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:
Bishop Cynthia Fierro Harvey said this prior to 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.
For more on the Episcopal Address, head here.
Every quadrennium at Annual Conference, delegates from all across the connection gather to elect lay and clergy delegates to both General Conference and Jurisdictional Conference.
The number of delegates an Annual Conference is entitled to send to a General Conference is based on two factors: the number of clergy members of the Annual Conference and the number of members of local churches in the Annual Conference.
In the case of Louisiana, this meant electing three clergy and three lay delegates to General and Jurisdictional Conference and two alternates for both clergy and lay for a total of sixteen.
The election results are below:
Clergy, General Conference
“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.”
The elections were held on the last day of Annual Conference, which was held for the first time in the Shreveport Convention Center in downtown Shreveport, Louisiana.
After the elections were held, Bishop Harvey concluded the Annual Conference by fixing the appointments for the upcoming year.
“I am incredibly grateful for the work of delegates all across the Conference as they gathered in Shreveport," said Bishop Harve. "We were engaged in tough conversations and all the while, we listened with compassion and respect. All week, we focused on how love fulfills the law and we were shining examples of that during our time together.”
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 is 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 by 20 votes: 360 against and 340 for.
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 PhD in organizational and group dynamics, he has worked with congregations across denominations for more than thirty years.
He is the author of a number of 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 special 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.