The Friday morning session of Annual Conference opened at 8 a.m. through worship, with music presented by the Annual Conference music team.
A brief time of reflection was presented by Todd Burris, Director of the Center for Administrative Services and Arkansas Conference Treasurer, who reflected on life with his grandmother and her depression-era biscuit recipe. He tied it to a story in the Bible where Jesus, after his resurrection, asks Simon Peter three times, “do you love me?” Peter says, “Jesus, you know all.” Jesus replied, “Then feed my people.” Burris said this is a simple calling, but sometimes it feels more like survival, especially after going through Covid, disaffiliation, declining attendance and budget cuts. He said that just like with that depression-era recipe, we must all use what we have to feed those that we love.
It was announced that Rev. Roy Smith received the Barnabas Award, which is given annually to a member of the clergy who has a heart to encourage, mentor and support pastors.
Four people received the Denman Award for Evangelism. They are Addison Smittle, a C1Youth member of First United Methodist Church in Conway who volunteers with feeding ministries and on local and conference Youth committees; Mark Eldredge of Searcy FUMC, who helped in organizing worship during disaffiliation in his church; Rev. Peaches Smith, pastor of Haven UMC in Hot Springs, who developed an outreach ministry through her online services, even as far away as Africa; and Rev. Melanie Tubbs of Cotton Plant UMC, who has an online blog and assisted her congregation in coming back from a terrible fire that destroyed their sanctuary.
The One Matters Award was given to Farmington UMC for their feeding ministries, and their pastor, Rev. Annie Lankford, for her work to encourage the congregation to be more involved in the community.
Rev. Rashim Merriwether, Special Assistant to the Bishop on Ethnic Concerns and Initiatives and Senior Pastor of Hunter FUMC, reported on the efforts to dismantle racism, saying that we are challenged to look at our ministries with new eyes. “In moving forward, my work is to connect, find ways to network the ethnic conversation in the Arkansas Conference. … At the end of the day, I want to know that my work mattered.”
Presentations this morning were also given by Conference staff members: Rev. Dr. Michael Roberts, Director of the ReStart Initiative, Amy Ezell, Director of Communication; and Rev. Dr. Blake Bradford, Dean of the Cabinet.
The 2023 Retirees of the Arkansas UMC were recognized for having 465 years of combined service as clergy in the church. They are Cathy Caudle, Jim Benfer, Martha Cash Burless, David Bush, Terry Egan Chapman, Johnnie Davis, May Jan Davis, Barbara Douglas, Scott Gallimore, Joseph Hall, Daniel Hecke, Rockwell F. Jones, Kevin Lyon, Gordon “Ike” Mohr, Melvin Moss, David Moore, Deidre Jo “Dede” Roberts, Naomi P. Rogers, Thomas Toombs, and Regina Turner.
The Rev. Tony Griffin, Senior Pastor at Russellville FUMC, and Todd Burris, Director of the Center for Administrative Services and Arkansas Conference Treasurer, reported that during a court session on Thursday, temporary possession of the former Jonesboro FUMC facility was given to the Arkansas United Methodist Church. The facility on Main Street in Jonesboro is now being occupied by First Methodist Church of Jonesboro Inc. Litigation is still pending with a January trial date.
Reports were also received from the Hendrix College and the Lydia Patterson Institute; the Board of Ordained Ministry; the Committee on Native American Ministries; and the monitoring report from the Committee on the Status of the Role of Women in Ministry and the Committee on Race and Religion.
A Service of Remembrance was held to remember those who had joined the Church Triumphant over the past year. Rev. Dede Roberts brought the message, “Going and Coming.” In our last acts, we remember those who have gone before us. They were our encouragers, and now they are perfectly caught up among the saints in this new creation. These are our saints, who pointed out the deeper truths of our lives – Christ is with us in any and all circumstances. And they continue to call out to us and tell us to keep going!
Following a third Around the Table session, the setting of appointments was made and the Annual Conference was adjourned.