Annual Conference Report

May 30 June 2, 2018
SRC Arena Onondaga Community College
Syracuse, NY
Submitted by the Reserve Lay Member FUMC of East Greenbush: Rachel Giso

The theme to the 2018 Upper New York Annual Conference was “Together in Prayer: Boldly Living our Call.” We are being asked to confidently, courageously, with a willingness to take risks, go out and answer our unique call from God, which includes our mission statement, “making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.”

The Bishop Mark Webb presided over the entire conference with compassion, integrity and impartiality. This must have been especially challenging for him as the conference occurred at the same time of the death of his mother-in-law. In his letter to the conference he stated that, “I know we are ready to allow God to use us in ways we have not yet dreamed or imagined.”

Our conference lay leader, Susan Hardy was also in attendance. Her message to the conference came from James 3:18 “You can develop a healthy, robust community that lives right with God and enjoy its results only if you do the hard work of getting along with each other, treating each other with dignity and honor.”  The conference indeed worked hard, worshiping God, praying for each other, listening to one another, and casting votes in accordance to their principles and beliefs, and those in representation of their local churches.

The conference began on Wednesday, May 30 with mission projects at the UNY Mission Central Hub, where volunteers put together and verified disaster relief kits.  An open-air service was led in Columbus Circle in downtown Syracuse. Clergy and Laity sessions were conducted in the evening. 

Thursday morning began with worship, and the blessing of the space occurred at the SRC Arena. The community college is part of the Onondaga Nation (People of the Hills) and it was an honor to hold this annual conference on sacred land. 

Plenary activity throughout the afternoon included a report from the Conference Leadership team. Congregations are strongly encourage to submit statistics through the Vital Signs Dashboard.  The due date for petitions and resolutions has been officially moved to March 15th.  Trustees reported that water sensor technology is provided by Church Mutual, free of cost. Additionally, the work of training to prepare for an incident of an active shooter is occurring at local churches and strongly encouraged throughout the conference.

The Commission on the Way Forward has met nine times since January 17, 2017. They are preparing to present at General Conference in 2019. Three plans have been created: 1) Traditional Plan, 2) Connectional Plan, and 3) The One Church Plan. The majority of the council voted to present all three plans with a recommendation for the third plan, which includes a plan to remain one connected church, removing restricted language outside of the Board of Discipline.  A full written report will be available July 8.  We are being encouraged to pray every day from 2:23-2:26 (AM or PM, representing the dates of the General Conference) for The Way Forward so that “God will break through, and the UMC will follow God’s direction.”

The Conference Council on Religion and Race reported that we are on a “journey of repentance.” They shared a message from John 16:33, "I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world."  They reported on the progress of Imagine No Racism.  Over 100 small groups have been formed throughout this conference for meetings and discussion.  Four regional coordinators have been assigned. Aaron Moore is the coordinator for the Albany district. Visit the conference website for more information, http://www.unyumc.org/ministries/corr.

Thursday evening concluded with a memorial service to honor clergy who died since the last conference. Rev. Corey Turnpenney was the preacher for this service. She used the story of Lazarus in John 11 to communicate her message.  After Lazarus’s death, Jesus comforts Lazarus’s sisters, assuring them that those who believe in Jesus will live even after they die. And then he performs a miracle; he raises Lazarus from the dead. Her message was comforting, consoling with moments of laughter. Rev. Walter Taylor was one of the many ministers honored at this service.

Friday morning began with worship and a message from the dean of Duke Divinity School, Dr. Greg Jones.  He conveyed a remarkable message about creating ministries wherever you are called. Dr. Jones reminded us that even if we are pulled from our homes, there is always hope for you calling and God will provide that opportunity. He shared an incredible story about a women named Maggie, who through treacherous adversity, was able to overcome, create a school for children who have lost everything called Masion Shalom in Burundi, and be the light of Christ for so many. And even when her government banned her from her country, she was still able to continue her mission and ministry. Her daily pray translated from her native language is this, “Lord let your miracles break through every day, and let me not be an obstacle in anyway.” His message to us is, “What others intend for evil, God can use for good.”

