The Arkansas Conference Staff Shares What They’ve Learned From Caste: The Origins of our DiscontentsStaff book study furthers the discussion on racism and caste systems in the United States

The Arkansas Conference Staff Shares What They’ve Learned From Caste: The Origins of our Discontents
Staff book study furthers the discussion on racism and caste systems in the United States

book stack

Photo by Debby Hudson on Unsplash

In 2020, the staff of the Arkansas Conference of the United Methodist Church underwent a study on implicit bias. Led by the Rev. Rashim Merriwether Sr. Special Assistant to the Bishop for Ethnic Concerns and Initiatives, and the Rev. Jim Polk, Assistant to the Bishop and Director of Connectional Ministry, our months-long study led us into vital conversations with each other about implicit bias, prejudice, racism, and more issues on social justice.

Desiring to further explore issues of racism and caste in the United States after our study ended, the Arkansas Conference staff began a new book discussion series exploring author Isabel Wilkerson’s New York Times best-selling novel Caste: The Origins of our Discontents.

Wilkerson’s Caste not only explores the systemic and systematic racism ingrained in the history of the United States but goes further by comparing the caste system of India with our own version of a caste system that has existed right here in America for hundreds of years.

Below are a few responses from Arkansas Conference staff members who share what they have learned from our ongoing discussion on caste, racism, and systemic oppression in the United States.

“The book Caste deepened my understanding of the complex infrastructure that was created in the United States to suppress anyone that is not white.  Although we didn’t create this system, we inherited it and it is our responsibility to recognize it, help others recognize it, and actively work to dismantle it.”

– Megan Rugg, Assistant Director of the Center for Administrative Services

“The book Caste filled in so many historical holes that I had in my knowledge of our country and the role of our state in the suppression of people of color. I especially loved taking part in this book discussion as a staff and hearing the powerful explanations and experiences shared by my black co-workers. Hearing their voices touched me so deeply and taught me that I have more work to do educating myself and others.”

– Melinda Shunk, Children’s Ministry Coordinator

“Caste helped me to understand the unique development of racism in the United States. Through written (and unwritten, but understood) laws and regulations, racism is a part of every aspect of American culture from medicine and education to the economy and the church. When we talk about dismantling racism, it is not only about dismantling racism in our hearts, but also dismantling racism in the systems that were built and perpetuate racial disparity.”

– Rev. Samantha Meadors, Project Coordinator for The Delta Project

“Caste has opened my eyes to countless ways that our country has been set up to actively work against black people while also creating systems to ensure that white people were not taught to recognize these racist policies.  And, I’m learning that open, honest conversations are important, although uncomfortable at times.”

– Michelle Moore, Youth and Young Adult Coordinator; Developer of Clergy Recruitment

“Caste shows us that having real conversations on racism and the ways that it has manifested in this country is not only a difficult conversation, but pulls at many of our inherited beliefs as a society. As we navigate each chapter, ideologies, traditions, and biases are challenged and re-examined. This leaves individuals on both sides of the conversation over race feeling vulnerable while defining a new personal narrative about self and what responsibility or role we have as part of humanity and the Christian Faith to address the sin of racism. Caste peels back the layers of a complicated past and a hidden present. Caste does not focus on the blame game, but paints the picture for all to see an honest look at the cause, duality, and the collateral damage racism has and can cause in the story of humanity if we don’t have the conversation. Caste reveals the sin of racism and promotes a space for everyone to learn, grieve, repent, affirm, transform, and grow.”

– Rev. Rashim Merriwether Sr., Special Assistant to the Bishop for Ethnic Concerns and Initiatives

Learning about the caste system in the U.S. was eye-opening. I was somewhat familiar with India’s history of the caste, but reading this book made me more aware of how prevalent it is today. We see those on the highest rungs of the caste system — people with power, money, those in government — frequently pit the middle class against the subordinate poor caste to deflect attention away from what the wealthiest or most powerful may be doing. A recent example of how the caste system works is demonizing those on unemployment as lazy and taking away benefits. Never taking into account facts of life such as low wages; availability of full-time jobs with benefits rather than lower-paying part-time positions without benefits; the lack of available and affordable childcare and eldercare; affordable housing; and reliable transportation. These are real issues that we face in our country.

