Hope was in the air as the 50th session of The West Ohio Conference gathered on the shores of Lake Erie at Lakeside Chautauqua. Bishop Gregory V. Palmer presided over the conference, which was held June 2-6. The conference theme of “Be Not Afraid – HOPE,” was based on Romans 15:13, “May the hope of God fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”
Palmer addressed the conference, speaking into the unrest in the denomination regarding human sexuality.
“If there was a memo that came from Holy Ghost headquarters that said ‘all of you United Methodists are free to suspend your attention to the primary mission of disciple-making and world transformation until you resolve the challenge of human sexuality,’ signed God, Creator, Redeemer, Sanctifier, Father, Son and Holy Ghost, I just need you to know I missed the parchment and I didn’t get a digital version,” Palmer said.
“I am not going to be defined by a single conversation and a single story. And you ought not to be as well,” he said.
Five people shared their personal testimonies with the conference. From twins with Cystic Fibrosis to returning citizens and recovering addicts, each expressed their gratitude for the faith and hope they found in God through The United Methodist Church.
One week before the session met, 18 tornadoes devasted parts of the conference. A special offering of more than $10,000 was received with numerous online contributions yet to be counted. Earlier in the year, Bishop Palmer challenged conference members to bring contributions for Light the Way, a focused plan to develop new faith communities and increase the number of highly vital existing congregations. An offering of more than $100,000 was collected, bringing the total of gifts and pledges to $2.6 million.
During the session’s times of holy conferencing, members:
- ELECTED, in one day, the 14 General Conference, 14 Jurisdictional Conference, and 8 Alternate delegates to represent The West Ohio Conference in 2020.
- PASSED Recommendation #1 – the 2020 Budget of $19,572,211, a reduction of $500,000 (2.5%) from 2019. These reductions are possible in part because of Conference staff sharing and attrition, no 2020 raises for extended cabinet members, and the benefits of owning the Conference center.
- PASSED Recommendation #2 – Board of Pension & Health Benefits, which keeps healthcare coverage the same for active and retired clergy. The Conference has added an Employee Assistance Program for additional mental health support, and all eligible clergy will see an auto-escalation in their pension contribution rate of 1% per year, until a maximum of 10% is reached (unless clergy opt-out).
- PASSED Recommendation #3 – Commission on Equitable Compensation, in which the recommended minimum salary for clergy is 2% higher than last year. Key Conference staff and Cabinet took no increase in salary for 2020.
- PASSED as amended Recommendation #4 – Petition to the 2020 General Conference to Amend Paragraph 316.1: Clarification of Context of Ministry Regarding Licensed Clergy. The amended text provides that a charge for licensed local pastors is defined as “the people within or related to the community in which it is located.”
- PASSED Recommendation #5 – Petition to the 2020 General Conference to Amend Paragraph 319.2: Annual Licensing for Local Pastors. The recommendation allows for district committees on ordained ministry to choose to continue the licensing for a local pastor each year without meeting with the person, unless requested.
Membership stands at 148,153. Worship attendance was 88,978, and church school attendance stands at 28,745. Professions or reaffirmations of faith: 2,856. Adults and young adults in small groups: 96,152. Worshippers engaged in mission in 2018: 49,847. WOC churches served 2,403,556 people with ministries of outreach, justice, and mercy.
The 51st session of the West Ohio Annual Conference is scheduled for June 7-11, 2020, at Lakeside.