Annual Conference Session 2010

by Nick Strobel

This first part of the report gives you a taste of what an annual conference session is like with pictures. The second part has the low-down on what happened with some of the major resolutions along with my comments. All opinions expressed in this report are mine alone and are not necessarily those shared by our other lay delegate, Sherry Atkins, or Pastor Karen. However, I do know that they also thought the worship sessions led by Dr. Marcia McFee were fantastic!

Day One -- June 16 (Wednesday)

opening plenary session for ACS2010

Annual Conference Session is held at the Sacramento Convention Center in downtown Sacramento. It is the only place that can fit all of the tables + chairs for the approximately 1000 people, from about 350 churches, who attend. While someplace like University of the Pacific, a Methodist-related college in Stockton might have seating for that number of people, it doesn't have the space for everyone to sit at a table. The center "chancel" area changes every year but the rest of the set up is the same with the large screens left and right of center and display tables in the far, far right side of the room.

Bishop Schnase

Bishop Warner Brown welcomes Bishop Robert Schnase to Cal-Nevada ACS 2010

Bishop Schnase was the keynote speaker for this year's session bringing his message of the Five Practices for Fruitful Congregations and Living. Bishop Schnase has a down-home, story-telling way of presenting his thoughts sprinkled with humor. He was elected out of the Texas Annual Conference and is currently serving the Missouri Annual Conference.

Bishop Brown giving his Conference Address

At his "State of the Conference" talk, Bishop Warner Brown donned the same hard hat he has used in his ReThink Church meetings throughout the Annual Conference telling us about the changes that need to be made in our way of doing things for the 21st century. See my report for the one held at Visalia in April. The hard hat means that we're going to be learning as we make our way through the changes---sometimes we'll make mistakes and some things will fall down unexpectedly. It also means we're going to be constructing something new. Some key questions we will need to answer as we participate in this re-construction: 1) How do we live within our means and intentionally make effective use of our ministries? 2) How do we engage the laity to do the ministry? and 3) How do we be accountable for the fruits of our ministry (ala Luke 13 "fig tree" parable).

That evening we participated in the Celebration of Communion. No pictures for that one. Lots of great singing!

Day Two -- June 17 (Thursday)

After our morning worship, we were divided up into seven groups, "legislative sections" to work on the 42 resolutions. Each section had five to seven resolutions to work on from 9:30 AM to noon (or so). This process helps streamline the legislative process so that the full plenary sessions can focus on the truly controversial topics. If a resolution garners at least 85% in favor or opposition, it goes on the "Consent Calendar" to be voted upon as a block at once in the plenary session. An item can be removed from the Consent Calendar by someone getting ten signatures of voting delegates from the full plenary session. Abstentions are not counted and some delegates leave a section before all of the legislative items are dealt with, so they are not included in the 85% calculation. Usually people from the same local church will NOT be in the same legislative section, so Pastor Karen and Sherry were not in my legislative section.

Legislative Section D
There were about 93 voting delegates for my legislative section, "D".

Those beyond "the bar" for non-voting members
Those not assigned to legislative section D could not vote on the items in the section but they could speak about them.

Legislative Section D leaders
Myra Gaiser (center) led the section D meeting. Norm Mowry (left) assisted and Kham Dy Yang (right) was the secretary.

My section had items 10 (registration fee for Annual Conference Session), 15 (Conference and District Advance Specials---specially-designated givings), 17 (change in abuse prevention document for the Annual Conference), 19 (confronting heterosexism), 20 (fair sentencing for youth sentenced to life without parole), and 36 (release of the Morong 43, health workers in the Philippines). As expected item 10 was the most controversial for our section, passing with 54 for and 39 against. The reasons for taking the conference fees out of our apportionments and having people pay for it directly are: 1) the conference office is trying to reduce apportionments to make them more missional-focussed; 2) collections for this part of the apportionment has been running at only 43%, so money has had to be taken from other budget items to pay this contractual amount ($85,000 in 2010 and ~$87,000 in 2011); and 3) this is standard practice for other conferences outside the church (although I don't know if other Annual Conferences charge for their sessions). There are approximately 950 voting members at an Annual Conference session but retired clergy, diaconal ministers and deacons not employed by a local church would be exempt from the registration fee, so the number of paying people would be around 650 to 680, so the registration fee would be about $130 (on top of food and lodging). Because this item received less than 85% of the vote (either in favor or opposition), it was also covered in the full plenary session. See below for what happened in the full plenary.

