MONDAY, JUNE 4, 2012
Bishop William W. Hutchinson gaveled into session the forty-second session of the Louisiana Annual conference.
Prayer was offered by Home Missioner, Bill Dudleson.
Rev. Larry Miller submitted the following motion to the Conference for approval:
“I nominate Mrs. Belinda Denicola, Rev. Bernadine Johnson, Mrs. Patti Perkins, Mrs. Joyce Robinson, and Rev. Darryl Tate as Assistant Secretaries of the Annual Conference Session. I further nominate Mrs. Joyce Robinson and Rev. Darryl Tate as Head Tellers. I also direct the attention of the conference to seven matters:
- All materials for conference members are to be approved by and distributed through the Conference Secretary. These materials are to be given to Mrs. Joyce Robinson and are to be marked with the recommended time of distribution.
- Forms for writing amendments and motions that are presented to the Conference should be picked up at the Secretary’s desk and the completed forms should be returned to the Secretary’s desk.
- Similar forms are available for persons requesting courtesy letters to be sent from the Conference. Forms for special guests to be presented to the Conference are also available from the Secretary’s desk.
- Any changes or corrections that need to be made regarding Pre-Conference Reports should be completed and given to Mrs. Belinda Denicola or Mrs. Patti Perkins.
- Special sound equipment for the hearing impaired is available at the A-V desk through Mr. Claiborne Sharp for plenary sessions.
- Please be aware of the 10 Pink Budget Amendments and the four yellow petitions that should be on your tables this afternoon. Save these in your pre-conference books and bring these pink and yellow forms back Tuesday and Wednesday when they will be discussed and voted on. If you don’t bring your pink and yellow forms Tuesday and Wednesday, you will probably have to look on a neighbor’s copy when we consider these amendments and petitions.
- Prayer concerns or essential announcements to be raised to the Conference membership should be given to the Conference Secretary. Mr. Fred Loy, Chair of the Committee on Courtesies, or a member of the committee will report these at the close of each business session.
I move that any reports not presented, but before the Annual Conference as a part of the Pre-Conference Report be received by the Annual Conference and published in the 2012 Louisiana Annual Conference Journal.”
The motion was adopted by the Conference.
Dr. David Rowe, President of Centenary College, welcomed the Conference. He also wanted to welcome his newest colleague in the state, Dr. Walter Kimbrough. Dr. Rowe took a moment to recognize for his service on the Board of Trustees of Centenary, Bishop Hutchinson. He presented Bishop Hutchinson a medallion as a life member of the Board of Centenary College. Dr. Rowe also thanked Mrs. Hutchinson for all that she had done. He stated that it was his distinct honor and privilege to extend the invitation to meet here next year on this campus. He hoped that we would accent this invitation.
Rev. Steven Spurlock presented the following motion to the Conference for approval:
“I move that beginning Monday at 4:00 p.m., June 4, 2012 the main floor of the Physical Education Center of Centenary College be designated as the Bar of the Conference and that only voting members and special guests are to sit in this area.
I also move Tuesday’s order of the day be set at 9:30 a.m. for the Board of Ordained Ministry Report #1 and that Wednesday’s order of the day be set at 9:50 a.m. for the passing of the mantle for retirees’ recognition. I further move that the printed program be the agenda for the Annual Conference Session and that the Bishop be empowered to make changes in the agenda necessary to complete the business of the Conference. I finally move that the printed material that is to be distributed to the Annual Conference session be cleared through the secretary prior to distribution.”
The motion was adopted by the Conference.
Dr. Donald and Marsha Avery greeted the Annual Conference on behalf of the Shreveport District. Mrs. Avery gave a special welcome to all of the clergy spouses and thanked all of the spouses that attended the luncheon.
EPISCOPAL COMMITTEE REPORT #1
Mr. George “Buzzy” Anding reported on the Conference Committee on Episcopacy found on page 163 of the Pre-Conference Report. He stated that the Louisiana Conference would be receiving a new Bishop as Bishop Hutchinson retires this year at the conclusion of 12 years as an Episcopal leader. While we have time during the session to say a formal goodbye to Bishop Hutchinson on Wednesday, including a service of farewell, Buzzy took this opportunity to invite all to a retirement celebration for Bishop Hutchinson and Mrs. Kay to be held on Friday, June 29th beginning at 6:30 p.m. in the Renaissance Hotel in Baton Rouge on Bluebonnet Boulevard. Part of the cost of your ticket will go to the Bishop and Kay Hutchinson scholarship fund.
