Kentucky United Methodist Church Annual Conference, June 2023
St. Paul was blessed to be part of the Annual Conference in Owensboro, KY this year and to be a Lighthouse Church. Rev. Darren Brandon and Rev. Dustin Woods served as St. Paul’s clergy delegates and Graeme Donovan and Bob Helvey as lay delegates. Rev. Jim Murphy and Rev. George Strunk, who have their charge conferences at St. Paul, are also members Annual Conference. Dustin was ordained an Elder in The United Methodist Church, supported by his family and several members of St. Paul. Lori Brandon coordinated the Doodle Art Gallery with help from Marilyn Helvey. Darren also served in the role of the Conference Secretary. Click here to enjoy a recap video created by the Conference Communication team. Thank you for your faithful support of St. Paul.
Kentucky Annual Conference, June 4-7, 2023 – Highlights
by Graeme Donovan, June 20, 2023
On Sunday evening, June 4, 2023, after the opening worship service of this year’s Annual Conference, a further 286 churches had their disaffiliations from the UMC ratified by the Conference. Together with the 77 churches that disaffiliated in 2021 and 2022, a total of 363 churches have left the Conference, almost half the UMC churches in Kentucky.
Before the vote was taken to ratify the latest round of disaffiliations, a service of lament and blessing took place. Bishop Fairley preached a passionate sermon on Love, saying among many other things, the following:
“One thing we can always believe and be assured of is the love of God. We must show the love of God – this is not multiple choice: we don’t have an option in the matter. I pray that love will lead us as a people called United Methodist in acts of piety and social justice, and that’s not an option either.”
“We grieve those we love, and there would not be grief unless we loved.”
Quoting John Wesley, he reminded the Conference delegates to “Do no harm. Do good. Stay in love with God.”
And he observed that everyone present, whether disaffiliating or staying, bore no animosity towards one another; “Enemies do not sing as you have sung tonight, together.”
After the service, Bishop Fairley called the Conference to order to receive the report of the Board of Trustees on the disaffiliating churches (1), and for the vote on ratification of the disaffiliations. One speaker
urged the Conference to vote NO, arguing that many individual church decisions to disaffiliate had been made based on misinformation and fear. A second speaker urged the Conference to vote YES, arguing it was important to acknowledge and honor the discernment process undertaken so painstakingly and often with pain, in so many churches.
A total of 545 delegates voted to ratify the disaffiliations: 489 YES and 56 NO.
The next morning (Monday, June 5) began with an exhilarating worship service, designed to usher in a new spirit of optimism and forward thinking in the remaining UMC in Kentucky. With rich hymns (led by musicians from the awesome orchestra of Madisonville First UMC), liturgy, and an inspiring sermon from Bishop Fairley (2), the Conference began its hard work on the many changes needing to be made in the Conference as a result of disaffiliations. The service commenced with the Hymn “Be Thou My Vision” (UMC Hymnal 451), followed by affirmations from Psalm 24:7, and Zechariah 2:10-11; then drew on the words of John 13:33-35, one of Jesus’ last messages to his disciples – “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another”. Bishop Fairley declared, “You know, I’ve always loved the morning, particularly with sunrises, because it reminds me that after the evening is gone and the night is over, that somewhere in the watches of the night Jesus Christ has watched us as we slumbered and we slept. And then he wakes us with the blood running warm in our veins. And sometimes God will remind us of that in a beautiful way. He will paint the sky – as if God is painting on a new canvas. So, I know what it means when the Scriptures say, “New are God’s mercies every day.” In the day – today – God is giving us a canvas. What will we paint on it, as United Methodists?” He emphasized that love, piety, and social holiness were not optional, and that Jesus Christ is not the embodiment of dogma, but of love. The hymn “Lord, Whose Love Through Humble Service (581) led into a moving communion service, accompanied by the singing of “One Bread, One Body” (620), and closed with the Hymn “Here I Am, Lord” (593).
There followed separate briefing sessions for the Laity and Clergy. Then a group of three participants in the Young Adult Leadership Lab (Tess Welch, Eliza Love, and Erin Rice) enlivened the Conference with a moving meditation on a passage from Nehemiah 8. After being sent by the Persian king Artaxerxes in 444 BC to lead the rebuilding of Jerusalem, Nehemiah set about repopulating the city. He called for a gathering in the public square at the Water Gate in Jerusalem of Israelites who had returned from their captivity and exile, for the reading by Ezra the Priest and Scribe of the scriptures that proclaimed God’s gracious offer of relationship. And the people rejoiced as the scriptures were read, day after day in the public square, marking the ending of their long exile, and a new beginning in their own land.
The first Business Session, Monday afternoon (June 5) began with a meditation on gratefulness by Brother David Steindl-Rast, which can be found at www.gratefulness.org .
The Conference received and affirmed the Consent Calendar, which contained most of the more than 65 reports from Conference Agencies and Connectional Ministries. These reports were circulated to delegates prior to the Conference, and were taken as read in the vote of affirmation.