Another item generating a bit of discussion was item 19 about welcoming lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, transgender (LGBT) people, particularly the youth and young adults and making that welcome public and explicit for those churches who wish to do so. The original resolution made that welcome for the Annual Conference as a whole but an amendment that added a resolve statement limited the public welcome to the reconciling congregations and other churches who wished to welcome LGBT persons. It passed with 71 in favor and 8 against. Personally, I share the opinion of a large majority of the youth and young adults in the United States that they don't feel their heterosexuality is threatened by homosexuality and that the focus on who people have a committed relationship with seems a bit Victorian and even hypocritical---those who trot out the Bible on homosexuality don't rail against the many, many sins mentioned in the Bible violated every day by people including numerous violations against the Ten Commandments.

Item 15 easily passed with 87 for and 0 against. Item 17 passed with 76 in favor and 9 against. Item 20 was about allowing the possibility of youth sentenced to life in prison without parole to be rehabilitated and be eventually released. There are reasonable restrictions on those who would be eligibile. Item 20 passed with 83 in favor and 1 against. Item 36 was about releasing 43 health workers in the Philippines jailed by the Philippine army as alleged terrorists and tortured. That item passed 85 in favor and 0 against. So that's five of the six resolutions for my section that ended up on the Consent Calendar.

My section was finished with its work by 11:45 and I went to the Missions Lunch. Pastor Karen's section (section B?) went until 12:30. Legislative sections take place in the meeting rooms on the third floor of the Convention Center. In the main lobby on the third floor outside the rooms is where the Cokesbury tables are placed and other fair trade goods are available for purchase at the far end. The pictures below show that area.

Cokesbury tables People visiting before lunch

The Missions Lunch was held at St Paul's Episcopal Church right next door to the Convention Center. Below are some pictures from the Missions Lunch.

St Paul's Episcopal sanctuary

The Missions Lunch was held in the sanctuary of the church. The building is from the 1840s so it has the beautiful stained glass windows with high vaulted ceilings. Select the picture above to bring up a close-up of the central window over the altar. The image was taken before the rest of the people showed up. Notice all of the tables and no pews! Also notice that the chairs have books in slots in back of them. One innovative thing the church has done is to remove the pews and replaced them with individual cushioned seats that can be re-arranged in any fashion they want including having meals---something we might want to consider so we don't have to spend over $1000 to change a light bulb in our sanctuary as well as make our sanctuary a bit more flexible for the 21st century (remember that's just my opinion and it hasn't been officially endorsed by Wesley UMC or any committee thereof).

Bishop Ray Sano (retired) gave some opening remarks at the Missions Lunch

Howard Parker
Howard Parker, father of our covenant missionary Katherine Parker, handed out certificates.

David Malloy

David Malloy from the staff of The Advance headquartered in New York gives us his warm thanks for all of help the Annual Conference has given to the various mission service projects (Advance specials) handled by the General Board of Global Ministries. All 100% of the funds donated to projects under The Advance go to the project you choose---no overhead. What other service organization can say that?

Cathy Whitlach

Cathy Whitlatch is the Western Jurisdiction's Mission Interpreter in Residence told that the missionaries especially appreciate the communication and prayers the local churches have with them. Missionaries out in the field can feel isolated and alone so appreciate contact with the folks back home. (They also appreciate the financial help too!)

Conference Lay Leaders
Burt Yin and Gayle Shearman, Conference Co-Lay Leaders give the Laity Address as a conversation between them.

Chancel area on the dais
Bishop Brown (bottom left) listens to the Laity Address with the "altar" decorations behind.