Mr. Ward escorted Mrs. Kay Hutchinson to the stage. She was presented with a gift for her ministry with her husband.
Mrs. Hutchinson thanked the Conference for making them feel at home in Louisiana. She stated that “Louisiana conference you have made us feel so welcome, you have been there for us when we lost Bill’s mother, when we laid my father to rest, even though that was the day Katrina blew into New Orleans. You where there for us when we had very serious health problems. You have been there for us all the way. We are so grateful. You have made a home for us here in Louisiana”.
AND NOW FOR OUR FEATURE STORIES!!
General Conference and the Future
To get us in the mood for this Feature, and since we have already sung “And Are We Yet Alive”, which is most appropriate to this segment, let’s stand and sing together, “Forward Through the Ages.”
What does one say about General Conference, 2012? I have been going to General Conference since 1984 and this was the strangest display of ineptness I have ever witnessed. To say the General Conference displayed symptoms of a body beginning to writhe in the throes of death may not be an overstatement. From the opening plenary to the closing bomb shell of the Judicial Council ruling that all of the work toward a new day was “unconstitutional” and “unsalvageable”, there were painful displays of brokenness, paralysis, lack of spiritual discernment, and hopelessness. One clear message that was unquestionably sent was, “The General Conference as we have always known it is broken.”
I assure you I am not the first to admit and “get” this painful fact. The bishops of the South Central Jurisdiction “get it” as well. In our debriefing session in Houston on May 25th, that was confirmed to a person. With anger, disbelief, and frequent tears we spoke of the waste, both monetary and of people’s time of this endeavor; the deep division that has been driven by personal agendas that have taken the place of the good of the whole; the loss of confidence in that which we have all held dear; and, one of the most painful, the deep hurt and broken relationships that lay shattered on the floor of the Tampa Convention Center that final night.
But, enough said of the pain-filled disappointment of General Conference 2012. The key question now is “What do we do going forward?” The answer is that we are going to face the brutal facts with hope! Because, there is great hope!
The fact that there was no restructure to the General Church that will make us more efficient, better able to respond quickly to our rapidly changing world, and reduce our costs by reducing our behemoth and antiquated bureaucracy, makes the work we are doing in our Annual Conference and in our South Central Jurisdiction all the more important! Our focus on excellence in ministry and fruitfulness of work, accountability for who we are and what we do, and our emphasis on vital congregations that are able to step outside of themselves and reach out to and help transform a hurting and dying world, becomes all the more important.
What we began a few years back with looking to the future and establishing our four proto-type churches and beginning to probe our mission fields is crucial groundwork for us. Our next steps will be to further imbed our accountability measures, and then to move to the deeper spiritual questions around our closeness to, or intimacy with Christ. After all, everything we do is about him and him alone – or at least it should be! This Jurisdiction has become a leader in pushing the Church forward to a new day and you can expect more of that in the future.
If I were remaining as Bishop for another quadrennium I assure you I would be keeping us focused on vital congregations. And I feel relatively assured that any new episcopal leader you receive will do the same. At least she/he will be surrounded by committed sisters and brothers in our Louisiana Cabinet and in the College of Bishops who will be leading their Conferences in that direction. In addition, you will begin to see some new Jurisdictional emphases set forth that will say, “We are committed to and focused on tomorrow and we are moving forward. We’re not waiting for the rest of the Church to catch up!”
I’m more convinced now than ever before that change in the church is going to happen through Conferences like ours that will try bold new things and then share that with other Conferences as we learn from each other. Change is going to happen only as local congregations “get the picture” and join with one another through their Annual Conference ties and make things happen. We can no longer rely on the General Conference for help to get us there. If it is going to happen it will be one Conference at a time, one district at a time, one church at a time, and one soul at a time!
