The West Ohio Annual Conference
by Bob Wilson
Greetings, Brothers and Sisters, once again I had the privilege to be your delegate to The West Ohio Annual Conference at Lakeside, Ohio. This year completes our theme: Taken, Blessed, Broken, Given, with a special focus on “being given.”
Linda and I arrived at Lakeside and went at once to register and receive our I.D. badges. Since we had brought 11 flood buckets with us that the Mission Team had put together, we asked where we could take them. Fortunately for us the U-Haul truck that we were told to take them to was only 10 feet from where we parked. “God is good!” We then were able to drive to our B & B and unpack.
The Laity session started at 5:30. The speaker was David Watson. The theme of his message was “Working It Out.” He has a child with “special needs.” I’m a guy who is working it out. Who are you? Christ in the incarnation took on “human weakness.” We should do the same because 1 in 5 lives with a disability. After the message we elected a new conference lay leader.
At 7:30 the West Ohio Annual Conference officially started. Bishop Palmer made the announcement as a procession started down the main aisle of Hoover Auditorium. The procession was a “New Orleans” style dirge with people walking and carrying umbrellas and a jazz band playing “Just a Closer Walk With Thee.” The main part of the session consisted of communion and “The Roll Call of the Victorious” which had the names of clergy and spouses who had passed the previous year. As each name was read, a bell sounded and a candle was lit. Two of the names I recognized were Rev. Dennis Heffner and Lavonne Gearhart. Bishop Palmer gave a message called “Be Strong!” One of the next songs we sang was “When We All Get to Heaven.” Imagine 2,500 people singing and praising God together. As the session was closing, the procession walked back up the main aisle with the band playing and people singing “O When the Saints Go Marching In.” What a blessing!
Monday’s worship started at 10:30 with a hymn sing. The speaker was Dr. Gregory Jones from Duke University. The theme of his message was “Forgiveness and Reconciliation.” He talked about a woman in Africa named Maggie who had survived a raid by rebel soldiers. She started a series of clinics where children could go who had been in situations like hers. When Dr. Jones finally met her, he was humbled to be in the presence of a woman who was responsible for raising over 10,000 children and educating over 30,000. One of the things she said was, “God’s love made me an inventor.” One of the scriptures that was included in his message was Ephesians 3:20-21, “Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.” He used this verse to describe what Maggie has done over the years. We then had a lunch break.
At 1:30 general session began. Many reports were issued and approved.
Recommendation #1 - The Mission and Ministry Funding Plan was discussed and approved by voting from the delegates. A report on Imagine No Malaria was given by Dave Boling. Over 3 million dollars was collected by West Ohio last year and over 6 million by UMC in the U.S. Before our fund drive, 1 child would die every 30 seconds from malaria. This year,1 child every 2 minutes would die. 350,000 lives have been saved so far and 2.3 million nets have been given protecting 7 million lives in the Sub-Sahara. Bishop Ntambo of the North Katanga District, Democratic Rep. Congo was there giving a personal report of the effectiveness of the Imagine No Malaria Campaign. We voted on Recommendation #2 - The Commission on Equitable Compensation which passed. We adjourned for dinner.
At 7:30 we met again in general session. A report on General Conference which meets every 4 years was given. Many resolutions were made and adopted. Other controversial issues were not. A committee made up of Bishops will study human sexuality issues. Also a report was given which showed how involved West Ohio was in many different ways. A theme of what went on at General Conference could be described as “Hear the call and lean into hope.” Bishop Palmer then gave an Episcopal Address which described “the elephant in the room.” One of his quotes was “I’m looking for a church whose love cannot be restrained” describing what Joseph felt when his brothers appeared before him in Egypt. We closed our session for the evening with the hymn, “Lord Plant My Feet On Higher Ground.”
Tuesday’s session started with a worship service at 9:00. The topic was New Church Starts. An offering was taken for this project with many churches contributing and many more making pledges for the coming year. New Zion gave $200 for this offering. Pastors from 5 of the new church starts this past year gave reports on what these new churches were doing and what areas and people they were reaching. I was skeptical at first because there are over 200 churches in central Ohio and over 1,000 in West Ohio. But after hearing these pastors speak, I feel this is a very worthwhile cause. Later in the morning, we heard a report on Recommendation #3 - Board of Pension and Health Benefits. 543 churches paid 100% of their apportionments. What a blessing that New Zion was one of them. A vote was taken and it was passed. In the UMC it has been 60 years since women have been able to be ordained. All the women pastors in the auditorium were asked to stand. They received a round of applause. We adjourned for lunch.
After lunch, we had a VBS presentation with children who were staying at Lakeside during conference. Later on we celebrated retiring pastors and others. Bishop Palmer gave an Episcopal Address. The Missional Report of The West Ohio Conference shows that the financial condition of the conference is good. The session was adjourned for the afternoon because later on that evening the ordination service and celebration would begin.
Wednesday’s session started with singing. “This is Amazing Grace”, “Tis so Sweet to Trust in Jesus”, and “Cornerstone.” The message was given by Bishop Peggy Johnson. The theme of the message was about disabilities. She knew about this personally because at a young age she got a sickness that forced the doctors to remove one of her eyes. When she decided to go into the ministry, the first church she was sent to was a deaf church. It presented her with many challenges, but also made her aware and sensitive to their needs. One of her statements was “healing comes in many ways. We can heal by accessibility. Be open in your attitude and your heart.” Bishop Palmer and Bishop Ntambo of the North Kananga Conference UMC gave a report on Africa University. This year 850 men and women graduated from that university. Since it was founded, over 8,000 have graduated. In connectional giving, The West Ohio Conference gave $75,744 to Africa U. Recommendation #4 - Resolutions for the sale of Camp Asbury was debated and then went to a vote. The recommendation was passed. Recommendation #5 - Requesting a Study Regarding the Benefits & Costs of the MCCI (Missional Church Consultation Initiative) was debated and then went to a vote. The recommendation was passed. We then adjourned for lunch.
The afternoon session started with a report of the offering that was taken Tuesday for the “New Church Starts.” $74,000 was received and pledged in the coming year. A missional report was given and an attendance report taken for the week showed that 956 clergy, 892 laity, 190 spouses, and 240 visitors for a total of 2,278. Bishop Palmer gave some final remarks and then we all sang, “Standing on the Promises.” His closing benediction was:
Let us go now from this place, taken…blessed…broken…to be given. And may the blessings of almighty God, Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer be Upon you and remain with you always! Amen!
As I left the auditorium I felt like maybe heaven will be like this. We will worship and do God’s work shoulder to shoulder giving God all the glory.