I was also sickened to read Hitler’s observation of the American South. He was impressed and marveled at our knack for maintaining an air of innocence about the torture and death of our slaves. One way to do that was to change the conversation. It was easier to think of slaves as currency, machines, and property rather than human beings.

– Mona Williams, Benefits Officer

For more resources on the Arkansas Conference’s Dismantling Racism Initiative, visit

Jacksonville First Turns Sunday Morning Worship Into A Churchwide Vacation Bible SchoolIntergenerational worship is the goal of this year's VBS

Jacksonville First Turns Sunday Morning Worship Into A Churchwide Vacation Bible School
Intergenerational worship is the goal of this year's VBS

Jacksonville First UMC’s sanctuary decorated for the To Mars and Beyond Vacation Bible School, which is taking place during morning worship for five Sundays this summer.

By Caleb Hennington

Digital Content Editor

Vacation Bible School is one of the hallmarks of summer vacation for kids, but oftentimes it takes place outside of the traditional church service, leading many parents and church members unaware of the wonderful ministry taking place inside their church. That’s why Jacksonville First UMC decided this year to make Vacation Bible School and Sunday morning worship one and the same, integrating a typically week-long VBS into a 5-week Sunday morning worship experience.

“For the next five Sundays, we’re going to have Vacation Bible School as an entire congregation, rather than just a segment of our congregation, which is usually just the kids,” said the Rev. Nathan Kilbourne, senior pastor at Jacksonville First UMC.

Kilbourne said that the idea for an integrated, intergenerational VBS came about earlier this year during planning meetings with Stephanie Dunn, the Christian Education Coordinator for Jacksonville First.

He and Dunn had thought about doing an at-home VBS last year when the pandemic was still spreading quickly through their community, but ultimately, the decision was made to forego VBS in 2020. So when planning for the 2021 VBS came about, and they saw that infection numbers were down and it was safer to gather, they were itching to do something in person again.

“I was in the middle of my sermon planning at the same time and thinking about all that we’ve gone through over the course of the past year and asking, ‘what could Vacation Bible School look like this year?’” Kilbourne said.

“The desire to be together as a church family was kind of driving a lot of this, that what if instead of doing a normal VBS, we said the entire church gets to participate this year, whether you’re an infant or you’re 100 years old, and we’ll all get to do this together.”

rev nate

The Rev. Nathan Kilbourne dresses up as a space explorer during Vacation Bible School at Jacksonville First UMC

The planning team settled on a multi-week VBS, with each “day” of VBS taking place on a different Sunday morning throughout the end of June and into July. Instead of four or five days in the middle of the week, Jacksonville First’s VBS would take place during Sunday morning worship.

The theme of this year’s VBS at Jacksonville is To Mars and Beyond, said Dunn. It’s the same theme that was produced in 2019 by Cokesbury but is being reintroduced this year to a new audience.

Dunn said that each day of VBS will operate just as it normally would during a week-long VBS.

“We are doing the opening assembly and closing assembly of Vacation Bible School, along with Rev. Nate’s preaching around the Bible story that’s told each day. And we’re also doing the music portion during worship,” Dunn said.

The entire sanctuary has been decorated with the To Mars and Beyond theme, complete with a red and white rocket ship next to the lectern, streamers and celestial decorations hanging from the ceiling and on the walls, and quirky robots on the stage.

Kilbourne said that his Sunday morning sermon will be related to the story that corresponds to that day of VBS.

“It’ll be geared more toward kids. So, you know, like Vacation Bible school typically has a storytime where they learn the Bible story for the night. I’m taking that and modifying it a little bit to make it for everybody but still with a bent toward kids,” he said.

For music time, the songs that kids typically learn during Bible School will also be taught to everyone in the sanctuary during morning worship, complete with corresponding arm motions and silly sound effects if necessary.

stage rocket

A rocket ship and more space-themed items decorate the stage at Jacksonville First UMC.