All of this must be directed by a genuine renewal in our hearts and lives as we become more grounded in scripture – or, let’s say it! – the Bible! It will not come through some program developed by the General Church. We must deepen our faith in and personal walk with Jesus Christ and we must renew the prevalence of the teaching about and experience of the convicting and empowering work of the Holy Spirit!
We know the language don’t we! Prevenient Grace, Justifying Grace, and Sanctifying Grace. Now we must live it! and we must let grace, God’s grace, change us!
Oh yes, there is great hope for tomorrow. It is just refocused hope as far as our relationship to the General Conference is concerned. It’s our choice, and our choice is LIFE!
THE SECOND FEATURE STORY IS:
The Strategic Vitality Task Force/CFA Report
In my Episcopal Address at the 2011 Annual Conference I spoke to you about the crucial meeting held in Fort Worth, Texas in March of 2011 concerning the financial state of The United Methodist Church and projections for the future. You will recall that six persons selected for their financial expertise and the bishop attended this meeting. As a result of that which we learned, I came to you at the 2011 Annual Conference and announced my decision to “gather a team consisting of eleven persons plus the bishop” who would make up what has become the “Strategic Vitality Task Force.” Their purpose was to “give advice to our structures as to whether the proposals in front of us are financially sustainable or not, (in other words, can our finances sustain the program and ministries we have set out for ourselves as a Conference), or are they even strategically wise from a church vitality standpoint.” I was careful also to say, and I quote, that the team gathered “has no authority to make decisions.” They were strictly to be an advisory team who were to “review and strategize with our structured committees as to how the ministries we have deemed important can be initiated, sustained and supported fully.”
As a follow up to that statement of intent, on Wednesday afternoon, June 8, 2011 a motion was made by Dr. Ramonalynn Bethley to “allow Bishop Hutchinson to assign a new strategic vitality task force to work with CFA and report back to the Conference with definitive proposals on how to realign Conference resources to accomplish our mission.” The motion passed. (Conference Journal, 41st Session of the Louisiana Annual Conference, June 5-8 2011, pp. 90-91)
That Task Force was formed, has worked tirelessly and with great focus, and in January, 2012 presented their advisory report to the Conference Council on Finance and Administration for their review and critique. After working together and reviewing all the issues, these two bodies have combined their thoughts and recommendations which have resulted in the report with “definitive proposals on how to realign Conference resources to accomplish our mission”. The proposed budget that will make that possible you will find in the 2012 Pre-Conference Report on pages 28 – 45.
What you have before you in this report contains recommendations that will require some serious conversation. Many historical and “close to the heart” ministries are affected by the budget proposals. We will have time set aside in our agenda for holy conversation about all these ministries. We will need to enter the discussions prayerfully, realistically, and hopefully. What is proposed is not about elimination of any ministry, but rather is about how we can best sustain those ministries and missions that bespeak our faith and that make a difference in how we as a body of believers in Jesus Christ interface with and transform our world.
I have my personal opinions about what I believe should be done. I have expressed those freely and with all the conviction I have in the Task Force meetings. Some of my opinions and thoughts are strongly reflected in the report. Others of my opinions were finally subjected to the broader wisdom of the two groups. It is not my place to try and tell you as the Annual Conference gathered in business session what you should or should not do. It is now your time to engage the report fully. It is important to remember that much of our common life together requires compromise and even surrender of some closely held opinions for the good and advancement of the whole. Prayerfully, you will each know when that moment applies to you and your thoughts.
I fully agree with the four principles that guided the Strategic Vitality Task Force in their work and that they saw as their assigned task:
· Realization of the declining membership and loss of financial support of our churches.
· Study of the funding of the Annual Conference
· Find alternate methods of achieving Conference goals
· Reduce apportionments to the local church in order to allow more funds to be used in the congregations in the overall goal of Making Disciples for Jesus Christ.
The basic philosophy of moving the Conference Office from being a Service Provider to being a Mission Strategy Model is a good philosophy. The only way we will ever know if that model will work, or even be better than what we have and have known for many years, will be to try it.
Our focus, and the main driver of this report, must be on developing and enabling vital congregations. Anything that will move us further along that continuum from ineffective to vital is where we need to move.
