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The 145th session of the Pacific Northwest Annual Conference took place at the Washington State Fairgrounds in Puyallup, June 22-24, 2018. Bishop Elaine JW Stanovsky of the Greater Northwest Episcopal Area officiated.
This was the third time that Puyallup has been home to an annual conference session; it was last held in the same location in 2016. A quadrennial theme shared across the area with the Alaska and Oregon-Idaho Conferences, “Do this and you will live!” was explored with a new focusing question, “Do what?”
Following a recognition of the first people to live in the Puyallup Valley, the conference got off to a strong start with an energetic Opening Worship service. Church planter Rev. Katy Shedlock offered a provocative spoken word poem titled “Do What?”. Bishop Stanovsky delivered her Episcopal Address which included a report from Commission on a Way Forward member Rev. Donna Pritchard. Her report included an overview of the three models that are the product of the commission’s work.
Throughout her address, Bishop Stanovsky focused on the question, “What does love look like?” She lifted up a number of examples including the work of churches to respond to natural disasters, poverty, and advocacy for those without power or voice. Efforts to bridge divides including the recent Table Talks initiative were also offered as examples.
The news of refugee families being separated and detained at the border worked its way into several moments of this year’s conference including Stanovsky’s address. “We gather in Puyallup, a former internment camp of Japanese Americans. Today, we might call it a detention center. If that sounds political,” she said, “read the Bible.” The bishop went on to mention that the Federal Detention Center in SeaTac, Washington was just a couple miles from both her home and office. 75 conference members would organize less than two days later to hold an early morning prayer vigil outside of it.
As she turned toward the coming year Stanovsky addressed denominational uncertainty saying, “whatever happens at General Conference in February of 2019, United Methodists in the Pacific Northwest will find a way for LGBTQ people to be fully a part of our little neighborhood in God’s wide kindom. Our walk with Jesus, for decades, has led us to this place.”
The conclusion of Stanovsky’s address cast a vision for the next 12 months as a “Crossover Year of loving new neighbors.” Instead of waiting passively, the bishop encouraged members to use the year to begin, and renew, efforts of missional engagement in their neighborhood. A presentation received later in the weekend by the Greater Northwest Innovation Vitality Team built off of this emphasis.
The Rev. Daniel Foster offered the message at the Memorial Worship. His sermon, “Fully Paid” reminded us that “Death is the culminating reality of life. No one escapes it…we have to eventually come to terms with it ourselves.” Foster cautioned attendees to avoid “the very convenient escape of somehow believing this world is pretty much all there is for us” instead of trusting upon the promises of Christ.
At the Ordination and Commissioning Service, Rev. Dr. Leroy Barber delivered an empassioned message declaring, “From now on, we ordain and commission disrupters!” The theme of disruption was recurrent as he explored an alternative way of considering the familiar story of the Good Samaritan. Barber, recently hired by the Oregon-Idaho Conference and a member of the Greater Northwest Innovation Vitality Team, noted that “God goes to the margins to pick his leaders.”
The conference dedicated significant time to presentations on the Anatomy of Peace (AOP) delivered by the Rev. Dr. Brian Brown, an elder from the Virginia Conference and trained facilitator for the Arbinger Institute in the AOP. Each session was followed with small group work by conference members dubbed Table Talks 2.0 with participants practicing some of the principles being taught.
Offerings and gifts were received during the weekend to help to close a funding gap for Lazy F Camp and Retreat Center’s new dining hall, the Central Washington branch of Justice For Our Neighbors, and a request to fund student scholarships to Africa University from the South Congo Episcopal Area. Giving for these items at the conference totaled $3,246.48, $5,334.36, and $2,932.28 respectively.
The Work of the Body
During its plenary time, members of the Pacific Northwest Conference received reports, considered legislation, and recognized the accomplishments of churches and individuals.
The conference affirmed the election of Marilyn Reid as Conference Secretary of Global Missions and established the second Sunday of September as UMVIM Awareness Sunday. It also reaffirmed six existing Conference Advance Specials while adding Central Washington Justice For Our Neighbors to the list.
With some minor amendments, the conference affirmed a resolution expressing solidarity with United Methodist churches and the National Council of Churches in the Philippines as they seek to address “the peace and human rights situation in the Philippines.”
Members approved several pieces of legislation brought to the conference floor addressing recent developments in the church and the world. One resolution called for the publication of a press release by the PNW Conference supporting the Poor People’s Campaign, encouraging congregations to study it and become more knowledgeable of the issues it raises. Another petition directed the conference secretary to send letters to elected officials requesting a cessation of the policy of separating the families of asylees at the border, the reunion of children to families already separated unless there is “an explicit risk of direct violence or harm,” and the provision of basic human rights and legal counsel to all those detained.
The conference also approved a request for a declaratory decision from the Judicial Council on whether the establishment of $200-300 fees for visitors to the 2019 Special Session of General Conference conforms to the United Methodist Constitution as the fees potentially create “a de facto barrier to full inclusion based on economic condition.”
Members again voted to ratify a constitutional amendment regarding gender equality which was affirmed by the 2016 General Conference. The re-vote was due to an error in the text put before many conferences in 2017.
Members approved a smaller conference budget than they did last year, reducing it by 1.87 percent to $5,176,604. The budget assumes that the PNW Conference will honor 100% of its General Church apportionment as it has for several years now. A 2.19 percent increase in minimum salary to $41,694, changes effecting moving allowances, and a number of other grants and benefits adjustments were enacted. The closure of three churches were also approved.
