By Rick Wolcott*
“The wind of the Spirit blows across us and if we keep engaging in conversations with each other, pushing ever forward, we will bear fruit – fruit that lasts,” the Rev. Sondra Snode, dean of the Cabinet, said in the Cabinet presentation that opened Wednesday’s business session.
Bishop Tracy S. Malone recognized the Rev. Jim Winkler for his faithful ministry on the Cabinet the past seven years, and welcomed the Rev. Bruce Hitchcock, who will succeed Winkler as superintendent of the Ohio Valley District. The Cabinet made 63 full-time and 64 part-time appointments this season. Malone fixed the appointments, which are effective July 1, and then celebrated the 26 years of faithful service that Executive Secretary to the Bishop’s Office Julie Eshelman has given to the East Ohio Conference. Eshelman will retire in November.
Director of Financial and Administrative Services Vera Rebrovich shared many updates that have taken place in her first year with the Conference, introduced members of her department, and then shared these key statistics:
- Membership continues to decrease, decreasing 4.7% in 2017 to 137,376.
- Average worship is down 5.7% from the previous year to 50,307.
- Professions of faith have decreased about 47% to 1,030.
- Baptisms decreased approximately 11% to 1,328 in 2017.
- Average weekly attendance in Sunday school increased 4% to 14,814 in 2017.
- The number of ongoing small groups, support groups or classes other than Sunday school saw a 8.6% increase to 2,439 in 2017.
- The number of United Methodist Volunteers in Mission (UMVIM) teams the East Ohio Conference sent from local churches increased 20.4% in 2017 from 91 to 109.
- The number of persons serving in mission/community ministries increased 10.5% to 26,553 in 2017.
“One of the many things I love about the United Methodist Church is our connection! We truly are connected to each other throughout all corners of the globe,” Rebrovich said. “Last year when different areas were struck by hurricanes, you responded to the call. In 2017, donations to United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) Disaster Relief totaled over $400,000 --- a 553% increase! Thank you for your caring and loving generosity.”
Rev. David Palmer, chair of the Conference Council on Finance and Administration, reiterated in his report what had been printed in the Pre-Conference Workbook, that the budgeting system used for 2019 lists actual amounts available to be spent. Current and previous budgets used a payout rate which meant that if, for example, the payout rate was 85% the $1,000 on a line item in the budget was really only $850 – the amount that would be paid out.
The Annual Conference approved the $12,168,046 total budget for the five funds, which for the 14th year in a row is the same or lower than in the previous year.
Throughout the first three days of Conference, presentations have focused on elements of our ministry vision. We began on Monday with being, making, and maturing disciples of Jesus Christ. On Tuesday, the focus was on being agents of God’s transformation in our communities and throughout the world. Wednesday we turned our attention to being bold and courageous leaders in reaching new people, younger people and more diverse people. Presentations highlighted the importance of intercultural competence, disability awareness, Christian formation, higher education, and mentoring.
Rev. Erin Porter received The One Matters Discipleship Award, created by Discipleship Ministries in 2015 to lift up churches that in recent years have moved from zero baptisms and zero professions of faith into positive numbers as the congregation has begun to focus on intentional discipleship. The church Porter serves, Columbus Avenue UMC in Sandusky (Firelands District), had 13 professions of faith in 2017 – which is the same number as 2006-2016 combined! The church also welcomed 26 new members, a 39% increase over 2016.
The vision presentation ended with Conference Lay Leader Greg Rentsch passing a baton to Kimberly Green, a member of Celebration UMC in Euclid (North Coast District), who will succeed him on July 1.
Many lay and clergy members of Annual Conference awoke early Wednesday to participate in the 3Cs 5k Run/1-mile Walk, which raised $5,002 for missions. Not long after the last person crossed the finish line, two box trucks pulled out of Lakeside, filled with donated items for the Midwest Mission Distribution Center. The two trucks contained 15,525 lbs. comprised of 3,600 health kits, 635 cleaning buckets, 610, school totes, 350 miscellaneous items, 29 layette kits, 10 bicycles, and 3 sewing machines. Generous donors also contributed more than $16,325.
Two of the 10 submitted resolutions were introduced and discussed on Wednesday.
Resolution 2018-05 calling for the Conference to strongly encourage endorsing the application of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child as it relates to incarcerated children was not approved.
Resolution 2018-07 calling for the Conference to oppose any state or federal legislation that seeks to redirect the right to address injustice through boycotts, divestment and sanctions was approved.
Resolution 2018-10 calling for the Conference to charge its Board of Church and Society with how the Conference should best respond to the issue of mass incarceration was approved.
At the close of business, the body voted to suspend the rules and then voted to receive a resolution submitted by the CCYM Executive Team. Resolution 2018-11 calling for the Conference to discuss improved school safety.
*Rick Wolcott is director of Communications for the East Ohio Conference.