Bishop Schnase

Bishop Robert Schnase talks about the Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations. He talked about how he came up with the five practices and why those five practices with the five engaging adjectives (radical, passionate, intentional, risk-taking, extravagant) are key to the future of the church. The five practices are not some quick fix program for the church but, rather, what any sustainable and growing church needs to be like if it is to bear fruit. It is a church that cultivates a culture of learning by visiting other churches, doing internet research, phoning others, etc. continually to find out what ministries need to be done, so that lives can be transformed. In his evening talk about individual fruitful lives, Bishop Schnase noted that people need to put themselves in situations where they can be shaped by the Holy Spirit. Saying "yes" to one small nudging of the Holy Spirit enlarges our boundaries to that we can say "yes" to future nudgings. Bit by bit, we are transformed over time so the resulting spiritual person is very different than the person was years ago, usually radically different!

Celebration of Life and Reaffirmation of Baptism
Marcia McFee (center) led worship and Dan Damon was at the piano for the Celebration of Life and Reaffirmation of Baptism service.

The lights were in the room were turned off and the center worship space lit up with a faint glow from Christmas lights waiting for the light of Christ to be brought in as a lantern at the end of a long pole with streamers hanging from the pole. Behind the person bringing in the light of Christ was another bearing a pitcher of water to be poured in the bowl that was at the center of the dais. Baptism is a dying to the old self and being re-born to a new self in Christ like the dying we experience at the end of our earthly life and re-birth we experience in the next life with God.

Celebration of Life and Reaffirmation of Baptism service
Bowl waits for the water at center right.
Light of Christ brought in by the acolyte
Lantern at end of long pole at the center symbolizes the light of Christ.
Light of Christ at memorial/baptism service
Light of Christ in the lantern at the center of the image.
Light of Christ and baptismal water
Behind the acolyte was another person carrying the pitcher of water for the baptismal remembrance.
Pouring of the waters of baptism
One great visual was made by lighting up the bowl from below as the water of baptism were poured into it.
Lantern of Christ
The lantern was placed next to the ornate wrought-iron cross.
Color of the memorial service/baptism remembrance
Colors of the Celebration of Life & Reaffirmation of Baptism service
Andrea Davidson
Rev. Andrea Davidson sings a spiritual in the great gospel singer style. She is the Pastoral Assistant for Youth and Adults at Epworth UMC, Berkeley.
Andrea Davidson
"You can have all this world but give me Jesus"
Dan Damon
Dan Damon at the piano.
Tarah Trueblood
Tarah Trueblood, Director of the Wesley Foundation at UC Berkeley helped with percussions.
Siosifa Hingano and Marcia McFee
Siosifa Hingano and Marcia McFee lifted water out of the bowl as they recounted the various images of water and spirit in the Bible and in our lives.

Sherry Atkins and Nick Strobel

Sherry Atkins and I looked at all of the ministries being done by local churches in the area of Children and Povery. Here we are in next to the poster that Pastor Karen and Jim Pugh put together for Wesley Church. Select the image to bring up an enlarged view of the poster. Every church who put together a poster for the display got a $200 from the Children and Poverty grant.

Day Three -- June 18 (Friday)

One of today's major items was the budget. The Conference Treasurer, Diane Knudsen, presented the 2011 budget and answered questions. We were given two possible budgets. The recommended one was if all of the budget-related items passed and one if none of them passed. The actual final budget adopted was in-between.

Diane Knudsen

One boost to the financial bottom line was a check for $1.4 million to clergy pensions and $84,000 for the Retired Clergy Association by Corey Parish on behalf of the Endowment Board.

Corey Parish presents some checks

Another thing I like about Annual Conference Session is that I get to see some of our former pastors and occasionally, even get to visit! For Friday lunch, Sherry and I had a good visit with Pam Fine. She is doing well in Aptos but she does miss the good folks of Wesley Bakersfield and she sends her warm greetings! (Yes, that's just water in the glasses---we are Methodists after all!)

Pam Fine with Sherry Atkins

The 2010 Melvin Talbert Award for Racial Justice recipient this year was Dr. Lucia Ann ("Shan") McSpadden. Shan McSpadden has been a long-time lay member of the Commission on Religion and Race. Pastor Karen has been the secretary of the Commission and was up on the podium to honor Shan McSpadden but the picture I had with her didn't turn out. Sigh!