During morning plenary, we voted on a constitutional amendment that previously passed at the 2016 General conference. The text was found to be in error, so we were required to vote again. The paragraph included, spoke to eliminating discrimination against women and girls. Directly after the vote Bishop Web moved from his presiding chair to speak from the podium.  He reminded us that racism is sin and that sexism also is sin. He apologized to all female clergy and laity. He said that he could not understand their suffering, but hears it, and owns it. All female in the arena were invited to stand and be celebrated. He spoke these words; “We celebrate who you are, your gifts and your calling. You lead us, set examples, you are a treasure to us, and more importantly to God.”

Volunteers in Mission (VIM) reported sending out over 100 teams including 11,000 individuals to participate in mission projects throughout the conference. You can read the report provided by VIM on page 145 of the Annual Conference Journal. Missionaries from the Baltic Methodist Theological Seminary in Estonia shared information about their University and requested support. Find out more about this school and Global Ministries at www.umcmission.org.

Dr. Jones’s afternoon message spoke about daring to dream dreams. He reminded us that the optimist is successful, but the pessimist has a clearer understanding of reality, while the mix of the two offers hope. “We need to unlearn things to learn new things.”  He preached about the importance of surrounding ourselves with Holy Friends who challenge us to look at the sins we’ve come to love, affirm the gifts we are afraid to claim, and help us dream dreams we otherwise wouldn’t dream. The scripture he impressed upon the conference came from Ephesians 3. “God is abundantly, far, more than all we can imagine. As we are called to do the work of God, we must remember that transformation is not up to us, it is about bearing witness to God.”

Friday evening concluded with a Celebration of Ministry Service honoring retired clergy. They walked across the stage with spouse when appropriate, receive a handshake from the Bishop and applause with a standing ovation from the conference. The total number of years in service was over 800 years.

Saturday Morning worship was led by the young adults. The collection at this worship went towards Mission of Peace. Information was shared about Worship Without Walls, a mission that brings church to the streets for individuals who otherwise may not step foot in our local churches. Youth19 will be held in Kansas City, Missouri from July 10-14. The young people are alive and active in the UMC. They know the Book of Discipline, they have a strong faith in God, and a deep connection to the UMC. They are indeed boldly living their call.

The morning concluded with recognition of new graduates, first time approved Certified Lay Ministers, commissioning for the office of Deaconess and presentation of awards.  All petitions, recommendation and resolutions were attended to during the 4 day conference. Many were supported or approved; some were not. Petitions ranged from topics of gun control and LGBTQIA equality, to conference location and parental leave resources. For a complete list of petitions and their outcome please refer to the Annual Conference Journal. A number of churches were closed and new faith communities have begun. The 2019 budget was accepted, all nominations for conference and district committees were accepted. Next year’s conference will be held at the Oncenter in Syracuse from June 5th through the 8th.

The conference ended with the ordination of 3 new elders and 7 provisional ministers. Bishop Dennis Proctor of the North Eastern Episcopal District of the African Methodist Episcopal (A.M.E.) Zion Church presented the sermon. Though the ordination was inspiring and hopeful, it was not well attended. Unfortunately, the ceremony is held at the very end of a long conference and many in attendance have a distance to travel home.

If you are interested in watching some very well crafted videos highlighting this year’s Annual Conference, go to our conference website and click on the highlights or directly to this site, https://vimeo.com/channels/AC2018.  Crystal Cole and Ian Urriola are two very talented, and dedicating young adults who are part of an amazing AV team which keeps us up to date on all conference activity.

Once again attending the UNY Annual Conference has been inspiring and thought provoking, filled with considerably arduous work. It is however important work, which helps to better understand the roots of Methodism and provide a clearer understanding of where we have been and where we are going. It is an honor to represent the FUMC of East Greenbush. This report has been submitted with gratitude and appreciation.