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Clergy Session, 8:00 a.m., Hoover Auditorium
The 2016 Clergy Session of the West Ohio Conference took place early Monday morning at Hoover Auditorium at Lakeside Chautauqua. The session was closed to all except clergy and was not live streamed or photographed. The session began with inspirational teaching from Rev. Dr. David Watson, Academic Dean of United Theological Seminary. Dr. Watson spoke openly about ministry with people who are disabled and shared his own story of how the incarnation and nature of God have been revealed through his son Sean, who was diagnosed just after birth with Down Syndrome.
“In the incarnation, God takes on human weakness,” Watson said. “God in Christ took on all the vulnerabilities of human life including sadness, pain, physical disempowerment, and death.”
Dr. Watson shared that about one in five people lives with a disability, but only 47% of people with disabilities attend church at least once a month because of the difficulty in finding churches that may be welcoming and accommodating. West Ohio clergy were invited to meditate on their existing ministries with people who have disabilities and challenged to start new ones. He closed by encouraging clergy members of the conference that people with disabilities will enrich congregations and move all people to see God and humanity in a new way.
Afterwards, Bishop Gregory V. Palmer and Rev. Doug Damron took the stage to open the business of the 2016 clergy session. In total, 4 Provisional Deacons, 13 Provisional Elders and 18 Full Member Elders were elected into membership in the Annual Conference.
The annual clergy session is an opportunity to celebrate the life cycle of ministry. While new members in the conference are elected and approved, members who are entering into retirement are also honored. In this year’s retiree class 4 Deacons, 17 Elders, 2 Associate Members, and 16 Local Pastors were recognized and honored for their years of service to The United Methodist Church. All of the retired persons celebrated by the clergy session represented a combined 870 years in ministry.
“What a gift and what a privilege, we don’t have time to imagine the countless service that you have given, but we thank God for you,” Bishop Palmer exclaimed. The Bishop then led the house in a spontaneous singing of “Praise God from Whom All Blessings Flow” to commemorate the occasion.
Rev. Amy Aspey then read aloud the names of those clergy members that had passed away in the previous year and transitioned into the church triumphant. The business of the clergy session was concluded with recognition of Rev. Wade Giffin’s years of service as Director of the Office of Ministry as he transitions to serving as pastor of Trinity United Methodist Church in Columbus, Ohio.
Laity Workshops, 8:00 a.m. Various Locations
- Rev. Roger Ross taught Back to the Future Faith Sharing to 139 lay persons. Handouts: Faith Sharing, Wesley's Seven Practices
- Zach Holler taught the Under the Roof workshop with 54 attendees.
- Doug Walker taught Healing Communities: Care for All Impacted by Incarceration
- Harris Tay taught Circles of Grace for the Local Church: How to Facilitate Holy Conferencing at Home
- Rebecca Hug taught Accessibility Audit & Disability Simulation Workshop
Morning Worship, 10:30 a.m., Hoover Auditorium
The West Ohio Conference reconvened with both clergy and laity present for the Monday morning worship session. Worship services at Annual Conference send us into a deeper connection as United Methodists through music, scripture, and teaching. Bishop Gregory Palmer spoke of his hopes to send us into a deeper understanding of our church and our faith through worshiping together as a conference and the Monday morning service delivered. Continuing the conference’s theme of lifting up ministry with disabled persons, a powerful worship liturgy was led by Zach Holler, student at United Theological Seminary and member of Sulphur Grove United Methodist Church.
Teaching, 10:45 a.m., Hoover Auditorium
Bishop Palmer introduced the speaker of the day, Rev. Dr. L. Gregory Jones, Executive Vice President and Provost at Baylor University. Rev. Jones began by telling the moving story of Maggy Barankitse, a woman who transformed a former killing field in Burundi into the Maison Shalom (House of Peace) and rebuilt a community that had been afflicted by civil war. The theme for the morning teaching could be best described by a quote from Barankitse that described her service and outreach to thousands, “love made me an inventor.”
Moving from Maggie’s story, Dr. Jones developed a theme of how Christians, and The United Methodist Church, have lost sight of our mission to be spiritual innovators, fueled by the fire of the Holy Spirit to renew the world by the power of God. Rev. Jones lifted up a deep Wesleyan and United Methodist history of social holiness and social outreach and called the church to be leaders of change for the better in our world once again. He referenced divide and division in the church and in society that stops us from being innovators and called for us all to be transformed in the empowering and renewing love of God.
“If you’ve really been seized by the costly transforming love of God in Jesus Christ, the kind that calls us to hold each other accountable and bear witness to the Holy Spirit, then you’ll become an inventor because it’s no longer about me, it’s no longer about you, it’s about God,” Rev. Jones said.