Game time, craft time, and snack time are the only portions of each day that won’t take place in the church sanctuary, according to Dunn. But if anyone from the church wants to join in for those activities as well, they are welcome to do so in the church’s gym immediately following worship.

Both Kilbourne and Dunn said that the most important thing they hope both the congregation and kids get from this experience is a deeper appreciation for the importance of intergenerational ministry.

“Churchwide, it’s important for the children to be in participation with adults and vice versa. I think it’s also important that the kids see the rest of our church taking on a program that they loved so well and enjoying it just as much as they do,” Dunn said.

Kilbourne said that being separated from each other for the past year has really affected everyone at their church, and this Vacation Bible School also gives the congregation a chance to be together in fellowship again.

“By doing crafts together, doing recreation together, doing science together we’re hoping to bridge those generational gaps to help us see the family that we have in God,” Kilbourne said.

“One of the things we’ve also said is we’ve had enough difficulty over the past year, we just want to have fun and as a congregation, we just want to enjoy one another’s presence and to let loose a little bit because we’ve had a lot of serious stuff happen. We want to inject some joy into our entire lives together as well.”

Jacksonville First UMC’s first VBS was on Sunday, June 20. It will continue for the next four Sundays, June 27, July 4, July 11, and July 18. For more information, contact Stephanie Dunn at

Online or In Person, Our Conference Is Connected

Online or In Person, Our Conference Is Connected

ac2021 unity

By Caleb Hennington

Digital Content Editor

Have you ever been to a hybrid Annual Conference, one that takes place both in-person and online? Do you know of any other Annual Conferences that are having hybrid events? Did you even know such a thing was possible?

Last week, the Arkansas Annual Conference held its annual meeting of business, worship, and fellowship. The June 2-4 meeting was in an entirely new format, one that we have never attempted before, and if we’re being honest, one that we weren’t entirely certain would work.

Although we had successfully completed an entirely virtual Annual Conference experience last year in 2020, adding an in-person layer to the event created a completely new layer of complexity.

But it worked! Our tech crew and backstage staff faced a few hiccups at the beginning, but once all the tech demons were exorcised, the event ran flawlessly, perhaps better than we could have imagined.

People attending in-person at the arena were able to hear and see virtual participants on our big projector screens near the main stage. When the Bishop spoke on his stage microphone, or when someone came to a mic in the crowd, the Zoom participants were able to hear them as well. It was sort of like a TV news station going to a reporter on the scene of an event for a live report.

One of the biggest advantages of pulling off this hybrid event was the sense of connectionalism and fellowship that it brought everyone attending the event. Whether online or in-person, you were able to see and hear people who many of us have been separated from since the start of the pandemic in early 2020.

COVID protocols were still in place for our in-person members, but those who had been fully vaccinated were able to hug their friends and colleagues for the first time in more than a year. For some, this was the first time they had seen many of their fellow United Methodists in person since Annual Conference 2019!

Despite the pandemic continuing to spread through our communities — granted, at a much slower rate than before vaccinations become available — the Arkansas Annual Conference was able to bring some semblance of normalcy back to our people.

I don’t have to tell many of you how important connectionalism plays in our United Methodist heritage. The pandemic not only devastated people’s lives, but it also devastated their connection to their communities.

Technology kept us connected last year, true, but it’s simply not the same as seeing your friends and neighbors in person, being able to hug their necks, squeeze their arms, and see their facial expressions in person when you recall a funny story from the past.

The hybrid experience was difficult, perhaps one of the most difficult things we’ve ever attempted at an Annual Conference, but it was worth the added struggle to be able to offer people that sense of community and connectionalism that they have sorely missed in the last year. I hope that if you attended Annual Conference this year, whether live or online, you felt some of that normalcy return. And let’s continue to pray for COVID to be defeated so we can return to full in-person fellowship at Annual Conference 2022.

Daily Digest – June 4, 2021Annual Conference 2021

Daily Digest – June 4, 2021
Annual Conference 2021

praying ac2021

A chain of people linked arms around the Hot Springs Convention Center to show racial unity during the Having the Conversation presentation.

