By Rev. Shirley DeLarme
From as far away as Okinawa, Lapwei, and Vancouver they came. From as near as walking distance to the meeting site they came. As old as 95 and as young as a 20 weeks before birth, they came. As experienced as 55 years, and as new as first-timers who are still teens they came. The body of Christ, gathered for holy conferencing, for prayer and preaching, for discerning and celebrating.
As the body of Christ, we celebrate the election of two provisional elders, and the ordination of three. We celebrate the new licenses of 18 local pastors, and the retirement of 16 ordained clergy. And in grief we mourned, and with joy we honored 32 saints who have gone on before us, and two churches whose ministries will end, but whose legacies will live on.
When we acknowledge that we have only 66 churches in our Conference with more than 100 worshippers on a Sunday morning, we also recognize the sadness of declining numbers. Membership in our Conference has fallen by 2,465 during the past year, making our current membership 46,209 persons, and an average weekly worship attendance of 18,504, down 1,683 people in the past year. Sunday school attendance is also down 280 people, now counting 4,543 people participating.
[quote_box_right]Despite [some declining] numbers, we do have cause to celebrate.[/quote_box_right]Despite those numbers, we do have cause to celebrate. While the total number of professions of faith are down by 77 from last year, totaling 715, we give accolades to the Seattle District that counts an increase of 41 professions, totaling 239 for the year. Baptisms, too, were up, particularly for the Puget Sound, Seattle, and Seven Rivers Districts, which gave us an increase of 31 baptisms over last year.
Our efforts to begin new faith communities add more hope. While we let go of two new church start efforts at The Crossing and Tacoma First UMC we can celebrate the 18 new starts that are still in process toward our goal of 48 new communities by 2024.
So together, 245 (registered) laity and 237 clergy, and all the 250 congregations behind us, we reach with hope toward the future of God’s dreams for the reign of Christ in our midst.
Rev. Shirley DeLarme was the Conference Secretary and is also appointed as the pastor of the United Methodist Church in Port Orchard, Washington.