AC2016: Looking Back, a Summary

AC2016: Looking Back, a Summary

June 28, 2016

By Arthur McClanahan*
The 2016 session of the Iowa Annual Conference called its communities of faith to “Therefore Go and Make Disciples.”  Meeting at the Iowa Events Center (Des Moines) the 1472 members of the Annual Conference Session– clergy and lay – gathered to worship, renew commitment to mission that transforms the world, affirm the call of young people to ministry, celebrate the service of retirees, remember the dedicated lives of memorialees, appreciate the eight-year ministry of Bishop Julius Trimble, and commission and ordain clergy.
The annual conference began on Friday, June 3, with the laity session, led by Conference Lay Leader Margaret Borgen and the clergy session, which was presided over by Bishop Julius Trimble.  In addition to approving the essential Disciplinary questions the clergy heard from Bishop Thomas Bickerton of the Western Pennsylvania Conference.  Bishop Bickerton was the spiritual guide for the entire conference session.
Bishop Julius Trimble and First Lady Racelder Grandberry Trimble opened the 2016 Annual Conference Session on Saturday morning, June 4, with prayer and a message centered on hospitality, grace and love. Mrs. Trimble asked Conference attendees to settle themselves, close their eyes, and imagine the three things that they love. “As The United Methodist Church, we claim being a family of God, “ said Bishop Trimble, adding, “We are all connected.” Inviting God to transform the conference gathering Bishop Trimble declared, “This is your Annual Conference.”

The Rust College acapella choir shared its musical giftedness several times during the annual conference session, including during the June 4 morning stanza.  In addition, Dr. David Beckley, Rust College’s president, made a special presentation to the Timbles.

We will all be with the Lord one day, in God’s time, was the message of the Service of Gathering and Remembrance for the 2016 Annual Conference Session. After the service opened with the hymn “Love Divine, All Loves Excelling,” Bishop Trimble offered words of grace and a prayer of thanksgiving in honor of all those from the Iowa Annual Conference who passed this year. Central District Superintendent Reverend David Weesner delivered the memorial message, opening with Scripture from the Gospel of John, that reads, “Do not let your hearts be troubled.”  “There is no past no future,” Rev. Weesner said, “There is only the eternalness of God.” Thirty-three clergy, twenty-seven spouses, and one additional person were remembered during the service.

Margaret Biggs was elected as the interim treasurer for the Annual Conference.  She presented the 2017 working budget, which called for a four percent reduction from 2016.

The 60th anniversary of the ordination of women was celebrated as the morning session drew to a close.
Following moments of spiritual reflection offered by Bishop Bickerton, Bishop Trimble presented his Episcopal Address.  “God’s love never fails,” he said, “never gives up, never runs out on us.”  “The first and main business of the Church,” he noted, “is prayer; some days that should be our only business.” Bishop Trimble concluded by declaring, “We believe in hospitality, justice, and mercy.”

Rising for a moment of personal privilege Rev. Anna Blaedel told the conference,  “The Spirit is calling, moving, inviting. Be the church.  Now.  Be the body of Christ.” Surrounded by colleagues and friends she offered a glimpse into her life story and journey of faith - “I have been a United Methodist almost my entire life.  I was baptized, confirmed, called, commissioned, and ordained into this church.” After saying “in my language, I am out, queer, partnered clergy,” Blaedel acknowledged, “by simply speaking this truth to you, aloud, here, I could be brought up on charges, face a formal complaint.  I could lose my job, lose my clergy credentials, lose my space of spiritual belonging, of vocational calling, my faith community, my faith home.”   Citing the fact that The United Methodist Church is not of one mind about homosexuality and that for LGBTQ persons this is a painful reality she observed, “This institution is instilling in me and other LGBTQ people some horrible, harmful untruths.  That we are unloved, and unlovable.  That we are unworthy.  That we are incompatible, disordered, divisive.  That at our core, at the core of our createdness, there is something shameful, sick, sinful.”   Addressing language within the Book of Discipline, she said, “That, friends, is incompatible with Christian teaching.”  Challenging the controversial paragraph Blaedel added, “Allegiance and adherence to unjust laws in incompatible with Christian teaching.”

Legislative action filled the remainder of the afternoon.  In what seemed unprecedented in recent memory, virtually all of the legislation from the entire pre-Conference manual was adopted on the consent calendar, without discussion, though a few items were lifted for clarification and further consideration. (Click here for the legislative wrapup)

Phil Carver and Rev. Lilian Gallo Seagren presented the General Conference report, on behalf of the delegation.  Carver then introduced Rev. Barrie Tritle as the delegation-endorsed candidate for the episcopacy.  Nearly unanimously the conference members affirmed that endorsement.  Subsequently, following a motion from the floor, Rev. Lilian Gallo Seagren was also endorsed.  Both will be among those considered for election to be a bishop in the church at the 2016 North Central Jurisdictional Conference, July 13-16.

Saturday concluded with a gala celebration of the Iowa ministry of Bishop Julius Calvin Trimble and First Lady Racelder Grandberry-Trimble.  Rev. Brenda Hobson, chair of the Iowa Area Committee on the Episcopacy, said of the Trimbles, “They are relationship-oriented, people-based, and spirit-lived…they have exemplified this over the last eight years.” The Rust College Choir offered several musical selections, a tribute video highlight the Trimbles ministry across Iowa, and President Lallene Rector, of Garrett Evangelical Theological Seminary commended Bishop Trimble for “his love of Jesus,” noting that he “talks the talk and takes action.”