By Caleb Hennington

Digital Content Editor

Friday, June 4, 2021 was the last day of this year’s Arkansas Annual Conference. The day consisted of many reports from institutions and committees, as well as legislative actions from the Board of Trustees that required approval by the voting members of the Annual Conference. Our Order of the Day was presented by the Rev. Dr. Erin Beasley and Rev. Dr. F. Willis Johnson. The One Matters and Denman youth and adult awards were also given out, and after a final worship service, everyone left Hot Springs, Arkansas, and returned to their homes after another successful Annual Conference.

Morning Business Session

At the beginning of Friday’s business session, the One Matters Award was presented to Hawley Memorial UMC of Pine Bluff. The Rev. Edna Morgan, pastor at Hawley UMC and newly appointed Southeast District Superintendent, accepted the award on behalf of her church. The award is given out every year to a local church that exemplifies remarkable leadership in their community and seeks to bring people to Christ through action and spirit.


rev. edna morgan

The Rev. Edna Morgan received the One Matters Award on behalf of Hawley Memorial UMC in Pine Bluff.

The Harry Denman Evangelism Award is given out every year to two individuals, a youth and an adult recipient, who exemplify what it means to be a disciple in their own communities. The youth recipient of this year’s award was Phoebe Sanders, ACCYM President and student at Hendrix College. The adult recipient of the Denman Award was two people this year, the Rev. Jim and Beth Lenderman. The Rev. Jim Lenderman passed away in May after a courageous fight with cancer. His wife, Beth, was present at Annual Conference to accept the award for both of them.

Beth Lenderman received the Harry Denman Evangelism Award for her and her late husband, the Rev. Jim Lenderman.

After a report from the Committee on Disaster Relief, Janice and Byron Mann, Coordinators for the Arkansas Conference Disaster Response Ministries and Volunteers in Mission, were honored for their decades-long service to the Annual Conference. The Manns will be retiring at the end of 2021 and were given a special commemorative vase in their honor. It was also announced that the new disaster response warehouse and staging headquarters in Conway would be named in honor of the Manns for their years of faithful service.

the manns

Janice and Byron Mann were honored for their years of service in disaster response and will be retiring at the end of 2021.

The Board of Trustees gave their report during the morning session. After voting and passing recommendations contained in their report for church closings, Bishop called for a quick break. When we returned from break, the Rev. Tony Griffin and Todd Burris presented a new disaffiliation policy that the Board of Trustees had crafted in response to legislation passed at the 2019 General Conference special session. The disaffiliation policy laid out the process churches would need to go through, in regards to financial assets and property, if they voted to disaffiliate from the United Methodist Church based on par. 2553 of the Book of Discipline. After amendments, and amendments to the amendments, were introduced, the voting members of the Annual Conference voted to strike all of 6.b.III from the disaffiliation policy. The text that was removed can be found on page 41, lines 10,11 in the Pre-Conference Journal. The final vote on the disaffiliation policy passed 348-147.

Order of the Day: Rev. Dr. Erin Beasley and Rev. Dr. F. Willis Johnson

The Rev. Dr. Erin Beasley and Rev. Dr. F. Willis Johnson presented to the Annual Conference a discussion on racism and the church titled “Honoring Our Wesleyan Heritage through Racial Reconciliation. Beasley and Johnson were contributors to the book “I’m Black. I’m Christian. I’m Methodist,” which was edited by the Rev. Dr. Rudy Rasmus and featured contributions from Black UMC pastors from across the connection. The Methodist Foundation for Arkansas and the Arkansas Conference previously hosted Beasley and Johnson during a webinar discussion of the same name. Beasley and Johnson were asked by Bishop Mueller to offer advice to local churches that are seeking to dismantle racism and move toward racial reconciliation, and both panelists said one of the most important things a local church can do is to constantly check themselves and make sure that the programs they have implemented now to dismantle racism don’t get left behind and forgotten. There must be constant work put into the process of dismantling racism and building racial reconciliation.

The Rev. Dr. Erin Beasley and Rev. Dr. F. Willis Johnson presented the Order of the Day on racial reconciliation.

