By Rick Wolcott*
Bishop Tracy S. Malone presided over the 52nd session of the East Ohio Annual Conference. This year’s theme was Christ Alive in Us! and the guiding scripture was Ephesians 2:8-10 (NIV): “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”
The services, celebrations, and business sessions were broadcast live from the John S. Knight Center in Akron June 16-19, 2021. Out of an abundance of care for participants, due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, the 624 registered clergy members and the 577 registered lay members viewed conference and voted during it remotely utilizing the services of Data on the Spot (DOTS).
“I know this last year has been extremely challenging. It has been very exhausting, and you have given of yourselves. You have been serving as adaptive spiritual leaders in some amazing transformational ways and I am thankful,” Malone said during the Clergy Executive Session. “I am thankful for your leadership. I am thankful for your ministry. I am thankful for your witness because I know it has not been easy. I recognize the demand and the energy required of you, required of us, to lead in these challenging times and it can be overwhelming.”
The adaptive ministries of East Ohio Conference pastors, congregations and faith communities were highlighted throughout conference in the form of Christ Alive in Us! videos that focused on creative ministry partnerships, missions, youth, camps, spiritual formation, community outreach, and racial justice.
“Our purpose in sharing these is to connect, equip, support, and celebrate examples of the many ways that Christ is Alive in Us as a community of faith supporting one another,” said the Rev. Steven Court, director of Connectional Ministries, whose Council on Ministries directors partnered with the Conference Communications team to produce the videos and model the power of the connection of The United Methodist Church.
Clergy Executive Session
“We need to rely on the grace and the strength of God and rely on the gift that God has given us in each other. That’s the beauty of the covenant of the connection. We are part of a covenant,” Bishop Tracy S. Malone said during her Clergy Executive Session sermon.
Her message was clear, clergy should lean into their covenant, focus on the mission of The United Methodist Church, care for themselves so that they can care for others, be leaders in their respective communities, and ground their work in prayer.
Mission: “Stay focused on the mission, the mission of making disciples, maturing disciples, of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. Keep the main thing, the main thing. We can easily become distracted by denominational challenges, by political warfare – that’s what I’m going to call it, this is political warfare. We can easily become distracted, but our work remains the same and our work, our collective work, our covenant missional work is the work of making and maturing disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. As clergy we have the responsibility and task to keep our congregations focused on sharing the love of Jesus, sharing the Gospel of Good News, feeding the hungry, caring for the sick, and ministering to the marginalized. That is our work,” Malone said.
Self-care: “What else is our work? And I want you to hear me real good. Our work is self-care. Our work is soul-tending because who we are is how we lead. Well people lead well. I encourage you to make self-care a priority. Your mental, your emotional, your spiritual, and your physical well-being, they are essential. Your health matters. Your health matters to God. Your health matters to us, and your health matters for the mission. You are called for such a time as this,” Malone said, before adding “There is a spiritual danger in leading from an empty cup because you can’t lead people to a fountain of grace and salvation and hope where you don’t drink from yourself.”
Covenant and Prayer: “I am encouraging all clergy to honor our clergy covenant. I am encouraging you and urging you not to do anything that will undermine the leadership and the ministry of your colleagues, your congregation’s ministry, or that of another as we move toward General Conference. We are in covenant together and we are United Methodists in a covenant until we are no longer United Methodists. I want us to pray for one another to honor one another. Pray for our church at this critical time in our history as we draw upon our long tradition and the deepest resources of our faith. We are a people of covenant who are on mission together and the mission is the making and maturing of disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world,” Malone said.
Service of Commissioning and Ordination
Annual Conference 2021 opened for the first time with the Service of Commissioning and Ordination, during which four clergy were commissioned as provisional Elders, one clergyperson was ordained a Deacon, and seven were ordained as Elders.
Throughout his sermon, “Graced and Gifted for the Good,” Bishop Daniel G. Beaudoin, resident bishop of the Northwestern Ohio Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, came back to the words spoken to him as a child – words spoken by his grandmother’s priest, Father Moreau: “You are graced by God and gifted for the good.”
“It’s not either/or. It’s not grace or service. It’s not faith or works. It’s both/and. We are graced and we are gifted for the good,” Beaudoin told the incoming clergy during the Service of Commissioning and Ordination. “Good theology matters. Good preaching matters. Good teaching matters and what God has called you and me to do, it matters. Because the church of the crucified and risen Jesus is God’s hope for the world. God don’t have a Plan B there’s just a plan you and a plan me. We are graced by God and gifted for the good.”
Service of Commemoration and Holy Communion
The lives and ministry of 47 clergy and lay saints were remembered during the Service of Commemoration and Holy Communion on Thursday, June 17. During her sermon, “Invitation to Rest,” Bishop Tracy S. Malone said, “Friends, the good news this morning is that Jesus is able to carry the burdens that overwhelm us. He says, ‘take my yoke upon you.’ To take His yoke is to stop trying to work in your own strength and your might, but to trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding but in all of your ways trust Him with your life, trust Him with your pain and trust Him with your grief and He will make straight your paths. To take on His yoke is to get into His teachings, to get into the Word of God and let the Word of God get into you that you might be able to live and embrace the promise of hope, and life, and eternal life, and salvation, and the peace that surpasses all understanding.”