The Iowa Annual Conference celebrated 17 individuals in their next phase of ministry at Sunday’s Service for the Ordering of Ministry during the 2016 Annual Conference Session. “Ministry is the work of God, done by the people of God,” Bishop Trimble said.  “We all share in Christ’s ministry of love and service for the redemption of the human family and the whole of creation…Therefore, in celebration of our common ministry, I call upon all God’s people gathered here—remember your baptism and be thankful” The Ecumenical Greeting was offered by Dr. Rebecca Blair, Stated Clerk of the Presbyterian Church USA’s Presbytery of East Iowa.  “We may speak different languages and lead very different lives,” she stated, “But the deep waters of life and love and faith and witness swell together and surge inexorably pulling us toward each other.”    Bishop Thomas Bickerton, of the Western Pennsylvania Conference and United Methodist leader of Imagine No Malaria, offered the Ordering Service message.  Speaking directly to those who would be ordained and commissioned Bishop Bickerton said, “In a few moments you will be feeling the weight of many hands on your heads during the Laying on of Hands. I pray that you feel the feeling in your knees as you kneel and surrender your lives to a God that loves you and will direct your path.”

In her Lay Leader’s Address, Margaret Borgen said that a generous spirit is necessary for the church to do its work.  “Financial stewardship is a priority for me,” she said, “and for the future of the church.” Confessing that she is sad and angry when the church cannot support ministry because there is not enough money, she added, “we continue to cut our Conference budget and place the burden of fundraising on our programs and ministries instead of letting them focus on bringing about the Kingdom of God where they serve.” Borgen called on the assembly to envision a different reality and think once more about their membership vows. “A different expectation about giving will create a different reality,” she said, “and lead us more fully into our vision.

The afternoon continued with the Retirement Service, for which Rev. Deborah Stowers was the preacher.  It celebrated the service of 38 Iowa Conference clergy.  She reminded the retirees that “God is not finished with you. Actually, praise and glory to God, God will never be finished with you. Praise and glory to God, God will never be finished with any of us.”

In a departure from previous conference schedules, six teaching sessions were offered on Sunday evening, ranging from communications, to stewardship, to an overview of the Healthy Church Initiative process, to Change A Child’s story.  In addition, Women at the Well-Right Next Door and Spiritual Leadership, Inc., had presentations.

Monday morning began with the service of the Fixing of Appointments, in which the names of clergy appoint to new faith communities were read by their respective superintendents.  The six-year superintendency tenure of Rev. David Weesner was celebrated as was the ministry of Central District Field Outreach Minister, Rev. Karen Nelson.  Rev. Heecheon Jeon and Naomi Sea Young Wittstruck were introduced as the new Central District Superintendent and Field Outreach Minister.

In his final Conference Artist statement Rev. Ted Lyddon Hatten said, "I want to thank you for making room for my work, making room for my agenda." Speaking about this year’s work, entitled, “Centering Point,” he said, "When you step in, you see a world that is broken in two, down the center.  You can see both halves at once. You can see gold in the center. And lights. 490 lights. 70 times 7. Opportunities to bear witness to our brokenness." "You see a chalice that seems to beg a question out of us, How much grace do you need? How much grace does the church need? How much grace does the world need? What is the scale of your grace?"

In other Monday, June 6, happenings:
  • The Annual Conference session celebrated Patty LaGree's seven years of service as Conference Secretary.  Nitza Dovenspike will succeed her in that role.
  • Rev. Barrie Tritle presented the Healthy Conference Report
  • Rev. Rebecca Fisher introduced the Ministry Cabinet video featuring five emerging faith communities
  • One Matters Awards were presented to Carson, Colo, Bloomfield (Des Moines), Marion First, and Varina United Methodist churches
  • The Diakonos presented their always-entertaining skit and several former Diakonos talked about the importance of faith in their lives and their start in service in the church through the Diakonos program
  • The 2017 budget was approved, with expenses of $14,171, 974, a reduction of $638,643 compared to 2016.
Among the action items approved was Resolution 808, which:
  • Affirmed the Council of Bishops’ proposed way forward, endorsed the plan for a special commission o human sexuality, and a special General Conference on the themes of the global church and human sexuality
  • Called on the Council of Bishops to name a broadly representative Commission, intentionally including LGBTQ clergy and laity as well as respected leaders from the progressive, traditionalist, and orthodox movements
  • Called Iowa United Methodist Congregations to engage in active prayer and discussion of the global nature of the church and human sexuality, under the guidance of the Bishop and District Superintendents
Special Offerings totals: $41,701,58
  • Clergy Session – Sustentation Fund - $7,450.00
  • Camperships - $7,244.40
  • Nigerian Students Scholarship Fund - $5.515.79
  • Change A Child’s Story - $3,833.40
  • Rust College Choir offering - $5,699.19
  • Diakonos support - $6,988.89
  • Flint (MI) water assistance - $5,025.91
Statistical report
  • Congregations: 771
  • Total professing members: 161,343 (2% decrease)
  • Average attendance at all weekly worship services: 49,496 (4% decrease)
  • Baptisms (ages 0-12): 1,485
  • Baptisms (13 and older): 389
  • Total enrolled in confirmation preparation classes: 1,957
  • Number of young adults in Christian formation groups: 2,222 (67% increase)
  • Total number of persons in Christian formation groups: 47,355 (2% increase)
  • Average weekly Sunday School attendance: 14,289 (6% decrease)
  • Number of persons engaged in mission: 25,197 (14% increase)
  • Number of persons served by community ministries for outreach, justice, and mercy: 411,982 (18% increase)
  • Number of persons recognized as course of study graduates: 3
  • Number of persons commissioned for the work of a deacon: 1
  • Number of persons commissioned for the work of an elder: 5
  • Number of persons recognized as an associate member: 1
  • Number of persons recognized for personal certification: 1
  • Number of persons ordained as deacons: 2
  • Number of persons ordained as elders: 5
*Arthur McClanahan is the director of communications for the Iowa Annual Conference