Immediately following the presentation by the Rev. Dr. Erin Beasley and Rev. Dr. F. Willis Johnson, a group of pastors joined the Rev. Troy Conrad and the Rev. Rashim Merriwether on stage to discuss a new free resource produced by the Arkansas Conference, “Having the Conversation: A devotional series for dismantling the sin of racism, and building God’s reconciliation.” The book features different devotional series written by Arkansas clergy and laity dealing with racism in the modern world, and how we can all work toward building racial reconciliation in our local churches. The resource was passed out to the audience at Annual Conference, and an online copy will be made available on the Conference website soon.

Afternoon Business Session

The afternoon business session featured reports from a collection of various institutions, and Conference committees and organizations. Institutional reports were given either live or through video by Lydia Patterson Institute, Hendrix College, Philander Smith College, Perkins School of Theology, and Methodist Family Health.

The Methodist Foundation for Arkansas, the Committee on Disability Concerns, the Board of Global Ministries, the Committee on the Status and Role of Women, the Board of Pensions, the Dean of the Cabinet report, and the Nominations Report were all given as well. You can find all of these reports in the Pre-Conference Journal.

The Rev. Jim Polk also introduced our two newest camp directors for Camp Tanako and Mount Eagle Retreat Center, Kayle Hardage for Tanako and Katelyn Hiatt for Mount Eagle.

Near the end of the afternoon business session, Rob and Kathi Walker were honored by Todd Burris, the Bishop, and the entire Annual Conference for their years of dedication to the annual event. Rob and Kathi have been providing wonderful, delicious home-cooked meals, backstage assistance, and so much more to the Annual Conference for many years, and this year was their last event to help with. We appreciate all they have done for our Conference and will miss them dearly.

the walkers

Rob and Kathi Walker were presented a gift on behalf of the Arkansas Annual Conference.

Setting of Appointments

The final day of Annual Conference closed with a beautiful worship service where LED candles were lit and held up by clergy and laity in the arena. The setting of final appointments by the Bishop was also made, and you will be able to find the full list of appointments on the Conference website soon.

To view full sessions of the 2021 Arkansas Annual Conference, visit our YouTube page.

Daily Digest – June 3, 2021Annual Conference 2021

Daily Digest – June 3, 2021
Annual Conference 2021

Worship band

Morning worship, lead by, left to right, Dave Williams, Paul Lazenby, Brooke Hobbs, and TJ Williams.

By Caleb Hennington

Digital Content Editor

The second day of the 2021 Arkansas Annual Conference began where any good day should start, in communal worship of our Savior and Creator. The morning worship was led by Brooke Hobbs, Dave Williams, TJ Williams, and Paul Lazenby. After leading us through a few songs this morning, the Rev. Bryan Diffee presented a short scripture reading and message that spoke of the brightness of God’s light that shines through Israel and God’s chosen people, and how we as Christians and United Methodists must be the light in our current world, reflecting God’s glory to all.

Episcopal Address

Bishop Mueller’s 2021 Episcopal Address was titled “The Gift of an Unexpected Pause,” and presented a reflection of the tough year that 2020 brought us, with a global pandemic, political polarization, the sin of racism, and other trials and tribulations, but also three important ventures that churches should seek to achieve in the days, months, and years ahead.

Much like the Israelites who wandered the desert for 40 years seeking the Promised Land, the United Methodist Church finds itself wandering in the desert as well, trying to resolve a long-debated issue over human sexuality in the United Methodist Church.

“I understand why so many of you have reached the point you have – just ready for something to happen so it is all over,” Bishop Mueller said. “But I wonder if our impatience, anger and desire to settle things as quickly as possible are signs that we do not trust God – so God is keeping us wandering until we are formed into a more faithful people. Just like God kept the people of Israel wandering until they were formed into a more faithful people.”

Bishop Mueller went on to say that he believes God is testing the United Methodist Church at this moment with an “unexpected pause,” just as he did in Exodus with the people of Israel and that we should be focusing on three important ventures while we wait for General Conference 2022. Those ventures are to strengthen your congregation, double down on the mission, and put Jesus at the heart of everything.

