By Rick Wolcott*
Bishop Tracy S. Malone presided over the 51st session of Annual Conference, the first-ever virtual session in the East Ohio Conference.
The worship services and business session presentations of the Sept. 26-27 session were live from the Great Hall at Church of the Saviour UMC, in Cleveland Heights. There, members of the Annual Conference planning team, the AC production team, and service participants wore masks, observed social distancing, sanitized surfaces after use, and followed other guidelines established to create safer environments in the COVID-19 world in which we currently live.
The 1,226 members of Annual Conference who registered for the conference viewed the sessions online and used their individual, unique, non-shareable voting codes to cast online votes from their home or church or from one of the internet hotspots established in districts across the East Ohio Conference.
Annual Conference 2020, continuing the quadrennial theme Bearing Fruit that Lasts: Called, Committed, Connected, underscored the importance of being connected to God and to our neighbors so that clergy and laity can bear fruit by making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. The words of John 15:4-8 (CEB) were the foundation on which each worship service of the September 25 Clergy Executive Session and the September 26-27 Annual Conference were built.
“Friends, we are living in a different world. The Church is serving a different world; a world that is broken; a world that is filled with hate and violence and fear – and, yes, filled with darkness and despair. But Jesus says that, ‘I have come as a light to shine in this dark world so that all who put their trust in me will no longer remain in the dark.’ He says, ‘I am the light of the world and whoever follows me will not walk in darkness but will have the light of life,’” Bishop Tracy S. Malone said during her Episcopal Address to the clergy and laity of the East Ohio Conference.
“I believe that there is a sense of urgency, a clarion call from God, for the followers of Jesus Christ to shine the light of Christ, to be the very embodiment of Christ’s light and his love and his mercy, to work for peace and justice for the marginalized for the healing of the nation and for the transformation of the world,” she said.
Service of Commemoration and Holy Communion:
Bishop Tracy S. Malone preached the sermon during the service that commemorated 49 saints who joined the Church Triumphant in the past year.
“God’s love for each of us is infinite. God’s love for each of us is absolute, is irrevocable. And within the love of God is the promise place where we shall be united with him and with those whom we love,” Malone said.
“Jesus’ love isn’t something that we can fully grasp and comprehend but his love is something that we can trust. He says, ‘I am the resurrection and life and those who live and believe in me shall never die. I am alpha and the omega, the beginning and the end, the first and the last. And because I live, you shall live also.’ We give thanks to God for the great company of saints. We give thanks to God for our loved ones who are now with the Church Triumphant. To God be the glory. Amen.”
Clergy Executive Session:
Bishop Tracy S. Malone preached the sermon during the Clergy Executive Session, during which much business was conducted, clergy were reminded of their covenant together, and 18 retiring clergy were recognized for their ministries to the people and communities of the East Ohio Conference.
“You are leading while navigating the challenges, and the anxiety and the loss and the grief associated with the COVID-19 pandemic that has disrupted everything that we considered normal and familiar and routine. You are leading while navigating the anger and the tensions and the unrest and the traumatization and the loss and the grief associated with the ongoing pandemic of systemic racism and the oppression and the police killings of Black lives. You are leading in some liminal times; leading while navigating the disappointment and the challenges and the delay associated with the postponement of the General Conference; leading while navigating the divisive and the hateful rhetoric and political polarization associated with our upcoming elections. You are leading in some liminal times and some divergent times; leading while navigating the pushback and the strain and the stress, the feelings of being beat up associated with your courage and your care for the safe return to in-person worship and gatherings. You are leading in some difficult times and yet, and yet, amid these and other challenges you are called by God and you have been given the sacred trust and privilege to lead and serve for such a time as this,” said Malone.
“In these liminal times, in this disoriented state, in which we are called to lead as clergy, as pastors, as bishops, as leaders of the Church, we hold onto this promise: ‘if you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask for whatever you want and it will be done for you. My Father is glorified when you produce much fruit and, in this way, you prove that you are my disciples.’ Abiding leaders lead. Abiding leaders lead. Let it be so,” she said.
Service of Commissioning and Ordination:
The Rev. Abraham D. Allende, Bishop of the Northeasten Ohio Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) preached the sermon and during the service seven clergy were commissioned as provisional Elders and six clergy were ordained as full Elders. Those commissioned were able to have two family members present for the service. Those ordained also were able to have two family members with them, as well as one sponsor and their district superintendent.
“We are all connected in Christ and through Christ in this community that we call the church,” Allende said while holding a bunch of grapes as a visual aid. “There are no free-standing individuals in community but branches which encircle one another completely. The fruitfulness of each individual branch depends on its relationship to the vine, nothing else. What matters here is that each individual is rooted in Jesus and hence gives up individual status to become one of the many surrounding branches.”
“Jesus abides, lasts, endures, continues, hangs in, holds on to us and in us. He does so despite our forgetting that we have been baptized into his life. God is with us. Christ is in us. The Spirit is all around us,” Allende said later in his message. “Bearing fruit is our calling. That’s what it means to be a disciple; all the more reason then, to anchor our abiding as the community of faith in Jesus and to draw deeply from the well of baptismal grace and nourishment of the eucharist.”
Sunday Morning Worship:
In this year when the theme word of Annual Conference was Connected, the livestream link of the service was made available in advance to the nearly 700 churches of the East Ohio Conference to post on their websites and social media platforms in place of their individual services so that the clergy and laity of the Conference had the opportunity to be connected in the Word and with one another for the closing worship service of Annual Conference.
