Kentucky United Methodist Church Annual Conference, June 6-8, 2021
Report by Graeme Donovan, Lay Delegate from St. Paul UMC
The first day of business sessions of the Kentucky Annual Conference (Tuesday, June 8), opened with a stirring worship service in which Bishop Leonard Fairley preached an extraordinarily powerful sermon.
Just before he preached, the singing and instrumental music group struck the theme:
“He is jealous for me,
Loves like a hurricane; I am a tree,
The weight of his wind and mercy…”
The sermon text from I John 4:15 made the strong assertion: “We have known and believe the love that God has for us…” Drawing on this and surrounding verses in the Johannine discourse, as well as on the remarkable arguments of Paul in I Corinthians 13, Bishop Fairley challenged the online gathering with a series of ringing avowals and questions:
- “Know the love… show the love… what if it really is that simple?”
- “Love is the one core, non-negotiable value for those who claim to be followers of Jesus.”
- “If I do not have love, I have nothing, gain nothing, speak nothing, know nothing, do nothing.”
- “Is love strong enough to heal our church, heal our nation, solve our problems?”
- “Is love really the answer? Is it that simple?”
- “We hold that love can overcome all obstacles.”
- “When all seems to be gone, love endures…love is eternal.”
- “Love is liturgy; it is the work of the people.”
- “The followers of Christ must model a different path, a better path.”
- “It’s impossible to love God, whom you’ve never seen, and not love your neighbor.”
- “Everyone who loves is born of God, knows God, abides in God; and God abides in them.”
I urge everyone to watch the service at this link: 2021 Opening Worship. You’ll be moved and inspired.
A second hard-hitting time of worship was the service of Lament and Remembrance, which can be found at this link: 2021 Service of Lament. Opening with the solemn tolling of bells at eight different UMC churches across the Conference, the service was led by Rev. LeTicia Preacely with a wrenching and moving lament for the lingering wounds of racism.
Prior to the Consent Calendar being approved, the Conference approved a motion by Dr. Kathy Ogletree Goodwin to remove from the Calendar the report on Strengthening Black Churches (SBC21). Later Dr. Goodwin proposed a motion to appoint a full-time executive director with a funded budget to the committee implementing this plan. Her motion was referred to the Council on Finance and Administration to report on its budgetary implications, before being submitted for a vote.
Rev. Kevin Burney reported to the Conference on progress made in the past six months on anti-racism training, which is mandatory, on a quadrennial basis, for all clergy and laity in leadership positions. This training is managed by an Anti-Racism and Cultural Competence team, chaired by Rev. Shirley Burke (of Coke Memorial UMC, with whom St. Paul is now in regular conversations); among the 11 members of the team are Rev. George Burke (also of Coke Memorial UMC), and Jonna Carter, Co-Lay Leader of the Conference, and Chair of the Kentucky UMC Commission on Religion and Race.
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 6-8 was a model of efficiency, driven by five things:
- Weeks in advance, a well-organized Resource Book (137 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 were urged to take a training session on electronic voting.
- 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.
- The two 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 number of key ministries of the UMC in Kentucky, and those videos were played at appropriate times during the proceedings, especially during pauses while votes were being tallied electronically. Similar videos made up the bulk of the content of the one-hour Session for Laity on Sunday, 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 (Paula Taylor), and Lay Leaders of several of the ten Districts in Kentucky United Methodism.
Among other notable points from the Conference were:
- Outstanding singing and music by a group whose offerings enriched the services of worship.
- Jason Moore’s telling presentation on “5 Things Your Visitors Are Thinking But Won’t Ask”; a long litany of advice for ensuring that newcomers to your church – who “do not love you yet” – return and make their home with your church, instead of vowing not to come back because of your unfriendliness, or mistakes you made in presenting yourselves to them.
- Service of Commissioning and Ordination – a moving and solemn welcome to four new full elders, one admission to the elder track, and recognition of an associate, all “binding themselves to the service of God”; with a fine sermon from retiring Bishop Mary “Dindy” Taylor, centered on words of Luke 24:27, “that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in the Messiah’s name to all nations”; and the reminder that if we don’t believe there can be a change of heart, we have nothing to preach.
- Twelve churches completed the processes necessary for disaffiliation from the Kentucky UMC, and their processes were affirmed by a vote of Conference delegates.
- The Conference celebrated and affirmed manifold works of love by lay people, caring for people in dire distress of every imaginable kind, an inspiration to everyone present.
- The Bishop honored and celebrated 25 years of service by Pastor Darren, who heads the Board of Ordained Ministries.
- In 2022, the Conference budget will be $6.4 million, and the June meeting in Owensboro.
- The August, 2022 General Conference will consider the negotiated Protocol of Separation.