Annual Conference 2022: Let Us Live LOVE

By Rick Wolcott*

Bishop Tracy S. Malone called to order the 53rd session of the East Ohio Annual Conference with 448 clergy and 467 laity gathered in the John S. Knight Center in Akron, Ohio.

Director of Multicultural Vitality Will Fenton-Jones then read the East Ohio Area Land Acknowledgment that stated, in part, “We, the people of the East Ohio Area of The United Methodist Church, wish to acknowledge that our communities have been built on lands that many Indigenous peoples once called home.”

Annual Conference 2022 was the first in-person conference in three years, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the first conference in which members voted using hand-held devices.

Walk for Our Lives Against Gun Violence
On the day before Annual Conference 2022, Bishop Tracy S. Malone led nearly 150 clergy and laity in a 1.4-mile Walk for Our Lives against gun violence. The walk began with a rally outside the John S. Knight Center, wove through the streets of Akron, Ohio and concluded with a vigil outside Family of Faith United Methodist Church.

“We are putting our faith and our prayers and our feet to action to say, ‘no more’ to violence,” said Bishop Tracy S. Malone, resident bishop of the East Ohio Conference of The United Methodist Church.

View and download the Walk for Our Lives video.

Service of Commemoration and Holy Communion
“Trust God with all that concerns you, whatever burdens you’re carrying, whatever pain that grips your heart. Jesus is our rock and our refuge, our shelter, a very present help in the time of grief,” Bishop Malone shared during her sermon in the Service of Commemoration and Holy Communion. “With Christ and through Christ we can have abundant joy. With Christ and through Christ we can live again.”

The service recognized 66 clergy, spouses, and laity who entered the church triumphant since last year’s Annual Conference.

View and download the Service of Commemoration and Holy Communion video.

Episcopal Address
“We are more than conservatives and liberals and traditionalists and progressives and centrists and Republicans and Democrats or gay or straight or queer or Black or Brown or white or young or old. There are no box seats in the Kingdom and dare we not, box each other in,” said Bishop Malone in her Episcopal Address to East Ohio Conference clergy laity.

“’Let Us Live LOVE’ is moving beyond the doors and the walls of our buildings, getting outside of the pews. We do a good job loving on each other, some churches better than others. But we’re called to let that love spill out into the streets, to move beyond from the pews and the walls and the buildings to let it show up,” Malone shared. “Living love is being disciples, making disciples, and maturing disciples of Jesus Christ. Living love is being agents of transformation, agents of healing, agents of hope in your communities. Living love is reaching new people, younger people, and a more diverse people. Let us live love. Let us do it together. Let us commit and recommit to the ways of Christ and to the ways of being community one with each other.”

View and download the Episcopal Address video.

Celebration of Retirement

The first day of Annual Conference concluded with recognizing the retirement of 28 clergy who served a combined 791 in local church and extension ministry.

View and download the Celebration of Retirement video.

Friday Morning Worship
The second day of Annual Conference began with a powerful message from Pastor Sheena Cameron, pastor of Mount Pleasant UMC and St. Paul UMC in the North Coast District. Her sermon “What’s Love Got to Do with It?” told the story of the life-long impact that domestic violence had on the life of music icon Tina Turner while imploring churches to live love in their communities by being willing to stand with, walk alongside, and resource those in need.

“Living love has to challenge us to move beyond a transaction, to move beyond what we are comfortable with,” Cameron said.

View and download the Friday Morning Worship video.

Saturday Morning Worship
In his sermon “A Lesson from the Edge,” Executive Director of Connectional Ministries the Rev. Ed Fashbaugh offered a moving witness on the power of love as he shared about his near-death battle with COVID last fall, saying, “The love of Jesus lifted me, and the love of Jesus can lift us.”

Rev. Fashbaugh implored clergy and laity to reach out in love to all, not just to those who look, sound, and act like we do.

“If sharing the love of God is the most important thing at a moment in time then the love of God is the most important thing all of the time,” he said. “Rather than drawing lines, lets commit to erasing them and drawing the circle wide around all people.”

Service of Commissioning and Ordination
Bishop Laura Barbins, resident bishop of the Northeastern Ohio Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, focused her message on the unknown into which those being commissioned and ordained are being called.

“It’s not a once and done sort of choice. Each of us day after day recommit ourselves to being followers of Christ remembering that it is God, the God of love, that calls to us,” she said.

During the service, one person was commissioned a provisional Deacon, one person was commissioned a provisional Elder, and 10 were ordained as full Elders in The United Methodist Church.

View and download the Service of Commissioning and Ordination video.

