Arkansas Holds First Ever Online Annual ConferenceGeorge Floyd Honored, New Initiatives to Strengthen Black Church Announced

Arkansas Holds First Ever Online Annual Conference
George Floyd Honored, New Initiatives to Strengthen Black Church Announced

By Caleb Hennington

Digital Content Editor

The 2020 meeting of the Arkansas Annual Conference was different than any past gathering, in more ways than one.

Taking place on June 13, 9 a.m. – 1 p.m., this year’s Annual Conference was a one-day meeting, held completely online via the Zoom video conferencing platform, and took the place of our usual 3-day conference at Bank OZK Arena in Hot Springs, Arkansas.

“It’s at this time that I would usually say, ‘Welcome to the Arkansas Annual Conference in Hot Springs, Little Rock, or Rogers.’ Today, I get to give a first-ever greeting. Welcome to the Arkansas Annual Conference, wherever you are!” said Bishop Gary Mueller, in his opening address to the Conference.

The COVID-19 pandemic upended all in-person gatherings planned by the Arkansas Conference in 2020, which forced the meeting to be moved online in order to protect the health and well-being of the attendees.

The virtual conference, which was made possible by Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson’s Executive Order 20-15 in early April, was a stripped-down and condensed version of our usual annual meeting and consisted only of business deemed essential by the Conference staff and cabinet.

Remembering George Floyd

Not only was this year a first for the manner and location of our conference, but it also arrived during the middle of massive protests across all 50 states and the world over the killing of George Floyd, a black man, at the hands of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, a white man.

The Bishop’s Cabinet released a unified statement a few days prior to the meeting, which stated the commitment of the Conference to better work toward eradicating racism, listening more to black voices within the Conference, and putting into action a plan for creating a more just and equal environment for people of color within the Conference.

At the start of the Conference, Bishop Mueller asked for a moment of silence to be taken to honor the memory of George Floyd. A silent video with a picture of George Floyd played for 8 minutes and 46 seconds, the amount of time that Officer Chauvin had his knee on Floyd’s neck before Floyd died from his injuries.

Afterward, the Rev. Mark Norman, Southeast District Superintendent, offered a powerful prayer to the conference, asking for justice to be served, healing to happen, and for us all to remember the work of John Wesley and the mission of United Methodists to offer justice and peace to a broken world.

Strengthening the Black Church in Arkansas

During the afternoon business session, Bishop Mueller presented more details on new initiatives the Conference would be taking to better support and work with members of the black community, both clergy and laity, in the Arkansas Conference.

Part of the initiative includes a partnership with Philander Smith College, a Historically Black College with Methodist roots, for an annual mandatory training event for clergy with Philander’s Center for Social Justice. This training would work to educate clergy on issues related to race and better equip them to understand the needs of the black communities they serve.

Other elements of the initiative include a new landing page on the Conference website dedicated to dismantling racism in the church. Links to resources on the topic of racism and race will be included on the page in the coming weeks.

Additionally, the Arkansas Conference Cabinet will undergo implicit bias training provided by the General Commission on Religion and Race. Small groups of black clergy will also be invited to meet with the Bishop and District Superintendents to voice their concerns and questions.

The Rev. Rashim Merriwether, who currently serves as the Developer of Ethnic Faith Communities in the Center for Connectional Ministries, has also been appointed as a member of the Cabinet to increase the representation and voice of the black community in the Arkansas Conference.

And finally, increased funding for ethnic ministries in the Conference, as well as a new working group to develop strategic plans for Black churches in Little Rock, were announced.

At the conclusion of Bishop Mueller’s presentation, the Rev. Michael Roberts, First UMC Conway, presented legislation that proposed using funds from the Connected in Christ Endowment Fund, in the amount of $550,000, to purchase St. James Pine Bluff from the Methodist Foundation for Arkansas and deed it back to the congregation for continued ministry.

