The theme “Making Disciples, Transforming the World,” which began in 2018, continued at this year’s Annual Conference. The sub-theme for 2019 was “In Love,” with Romans 13:8-10 anchoring our call to love all of God’s people. We are called to make disciples and transform the world in love. Last year, we introduced a three-fold theme, “Making Disciples, Transforming the World...Together...In Love...Day after Day after Day.” Our first stop was “Making Disciples...Together.”
This year we made our second stop, “Making Disciples...In Love.” We spent time imagining a church that does all things out of our great love for one another based on Romans 13:8-10 “all the commandments are summed up in one word: You must love your neighbor as yourself.”
The scriptures say a lot about love. Here are just a few:
Love is patient, love is kind......(1 Corinthians 13)
Do everything in love. (1 Corinthians 16:14)
Let the morning bring me word of your unfailing love... (Psalm 143:8)
And over all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity. (Colossians 3:14)
No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us. (1 John 4:12)
Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. (John 15:13)
Since you are precious and honored in my sight, and because I love you, I will give people in exchange for you, nations in exchange for your life. (Isaiah 43:4)
Bishop Cynthia Fierro Harvey said this before our time together, "In these chaotic times in the life of the church and world it is important to remember that all of scripture and all of life hinges on love; God’s great love for us in Christ Jesus and our love in return. Love is the greatest gift we receive and the greatest gift we give."
Opening worship, including the Episcopal Address and Holy Communion, was held in the Shreveport Convention Center. Bishop Cynthia Fierro Harvey’s Episcopal Address began with an emphatic reminder that “the love of God is here!” She proceeded to address the unity of Methodism in the face of a divisive Special Called Session of the General Conference earlier in the year.
“I have not backed down from my position that God’s love extends to all people and we must be a church that loves and accepts all people at all levels,” she said. “I consider myself a centrist although I know some of you have boxed me into and given me a lot of other labels. I consider myself a centrist because I do not want to be part of any church that is so inclusive that it excludes. I do not have much of an appetite to be in a denomination that works to purify itself from the other. I do not want to be part of a denomination of only progressives or only traditionalists. Our call is to broaden the center and live in the tension. And though heartbreaking, I am also very aware that for some, both left and right, the tension is getting harder to hold. Some of you have been holding on for a very long time.”
She continued, “We must stop the name-calling and finger-pointing, the questioning of another’s relationship to Jesus, and the mischaracterization of another’s position, we must stop claiming that we are the only ones who know what the scripture says, what Jesus taught, or what real Methodism is, we must remember what Ephesians 4: 2-3 teaches us: ‘Conduct yourselves with all humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace.’ The center is hard, and as one of my Bishop colleagues says, the center is the hardest and requires the most courage. Yet, the Center is most in keeping with the Gospel.”
Bishop Harvey also addressed the phrase ‘incompatible with Christian teaching’ as she said, “Paradoxically – everyone, every single one of us is incompatible with Christian teaching and yet in the eyes of God who sent his only son to live among us - no one is incompatible. We are, after all resurrection people, people who believe in redemption, people who believe that in the holy name of Jesus we can be reconciled to God and one another and loved deeply. We believe that nothing can separate us from the love of God – heteronormativity, homosexuality, included. We are made in the image of God. God does not make mistakes! Do not let anyone, anywhere – ever - tell you that you are incompatible with Christian teaching.”
For more on the Episcopal Address, head here.
Our guest speaker was Rev. Dr. Gil Rendle, who is former senior vice president for the Texas Methodist Foundation as well as former senior consultant and director of consulting for the Alban Institute. As an ordained minister with a Ph.D. in organizational and group dynamics, he has worked with congregations across denominations for more than thirty years.
He is the author of many books, including Holy Conversations: Strategic Planning as Spiritual Practice for Congregations. His latest book is Quietly Courageous: Leading the Church in a Changing World. Rev. Dr. Rendle spoke at both the clergy and laity sessions and during the plenary sessions on Monday and Tuesday.
We had three unique offerings during Annual Conference. The first offering, taken during Opening Worship Monday morning, was dedicated to Louisiana United Methodist Children and Family Services (“aka” LA Methodist Children’s Home). In keeping with tradition, the offering collected during the Celebration of Ministry (Ordination) Service on Monday night will serve as a scholarship for our recent Ordinands on our Holy Land Tour. The Tuesday morning offering during the Celebration of Life Memorial Service supported the Louisiana Disaster Response Fund.