Celebration of Retirement
The Board of Ministry recognized the ministries of 18 clergy who retired last year, when we were unable to gather for in-person celebration, and the 24 clergy in the Class of 2021.
“Class of 2020 and Class of 2021, we love you, we appreciate you and we thank God for you. You have lived into your call, and you have been an example for all of us. Thank you for your leadership. Thank you for your ministry,” said Bishop Tracy S. Malone.
The 18 clergy who retired in 2020 served a combined 431 years in ministry. The 24 clergy who retired this year were in ministry for a combined 628 years.
“Thank you for all that you have given to the church, to your colleagues, to this Conference to this connection, to the community and to the world. We praise God for how you have walked with people preaching and teaching, and praying, and visiting the sick and the bereaved, and baptizing and confirming, and marrying and funeralizing, and administering and listening, and learning and fellowshipping, and pushing and pulling, and sacrificing and coaching, and mentoring, and the list goes on. Well done! Well done good and faithful servants of God, servants of the Gospel, well done!” Malone said.
In her message to the Conference, Bishop Tracy S. Malone reminded clergy and laity what she has told them often in the past – that she prays for them.
“I pray every day. I get down on my knees before my Father in heaven and I ask God to pour out a double portion of God’s Spirit upon God’s church upon God’s people to unite us in love and unite us in purpose to revive us to make us fully alive in Christ to give us courage and the resiliency the steadfastness to carry out God’s mission so that people’s lives are changed, our communities are transformed, and the world is transformed by our love and compassion and witness and by the power of God’s love and justice and hope. That is my prayer for you, for me, for our shared work together each and every day – and I invite you to pray that with me ‘revive us again, oh Lord, perfect your will in us, oh Lord, unite us in love, unite us in purpose that we might fulfill your charge, your mission, not the mission of the church, it’s your mission for the church, unite us Lord that we might stay focused on our why,’” Malone shared.
The Bishop addressed the “courage and resiliency” of East Ohio pastors, congregations, and faith communities in the ways that they responded to being church in new ways when the COVID-19 pandemic struck and she challenged them to continue moving forward in bold and courageous ways.
“What is the vision that God is putting in front of us as a local congregation? Who do we want to be for Christ? Who do we want to be for each other? Who do we want to be for our community? Do we love each other enough to stay in communion with one another despite our differences and convictions? I want you to hear me, whether you are clergy or lay the continuing United Methodist Church, whatever we look like whatever we become, you will have a place. There is a place for you in this beloved institution. We don’t all think alike, and we don’t all act alike, but we are all made in the likeness of Jesus Christ and the mission remains the same. No matter what your biblical or theological beliefs are, there is a place for you,” Malone said.
“May we be united in love, and united in mission, and united in purpose. We are a covenant church and a covenant people. We are The United Methodist Church. Let us be the church. Let us lead and continue leading in ways that empower people’s lives in ways that bind up the broken-hearted. Let us continue to lead and listen to the needs and the cries and the cares of the people. Let us be the church together. Let us stay focused on our ‘why.’ Amen.”
Minimum Clergy Salary
Dr. Gloria Brown, chair of the Conference Commission on Equitable Compensation reported that, “the Commission voted unanimously to recommend a 2% increase across all pastoral minimum salary categories.”
The proposed 2% in 2022 would increase minimum salaries as follows:
- $40,431 for Full, Associate, and Provisional Members.
- $36,335 for full-time Local Pastors who have completed the course of study.
- $34,289 for full-time Local Pastors who have not completed the course of study.
The motion was approved.
Rev. Dan Bryant, chair of the Conference Council on Finance & Administration introduced a proposed 2022 Conference budget of $10,310,161, a 6% decrease from the 2021 budget.
The motion was approved.
Annual Conference Offering
This year’s Annual Conference offering will benefit Global Ministries Missionaries around the world, East Ohio Conference Board of Ministry Young Clergy Initiative Interns, 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 generous giving is very much appreciated.
Friday Morning Worship
“To be alive in Christ is identifiable by this one thing, and it’s always true, we know that we are alive in Christ when we can still find and experience joy in the midst of grief. We know that we are alive even in the midst of suffering when we can hold these two things at the same time: joy in the confidence of our faith in Christ, and grief in the very real losses we experience. It’s like a pulse check for our spirits. Are we yet alive Church?” the Rev. Carrie Antczak said during her sermon.
Antczak, an ordained Deacon serving as pastor of Faith Formation and Outreach at the United Methodist Church of Berea, shared that clergy and laity have modeled for the community that Christ is alive in us by the ways that they have adapted their ministries during the on-going pandemic.
“Think of how our outreach has transformed in just this past year. Consider the new ways we’ve found to share the love and story of God. Recall how engaged we’ve become for the fight for justice,” she said. “I’ve never seen such joyous servants for Christ, I’ve never heard such hopeful voices shouting and demanding justice. It’s hard to put a finger on it but there’s this underlying joy knowing that we are alive in Christ. When we can approach grief in confidence that God has good things planned, we can find creative ways to heal.”