The church fell into financial distress after a previous pastor was implicated in an embezzlement scheme with a former Arkansas state representative in 2018, which resulted in the church not being able to pay the mortgage held by the Methodist Foundation. This resulted in the church voluntarily deeding the property to the Methodist Foundation.

The legislation passed on a vote of 577 to 69. In addition to the congregation regaining control of their church property, the Methodist Foundation for Arkansas has awarded St. James with a $100,000 grant which will be used to renovate existing space into a new kitchen and dining area for the church.

“I am very excited about the recent transaction between the Methodist Foundation for Arkansas, The Arkansas Annual Conference, and St. James United Methodist Church, Pine Bluff,” said the Rev. Wayne Clark, president and CEO of the Methodist Foundation for Arkansas. “A plan that truly helps the local church, campus ministry, and the Annual Conference do mission and ministry better is a blessing to everyone. I continue to be amazed at how God works.”

Spending Plan Approval

The 2020 – 2021 Conference Center for Finance & Administration report was presented in the morning business session by Todd Burris and the Rev. Brittany Richardson Watson.

Overall, the Conference budget, which we are now calling the Conference Spending Plan to better reflect the goals of the Conference, saw a reduction from $10,547,689 in the 2019 – 2020 fiscal year to $8,429,924 in the 2020 -2021 fiscal year. That translates to a 20% overall reduction in budget.

Factors that contributed to the lower spending plan include the reduction of Conference staff, as well as the dissolving of the Center for Multiplying Disciples. Rev. Merriwether, the only remaining member of the Center’s staff as of July 1, will be moved to the Center for Connectional Ministries, which will also absorb the remaining budget for New Places for New People.

Additionally, effective July 1, the 10% tithe for Conference apportionments will increase by .5% to help the transition of district offices to the Conference office. This increase in tithing will last for one year, from July 1, 2020 to July 1, 2021. After that time, Conference apportionments will return to 10%.

The CF&A Spending Plan was adopted by the Conference, 631 – 25.

For more detailed information on the Conference Spending Plan, please refer to pages 9 -23 of the Pre-Conference Journal.

Ordination Class

The clergy session of the 2020 Annual Conference took place prior to the June 13 meeting. During the session, seven people were approved to be ordained as elders in full connection: Rev. Andrea Cummings, Rev. Brad Moore, Rev. Daniel Read, Rev. Doug Phillips, Rev. Jonathan Bevil, Rev. Matthew Carter, and Rev. Taylor Loy.

The 2020 Ordination Service is tentatively scheduled for Aug. 30 at 4 p.m. A location has not yet been announced.

The Rev. J.J. Whitney, current chaplain at Hendrix College and senior pastor at Bentonville First UMC beginning July 1, was the recipient of this year’s Jim Beal Barnabas Award. The Barnabas Award is given annually by the Board of Ordained Ministry to a person, lay or clergy, who has a heart for pastors and mentoring others. It is given in remembrance of the late Rev. Jim Beal.

Retirees and Celebration of Life

Although it looked quite different this year, the Arkansas Annual Conference was able to find a way to honor our faithful pastors who retired this year, as well as clergy and clergy spouses who passed away since our last meeting.

A Retiree Service video was presented, with Bishop Mueller offering a few words of encouragement to the 21 retirees who, combined, served for 572 years of service.

In the Celebration of Life Service, we honored the memory of the clergy and clergy spouses who we lost this year. Additionally, special recognition was given to the family of Rebecca Davis, Administrative Assistant for Connectional Ministries, who passed away shortly before Annual Conference after many years battling cancer.

Next year’s Annual Conference is scheduled for June in Hot Springs, Arkansas. An exact date will be announced later. An order form for print copies of the Conference Journal and Directory will be available soon.

To view the 2020 Arkansas Annual Conference in its entirety, watch the video below.

ARUMC Reschedules District, Annual Conferences to Online Zoom Meetings

ARUMC Reschedules District, Annual Conferences to Online Zoom Meetings

LITTLE ROCK, ARK. (April 24, 2020) – In an effort to ensure the health and safety of voting members and visitors to the 2020 Arkansas Annual Conference amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the conference has made the decision to reschedule the May 27 – 30 gathering in Hot Springs, Arkansas, and move the business of the conference to an online Zoom meeting.