My brothers and sisters of the Arkansas Annual Conference – let us use this unexpected pause to fall in head-over-heels, passionate and crazy love with Jesus regardless of whether we are traditionalists, moderates, centrists, or progressives. If we do, we will discover we no longer are wandering in the wilderness – instead we are on our way to the promised land God has set before us,” Bishop Mueller concluded.

Morning Business Session

The morning business session began with a Committee on Episcopacy report, presented by Karon Mann and the Rev. Mark Norman. Mann and Norman thanked Bishop Mueller for his faithful guidance, words of encouragement, and wise counsel during last year’s global pandemic. Bishop Mueller and his wife, Karen Mueller, were presented with a gift by the Committee on Episcopacy to show their appreciation for all that they do for the Arkansas Conference.

Mary Lewis Dassinger and the Rev. Samantha Meadors presented the 200,000 More Reasons report. 200,000 More Reasons is the new name for 200,000 Reasons, which was approved by vote at last year’s Annual Conference meeting. 200,000 More Reasons is committed to not only end childhood hunger in Arkansas but to improve family stability and childhood literacy as well. You can view a video below of a few people from around the Conference who have committed to improving the lives of families and children in Arkansas.

The Rev. Rashim Merriwether, Special Assistant to the Bishop for Ethnic Concerns and Initiatives, presented a report on the Dismantling Racism Initiative. Merriwether’s position was created in 2020 after the murder of George Floyd, a Black man who was killed by a Minneapolis police officer, and the months of protests calling for reform, racial reconciliation, and dismantling the sin of racism within our church and the world. Merriwether presented the work that has been done in the last year, and spoke of the hard work that still needs to be done in order to make a more just and equitable church for all. You can read more about our Dismantling Racism Initiative on the Conference website.

A report from the Arkansas delegation to General Conference was presented by Karon Mann and the Rev. Mark Norman. They ask for continued prayers until General Conference takes place in fall of 2022. Please reach out to them with prayers, concerns, or questions.

Retirement Service

Fifteen clergy members were honored for their years of faithful service at the 2021 Retirement Service. The names of all retirees, as well as their years of service, can be found below.

Everett H. Blakely –  7 years
William Buchanan – 29 years
Stephen Coburn – 37.5 years
William D. “Luke” Conway – 32 years
Danny Dunlap – 12 years
Leonard Higgins – 40 years
Geral Holloway – 14 years
Teresa Holt – 22 years
John Humphries – 18.75 years
John Mark McDonald – 30 years
Treva Mills – 17 years
Paul Seay – 20 years
James Phillip “Phil” Smith – 11 years
Mark Waynick – 24 years
Brenda Wideman – 6 years

Petitions and Resolutions

Two resolutions and one petition to General Conference were voted on today. The resolutions were Project Transformation Arkansas Relationship to Arkansas Annual Conference, which passed by a vote of 446-67 after a substitute resolution was passed to take the place of the original resolution printed on page 62 of the Pre-Conference Journal. The resolution will formally recognize Project Transformation as a ministry partner with the Arkansas Annual Conference.

A Resolution Regarding Decisions about Potential Separation, Departure, or Realignment as an Annual Conference was presented by the Rev. JJ Whitney and passed by a vote of 293-237 after a substitute resolution was presented to take the place of the resolution printed on page 65 of the Pre-Conference Journal. The resolution seeks to bring together diverse ideological groups within the Arkansas Conference, including the Wesleyan Covenant Association/Confessing Movement, UMCNext/Uniting Methodist, and the Black Methodist for Church Renewal, in a wide-ranging discourse concerning the potential vote of separation that could occur at General Conference 2022. Rev. Whitney said the goal was for people to come together in Christian conferencing to discuss their thoughts, feelings, anxieties, and more about the upcoming General Conference session.

A General Conference Petition to Clarify Deadlines in Paragraph 507 was presented by the Rev. Jim Polk. The purpose of the petition was to clarify the deadline for petitions to be sent to General Conference, considering the twice-delayed General Conference, which was set to occur in 2020, but has now been pushed back to 2022. That resolution passed by a vote of 465-46.

Celebration of Life Service

The Rev. Edna Morgan preached the Celebration of Life Service, and honored the saints that we lost since the last Annual Conference with personal stories and “-isms” and phrases that she said we will all remember when we think of their names.