One of the main actions enacted by the conference included the passage of HealthCare 2020, a proposal to form a strategic partnership in a “Private Exchange” for participants through Via Benefits, under Wespath management. All participants will have access to multiple Medicare supplement or Advantage plans under one-on-one consultation and assistance.
Even those who disagreed with Andrew Smith’s petition admired the lay delegate from Rayne Memorial United Methodist Church in New Orleans and his courage for proposing Petition #1 to the Louisiana Conference during Annual Conference 2019.
The petition spoke to the work of the General Conference, specifically the passing of the Traditional Plan, which affirmed and strengthened the current policies of the United Methodist Church which does not allow same-sex weddings or the ordination of LGBTQ people.
His petition stated the following, “Be it, therefore, resolved that the Louisiana Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church denounces the passage of the Traditional Plan at the 2019 General Conference, and apologizes for the harm it has caused to LGBTQ+ persons, their families and friends, and the Church as a whole. We affirm all persons as individuals of sacred worth, and reject any form of discrimination that prevents any person from full participation in the life of the Church.”
The debate surrounding the petition took up most of the afternoon session and included passionate speeches for and against.
“For 18 years, I was told by the Baptist Church that I was an abomination, or as we Methodists like to say, just a little nicer, ‘incompatible,’ said Adam Philley of Shreveport. “For the past fifteen years, I have been silent. Yet in the last fifteen years, I have been creating relationships with and for people all across this Conference. People who have seen that God can use even me, and many of them have had no idea about my sexuality. And yet, we fed the hungry and clothed the naked. Passing this petition would send a message to that small child in rural Louisiana that might be gay and being told that he is going to hell.”
In a speech against, Rev. Woody Hingle from Lake Vista United Methodist Church stood to argue that the petition was misleading from a Scriptural standpoint and defended the Traditional Plan. “The traditional plan is not mean spirited,” he said, “It affirms what we as Methodists have affirmed all along – that God has made us in His image and we are of infinite worth. As Jesus started his ministry, he started with a call for repentance. Repent – the kingdom of God is near. If we ever lose that notion of repentance, that we are in a very troubled place as a church.”
Andrew Hedlesky in Lake Charles stood up in favor of the petition, despite his personal belief that engaging in homosexual activity is a sin. He shared a quote from Gandhi that he often uses in his work as an anger management specialist. “I tell people all the time what Gandhi said, ‘any act to impose your free will on another is an act of violence.’, he said, “You don’t have to agree 100% to love – there are things that I don’t agree with – but I am still a Methodist.”
Pat Quick from Christ United Methodist Church in Shreveport rose to speak against the petition by urging for peace. “People have felt disenfranchised, and if we vote for this, we will have a lot of people upset and damaged,” he said, “We don’t need any more of that. We need to be people of peace. Let’s see if maybe we can withhold a one-sided resolution and be able to stand closer to each other rather than stand in pain.”
As the vote came, Bishop Cynthia Fierro Harvey paused to pray.
“Gracious God, here we are! But most importantly, you are here, and for that we are thankful,” she prayed, “There is a lot of brokenness on both sides, and we try to do the right thing that is pleasing to you so as we prepare to take this vote may it be done prayerfully, in love, and with a heart of peace with an intent to do no harm.”
Bishop Harvey then asked everyone to pick up the baptismal bowls, located on each table in the Shreveport Convention Center. She asked everyone to dip their hands in the water, to remember their baptisms.
“Help us remember our claiming,” her prayer continued. Help us remember that we are beloved children of God.”
The petition ultimately failed but by a slim margin of just 20 votes: 360 against and 340 for.
Part-Time Pastors, Constitutional Amendments
A second petition passed, and it stated Louisiana Annual Conference petition the General Conference of The United Methodist Church at its next meeting on May 2020, to amend ¶316.6 by adding “and vote on constitutional amendments” at the end of the last sentence. The new paragraph will read this way: ¶316. 6. The membership of local pastors under full-time and part-time appointment is in the annual conference where they shall have the right to vote on all matters except constitutional amendments, the election of delegates to General, jurisdictional, or central conferences, and matters of ordination, character, and conference relations of clergy. Local pastors who have completed Course of Study or a Master of Divinity degree and have served a minimum of two consecutive years under appointment before the election may vote to elect clergy delegates to General and jurisdictional or central conferences, and vote on constitutional amendments.