Bishop Gary Mueller commented, “Although Annual Conference has always been about being together, I am grateful for technology and our conference staff that are enabling us to adapt in a difficult season so we can still connect and carry out the essential business of the Arkansas Conference.”

In accordance with Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson’sExecutive Order #20-15, meetings such as Annual Conference via remote communication are allowed.

The rescheduled date for the Annual Conference business session will be Saturday, June 13 from 9 a.m.-1 p.m. All clergy and lay voting members will be provided information to join the Zoom call, and guests will be able to view the meeting through a YouTube livestream.

This session will consist only of items deemed essential.

The Clergy Session will be held on Wednesday, May 27 beginning at 1:30 – 2 p.m. on Zoom. Participants who will need to participate in this meeting include all who would normally attend the clergy session.

Additionally, on May 27 from 2:15 – 4 p.m., clergy voting members will participate in the clergy voting session via Zoom. clergy in full connection, clergy with voting rights, those presented for commissioning and ordination, and Board of Ministry lay members.

All District Conferences have been rescheduled to Zoom meetings, which will take place between May 16 – 19 and will last approximately one hour each. The new District Conference dates are as follows:

  • Southeast District – Saturday, May 16, 10 a.m.
  • Southwest District – Sunday, May 17, 2 p.m.
  • Northeast District – Sunday, May 17, 4 p.m.
  • Northwest District – Monday, May 18, 6:30 p.m.
  • Central District – Tuesday, May 19, 6:30 p.m.

Participants for the District Conferences will include all district clergy; district laity who are members of Annual Conference by charge conference vote; district laity who are members re: Conference Standing Rules; and those selected to serve as lay-clergy equalization at-large members. The meetings will also be open to all guests for viewing through YouTube live stream.

In district sessions, the agenda will consist only of items that have been considered essential. For Lay equalization, due to the unique nature of circumstances, we will continue to use our current standing rules.

Those who may have trouble being part of the online sessions because of internet connectivity issues will be provided a place to participate in a safe manner consistent with current guidelines. Specific locations and safety precautions are being identified and will be announced soon.

To allow for in-person ordination, the Ordination Service has been rescheduled for Sunday, Aug. 30 beginning at 4:00 pm. A location has not yet been set, but plans are still in the works for the service to take place in a church setting.

For updated Annual Conference information, visit

Daily Digest – Friday, May 31Final Delegate Elections, Youth Address, and the Ordination Service

Daily Digest – Friday, May 31
Final Delegate Elections, Youth Address, and the Ordination Service

By Caleb Hennington

Digital Content Editor

Final Delegate Elections

The South Central Jurisdictional Conference delegation, as well as alternates, were completed during today’s business sessions. After several rounds of voting, the final ballot was lay ballot number 16.

Asa Whitaker, who was a delegate to both General Conference 2016 and the special session of General Conference in February 2019, was the final delegate to reach enough votes to join the delegation.

Brandon Bates of First UMC Little Rock was elected on lay ballot number 10.

“I’m honored to be serving on the Arkansas Conference Delegation for the next four years as we prepare to interview and elect people who are discerning calls to serve as bishops,” Bates said. “With another General Conference on the horizon, even with tension and uncertainty that we humans have created, I have hope that we will be able to hear God and join in the work around the world that God is already doing. I pray that we will humbly walk with God as we act justly and love mercy.”

The Rev. Hammett Evans, senior pastor of First UMC Monticello, felt joy after seeing that he had been elected during the ninth round of clergy ballots.

“I’m thrilled to be a part of such a diverse and gifted delegation. It’s a real honor to serve our Annual Conference as we pursue a future with hope for all of God’s children,” Evans said.

The final delegation can be found below:

General Conference 2020

Clergy: Mark Norman, Michael Roberts, Lynn Kilbourne, Jessica Teegarden.

