Looking Back at the 2021 Annual Conference

May 26, 2021

For the second year in a row, the 2021 Annual Conference was held virtually, via ZOOM webinar with a theme of 'Story' grounding the work of the Louisiana Conference. 
 

Laity Session


Annual Conference began with the laity session Thursday evening on Facebook as they heard from lay director Jennifer Swann and others, including updates from the United Methodist Women, United Methodist Men, and an update from the Louisiana delegation who has been on hold since the pandemic from attending either General or Jurisdictional Conference as they've been postponed. 

Music was provided by Caleb Porter, George, and Judy Gross. 

To watch the laity session, please click here


Clergy Session


The clergy session of the annual conference was held Friday morning and it included the celebration of a new class of ordinands and the recognition of retirements across the Conference, including Rev. John Edd Harper, a deacon who has faithfully served as Director of the Board of Ordained Ministry for 17 years. 

For more on the business of the annual conference, the clergy report, click here


Celebration of Ministry Service


The Celebration of Ministry Service was held Friday at 6:00 pm at First United Methodist Church in Baton Rouge, with a limited in-person audience. A full live stream was available on Facebook.  
 


The Louisiana Conference ordained the following four persons into full connection: 
 

  • Lenda Faye Matthews (Deacon)
  • Erik Lewis Rasmussen (Deacon) 
  • Timothy James Barnes (Elder)
  • Tiffanie Certrina Postell (Elder) 

The following persons were elected as provisional members:

  • Megan McGuirt Stuermann (Deacon) 
  • Carol Shelton Twyman (Class of 2020, Deacon)
  • Brian Eric Coplin (Elder)
  • Mary Rachel Moore (Elder) 
  • Megan Birdwell Twyman (Elder)

The Louisiana Conference received the following person as an associate member: 

  • Luke Michael Palermo
 
 

In her ordination sermon, Bishop Cynthia Fierro Harvey used Matthew 13:1-3, 9 as the backdrop. In it, she reminded the audience of the power of story. 

"This is a story of healing hurts," she said, "A story of reconciliation, grace, mercy, justice, and love – it is the gospel story – it is the story of God at work in the lives of ordinary people that produce extraordinary fruit."

She continued, "In a time of uncertainty, when the world is upside down and the United Methodist Church is facing such challenges, God is still calling people to proclaim the Good News to a world desperate to hear a little good news. And not only is God calling – even more amazing - you are listening, and you are responding."
 

"You are saying 'YES!' Not just to ordination but 'YES' to the work of discipling and of transformation. You could say, "not now, God, we are in a pandemic.', 'Not now because this race stuff is really hard.', 'Not now we have no idea whether there will even be a UMC.,' 'Not now, call somebody else.'" You have not said not now; you have said 'Yes, NOW!', Yes for such a time as this.'"

Turning to the ordinands, she reflected on the difficulty leading a congregation during these times.

"There isn't much in our daily life that is as we have known it in the past. So please care for yourselves. Tend to your relationship with God, your family, and those you enter into covenant with today. Be clear about your purpose, your mission. If it is to love God and neighbor if it to make disciples that transform the world – whatever it is, be clear about your purpose." 
 

 

Plenary Session

The annual conference plenary session began Saturday at 8:45 am with moving opening worship that included a litany written by Louisiana’s own Britney Winn Lee, author of Rall: Communal Prayers for Lovers of Justice and Jesus, and featured Rev. Katie Black, Rev. Angela Bulhoff, Rev. Lindy Broderick, Rev. KC Roberson, and Chris Spencer, In-Coming President of the United Methodist Foundation of Louisiana. 
 

Episcopal Address
 

Bishop Cynthia Fierro Harvey invited us to discern the difference between hearing and listening in her episcopal address

"The difference between hearing and listening is distinct," she said. "Hearing is the act of perceiving sound, say the experts. Listening, however, is something you do consciously. Listening requires a willingness to be fully present, to pay attention, to hear not just the words said, but the meaning, the feeling, and the spirit behind them. Listening requires intentional attentiveness."