Teach • Reach • Bless

Bishop Malone thanked the clergy and laity of the East Ohio Conference for their generous support of the Teach • Reach • Bless campaign and for raising and collecting more than $1.5 million to build and furnish a new residence hall for female students on the campus of Africa University in Zimbabwe. Because funds for the three-year campaign were collected in two years – despite the COVID-19 pandemic – ground was broken for the new residence hall on April 12.

Health Care Premiums
“Our health care experience for 2020 was a good one. As we might expect, with hospital shutdowns due to COVID-19, utilization was down for the year. The premiums we billed for each of our participants in the plan fully funded the health care cost,” shared chairperson the Rev. Bill Liming during his Board of Benefits report to Annual Conference before explaining that in 2021 HealthFlex paid out more in claims than it billed the East Ohio Conference for premiums.

“This must be made up with a projected increase of 12% to our 2023 health care premiums,” Liming said in making the motion from the Board. Annual Conference members approved the 12% premium increase.

Minimum Salaries for Clergy
Commission on Equitable Compensation Chairperson Dr. Gloria Brown brought a motion on behalf of the Commission to raise the minimum salary of clergy 5% effective July 1.

Brown shared 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, Redbird and Oklahoma Indian Missionary.”

Following much discussion on proposed amendments, Annual Conference members voted to increase minimum clergy salaries in 2023 by 10%.

2023 East Ohio Conference Budget
In introducing a proposed 2023 budget that is 5.3% less than the 2022 Conference budget Conference Council on Finance & Administration Chairperson the Rev. Dan Bryant said: “God continues to move amidst our uncertainties in these days and, for that, we on CF&A say thank you to the local church leadership for your faithfulness and together we give God thanks and praise. East Ohio Conference can accomplish a great deal through our shared ministry giving that local churches could not accomplish on their own. Yet, at the same time, we know that the most critical investment for mission and ministry are those made at the local church.”

Annual Conference members approved the proposed 2023 budget of $9,764,559. 

Living Into Our Shared Vision Teaching Sessions
At the invitation of Bishop Tracy S. Malone, the Rev. Dr. Michael Beck, director of Fresh Expressions for the Florida Conference of The United Methodist Church led three teaching sessions that encouraged East Ohio Conference clergy and laity to live into our shared vision in new ways. In the first, Contextual Intelligence: Unlocking the Ancient Secret of Mission on the Frontlines he implored churches to question their current ministry and consider reaching beyond the walls of the building into the community.

“Maybe we need some temple tantrums going on today in the House of the Lord,” he offered. “Only the Holy Spirit can show up now and turn this thing around.”

In the second session, 21st Century Discipleship: Church Planting Anyone Can Do, Rev. Beck built upon the first segment by challenging clergy and laity to not avoid situations with which they may be uncomfortable

“Sometimes the Kingdom of God stinks and most of us never get close enough to smell it,” he said.

In the third session, Blended Ecology: New People, Younger People, Diverse People, Rev Beck shared that, “Seeking to reach people with the love of God is the right way to reach new people, younger people, and more diverse people” before offering “This is the greatest missional opportunity in the history of the United States.” 

View and download video of the Contextual Intelligence: Unlocking the Ancient Secret of Mission on the Frontlines video.

View and download 21st Century Discipleship: Church Planting Anyone Can Do.

View and download Blended Ecology: New People, Younger People, Diverse People.

One Matters: Discipleship Ministries Award

On Saturday Rev. Ed Fashbaugh, executive director of Connectional Ministries had the honor of presenting the One Matters: Discipleship Ministries Award to Pastor Georgette Gaston of Cambridge Faith UMC (Southern Hills) for the church’s work in raising money to send kids to camp. The goal was to raise $4,500 but, in the end, nearly $25,000 was raised within Faith Church and the community. 

Live LOVE Ministry Moments
Throughout the three days of Annual Conference, the East Ohio Conference Connectional Ministries team led by Executive Director of Connectional Ministries the Rev. Ed Fashbaugh highlighted the many ways that pastors, congregations, and faith communities are living love in their mission fields. The four segments were:

Missions and Ministry Opportunities

Meeting in the John S. Knight Center enabled Ministry Opportunities tables highlighting East Ohio Conference and United Methodist Church ministries to be set up throughout the three days of conference. During this year’s sessions, clergy and laity generously assembled dignity kits and donated enough relief kits to fill the Midwest Mission Distribution Center collection truck. Money was also raised for missions with a 5K Run/1-Mile Walk along the tow path in Akron.

Endorsed Episcopal Candidates
Annual Conference members voted to endorse two candidates for the episcopacy: Rev. Cara Stultz Costello and Rev. Jonathan Priebe. They and other candidates from across the North Central Jurisdiction of The United Methodist Church will be considered by Jurisdictional Conference delegates as they elect one new bishop during the Jurisdictional Conference November 2-5 in Fort Wayne, Indiana.

