by Alexx Wood, Director of Communications
The New England Annual Conference met in holy conferencing at Gordon College in Wenham, Mass., from Wednesday, June 11 through Saturday, June 14, 2014. The theme of On the Wings of Love: Powered by Presence and Service was woven throughout the worship and plenary sessions of the 2014 Annual Conference, where more than a thousand clergy and lay representatives from around the conference gathered for worship, business, fellowship, learning and inspiration.
Following the afternoon clergy and laity sessions, the Conference kicked off Wednesday night with opening worship and a celebration of ministry. Mark Miller and his team of gifted musicians brought us quickly into a lively spirit during the opening celebration, which included the presentation of awards, an offering for Imagine No Malaria which raised an additional $18,000 for this important initiative.
The celebrations continued over the next few days. The recipient of the 2014 Ziegler Award for Excellence in Preaching, Rev. Steve Garnaas-Holmes, preached a powerful and prophetic message of God’s love that is found and offered to the world through our own brokenness. “We are the bread that God gives to the world. We are the bread that God takes, God blesses, God breaks, and gives us into the world.” He reminded the gathered community that the point of God’s mission is not to build up the membership of our churches. "We built it, but they didn't come,” he observed. “Well, they aren't supposed to come. We are supposed to go!"
Proving once again that the New England Conference is blessed with abundantly gifted laity, Courtney Tabor-Abbott delivered a powerful and moving Laity Address. She spoke from her experience as a blind person, relaying her struggle with scriptures such as the story in John 9 of Jesus and the blind man, and how those with differences are often labeled “other.” She relayed an understanding that in differences we often find our gifts, yet “we often focus on what needs to be fixed instead of how a person is already whole” she said.
In his Episcopal Address, Bishop Sudarshana Devadhar recounted some of the many blessings he has experienced through the ministries in the New England Conference. He highlighted the importance of Christian community, and outlined three dimensions as we are formed in Christian community: Up, In, and Out. “The ‘up’ dimension of our Christian faith is lived out through prayer and worship as personal and community practices,” the Bishop said. “The ‘in’ dimension pays attention to the nurture of our spiritual lives. And we go “out” to our community and to our world as we become present to others and as we model servanthood to others.” The Bishop challenged those present to live more deeply into these dimensions of “Up-In-Out” in our work and ministries in the New England Conference.
The Friday evening commissioning and ordination service brought the whole gathered community through a range of emotions and moments: from deeply sacred rituals of remembering our baptisms, footwashing, and the ordination and commissioning liturgies, to joyful celebrations with rousing music and dancing on the stage and in the aisles!. Three (3) persons were commissioned for the work of an elder: SeungRi Victor Han, and Ken Mantler, and Will Green,. Two (2) persons were ordained elders: Ted Crass, and Xia Jiao. One (1) person was ordained deacon: Julia Daley. In addition, Jay Williams, who was ordained elder the previous week in the New York Annual Conference but serves in New England, was also recognized. In a separate service on Saturday morning, new Licensed Local Pastors were recognized and celebrated.
Other highlights of Annual Conference:
- In a moving but celebratory memorial service, the lives and new eternal life of departed pastors, spouses and lay members of the conference were affirmed and remembered. Bishop Devadhar welcomed the body, and especially the families who have lost loved ones in this past year. The names of congregations that were closed were also read and recognized for their years of faithful ministry. “We have gathered to celebrate those who have served faithfully through the years. In the midst of our grief, we sing with joy, for God’s love is over all that has been made.” Rev. Lillian Daniel, our guest preacher, opened her sermon with an appreciation of the call to “stillness” in Mark Miller’s song just before the sermon. She highlighted the tension between understanding we are God’s beloved, and recognizing it is not all about us; between being “on the go” for God, and letting it go.
- 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/ac14news.
- Early morning Bible studies by guest leaders Terry Teykl and Grace Imathiu brought more than 300 people each morning for study and devotion.
- In the 4th Annual “Miles for Mission” 5K fun run, despite torrential rains during the race, there were intrepid runners, walkers and strollers who raised more than $3,000 to benefit Imagine No Malaria. Other offerings and activities for the Imagine No Malaria campaign during Annual Conference brought the total up to nearly $20,000.
- The Preachers’ Aid Society presented a final $2.5 million check of their pledged amount as the Together For Tomorrow capital campaign was officially concluded. Video remarks from retired Bishops Susan Hassinger and Peter Weaver, both of whom were involved in the campaign during their time in the New England Conference. The bishops recognized the faithful work of the conference in raising funds for the important ministries of Pastoral Retirement, Congregational Development, Camps & Retreat Ministries, Local Church Ministries, and International Missions.
- Awards presented included: John Bryan Social Justice Award: Suzanne Rudalevige. Harry E. Denman Evangelism Award: Mrs. Jaesook Lee. Preachers’ Aid Society Lifetime of Service Award: Nancy Hajek, and Marie and Charles Frasier. In addition, Bonnie Marden was recognized for her years of service to the Annual Conference as Conference Choreographer.
- For the fifth 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. More than 800 people per day tuned in to the webcast each day. With just over 1,000 people registered and on-campus for four days of holy conferencing, it is feasible that in the next few years that the number of people viewing Annual Conference sessions online may be larger than the number physically present!
In the business part of sessions:
- The Conference Strategic Planning Task Force presented the culmination of more than two years of work on the Conference Strategic Plan recommendations. The sessions were extended on Saturday morning as the body discussed, questioned, and proposed amendments the Strategic Plan, particularly the structural changes in the plan. In the end the plan was adopted with only a few minor amendments.
- Members approved a 2015 Mission Share spending limit of $7,056,863 (actual spending limit) and a 2015 Mission Share apportioned to local churches of $7,966,908 (this includes a “connectional mission share” for churches unable to pay 100% of apportioned amounts).
- 34 resolutions were approved. Resolutions regarding inclusivity, cessation of church trials, and marriage equality were the bulk of the heavily discussed and debated issues. These included RS201 To Promote the Acceptance of Homosexuality; RS202 Moral Imperative to Break Unjust Church Laws; RS203 An Action of Faithful Stewardship; and RS204 To Affirm God’s Call to Ministry and Marriage, and all these substitute resolutions passed by a clear majority, as well as an additional motion made from the floor (now RS-217: An Invitation) indicating the receptivity of the New England Annual Conference to inquiries from those in other areas who may have experienced discrimination.
Conference Statistics for 2013: membership stands at 89,459 down 1,971; worship attendance stands at 30,328 down 1,308; church school attendance stands at 6,424 down 428; professions of faith 1,429 down 102; and baptisms 1,067 up 85. Celebrations include: 68 Volunteer in Mission teams, up 4 from 2012 including 430 volunteers (up 35 from 2012).
Additional information and news from the 2014 New England Annual Conference session can be found at www.neumc.org/ac14news.