Laity: Karon Mann, Todd Burris, Miller Wilbourn, Elizabeth Fink.


South Central Jurisdictional Conference 2020

Clergy: Natasha Murray, Rebekah Miles, Hammett Evans, Katie Pearce.

Laity: Regina Norwood, Sarah Argue, Brandon Bates, Brian Swain.



Clergy: Pam Estes, Lauren DeLano

Laity: Amy Forbus, Asa Whitaker

General Conference delegates will travel to Minneapolis, Minnesota, May 5 – 15, 2020, and South Central Jurisdictional Conference delegates will travel to The Woodlands, Texas, July 15 – 18, 2020.

Youth Address

ACCYM President John Mark Mathis delivers the Youth Address at Arkansas Annual Conference 2019. | Photo by Stephen Gideon

ACCYM President John Mark Mathis delivered the Youth Address to assembled body today.

Mathis focused his speech on the importance of making sure congregations include more youth into the work of the church.

He also talked about his own experience and self-doubt taking over as ACCYM president.

Mathis said he felt unworthy to take the role at first, but remembers what a former youth president told him: “God doesn’t call the qualified, he qualifies the called.”

Later, Mathis addressed the results of General Conference, and how it is not just an issue that affects the current generation; it also affects the future leadership of the church and everyone in between.

He finished by encouraging older generations to change the culture of hate that he feels is currently in the UMC due to the decision on human sexuality at General Conference 2019. Greg Jones Reports


More reports were given today from various missions, conference centers, and educational institutions.

Mary Lewis Dassinger, Project Coordinator of 200,000 Reasons to End Childhood Hunger, encourage everyone at Annual Conference to involve their churches in the good work of 200,000 Reasons.

“Since starting the project five years ago, more than 500 churches in Arkansas have started a 200,000 Reasons mission at their church,” Dassinger said. 

Bishop Mueller added that although that number is amazing progress from where they started, more can still be done.

“100% of churches, regardless of size, can get involved in this work,” Mueller said.

For more information on 200,000 Reasons, contact Mary Lewis Dassinger at You can also check out the 200,000 Reasons class on CouRSe, the Conference’s new online learning management system. Enroll in CoRSe by visiting

Richard Hearne of the Lydia Patterson Institute also gave a report on the school, which services junior high and high school students living on the U.S. – Mexico border.

“This year, 81 students graduated from the Lydia Patterson Institute, and 100% of those students are enrolled to go to college in the fall, many at United Methodist institutions,” Hearne said.

He also praised the Arkansas Annual Conference for the ongoing campaign to raise money for the school’s new chapel, which the United Methodist Foundation of Arkansas has committed to matching every dollar donated up to $250,000.

A few awards were also given today, including three Harry Denman Evangelism Awards. These awards went to the Rev. Casey Turner of First UMC Jonesboro, Zach Schrick, and Shannon Mecum.

According to The Foundation for Evangelism website, the award “honors United Methodists in each annual conference whose exceptional ministry of evangelism – expressed in Word (what), Sign (why), and Deed (how) – brings people into a life-transforming relationship with Jesus Christ.”

Michael McSwain of the General Board of Discipleship also awarded the One Matters Discipleship Award to members of North Pulaski United Methodist Church.

Ordination Service

The Rev. Linda Harker, senior pastor of McFarlin United Methodist Church in Norman, Oklahoma, led the Friday night Ordination Service for the 2019 ordinands and provisional members.

The 2019 ordinands are: Katye Chambers, James Kjorlaug, Gary L. Maskell, Rashim M. Merriwether Sr., Corey A. Tyson Read, and Judy Wills Rudd The provisional members are: Jesse C. James, Shawn Michael Gustin and Roy Elizabeth Kelley.Pictures from the service are featured below.

The business session will finish up today. The Lucy Foster Award presentation, the CF&A report, the Board of Trustees report, as well as two resolutions are scheduled for the final day, June 1, of Annual Conference.