Change is both a feared and necessary aspect in the life of the Church. Today’s economy, philosophy of outreach, and discernment of where our outreach is most needed and most fruitful for the up building of God’s Kingdom drive us toward this change. Our General Conference was most impotent when it came to change. In fact, the fear of change led it to be totally unable to face the needs for today and caused us to leave Tampa without the needed alterations to our life together that would make us better able to be the Church for the 21st century. It is my deep prayer that you will be able as a body together here to wrestle with the need for change in the Louisiana Annual Conference and come to a mutual decision of the best way forward from here that will enable you to be a vital force for Christ far into the future.
This ecclesiastical conversation is not about winners and losers. It’s not about one agenda versus another. It is about how we are going to be the Church in Louisiana and in the world and how do we best live that out. While in some cases there are personalities that are involved, you cannot let the discussion be driven by personality, either positive or negative. It must be driven by ministry. In other cases there are what I call “heart ties” to certain ministries. But you can’t let yourself be governed solely by the wonderful memories and love you have for a certain institution or outreach. Instead you must make yourself ask the question “Is it time to do something different and/or differently?” And, in all cases, you must keep in the forefront of your mind the bottom line question, “Is the way we currently are doing this ministry financially sustainable into the future?”
I know you have labored hard, prayed hard, and discerned hard ever since you received this somewhat unsettling, and yet forward looking report and recommendation. I trust that those hard activities will enable you to converse with one another with passion and with compassion, with conviction and with understanding, with love and with grace. And when we have concluded our conversation and have voted the next step for the Annual Conference, I pray we can leave this session with our respect for one another intact, our commitment to our life together intact, and our love for our Church and her future intact.
Once again, change is hard. But change is one of the few constants of life and must be done. How we do that, how soon we do that, and how cooperatively and lovingly we do that is your decision to make. I look forward to helping you have this much-needed conversation and then to watching the Louisiana Annual Conference rise up to meet the future as the strong, faithful Conference you have proven yourselves to be.
That then leads me to the final Feature Story:
A Final Word to the Louisiana Annual Conference
The last twelve years have been some of the best of our lives. When Kay and I came to live among you and serve alongside you we knew we were coming for a great adventure and a great time of personal growth. It has been a blessing far beyond anything we could have imagined.
Both of us grew up in the Methodist Church. Kay in Alva, Oklahoma and I in Hobbs, New Mexico. We have our parents to thank for that. We have always loved the church. When we were dating one of my fraternity brothers said to me, “Hutch, she would be the perfect preacher’s wife. Just watch her. It’s like she’s always at a church ice cream social.” Well, he was right – she has been the perfect preacher’s wife, and mother, and grandmother. She has been my strength and stay in this beautiful journey we have shared together for 48 years now.
We’ve had a “Cinderella” ministry. We began out of seminary by starting a New Church; then to an idyllic ranching community in far West Texas; a bustling oil field/agricultural town in south central New Mexico; a growing and thriving downtown and university church in Las Cruces, New Mexico; three years as a District Superintendent in the Odessa District, headquartered in Odessa, Texas; another city/university church in Albuquerque, New Mexico; the Director of the New Mexico Conference Methodist Foundation; and then elected to the Episcopacy and appointed here. How blessed we are.
The years in Louisiana have been both joyous and tumultuous. If it had been a time of normal “business as usual,” I suppose we would have experienced with you the fairly normal expressions of growing and strengthening the church. We actually were well into that early on. The Lilly Grant that we received in 2002, coupled with a challenge grant from the United Methodist Foundation of Louisiana in 2004 for the establishing of the position of “Director of Church Extension and Transformation” enabled us to put the Conference in a positive position for expanded growth of outreach and ministry.
We reduced our Districts from 9 to 7. We got the Conference Center (now the Wesley Center) out of financial jeopardy. We changed our Conference health insurance plan to one that was much more stable. We established the Discerner’s Academy for greater leadership recruitment. And on August 27, 2005 we gathered in a Special Called Session at First United Methodist Church, Baton Rouge and voted to sell Lafon Home in New Orleans, the proceeds of which would first pay the remaining loans and debts held by the Home and any excess would become the property of the Louisiana Annual Conference and a “proposal for its use would come to the Annual Conference for approval and implementation.”