Annual Conference Offering
The Annual Conference 2022 offering (Fund 9214) will benefit:

  • EOC Fund 1301 which supports United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) sowing seeds of hope and empowering communities during times of disaster and suffering, such as assisting refugees fleeing Ukraine and Afghanistan.
  • The Nehemiah Mission of Cleveland, a Health & Well-Being organization of the East Ohio Conference, providing community enhancement, home maintenance, and targeted programming to refugees, the elderly, disabled persons, and people without shelter, food, and clothing.
  • The Bishop’s Discretionary Fund used by Bishop Tracy S. Malone in supporting ministry needs that impact countless lives each year.

Donate to the Annual Conference 2022 offering online or via mail.

Disaffiliated Churches
During the East Ohio Conference Corporate Meeting at Annual Conference members voted to accept the disaffiliation agreements of churches that met the criteria established in paragraph 2553 of The Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church. Following the vote to accept the agreements, these 11 churches will disaffiliate from The United Methodist Church effective 11:59 p.m. June 30, 2022: Bisel UMC (Tuscarawas District), Bristolville UMC (Western Reserve), Williamsfield UMC (Western Reserve), Chapel of the Cross UMC (Canal), Broadway UMC (Tuscarawas), Mt. Vernon Mulberry UMC (Three Rivers) Mt. Olive UMC (Southern Hills), New Rumley UMC (Ohio Valley), North Bloomfield UMC (Western Reserve), Herrington Bethel UMC (Ohio Valley), and Real Hope UMC (Tuscarawas). 

In her message during the Clergy Executive Session the day before Annual Conference began, Bishop Malone told clergy, “If your church is not currently reaching new people for Jesus Christ, believe you me that changing the denominational label or the church address is not going to make a difference. I urge us to preoccupy ourselves in the making of disciples and the growing of the kingdom of God. Let us be bold and courageous and outdo each other in sharing the Gospel of good news.”

Closed Churches
Following the disaffiliation vote, Firelands District Superintendent the Rev. Doug Lewis, representing the Cabinet told the body, “We come now to the reading of the names of congregations in our conference that are closing this year. Even though these congregations are closing, we are reminded that the work of making disciples of Jesus Christ who serve as God’s agents of transformation in their communities and throughout the world does not end, but rather, it continues in new ways.”

These five churches closed since Annual Conference 2022: Chapel Hill UMC (Southern Hills), Baltic UMC (Three Rivers), Mesopotamia UMC (Western Reserve), Lloydsville UMC (Ohio Valley), Calvary UMC (Firelands).

The Annual Conference approved two resolutions:

  • Resolution 2022-01: “Reclaiming Peace”
    Therefore, be it resolved that members of this Conference read and reflect on individual and collective responses and responsibilities of The United Methodist Church’s position regarding conflict, war, and the necessity for relationships grounded in love that respect and restore peace.
  • Resolution 2022-03: “End the Death Penalty in Ohio”
    Therefore, be it resolved that the East Ohio Annual Conference send a letter to Gov. Mike DeWine thanking him for delaying executions in Ohio, including a copy of the UMC Social Principle regarding the Death Penalty, and expressing our commitment to end the Death Penalty in Ohio; and send letters of thanks and support of the proposed legislation, including a copy of the UMC Social Principle regarding the Death Penalty, to the bipartisan cosponsors of Senate Bill 103 and House Bill 183, both of which abolish the death penalty in Ohio;

Therefore, be it further resolved that the East Ohio Annual Conference send a letter to the Ohio Council of Churches and Rev. Dr. Jack Sullivan, thanking them for representing our judicatory through testimony in the Ohio legislature.

Therefore, be it further resolved that churches in the East Ohio Annual Conference be encouraged to prayerfully consider studying our Social Principle on the Death Penalty and consider talking to their representatives about this issue of faith.

The Annual Conference tabled two resolutions:

  • Resolution 2022-02: “Support of the Protocol of Reconciliation and Grace Through Separation”
  • Resolution 2022-04: “Supporting the Christmas Covenant”

Two submitted resolutions were not acted on by the Annual Conference before adjournment:

  • Resolution 2022-05: “Advocating for the Human Rights of Palestinian Children and Families Living Under Israeli Military Occupation”
  • Resolution 2022-06: “Resolution on Hate Crimes”

An Evening of Dinner & Live Music
New this year to Annual Conference was an evening designed to help clergy and laity relax and unwind. The plated dinner in the Grand Ballroom of the Greystone Hall across the street from the site of Annual Conference featured a variety of live music from the Howard Howell Experience.

United Methodist Church Courtesy Videos

View and download the Annual Conference 2022 recap video.

Annual Conference 2023 is June 8-10 at the John S. Knight Center in Akron.

*Rick Wolcott is executive director of Communications for the East Ohio Conference of The United Methodist Church.