The West Ohio Conference met June 4-7, at Lakeside on the shore of Lake Erie. Bishop Gregory V. Palmer presided over the conference under the theme “Be Not Afraid, Facing the Future!”
The conference celebrated the return of Bishop Palmer for his second quadrennium as episcopal leader. Bishop Palmer leads 162,842 members 1,568 clergy in the 1,020 churches within the West Ohio Conference.
Palmer, who through his Episcopal Address and preaching, reminded the congregation that “God’s word to us always, in every situation, in good report and in or bad report, in the land that flows with milk and honey or in the land of exile is: BE NOT AFRAID.”
A member of the Commission on a Way Forward, Palmer challenged the conference, “My friends we’ve got to shorten the list, in all our relationships, about what are the deal breakers and decide what are the things that will hold us together. This is the United Methodist way. We always begin with what we hold in common with other Christians,” he said.
Bishop Palmer spoke candidly of gun violence and opiate addiction in the United States and specifically within the boundaries of the conference. “It isn’t going to go away by our not talking about it. It’s not going to get better because we don’t talk about it,” he said. Recognizing the overwhelming statistics, Palmer encouraged the conference attendees to act with urgency, to have conversations inside the church and with community leaders, to educate themselves and those in their neighborhoods.
“You just make up your mind you’re the light. You just make up your mind that you’ve been given the light. You just make up your mind to walk in the light and you will start piercing-- the darkness,” said Palmer.
The Rev. Dr. Elaine Heath, Dean of the Duke Divinity School, led two learning sessions. An elder in The United Methodist Church, Heath is the author of God Unbound: Wisdom from Galatians for the Anxious Church.
"God is doing a new thing,” Heath said. She invited the conference members to put anxiety aside, to open their hearts and minds to the possibilities, and to accept that this is the right time to try new ways of listening to and reaching people for Christ. “God is not bound by our anxiety or our shrunken imaginations.”
The conference celebrated in the commissioning of Missionary Elizabeth Heft. She will serve in Palestine. Gaston and Jeanne Ntambo, missionaries from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, shared life-saving stories of the Wings of the Morning, an aviation mission supported in large part by the people of the conference. Church and Community Worker, Mariellen Grace continues to serve at the Charitable Pharmacy in Columbus, Ohio.
The conference paid 100 percent of its apportionment commitment for the 5th consecutive year. Also, West Ohio is leading the denomination in mission giving. George Howard of United Methodist General Board of Global Ministries presented the conference with the agency’s two top awards: 2016 Highest Total amount given to United Methodist Committee on Relief and the 2016 Highest total amount of Giving to the Advance totaling $1,889,495.
The West Ohio Conference launched the Light the Way Campaign. Light the Way is a focused plan to develop new faith communities and increase the number of highly vital existing congregations. The offering received just over $1.1 million, in cash and written intentions to give, from churches, districts and individuals.
During the session’s times of holy conferencing, members:
- Voted on five amendments to the denomination’s Constitution, including one that addresses discrimination against women and girls within the UMC. The results of these votes will be announced after all the United Methodists, worldwide, cast their ballots.
- Approved apportioning $22.3 million for 2018 which reflects no change over 2017.
- Passed Conference Board of Pension and Health Benefits recommendation for the continued offering of retiree health care and established eligibility for participation in the active health insurance plan. It was also reported that the clergy pension plan remains fully funded.
- Passed limiting the maximum number of years of eligibility for all Equitable Compensations grants to 5 years per pastor or church
- Affirmed the human rights of all migrants, immigrants, refugees and foreign students and others on extended visas to the United States, and through its offices and congregations will seek to provide opportunities for such persons to attain legal status, if desired. The conference will actively oppose xenophobic, racist, anti-Semitic, anti-Christian and anti-Muslim threats against all persons.
The conference ordained 14 elders, received one elder into full membership recognizing his ordination from another denomination, ordained five deacons, and commissioned 5 provisional deacons and 22 provisional elders. Thirty-five clergy, representing 884 total years of service, retired.
Membership stands at 162,842, down 3 percent from the previous year.
Worship attendance stands at 96,848, down 4 percent.
Church school attendance stands at 27,008, down 7 percent.
Professions or reaffirmations of faith for 2016: 3,592, down 3 percent.
Adults and young adults in small groups for 2016: 104,731, down 3 percent.
Worshippers engaged in mission for 2016: 44,474, down from the previous year. WOC churches served 1,889,366 people with ministries of outreach, justice, and mercy.
Kay Panovec, Director of Communications, West Ohio Conference