In early March, 2023, Bishop Fairley had appointed three teams – made up of clergy and laity – to focus on District Realignment, Stewardship and Finance, and Connectional Ministries: all three of them responses to the new realities for the Annual Conference going forward following the disaffiliation of churches from the Conference. The work of these teams led to a series of reports in the first business session:
- Appointment of the Rev. Dr. Kimberly Pope-Seiberling as the new Director of New Church Development (NCD), which will be an essential initiative to rebuild a United Methodist presence in areas where growth will work best in Kentucky, and where it has been lost by disaffiliations.
- Appointment of the Rev. Dr. Tina Patterson, as the new Director of Connectional and African American Ministries. This provides leadership for the work of Strengthening the Black Churches, inaugurated several years earlier.
- A presentation by the Rev. Adam Sparks on the three key areas NCD and the conference are initially targeting: suburban Cincinnati in the Northern Kentucky District, the Cadiz area in western Kentucky, and a revitalization project involving Fuente de Avivamiento in Lexington – with more initiatives to come.
- Kim Keller, Chair of the Conference’s Council on Finance and Administration, and the Rev. David Garvin, Conference Treasurer, gave a first reading of the 2024 budget, reflecting the new financial realities of the Annual Conference, along with a revised budget for 2023. The latter adjusted expenditures downward by 26% from levels approved earlier, and used about 15% of apportionment-related funds received from disaffiliating churches, to fill the remaining deficit. For 2024, the budget trimmed expenses a little more, and used a further 25% of the apportionment-related funds received from disaffiliating churches, to fill the remaining deficit. Among other things, the Conference will reduce the number of District Superintendents from nine to five, with eight Districts being combined into four (3).
- Commencement of balloting to elect new delegates to next year’s General Conference, and Jurisdictional Conference. The Conference elected four new Lay delegates (Tess Welch, Sarah McGinnis, Lesley Williams, and Larry Miller); and three new Clergy delegates (John Hatton, David Garvin, and Jay Smith). These elections are Provisional, and await ratification by the South-Eastern Jurisdiction to which the Kentucky Conference belongs.
On Monday evening, in the course of a striking Worship Service, with sublime music from the Madisonville First UMC orchestra, an Ecumenical Greeting from The Very Reverend William F. Medley (Bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Owensboro), and a stirring oration from retired UMC Bishop James Swanson, two candidates were commissioned as provisional members preparing for ordained ministry as Elders, and three candidates were ordained as Elders, among them Dustin Woods from St. Paul UMC.
Tuesday, June 6
Highlights from the second, full day of work sessions, were the following:
- A series of short presentations on discipling activities including campus and retreat ministries, the Isaiah project that supports ministry interns, UMC ministries at institutions of higher education, with reminders of the UMC’s commitment to justice ministries, and of the importance of never separating personal piety from social holiness/social activism.
- Adoption of a Resolution affirming the Doctrinal Standards of the UMC.
- Continuation of balloting to elect new delegates to next year’s General Conference, and Jurisdictional Conference.
- Video reports on the Commission on the Status and Role of Women (COSROW), Gammon and St. Paul Theological Seminaries, Wesley Manor and Wesley Village, Emergency Response Ministries in Eastern and Western Kentucky, Africa University, the Clergy Financial Well-Being Initiative, the Livermore UMC Breakfast Ministry, and the National Archives of the UMC at Drew University.
- Reports from the Communications Team, and the Board of Pensions.
- A report from Rev. Dr. Tina Patterson, the new Director of Connectional and African American Ministries.
- A Report on the Kentucky Children’s Homes, by the Director, Rev. Julie Love.
- Collection of the Mission Offering, which totaled $23,000 by the end of Conference, but may rise higher in subsequent days.
Wednesday, June 7
Highlights from the third and final day of the Conference were the following:
- Adoption of a budget of $4.5 million for 2024, with a Conference apportionment rate of 10%.
- Adoption of the Nominations Report, listing the leadership of the Conference and its many committees and agencies.
- A report by the Rev. Tami Coleman on elected Delegations to the July Jurisdictional Conference at Lake Junaluska, NC, and the April 2024 General Conference in Charlotte, NC.
- Adoption of a Resolution to establish a Task Force to focus on Evangelism.
- Announcement that next year’s Annual Conference, June 10-12, 2024, will be in Covington, Northern KY.
- Memorial Service for pastors and spouses who died during the previous year.
- Honoring of Retirees and Appointments of Pastors to new Charges – see list here:
1 See the Board of Trustees Report with the list of disaffiliating churches here.
2 See the video of Bishop Fairley’s sermon: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u8Cl7DL_uVE
3 The Heartland District, in which St. Paul is included, will be combined with the Bluegrass District, with the Rev. Dr. John Hatton remaining as Superintendent of the combined Districts.