Arkansas Conference Board of Global Ministries
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.
Celebration of Retirees
A celebration in recognition of the Retirees was held to end the morning’s activities.
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.
The retirees had a combined total of 439 years of ministry. Each retiree received a retirement certificate, retirement pin, and a plaque of appreciation from the Board of Ordained Ministry. Retiring pastors and the 2022 class of ordinands took part in the Passing of the Mantle.
Bishop Mueller offered words of appreciation, reminding the retirees of the first time they remembered hearing their call, and that they have 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.”
CELEBRATION OF LIFE SERVICE
The afternoon’s work began in worship of those who have joined the Church Triumphant. 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 at Grand Avenue Hot Springs, was the preacher and spoke on “Re-Member.” We are a people meant to remember, and today we remember those who have been called spouse, parent, mentor, “Hero or Shero.” In life, in death, in life beyond death, this is our story. We remember as we look back. Going back to Abraham and Sarah, we have been a nomadic people. From New Testament times, our forebears became followers of Christ. Since then, we are itinerant, agreeing to go where we are sent. “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. Move from amnesia to anamneses – 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.” He ended with these words from a historic hymn, “When we all get to heaven, what a day of rejoicing that will be.”
Our afternoon business session was opened with the prayer by Paulina Webber, who attends Dillard University in New Orleans and her home church is Wesley Chapel.
A motion was quickly made by Rev. Andrew Kjorlaug to suspend the rules in order to introduce a resolution concerning mass shootings and gun violence. The motion was approved. The resolution will be distributed on Friday for discussion.
Introduction and Consideration of Legislation
Rev. Bryan Fink, pastor at Stuttgart FUMC, made 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.
Bryan Swain, lay member from Central UMC, Fayetteville, motioned for a substitution distributed to the Conference today as opposed to the information contained in the Pre-Conference Journal. The substitution provides for a comity agreement with the Global Methodist Church, and for a transfer process and transfer agreement to be created for one church to transfer from one group to the other. This substitution was never adopted.
Rev. Rebekah Miles, SMU Perkins School of Theology, 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. The motion was seconded.
The question at hand is to defer the original legislation as found in the Pre-Conference Journal because the proposed substitution has not yet been adopted. Rev. Miles’ rationale for deferring was because we don’t know whether or not this paragraph can be used in reference to disaffiliation. Following discussion both against and in favor of the deferment, the motion was approved.
Service of Worship
Our evening worship started with a beautiful rendition of “Spirit Song” led by a combined choir and musicians from several churches and captured the hearts of the congregation with a Spirit-filled call to worship by Rev. Ronnie Miller-Yow.
Bishop James Edward Swanson Sr., presiding Bishop of the Mississippi Episcopal Area, gave a powerful message in the worship session for Thursday. 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.
He talked about how preaching is a community activity – the people also participate in the preaching. “You help the Holy Spirit feel welcome in the place, so the preacher can be free to tell the people what God wants them to hear. If you want to help your preachers preach, every so often give him some help.” If you allow the Holy Spirit to descend, the Holy Spirit will break down a whole lot of barriers. “This is God’s church, Jesus died on Calvary for this piece of property. He’s not going to give it up for anybody.”
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. He felt that because he was living the way he was, he should be prospering, because “I’m doing a favor for you, God.” 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.”
Before you can prophesy, you must be able to read the times you are living in. You must speak of those times. “It makes folks mad to hear of the truth,” he said. “It’s fine to sing Kumbaya, but it’s hard to live Kumbaya.” It was God who set us free, and the church ought to rejoice. “Quit talking about what the church is doing…you get up and do something!”
Sometimes, if you’re really a prophet “tied up and tangled up in this thing, you don’t need to see the end of this thing in order to shout.” You don’t have to see the end of things to know that victory is ahead.” Quit trying to plot out the victory – just wait!
Friday morning’s activities will begin at 8 a.m. with worship, a business session, and a teaching session.