We left that sunny Saturday afternoon with visions of millions dancing in our heads that would give us continued strong growth. At that same time a gigantic gray cloud was gathering on the horizon that was named Katrina. By the next day New Orleans and all coastal areas were in mandatory evacuation, and the next day, August 29, 2005 will live forever in our minds in Louisiana as the day Katrina’s force hit the coast and the city. The subsequent failures of the levees led us to a time of disbelief, distress, disorganization, and disaster. Not quite a month later another monster storm named Rita slammed into Southwest Louisiana. What we thought couldn’t get worse did.
Suffice it to say our lives were and are forever changed. Our work as a Conference took a 180 degree turn and immediately assumed a whole new direction. A new reality set in and we have lived with it ever since. My memories of Louisiana will always be measured by “before Katrina/Rita and after.”
Kay and I were given the joyful blessing to extend our years of service by an additional four years by action of the General Conference 2008 that changed the mandatory retirement age for clergy. After much prayer and discernment we felt God leading us to stay the additional four years, and we are so very glad we did. It not only has enabled us to help bring our Disaster Response to a formal close, but it has allowed us to see new and powerful directions for the vitality of the church moving into the future. I’ve already said much about that hope today and know the days ahead are filled with great potential and great promise.
It has been an honor beyond description to serve as your Bishop. Thank you for loving Kay and me and for allowing your lives to become intertwined with ours. We shall forever love you and claim you as our true brothers and sisters in Christ.
We wish and pray for you a beautiful, bright and ever better future as you welcome and love your next Bishop and spouse. Whoever that may be, they are coming to one of the greatest of the Jurisdictional Conferences in the United Methodist Church.
We’ll be moving to Las Cruces, New Mexico sometime in mid-August. Our home faces the majestic and picturesque Organ Mountains and when we walk out our front door I always want to say, “I lift up my eyes unto the hills. From whence does my help come? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth. He will not let your foot be moved, he who keeps you will not slumber. Behold, he who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.” (Psalm 121: 1-4)
We would love for you to come visit us there. As Tom Bodet says, “We’ll leave the light on for you and the latchstring out.”
Picture us sitting on our little patio, watching the sun play on the granite peaks of the Organs, and often thinking of you. And when we do, this song will be in our hearts.
“Miss the Mississippi”
“Now, to him who is able to keep you from falling and to present you without blemish before the presence of his glory with rejoicing, to the only God, our Savior through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion and authority before all time and now and forever. Amen.” (Jude 24)
Let us pray: “In these moments oh God use us to be instruments of hearing, use us to be instruments of speaking. Use us for vessels of filling. Use us for your kingdom, oh God. Amen.
Mr. Fred Loy gave the Courtesy Committee Report. He shared that the committee wants to know your concerns and happiness that you would like the annual conference to know. The committee will be here twice each day to make reports to you.
The closing prayer was given by Rev. Hadley Edwards.
The Celebration of Remembrance and Holy Communion began with Pre-Service music by First United Methodist Church Choir. The house band was family and friends of Grace Community in Shreveport under the leadership of Stacy Hood. The service was led by Bishop William Hutchinson, Rev. Josh Milliron, Mrs. Allison Milliron and Mr. James Gillespie. Rev. Roger Lathan delivered the message entitled, “The Community of the Cross”.
Those in remembrance were: (Clergy) Robert W. Bengston, Kenneth B. Chapman, Michael D. Corrigan, Charles R. Cosentino, Paul G. Durbin, William I. Eubanks, Roland K. Friedrich, John M. Lee, Joe W. McClain, Stan Miller, Robert Peyton, and John L. Williams. (Clergy Spouses) Erma T. Adams, Julia Beeler, Gladys Brown, Percy Chiasson, Lenora Collins, Johanna Hess, Doris H. Hine, Barbara Lawton, Charley Marcussen, Muriel M. Miller, Barbara W. Pollar, Billie C. Smith, Myrtle Smith, and Norma Winegeart.