The average age of this year’s ordination class was 36. We had a chance to visit with those being fully ordained, asking each of them what this ordination meant to them.
Rev. Katie Black: ”God calls. And when God calls, you have no choice but to lean into the Grace that He's offered to us, and I have no choice. And when I find that I'm there, it's the greatest joy I've ever been able to experience.”
Rev. Shawn Hornsby: “Ordination is the affirmation of this idea that we are called to love and serve God. And for me, it's been a journey of just saying yes to Jesus and to loving and reaching new people for Him and helping others understand Jesus in new ways.”
Rev. Jessica Lowe: ”I'm doing this because I feel a call from God and I believe that this is me saying ‘yes’ to that call, just like I said ‘yes’ so long ago to the call into ministry. And I think God calls us even in the midst of the unknown to say ‘yes’ and to step out on that ledge even when we don't know where that ledge is taking us.”
Rev Frederick Sweetwyne: “Ordination means a celebration of a long journey. It reminds me of my favorite scripture, Jude 1:20 that says, "You beloved, build on your most holy faith.” Praying in the Holy Spirit, I will continue to do that through this ordination.”
Rev. Fernie Rivera: “It means that there is a lot of Kingdom work left to be done and we all get to play a special role in making the Kingdom of God happen here on Earth as it is in Heaven.”
Rev Kermit Curtis Roberson: “For me, I'm still in it because God has blessed me and anointed me for this, and it's just another step in just showing me just how good God is and how God wants me to be better for so many others in the future.”
Rev. Klay Harrison: “It means that God really has called me and put a call in my life and that the church is affirming that calling. For me, it goes back to several things of that in the gospel of Luke where Jesus sends out people. Sometimes people are ordained, but yet they still go, and the church sees those people. And Jesus is still calling people today, no matter what.”
Rev. Austin Rinehart: “Ordination is both an affirmation and a reminder that I'm part of something larger than myself. I can learn from that, but I also know that because God's gifted me in a certain way, I'm needed for that large organization. And so I'm just glad to be a part of it.”
Bishop Harvey preached during the ordination sermon and began with a question: “Can you imagine if you were just a casual observer today? Or what if you stumbled into this space or maybe on the live stream. The pomp and circumstance of it all, big music, choir, robes, a packed house! I am sure that you would wonder: What in the world are they doing there?
Licensing, Commissioning, and Ordination would be the right answer, but it still would not express what really is happening here. In this season in the life of the (big C) Church - big C, even those like us who know what we are doing here might still wonder what in the world are we doing? And why?”
She finished her sermon with a call to love.
“WE need to be that person to those who are living on life’s ragged edge and yes, even those who seem to have it all together yet need to continue to experience the transformative love of Jesus. We all need to know that we are not only loved but BE-LOVED. That we are a child of God - chosen by God! Do you remember as a kid when people picked teams on the playground? You may have never been this person, but I remember what it felt like to not be chosen or to be chosen last. God chooses everyone first. No one is even chosen second or third and certainly not last or never. We are God’s beloved sons and daughters - chosen to help mend broken people, broken communities, broken homes. We are God’s beloveds chosen to love as God loves. Our call to love can change the trajectory of the world. Our call to love can change people, situations, and circumstances. Our call to love can change the Louisiana Annual Conference, Our call to love can change the United Methodist Church. Our call to love can change YOU! My prayer for you – all of you, is adapted from John’s Gospel. A prayer that models a new way of being together that grows us into a truly beloved people of God.”
Elections were held for delegates to General and Jurisdictional Conference, and there was a significant movement to elect younger delegates. Here are the names of those elected, both clergy and lay:
Clergy, General Conference
Clergy, Jurisdictional Conference
Laity, General Conference
Laity, Jurisdictional Conference
Upon the election of delegates, Bishop Harvey said, “I am thankful for those who have given of themselves to the work of the United Methodist Church in this season," said Bishop Cynthia Fierro Harvey. "Each delegate brings with them a unique voice and story to the conversation. I am holding each of them in prayer as they prepare for the work ahead, which will be challenging and important.”