The body also commissioned a newly consecrated deaconess, Lynn Swedberg, who has long been an advocate for the full inclusion of those with disabilities in the life of the church.
While the conference did not elect replacement delegates for the 2019 General Conference, it did chose to elect its clergy and lay delegate, and first reserves of the same for the 2020 General Conference. They will attend the 2019 special session in a support role and learn from that experience. Rev. Elizabeth Ingram Schindler was elected as clergy delegate with Rev. Gregg Sealey elected as clergy reserve. A. Skylar Bihl was elected as lay delegate with Conference Treasurer Brant Henshaw elected as first reserve. Additional reserves and Western Jurisdictional Conference delegates will be elected in 2019.
Conference dates for 2019 were set for June 6-9 and the body received an invitation, from new Crest to Coast Missional District Superintendent Rev. Kathleen Weber, to meet again in Puyallup, Washington.
Reports and Awards
Women clergy awarded the Revs. Sharon Moe and Carolyn Peterson with the Marion Kline Award, named after a PNW elder who was one of the first women to be admitted to full clergy membership. Barbara Dadd Shaffer received the Ruth Award, which honors significant women in ministry. A scholarship was also awarded to Alexa Eisenbarth.
The significant accomplishments of the lay-led Rebuild:Up From the Ashes effort were acknowledged in both the Laity Session and during plenary. Carlene Anders, mayor of Pateros, Washington and executive director of the Okanogan County Long Term Recovery Group, was on-hand to recognize the efforts of Jim Truitt, Rosalee Mohney, and the Pacific Northwest Conference.
Laity also elected a new Associate Conference Lay Leader, Angelina Goldwell, while offering sincere thanks for the work of outgoing associate David Reinholz. A report from the Hope for the Children of Africa marked 20 years of partnership with the South Congo Conference, while highlighting increased generosity and the dedicated service of its outgoing chairperson. Its Jar$ for Jamaa Letu initiative brought in $15,962.32 at Annual Conference.
A report was received from Tom Wilson with the Northwest United Methodist Foundation (NWUMF). He introduced the conference to new associate directors, Julia Frisbie and the Rev. David Nieda. Dave Burfeind, director at Lazy F Camp and Retreat Center shared that construction is well underway for its new dining hall. A small funding gap will be closed with a loan from NWUMF.
A One Matters Award was given to Community United Methodist Church in Colville by Discipleship Ministries. District Superintendent Gregg Sealey expressed his appreciation for their missional engagement with the community including a jump in baptisms as they creatively reach out.
The Conference Board of Church and Society awarded its Peace with Justice Awards to Goldendale UMC for its work with Native American youth, and to CWJFON for its efforts offering hospitality to immigrants. The Rev. Karen Yokota Love was honored with the Martin Luther King, Jr. award for her justice work, particularly relating to the Japanese-American community and in leading Mason UMC in offering space to young organizers of the March For Our Lives event early in 2018.
The conference received an update from a freshly branded Greater Northwest Innovation Vitality Team. Rev. Dr. William Gibson led off a 30-minute presentation where he introduced the fully formed team including the recently hired Rev. Dr. Leroy Barber joining Kristina Gonzalez and Rev. Shalom Agtarap. New and advancing projects in Seattle (Ravenna), Marysville, Squamish, British Columbia and out of the South Sound Cooperative were highlighted.
Members also received a short report from Rev. Kathy Neary who was appointed as Transitional Ministry Developer a new position designed to help churches that face sustainability and vitality challenges to consider new missional possibilities.
And finally, the conference closed its final plenary in prayer over two of the three young people travelling next month to represent us at the Global Young People’s Convocation in Johannesburg, South Africa.
Some Data Points
For this report, United Methodist News Service asked the following question: “Did your clergy session approve any openly gay candidates for ministry? If so, how many?” Our PNW Board of Ordained Ministry continues to maintain its position of giving equal consideration to all ministry candidates irrespective of sexual orientation and gender identity, so this is not data we collect or quantify. On the final day of conference, Rev. Rachel Neer, who was ordained into full membership as a deacon, did offer gratitude to the bishop and conference saying in part, “When I am ordained in two hours, my wife will be standing with me. This is not a small act. I would not be ordained in another conference. I would be named as “an issue.”
During this year’s Ordination and Commissioning Service, five elders and one deacon were ordained and admitted to full connection with an average age of 43. Nine individuals were commissioned in preparation for the order of elder and two into the order of deacon with an average age is 46.5.
In plenary, we offered appreciation for the new and continuing service of Certified Lay Ministers and licensed local pastors, and in celebration we recognized the retirement of 12 pastoral leaders including 8 elders, 2 associate members, and 2 local pastors who have offered 330.92 years of service in ministry to the church and the world.
Finally at a Memorial Service on Saturday night, in grief we mourned, and with joy we honored, 32 saints who have gone on before us and three churches whose ministries will end, but whose legacies will live on.
Membership stands at 37,743, down 1,361 from the previous year.
Worship attendance stands at 16,785 down 531.
Church school attendance stands at 4,504 up 774.
Professions or reaffirmations of faith for 2017 were 745, up from 2016 by 66.
Adults and young adults in small groups for 2017 were 10,393, down from 2016 by 291.
Worshippers engaged in mission for 2017 were 10,281 up from 2016 by 1,194.
Patrick Scriven serves as Director of Communications and Young People’s Ministries for the Pacific Northwest Conference of The United Methodist Church.