The lives lost this past year include the following.

Wayne A. Bell
Donna Bennett
Dorothy E. Bostow
Rita Jo Callahan
Lewis V. Chesser, Jr.
Brenda Collier
James E. Conn
Cheryle Costner
Joann Garner
Gary L. Goldman
Donna Goza
James E. Harris
Don J. Hewett
Syd Howe
Mary Ellen Hughes
Richard Hughes
Linda Johnson
Berah Willyne Thompson Jordan
Emma Lee Kelton
James H. “Jim” Lenderman
Wayne Lindsey
Annie Beatrice Martin
Carol Ann Nolley
Mary “Arlene” Pickett
John Polk
Mary Agnes Powell
Gordon “Randall” Reddin
Sammye “Royce” Savage
G. Bonnie Shearer-Hughes
Alma Smith
Charlotte Staggs
William J. “Bill” Thompson
Guy M. Whitney, Jr.
Kay Wiggins
Donna B. Williams

Evening Business Session

In the evening business session, the Rev. Angie Gage gave a presentation on Native American Ministries and the ongoing work that must continue in regards to giving Indigenous peoples recognition and a voice in our Conference. The Rev. George Odell presented the work of the Arkansas General Commission on Religion and Race, and Clay McCastlain presented for the United Methodist Men in Arkansas.

After presentations from these groups, Todd Burris, Conference Treasurer and Director of the Center for Administrative Services, and the Rev. Brittany Richardson-Watson, president of the Council on Finance and Administration, presented this year’s Conference Spending Plan. After a short presentation on the tithe initiative, and the benefits that have come out of the Conference switching to a 10% tithe plan instead of an apportionment model, the Conference members voted on the Spending Plan. By a vote of 353-74, the 2021-2022 Spending Plan passed.

Barnabas Award

The Rev. Maxine Allen received this year’s Barnabas Award. The Barnabas Award is an annual award in honor of the late Rev. Jim Beal. It is given annually by the Board of Ordained Ministry to a person, lay or clergy, who has a heart for pastors and mentoring others.

“I am deeply humbled to receive this award named in honor of the Apostle Barnabas which was instituted as a result of the legacy of Jim Beal, an Arkansas Churchman whose shadow all clergy stand in,” Allen said. “Many thanks to those who nominated me and the committee that selected me.

“As a second career pastor, I was able to have wonderful mentors: Revs. William “Paw Paw” Robinson, Chester Jones, and Joyce Harris Scott.  This woman and these men opened doors for me. I hope that I have held my foot in those doors long enough to have a 3rd generation walk through and sit at the tables of power across Methodism. To those who have allowed me to be their mentor, and especially to those I “fired” as mentees, I have learned so much from you! You make me want to continue teaching and learning for the next 50 years! To God be the glory!”

The Rev. Maxine Allen received the Barnabas Award at the 2021 Arkansas Annual Conference.

Order of the Day: Rev. Dr. Michael Beck

The Rev. Dr. Michael Beck of Fresh Expressions US gave our first Order of the Day for Annual Conference. Beck came to us virtually via Zoom, and spoke on the mission of Fresh Expressions, which is to go into places where we don’t normally think church can happen, and form relationships and connections with people in new ways. Some of the places that Rev. Dr. Beck mentioned where Fresh Expressions have popped up include tattoo parlors, burrito restaurants, dog parks, and virtual spaces. You can learn more about Fresh Expressions US by visiting

rev. dr. michael beck

Laity, Youth Addresses

Kathy Conley, Lay Leader for the Conference, presented the Laity Address at the morning business session. Conley emphasized the work of laity across the connection and presented a video showcasing the work and importance of laity in the Conference.

The youth address was presented via video by ACCYM President Phoebe Sanders, who spoke about the struggles that ACCYM has gone through in the past year, but the hope she feels about the future of the United Methodist Church as well as the welcome news of Project Transformation’s partnership with the Arkansas Conference.

The final day of Annual Conference will commence at 8 a.m. on Friday, June 4. Tune in to our YouTube channel to watch the day’s events online.