(this was submitted to the United Methodist News Service to include in their collection of reports from across the denomination)
The Western North Carolina Conference gathered at Lake Junaluska Conference & Retreat Center in Lake Junaluska, N. C. from June 15-19, 2016. The theme for this conference was “Go Light Your World” (Matthew 5:14).
Bishop Larry M. Goodpaster was the officiating bishop.
Guest speakers for the event included Rev. Dr. William McClain, the Mary Elizabeth McGehee Joyce Professor Emeritus of Preaching and Worship, Wesley Theological Seminary. He preached at the opening service and at the commissioning service. During the opening service he challenged the conference to consider “if we love Jesus more than these.” He looked at the violence in our nation and asked, “What is the judgment on our nation that continues to allow assault weapons to be bought and sold to brutalize and murder our people? Those who love Jesus more than these should speak out and act or the rocks will cry out. I used to hear Martin Luther King say: “A time comes when silence is betrayal.” It is time for the church to speak out boldly and clearly less we betray that young and fearless prophet of ancient Galilee who continues to ask: Do you love me more than these?”
Rev. Dr. Bryan Collier, from the Orchard United Methodist congregation in Tupelo, Miss., preached at the evening service on Thursday of conference. He called on those gathered to be witnesses of Jesus: “We are invited to tell others about Jesus: as those who know him best and because of this call–we cannot be a church distracted by what we want, wish, hope or prefer that Jesus do or say. We cannot be a church that tells others about him as those who knew him or heard of him or met him once. Your church and my church and our church (The United Methodist Church) must recapture the priority of an ongoing vibrant relationship with Jesus or there will be no fruit—because apart from him we can do nothing.”
Bishop Cynthia Harvey of the Louisiana Annual Conference, preached at the ordination service. Speaking to the ordinands, and to all who are called because of their baptisms: “Once you meet Jesus – once you see, and hear and taste and smell life in Jesus, you don’t see things the same way ever again. It is risky business to enter into conversation with Jesus. Who knows where it might take you. Sometimes it just takes two words. Follow me!”
- Elected leadership for all of the conference committees and commissions for the 2016-2020 quadrennium.
- Introduced the new CEO of The Children’s Home who reported on the partnership between The Children’s Home and The Crossnore School to reach out to children in need in the region.
- Heard reports from various groups and work areas within the conference, including the amazing work with missional networks and churches with children in schools.
- Heard a report from General Conference from the heads of the delegation, and during that report the conference endorsed Dr. James Howell of Myers Park United Methodist Church in Charlotte as the episcopal nominee at the Southeastern Jurisdictional Conference in July.
- Passed a budget for 2017 of $16,404,655 dollars, a slight decrease from the 2016 budget.
- Welcomed Dr. Mark King as the new Conference Treasurer who begins his work in July.
- Amy Coles and others laid out the vision and structure for the next conference year including welcoming Dr. John Boggs as the new Director for Vital Discipleship and Caroline Wood as the new Director of Missional Engagement and Connectional Relationships. The conference was also introduced to the expanded Church Vitality Team.
- Lyn Sorrells was introduced as the new Director of the Church Legacy Initiative that will be a new project funded by the Duke Endowment and in partnerships with the United Methodist Foundation of Western North Carolina.
- Heard reports from the laity of the conference and especially from United Methodist Men and United Methodist Women. Our conference organization of UM Men was recognized as the top group in the country back in March and were recognized before the body. UM Women continue to lead in the nation- #1 in Mission Giving for 15th consecutive year and #1 in Legacy Giving.
- Recognized Rev. Luke Edwards of King Street Church in Boone with the Denman Evangelism Award. Preston Davis, chaplain at High Point University, was awarded the Francis Asbury Award for campus ministry.
- Celebrated the Retirement of Bishop Larry Goodpaster for his eight years of service to Western North Carolina throughout the conference. Friday afternoon and evening of conference included gifts, recognition of family, and presenting of dozens of perennial plants that will be planted around Lake Junaluska to beautify the grounds for years to come.
A complete overview of the entire Annual Conference meeting can be found at: ac2016.org
Four Areas of Focus
Ministry with the Poor– Over the past 4 years, churches across Western North Carolina have created relationships with 548 schools and are involved with everything from providing backpacks of food, to tutoring to running after school programs. There is special emphasis on doing ministry with the poor and those in need. We were challenged to grow that number to 1000 by 2017.
Improving Global Health- The Western North Carolina Conference continues to participate in Imagine No Malaria and improving global health. As a gift in honor of our retiring bishop, there were gifts from across the conference totaling near $70,000 dollars.
New and Renewed Congregations– Our Church Vitality Team has been involved with hundreds of churches across the conference and has helped to create new and expanded congregations. This year the staff will increase to a Church Vitality Strategist in each district that will work to create more vital churches.
Developing Principled Christian Leaders- Our Conference Leadership Development Team continues to create opportunities for growing clergy and lay professional leaders in the conference. Over 300 clergy and lay ministry professionals have been through a main workshop titled “Called and Gifted to Lead” that empowers participants to discover and resource individualized plans to increase one’s capacity for leadership.
There were 14 newly commissioned clergy at this Annual Conference with an average age of 38.8.
There were 27 newly ordained clergy at this Annual Conference with an average age of 44.4. Seven deacons were ordained, making it the largest class ever in WNC.
There were no persons admitted as associate members.
There were 25 clergy who retired this year with a total of 955 years of active service among them.
Membership stands at 282755, down 1033 from the previous year.
Worship attendance stands at 105406 down 5759.
Church school attendance stands at 43935 down 2698.
Professions or reaffirmations of faith for 2015 were 3850, down 434.
Adults and young adults in small groups for 2015 were 76040, up 1609,
Worshippers engaged in mission for 2015 were 78663, up 8383.
The 2017 Annual Conference is scheduled for June 23-25, 2017 at Lake Junaluska Conference and Retreat Center.
-Michael Rich, Western North Carolina Conference, web & communications manager