Shan McSpadden

I am a member of the Board of the Higher Education and Campus Ministry in our Annual Conference so the next presentation was of special interest to me: the Frances Asbury Award for Campus Ministry is given to someone who has been of special benefit to campus ministry in their own area as well as the Annual Conference and the denomination as a whole. This year, one of our campus ministers, Dr Carolyn Talmadge, of the Ecumenical House at San Francisco State University, was the recipient. Carolyn Talmadge works at "EcHouse" only quarter time but does an equivalent of full-time work there including running the community living house and being the advisor for students going to Student Forum of the United Methodist Student Movement (our denomination's only anual national leadership development event for college students).

Mike Harrell

Rev Mike Harrell is the chair of the Board of Higher Education and Campus Ministry. He introduced Carolyn Talmadge.

Carolyn Talmadge receives the Frances Asbury Award for Campus Ministry

Carolyn Talmadge receives the Frances Asbury Award for Campus Ministry. In typical fashion, she didn't stay still long enough for a good picture, so this one will have to do! You can select the link to find out more about her and get some better pictures. She also presented the campus ministry report on Saturday morning---see below for that.

Fresno District Dinner

Friday evening were the district dinners and the last dinner for Fresno District (before the mergers happen in September) was held in Capital Park just south of the Convention Center. It is the only time in the year that all clergy and lay delegates from the Fresno District get together. The image above is a panorama of the entire group. Below are some more images from the dinner in the park. I put them side-by-side, so you'll need to scroll to the right to see the three pics.

Mariellen Yoshino and Pastor Karen

Every Fresno District dinner at the Annual Conference Session has a quiz given by our district superintendent, Mariellen Yoshino that brings us up to date on significant events in the lives of the churches in the district or in the life of the Annual Conference. It's a clever way to give the news.

Mariellen Yoshino

That's a good answer!

Pastor Karen

Day Four -- June 19 (Saturday)

Appointments for the San Jose district

Among the first things done Saturday morning was fixing of the appointments for the San Jose district. Every appointed clergy person (ordained or licensed local or lay minister) stands when their name is called by their district superintendent (the Bishop says the church name). After all of the clergy for that district are called, the laity lay hands on the persons while the Bishop gives the prayer of commissioning and blessing. We then sang "The Servant Song" from the Faith We Sing hymnal (#2222). The person in the foreground with the green shirt and navy blue sweater is a friend of mine, Jerry Fox. He is the vice-chair of the Board of Higher Education and Campus Ministry.

David and Sherry Atkins' nephew, Jeff

The persons who were ordained as elders in the afternoon ordination service were introduced to the whole session Saturday morning. Among them was the nephew of David and Sherry Atkins, Jeff Hall (currently serving Church of the Mountain in Truckee)---at the center of the image.

Procession of the children

Another fun thing every Annual Conference Session is the procession of the children and youth. Everyone claps on beat as they process up to the podium/dais area. There is an excellent childcare program set up for the children of delegates to the ACS. Every day has some sort of fieldtrip plus arts and crafts and of course, lots of play time. In the image below the kids show off some of their artwork while the director of the program, Helen Mansfield told about the trips they took.

Children and youth of the ACS 2010

Sitting in the "big chair"
The youngest ones got to sit in the "big chairs"

One of the best times for me at Annual Conference Session is the laying on of hands for our own pastor. Below are pictures of Sherry and I with Pastor Karen after her appointment was made official.

Pastor Karen and Sherry Atkins

Sherry Atkins and Rev Karen Stoffers-Pugh

Pastor Karen and Nick Strobel

Rev Karen Stoffers-Pugh and I

Unfortunately, the CCOM report about the Conference ministries happening in our Annual Conference happened after all of the business had taken place and at least half of the clergy and lay delegates had left. Among the reports were what is happening with campus ministry. Two of our campus ministers gave a quick (!) report on what ministry is taking place among our college students.

Jennifer Goto

Rev. Jennifer Goto is the campus minister of the Wesley Foundation at UC Merced (the only one in the Central Valley). She talked about some of the things that happen in campus ministry.

Carolyn Talmadge and students who went to Student Forum

Rev. Carolyn Talmadge speaks with two of the students who went to Student Forum and the United Methodist Student Movement.

Go to Second Part of Report: Legislation results

Wesley United Methodist Church -- Bakersfield, CA