The 53rd Session of the West Ohio Annual Conference was a virtual gathering of nearly 1,600 clergy and lay members. Bishop Gregory V. Palmer presided over the conference under the theme, Becoming, rooted in the Scripture 1 John 3:2. The theme focused on becoming more like Jesus, becoming community and becoming Spirit filled.
Palmer challenged the conference to examine who they choose to be as followers of Jesus Christ in these difficult times in the church and in the world.
“We are in that pivot and turning moment, where we must answer the question: Who do we choose to be?” said Palmer.
He urged the conference to imagine God standing at the foot of the cross, encouraging, “See me. See me in the wounds of my darling son. See him in the faces of all the people that you and your church have ignored throughout these years … because it was seductive and comfortable for you to be with folks that were just like you. Same zip code as you, same pigment as you, same gender identification as you.”
The bishop invited attendees to take the opportunity “to be in conversation in Christian community and discover again that [God] is at the heart of our lives.”
“How will the church be the purveyor of hope and a sign of peace and of redemption and of reconciliation?” Palmer continued. “Who do we choose to be? Do we choose to be healers, hope bearers, peace builders and makers, and reconcilers for all of the places where there is despair and hopelessness?”
Recommendation #1 – PASSED - Changes to Structure, Procedure and Rules – Annual Conference Rules and Policies
Recommendation to amend the conference rules impacting our structure and procedures and to be more concise.
Recommendation #2 – PASSED - Budget
The conference is well positioned financially to continue training leaders and equipping over 950 local churches to transform people and communities. Financial resources continue to be in place to fulfill our promises to retirees. For the second year, neither the Board of Pensions nor the United Methodist Foundation of West Ohio requested apportionment support for 2023. The total amount apportioned is $17.7 million, in line with 2022 but decreased from five years ago.
Recommendation #3 – PASSED - Board of Pensions and Health
No changes have been made to the billing rate for the Clergy Retirement Security Plan (CRSP). The past service rate for pre-1982 service increases to $636. Retiree health insurance plan will be limited to clergy and clergy spouses and continue with Wespath’s Via benefits program for those 65 and over.
Recommendation #4 – PASSED - Equitable Compensation
The 2023 Equitable Compensation recommendation presented a minimum salary increase of 3% over last year. The committee sought to balance the needs of appointed clergy and the financial challenges of the local church. The recommendation was amended to clarify terms for deacons appointed to local churches.
Recommendation #5 – PASSED - Number of Districts in the West Ohio Conference
The West Ohio Conference shall become six districts beginning July 1, 2023. The bishop and cabinet will lead the process to set and announce district boundaries no later than March 1, 2023.
Recommendation #6 – PASSED - Support for an Amicable Separation for Local Churches and Annual Conferences
As requested by the 2021 annual conference, its elected delegation put forward a recommendation that encourages General Conference delegates to support legislation that provides for graceful exits for churches choosing that path.
Recommendation #7 – FAILED - Call to West Ohio Annual Conference to Recognize and Validate Persons’ Called to Ordination Without Prejudice Toward Sexual Orientation or Gender Identity
The recommendation encouraged the Board of Ordained Ministry to affirm candidates in line with board members’ vows of baptism and to consider requests for ordination without prejudice toward a candidate’s sexual orientation or gender identity.
Recommendation #8 – OUT OF ORDER- A Path for West Ohio Congregations Separating Under Paragraph 2548.2
The recommendation encouraged the use of paragraph 2548.2 for churches choosing to disaffiliate instead of the provisions of paragraph 2553. Bishop Palmer affirmed a request for a decision of law on the content of this recommendation. His ruling will be made available within 30 days and is, by Discipline, automatically reviewed by the Judicial Council.
Other Annual Conference Business
The Board of Trustees report included an update on the Boy Scouts of America litigation and acknowledging the church’s role in the harm some scouts experienced. The trustees also reported terms for churches choosing to disaffiliate under paragraph 2553 and as communicated in advance in the Book of Reports. The annual conference voted on the closing of eight churches.
The conference celebrated the financial contributions of congregation and individuals that gave nearly $7.5 million to Light the Way campaign. This generosity helped establish 18 new faith communities, over 40 Fresh Expressions of existing congregations, nearly 2,300 new worshippers and over 250 baptisms.
West Ohioans have contributed $250,000 for humanitarian efforts in the Ukraine.
The Harry Denman Evangelism Award recognizes United Methodists in each annual conference whose exceptional ministry of evangelism brings people into a life-transforming relationship with Jesus Christ. West Ohio presented the Denman Award to four individuals: one clergy, two laity and one youth: Saugath Chhetri, 16, Forest Chapel United Methodist Church, Ohio River Valley District; James Clay, Grace UMC, Dayton, Miami Valley District; Kim Hairston, United Methodist Church and Community Development for All People, Capitol Area South District; and the Rev. Jim Hall, a part-time local church pastor serving at Kirkersville United Methodist Church, Capitol Area South District.
The conference affirmed the recommendation of the General and Jurisdictional conference delegations’ support of the Rev. Dr. Todd Anderson as an episcopal candidate.
The conference celebrated the ordination of twelve elders and 4 deacons and commissioned three provisional deacons and five provisional elders. Fifty-four clergy retired, representing in aggregate 1,549 years of service to the church.
The 2023 West Ohio Annual Conference will be held June 1-4 at Otterbein University in Westerville, Ohio.
By Amy Graham and Kay Panovec