by Alexx Wood
Director of Communications
The New England Annual Conference met in holy conferencing at Gordon College in Wenham, Mass., from Wednesday, June 12 through Saturday, June 15, 2013. The clergy session was held in the evening of June 12. The theme of "Strangely Warmed: Formed by God" ignited more than 1,200 clergy and lay representatives from around the conference as we gathered in worship, business, fellowship, learning and inspiration.
Bishop Sudarshana Devadhar gave his first conference Episcopal Address since coming to New England last Fall. Conference members warmly welcomed our new Bishop, and as he related examples of being “Strangely Warmed: Formed by God, Powered by Prayer to Service” both personally, in our local churches, and in our conference, he fanned the flames of new hope and new energy that he noted he had already seen in our churches and our conference. He encouraged the gathered congregation to see the work that God was already doing in our midst, and asked Pastor Rebecca Lambert of The River UMC in Woonsocket, RI to witness to the power of prayer and the glory of God being manifested right here in New England. Pastor Rebecca shared a moving story of her own transformation and of the transformation of The River church, on the verge of closing just three years ago. After a full day of non-stop prayer, the remaining members of the church believed that it was not God’s plan for the church to close, but to become a beacon of hope for the community. Today, the church is vital, growing, and increasing its ministry in the community.
Bishop Devadhar then shared that his vision for the New England Conference is for us to learn from this powerful witness and to truly become a “conference of prayer.” We must deepen our Christian discipleship together, so that we can become so on fire with God that we “glow” with the presence of the Holy Spirit. When we do this, he said, we will “continue to blossom for the glory of God, filled with the love of the compassionate Jesus Christ, and listening to the guidance and nudging of the Holy Spirit in our lives.”
The music of Dr. Mark Miller and his team along with the musical talents of many of our New England Annual Conference team; the dynamic and passionate preaching of Rev. Stephanie Hand; and the inspirational and challenging early morning Bible studies led by Rev. Dr. John Holbert; all sparked conference members to new levels of worship and spiritual connection in this year’s conference.
Highlights of Annual Conference:
- The lives and new eternal life of departed pastors, spouses and lay members of the conference were affirmed and remembered. The memorial service theme of Recognizing the Holy celebrated their lives, and conference preacher Stephanie Hand shared perspectives on this theme focused on gospel stories of post-resurrection encounters with Christ in a sermon entitled “Can you see me now?” The service closed with the congregation rejoicing, singing Have a Little Talk with Jesus.
- Retiring clergy were recognized, and Bishop Devadhar led the body in an expression of thanksgiving for their deep sacrifice, witness and service to God and God’s church. Some retirees chose to reflect on their years of ministry in brief video offerings which can be seen at www.neumc.org/ac13news.
- The Friday evening commissioning and ordination service was a rousing celebration. Nine (9) were commissioned for the work of an elder, and five (5) were ordained elders. In a rich blessing, Bishop Devadhar was joined in leading the ordination and commissioning by retired Bishops Susan Hassinger, Clifton Ives, and Jane Allen Middleton; Bishop John Innis of the West Africa Central Conference; and special ecumenical guest Episcopal Bishop Douglas Fisher.
- Bishop Devadhar preached an ordination sermon which reminded newly commissioned and ordained clergy to be both pastors and prophets to “keep their eyes wide open to the movement of God, the interactions of the world, and the work of the Church.” He also exhorted all to pray for these leaders, and indeed for all in our conference, that we might “see the world as Jesus wants us to, so that we as a church get excited not about maintaining the institution, but by extending the reign of God so that it once again becomes a movement in our midst.”
- In other services, new Licensed Local Pastors were recognized and celebrated, and one person was commissioned as a missionary.
- In the 3rd Annual “Miles for Mission” 5K fun run there were 51 runners, walkers and strollers who raised more than $6,500 to benefit Imagine No Malaria. An additional $1,000 was raised in a silent auction, and more than $8,000 was raised in a special offering during the conference. Other offerings included $2,542 for Clergy Scholarships, and $3,820 for Justice for our Neighbors (JFON).
- The Ziegler Preaching Award was presented to the Rev. Jung Sun Oh, currently serving Bethany First UMC in Roslindale, MA. Rev. Oh stimulated the congregation with his passionate message highlighting the joys and challenges of mission and justice work in a multicultural context, and trusting in God for church growth: “God adds the numbers!” In closing, Rev. Oh offered a hymn sung in Korean, and in a moving display of solidarity many of the Korean pastors in the congregation stood and began singing along with him.
- Ms. Patsy Frey-Davis brought the conference to its feet with a dynamic and powerful laity address – the first laity address that the conference has seen in many years, a tradition has been revived and will be offered again in sessions to come.
- The Conference Strategic Planning Task Force presented an overview of their initial work together, and engaged the conference in input into the learning, discernment and planning process.
- For the fourth year in a row, the annual conference tech team offered a live webcast of conference sessions to extend conference experience beyond those attending on-site. The webcast was viewed by more than 800 people per day over the three conference days.
In business, the conference:
- Approved a 2013 budget of $7,737,445, including increases for strategic areas of congregational development, pastoral support for missional church development, and formation and training for lay and clergy.
- Approved 32 resolutions including: a call for divestment from companies supporting Israel’s occupation; a call for the Boy Scouts of America to extend their new inclusivity policy to include leaders; and a new dental insurance option in the conference health benefits.
- Affirmed the four Constitutional Amendments which were proposed by General Conference.
Conference membership stands at 91,430 down 2,228 from the previous year. Worship attendance is at 31,828 down 836 from the previous year. Sunday school attendance is 6,048 down 1,126.
Additional information and news from the 2013 annual conference session can be found at www.neumc.org/ac13news.
Annual Conference 2013. Photo by Rosemary McNulty.