Pastor Jason Snyder (Utica UMC), the Rev. Hannah Tucker (Strongsville UMC) and the Rev. Marilyn Coney (Tiffin Faith UMC) preached an interconnected sermon titled “Connecting on the Journey.”
“We are not better off when we live life by ourselves. We are better off when we are in small groups together, Sunday school classes together, praying together, breaking bread together, serving and connecting together,” Snyder said.
“The heart of this John 15 scripture we’ve been hearing for four years now at Annual Conference is that we abide in Christ because Christ abides in us. This whole concept of connectedness, it starts with Christ being connected to us. As beloved children of God we have the promise that no matter where we are on the journey, no matter what we face, no matter what has happened that Christ abides in us. We can go with others because Christ is with us first. We can connect with others because Christ connects with us first,” Tucker shared.
“The turning point in any of our lives is when we stop inventing the Jesus we want to follow and start following the god Jesus is – and that takes courage. It takes courage to move from decision to discipleship, from knowing Jesus to following Jesus, to communing with Jesus, to abiding with Jesus, to stay on the vine. So, friends, we need to make up our minds, do we want to follow Jesus and the power of the Holy Spirit, or do we want to do our own thing?” Coney asked.
Annual Conference Offering:
This year’s Annual Conference offering will benefit Puerto Rico United Methodist Volunteers in Mission (UMVIM), Flat Rock Homes and Care Center, and the Bishop’s Discretionary Fund. Please visit the Conference website, www.eocumc.com/donate to learn the specific ways that you can support the Annual Conference offering by donating online as an individual, donating online as a church, or mailing a donation. Whichever way you choose to support the Annual Conference offering, please remember to include Fund number 9214 with your donation. Your giving is very much appreciated.
Teach • Reach • Bless:
The East Ohio Conference has supported Africa University since the school’s founding more than 25 years ago. Our conference built the first dormitory on campus and has raised more money for student scholarships than any other conference in The United Methodist Church.
In January we launched the public phase of the Teach • Reach • Bless campaign to raise and collect $1.5 million to build and furnish a new dorm on the campus for female students. To date, donors have committed more than $1.1 million toward this life changing project.
You will have an opportunity to learn more about the campaign during Africa University Saturation Sunday on November 15. Video mission moments, devotions and messages are currently being produced. Each will be available for download and use in our churches and faith communities on Saturation Sunday, November 15. The Communications office will let you know when the resources have been posted to the site for download.
Rev. David Palmer, chair of the Conference Council on Finance & Administration reported that for the 14th consecutive year the East Ohio Conference paid General Church Apportionments at 100%.
Annual Conference members voted to approve the proposed 2021 Conference budget of $10,981,679, a 5% decrease from the 2020 budget.
Minimum Clergy Salary:
Dr. Gloria Brown, chair of the Conference Commission on Equitable Compensation reported that, “after researching the minimum salaries of every conference in the country, results show that East Ohio ranks second-from-the-bottom except for two missionary conferences.”
Annual Conference members voted to increase minimum clergy salaries by 5% in 2021. The increase will raise the minimum salaries to:
- $39,638 for full, associate, and provisional members.
- $35,623 for full-time Local Pastors who have completed the course of study.
- $33,617 for full-time Local Pastors who have not completed the course of study.
Closed EOC Churches:
Cabinet recognized the ministry that has taken place during the life of these 13 churches that closed by action of this year’s Annual Conference:
- Barton UMC (Ohio Valley District)
- Beach City UMC (Tuscarawas District)
- Bethel Valley UMC (Canal District)
- Bloomingdale UMC (Ohio Valley District)
- Canton Korean UMC (Tuscarawas District)
- Howard UMC (Three Rivers District)
- James S. Thomas UMC (Tuscarawas District)
- Mapleton UMC (Tuscarawas District)
- New Somerset UMC (Ohio Valley District)
- Leetonia UMC (Mahoning Valley District),
- Robbins Memorial UMC (Mahoning Valley District),
- Shiloh UMC (Firelands District)
- Trinity UMC (North Coast District).
One resolution was submitted for this year’s Annual Conference. Resolution 2020-01: “A Call for East Ohio United Methodists to Address Racism in our Churches and Communities”
This resolution prayerfully calls on clergy, lay leaders, and individual members of the United Methodist churches in East Ohio to:
- read and discuss resolutions passed by General Conference 2016 that address specific actions and inactions which have perpetuated racism in our local churches and communities, and within ourselves;
- provide and promote opportunities to discuss this resolution within their local churches and districts;
- read, observe, listen, and examine instances of racism within local communities;
- host discussions related to matters of race in our communities so as to identify ways local congregations can participate in and promote dismantling racism;
- commit to addressing racism so as to build The United Methodist Church as an authentically inclusive Christian community;
- prayerfully reflect individually to discern our roles and individual responsibilities in having contributed to racism and commit to dismantling racism in our churches and wider communities.
Submitted by: East Ohio Methodist Federation of Social Action, East Ohio Reconciling Ministries Network, East Ohio Church & Society, East Ohio Religion and Race and East Ohio United Methodist Women
The motion was approved.
Business Session Videos:
Annual Conference 2021:
- Wednesday, June 16 – Saturday, June 19 at the John S. Knight Center in Akron.
*Rick Wolcott is director of Communications for the East Ohio Conference of The United Methodist Church.