Kentucky United Methodist Church Annual Conference, June 5-8, 2022
Report by Graeme Donovan, Lay Delegate from St. Paul UMC
The 2022 Kentucky Annual Conference was the first in-person for three years, and drew about 700 voting delegates (half clergy and half lay members) and others to the Convention Center in Owensboro. Its in-person nature added spice to what is always a spirited gathering, combining stirring worship with business sessions conducted with dispatch and efficiency. Bishop Leonard Fairley, an outstanding spiritual leader, contributed greatly to the grace that was evident from the outset, and what one leader called “the sweet spirit among us.” The Bishop’s powerful opening sermon, titled “See How They Love Each Other,” extended this year’s Conference theme, “Growing in the Love of Jesus.” In it he
challenged the gathering with strong questions and avowals;
- “How can you sustain a movement just on a foundation of love? It sounds impossible!”
- “What will the world see of us in these days? What will they see of us in this, our first in-person Annual Conference since COVID-19 wreaked such havoc, death, and sickness among us? It is my prayer that the world will see in our holy conferencing, our Christian conferencing, a people not geared up with hearts of war, but of peace”.
- “Will we be extremist for hate or love, for justice or injustice? Jesus was not an extremist for morality but only in how much he loves us”.
- “I lament that the world appears to have forgotten how to love: If you do not believe me, just go on Facebook or any social media platform … and you will find rhetoric of such vitriolic hatred that it will make you weep, and some of it will turn your stomach.”
- Jesus’ instruction chronicled in John 15:12 – “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you” – is the best witness we can give for Christ’s love and grace;
“Please note this is not a suggestion: In the strongest terms possible, Jesus makes it a command. It’s not optional.”
- “How does Jesus interpret the Scriptures, the Commandments? He sums them up in the admonition to Love God with all of our hearts, minds and strength, and our neighbor as ourselves”.
- “It is my prayer that the world will witness our growth in the love of God in the words of John Wesley, when he said ‘Though we cannot think alike, may we not love alike? May we not be of one heart, though not of one opinion? Without doubt, we may. Herein all the children of God may unite, notwithstanding these smaller differences’”.
- “Stop analyzing the way your neighbor is living, and just bake them some cookies”.
- “All are saved!”
It’s not easy to summarize the work of more than 800 churches with their 150,000 members. The online Kentucky UMC Annual Conference June 5-8 was a model of efficiency, driven by five things:
- Weeks in advance, a well-organized Resource Book (132 pages long) was sent out containing all 72 of the reports to be affirmed, approved and adopted. The Resource Book – to be read and absorbed by conference delegates in advance – also laid out how decisions would be made.
- All delegates took mandatory training on electronic voting, which was used for three key motions on which it was important for privacy in the ballot process. All other votes were by show of hand.
- As many as possible of the reports in the Resource Book were affirmed, approved and adopted in one, comprehensive vote, achieved by including all but two of the 72 reports on a Consent Calendar (the two exceptions being Board of Trustees and Council on Finance and Administration), and the stipulation that for any other of the remaining 70 reports to be considered individually, they must be first removed from the Consent Calendar by a majority vote of approval by delegates. That happened with only one other report, for the Board of Pensions.
- The three business sessions were tightly managed by the Bishop, so that all essential business was transacted with dispatch, with minimal questions, proposals, and discussion “from the floor”.
- Video presentations were prepared in advance covering a substantial number of key ministries of the UMC in Kentucky, and were played at appropriate times during the proceedings, e.g. during pauses while votes were being tallied electronically. Similar videos made up the bulk of content for the one-and-a-half hour Session for Laity on Monday, June 6. That session also included brief statements by the two Lay Leaders of Annual Conference, Jonna Lang Carter and John Denham, as well as the Presidents of United Methodist Men (Mark Stallons) and Women (Now called United Women of Faith) (Paula Taylor), Lay Leaders of most of the nine Districts in Kentucky United Methodism, Steve Bays (Scouting Coordinator) and Erin Rice (Youth Representative). The Bishop’s message to this session was: “Bishops and Clergy come and go; the Laity remain, grow in the love of God and share with everyone they meet”.
Among notable points from the Conference were:
- Reports of many crucial ministries of the churches that are the most powerful displays of love in action, as well as the power of the ‘connectional system’ at the heart of United Methodism. Among them: responses by hundreds of church volunteers and UMCOR to devastating floods in Kentucky in Dec. 2020, and tornadoes of Dec. 2021 that killed 77 people; care for abused children in Kentucky through UMC children’s homes (the Conference Mission Offering of $72,233 will help these); and reaching out to help UMC churches in Poland providing for refugees from the war in Ukraine.
- Service of Commissioning and Ordination – a moving and solemn welcome to five new full elders, six provisional elders and one provisional deacon.
- Multiple appearances of “the elusive Mr. Wesley” (impersonated by the Rev. Craig Taylor (First UMC, Scottsville), reminding us of vital insights of John Wesley. In his moving interview with Peter Han, one of the ordinands for Elder; when asked which of Wesley’s Means of Grace he most appreciated, Han said his time in prayer each day. “Mr. Wesley” added, we are called to move towards perfection, but not to be perfectionists, and Han replied he’s a “recovering perfectionist”.
- The Conference moved forward on defining a position as full-time executive director with a funded budget for the Strengthening Black Churches initiative.
- The Conference nominated Rev. Dr. Iosmar Alvarez as a candidate for election to Bishop.
- Two key motions concerning disaffiliation met different fates. A motion to “explore if there is a way for the current assets to cover the unfunded pension liabilities and unfunded retirement health care liabilities for all churches of the Kentucky Annual Conference” was passed 542-146; while a motion to petition the Council of Bishops to call a special session of General Conference before Oct. 31 this year to pass the Protocol of Reconciliation & Grace Through Separation, and to extend the time limit in the Book of Discipline Paragraph 2553 beyond December 31, 2023 failed 307-309.
- Eight churches completed the processes necessary for disaffiliation from the Kentucky UMC, and their processes were affirmed by a vote of Conference delegates. There will be a special Annual Conference later in the year, focusing solely on disaffiliation. The Bishop said, “I wish that everyone in this room would stay in the UMC, but I know that will not be the case, and my heart is hurting”. He dwelt on the pain of seeing members of these eight churches, long our brothers and sisters in Christ, in the very body of Christ, through thick and thin, in good times and bad times, now leaving us, and he prayed movingly for them.
- The Conference celebrated and affirmed manifold works of love by lay people, caring for people in dire distress of every kind; as well as honoring clergy who had 25 and 50 years of service; and conducted a moving ceremony for retirees, including a symbolic re-enactment of passing the mantle from the aging prophet Elijah to his young successor Elisha (I Kings 19:19 & II Kings 2).
- In 2023, the Conference budget will be $6.4 million, and the June meeting in Owensboro.
- Pastor Darren will become the new Conference Secretary, succeeding Rev. Tami Coleman.