Saturday Morning Worship
Rev. Karen Oehl, lead pastor of Gay Street UMC in Mount Vernon, and the Rev. Gregory Kendrick, Jr., pastor of Cory UMC in Cleveland and pastor of Connections at Church of the Saviour UMC in Cleveland Heights preached a joint sermon during the Saturday, June 19 worship service, which included a Litany for Juneteenth and a Prayer for Juneteenth.
“Because of our ‘us-ness’ Christ is alive, living, breathing, visible, tangible, real. Because of our ‘us-ness’ we can see Jesus because Christ is alive in us. Because of our ‘us-ness’ we find, and follow, and serve, and Jesus is right there with us,” Oehl shared.
“We are invited to just keep showing up and in so doing we are invited to trust that God will already be there at work when we do. We are not called to take our versions of Christ into the world, we are called to meet Christ in the world,” Kendrick shared.
Cabinet recognized the ministry that has taken place during the life of these 10 churches that closed by action of this year’s Annual Conference:
- North Liberty UMC – Three Rivers District
- Tyndall UMC – Three Rivers District
- East Union UMC – Southern Hills District
- Richmond UMC – Western Reserve District
- Lexington UMC – Tuscarawas District
- Sixteen UMC – Mid-Ohio District
- Lorain Faith UMC – Firelands District
- Korean Church of Greater Youngstown – Mahoning Valley District
- New Life UMC – Tuscarawas District
- Six Fourteen UMC – Mahoning Valley District
Two resolutions were introduced during Annual Conference 2021.
Resolution 2021-01: Condemning QAnon and Walking Alongside Its Victims
“Therefore, be it resolved that the people of the East Ohio Conference of The United Methodist Church renew our baptismal and confirmation vows ‘to reject evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever form they present themselves’ by declaring that QAnon is incompatible with the Christian faith.
“Therefore, be it further resolved that the people of the East Ohio Conference of The United Methodist Church ask Bishop Tracy S. Malone to form a task group, led by a district superintendent and including both clergy and lay members of her choosing, to investigate the spread of QAnon in our congregations, present their findings to her, offer recommendations for means of accountability for clergy who spread QAnon from their pulpits, and offer recommendations for means of support for congregations and individuals who have been harmed by this destructive heresy.
“Therefore, be it further resolved that the people of the East Ohio Conference of The United Methodist Church ask our clergy to inform their congregations about the dangers of QAnon and urge those in their congregations to have empathy and compassion for those who have believed QAnon’s lies, walking beside them in humility and grace, knowing that we are all sinners who have been saved by grace.”
Submitted by: Rev. Derek Kubilus, Bill Watts, East Ohio Methodist Federation for Social Action, East Ohio Reconciling Ministries Network, and the office of Multicultural Vitality.
The motion was not approved.
Resolution 2021-02: Covenant to Continue Our Work for Racial Justice”
“Therefore, be it resolved, now is NOT the time to abandon that work and its progress, but to sustain it and move to the next level that racial justice requires: repentance for the sins of ancestors (and ourselves where exposed and evident), because repentance is necessary for reconciliation, as a mean to and process of restorative justice, and what God has persistently called those who identify who ourselves as ‘the people of God’ to do. Specifically:
- to continue studying, privately and in groups, to more-fully recognize under-acclaimed contributions of Black, Indigenous and people of color whose skills contributed to building America;
- to seek to recognize harm that has been done, whether by omission or commission, in our society as well as within ourselves, and even our churches, that has caused suffering and harm to and among our Black, Indigenous, and differently colored sisters and brothers;
- to examine our own biases that may have blinded or shielded us from seeing harm to which we have contributed (referenced March 2021 by Richard Rohr citing Brian McLaren);
- to acknowledge the sin of white privilege that separated or hoarded resources, segregating Black, Indigenous and people of color by word, thinking, or action;
- to reject the mindset and the sin of white supremacy;
- to seek healing by admitting our failure to love another as God has called us to, and as WE expect God to love us;
- to accept the freedom and power God gives us to resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves;
- to denounce evidence and instances of police brutality, racial profiling against Black, Indigenous and people of color; and,
- to respect and work in our communities for ‘full protection of the civil rights for all of God’s children.’
“And thus, we pray, as articulated in an African American lectionary: ‘O Holy God have mercy and forgive us our shortcomings. Help us to remember our responsibility to our families and our neighbors, our stewardship to you, and the work you have given to our hands … [so that we might] accept our responsibility as people of faith and leaders in our congregations, to work for the transformation of the world, our Church, and our communities. We covenant with each other, to learn, speak, and act in ways that lift-up and protect the rights and dignity of all of God’s people.’”
Submitted by: East Ohio Methodist Federation for Social Action, East Ohio Reconciling Ministries Network, and the office of Multicultural Vitality.
The motion was approved.
Resources for Annual Conference 2021 Reports to Local Churches
Annual Conference 2022
- Thursday, June 9 – Saturday, June 11 at the John S. Knight Center in Akron.
*Rick Wolcott is director of Communications for the East Ohio Conference of The United Methodist Church.