Rev. Jones added, “If you encounter God, it ought to change everything about your life. That's what 'New Creation' means.”
Recalling Gods decision to create out of Trinitarian love, Dr. Jones said that while God desires “we, ours, and yes,” in our sinful state we choose “me, mine, and ours.” Then, tracing the story of Israel in the wilderness through the book of Numbers, we were reminded of our tendency to want to “return to Egypt” and of the ways that we interfere with God’s desire to move us forward.
Preaching, teaching, and inspiring the Conference, Dr. Jones called us to form disciples who are deeply steeped in the biblical text and in the habits of prayer that enable us to listen to God so that we can embody the power of Easter. Such formation takes seriously the need to unlearn sin and learn love.
The church and Christians at large can no longer function as “practical atheists” in Jones’ words, but rather live by faith into a missional calling that leads to new horizons in ministries. The church has been on the leading edge of breakthroughs in society across the generations and can continue to do so through the power of the Holy Spirit.
We have a rich tradition of spiritual innovation—starting hospitals, schools, clinics and engaging in ministry in prisons and with those suffering from me all illness. We are called to be both “Traditioned” and “ entrepreneurial” in bringing about the new creation proclaimed by Paul. The result of such work can be crazy, radical, dramatic things that come into being through the power of God and are destabilizing to the status quo.Like jazz musicians, we are called to be both steeped in our tradition and able to innovate, trusting in the words of Paul’s prayer for the church in Ephesians 3 that God’s power is able to accomplish “abundantly far more than we can ask or imagine.”
Rev. Jones finished by sharing his personal prayer taught to him by Maggy Barankitse, “Lord let your miracles break forth every day and let me not be an obstacle in any way.”
Business Session, 1:30 p.m., Hoover Auditorium
The afternoon brought official business of the conference including the officer and secretarial staff elections as well as voting on two recommendations. Official reports presented included:
- Imagine No Malaria Report
- Rules Committee Report
- General Advance Giving
- Conference Advance Special Report
- Revitalization and New Church Start Reports
- Council on Finance & Administration Report
- Trustees and Chancellor's Report
- Equitable Compensation Report
Episcopal Address, 7:30 p.m., Hoover Auditorium
After providing a stirring Episcopal Address at the denomination’s General Conference in Portland, Oregon last month, Bishop Gregory V. Palmer delivered a sequel equally as powerful at Lakeside as Episcopal leader of the West Ohio Conference.
The Monday evening session began with reflections on General Conference from lay delegate Caleb Harper and clergy delegate Rev. Amy Aspey, the leaders of the West Ohio delegation and the first members elected one year ago at Lakeside. “Seeing our worldwide church and knowing that we are all part of something bigger brings joy to my heart and peace to my mind,” Harper said. Rev. Aspey lifted up the impact and involvement of West Ohio leadership across the worldwide connection and encouraged the conference to lean into hope.
After a General Conference video featuring thoughts from more clergy and lay delegates elected to serve in Portland and celebrating the past four years with Bishop Palmer and Mrs. Cynthia Palmer, the annual Episcopal Address began.
Bishop Palmer offered his own reflections about the conference in Portland, including a word of thanksgiving for the many prayers that lifted him up during that time. The Bishop spoke openly about some of the “elephants in the room” in The United Methodist Church and the continued discernment and discussion that is taking place across the global church, specifically around human sexuality.
“We always are making choices about how we live and how we are in relationship with one another,” Bishop Palmer said before adding, “I’m looking for a church where love cannot be restrained.”
Bishop Palmer echoed his address in Portland by encouraging the church at large to come closer together as a community of faith and enter into deeper and more meaningful relationships with each other, no matter where one stood on the spectrum.
“We’re spending time trying to keep folks out and God is spending his time trying to bring folks in,” Bishop Palmer exclaimed.
The Episcopal message touched on a variety of topics including West Ohio’s missional partners around the globe, an emphasis on new faith communities, and the work of the Council of Bishops navigating the current landscape of the church. The Bishop also referenced Philippians 1:6 and 1:9 as anchor texts to motivate the conference to continue and complete the work that God has begun through the church.
“It could be that God has already made a way, it could just be that we don’t see the way… I’m trying to spread the gospel into every place in West Ohio and partner with me and all the United Methodists working in good faith. There are people ready to do this,” he said.
Bishop Palmer ended by calling everyone in the church to higher ground – not only the higher ground of God’s eternal kingdom, but the higher ground that is present in this life - in spirituality, in ministry, and in relationships.
The conference was sent forth with this charge, “I want you to move from the muck and the mire to the higher ground.”
Writers: Deb Stevens, Matt Yoder
Editor: Lisa Streight