She emphasized that our call today and every day is to listen to the stories of Jesus unfold in our lives. "The stories of people – the stories of the young, the old, the black, the white, the brown, the Asian, the rich, the poor, the stories of straight people, gay people, the stories of republicans and democrats," she said, "Listen to the stories of Jesus that are being lived each and every day in ourselves, in our world, and in our neighbors!"

She reminded delegates that, as Wesleyan Methodists, we believe that Christ gave us a ministry of reconciliation that binds us together despite our differences. "Friends, this is hard work, and it is sacred work. I still long for a United Methodist Church that will move us towards new forms of connection. I ask that we recommit ourselves to strengthening our churches where the Word is proclaimed, Christ is offered, and where the table is set before all who hunger and thirst for righteousness." 

 



"I am learning that stuckness births a new imagination, new ways of looking at our situation. A feeling of stuckness can be generative, life-giving, fruit-producing if we commit to facing our situation in the community through the lens of a God who showed up, lived our struggles, healed those he encountered, and died because he loved too much. Our story is unfolding every day in the incredible ways our pastors and congregations are connecting to our communities."


Office of Congregational Development and Transformation


Rev. Gloria Fowler, Director of Office of Congregational Development and Transformation, reported on the work that the office has seen over the past year, and it's nothing shy of amazing. 


"Not only have we endured a worldwide pandemic, but hurricane after hurricane, and now floods, have hit our area," she said. "But as we know, we are Louisiana strong, and all of this has not stopped us from living out the mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. And I commend you for your faithfulness and pressing forward to live out the mission of the church even if you had to pivot and do things that you had never done before."


Rev. Sam Hubbard reported on the vast number of churches that launched and saw growth during a pandemic.

"Before the pandemic, we had five churches that were in various stages of the launching process,' Rev. Hubbard said. "As well as employing different strategies for reaching new people."

"Much like all churches, and people for that matter, they were dramatically impacted by the pandemic. And much like you, and the world they adapted, they innovated."

His report highlighted five churches: 

Foundry, Sterlington

Foundry, like most growing plants, reached the milestone of building its own space. They not only raised the remaining money to complete their building during the pandemic but finished it and had their first worship gathering in their new space when restrictions began to relax, all while merging with another congregation. They are poised to launch a second worship service later this year to reach the nearly 3000 unreached people in their context.

Embrace, Haughton

Embrace launched very strong pre-pandemic and was tracking do to very well in a town where the only place to gather in the community was one gas station. Like all of us, they moved online and continued the various ministries of their church digitally. During the pandemic, they used their time well and with a huge vision Embrace merged with Love Chapel to form Legacy.

The Table, Central

The Table was moving into their one-year anniversary when the pandemic began and moved their church to, surprise, the digital world. Like every church, they struggled but bounced back. It was in that struggle that a vision for a multi-acre field in the back of their property began to come into focus, and they are poised to multiply by feeding their surrounding community with the gospel and the produce they grow in that field.

Mid City, Baton Rouge

Mid City's official big launch was the day the world shut down, so they launched online instead. Against all odds, they grew, not only in number but in spiritual depth, through their network of small groups. They made huge leaps forward towards sustainability in their first year with a congregation that consists of young adults…all during a pandemic. MCC is preparing to multiply further through a hybrid model of digital and physical, or "Phygital" strategy, as we like to say. They are also preparing to launch efforts to care for and connect with the underserved Latino population in their context.

The Bridge, Lake Charles

The Bridge is, quite frankly, a miracle. The Bridge was in its prelaunch season and was preparing for its grand opening. Even the pandemic didn't slow them down. Then Hurricane Laura hit and not only heavily damaged their building, but their mother church's building, as well as 98% of all the structure in Lake Charles. Not even two months later, Delta struck. Then a catastrophic freeze. During all of this, the Bridge began meeting in the back yard of houses. In a very short time, they grew to the point they needed to multiply into a network of house churches. They plan to have nearly ten house churches in their Bridge network by the end of 2021.

Hubbard concluded his report, saying, "Friends, God is on the move, and God is doing a new thing among us," he said. "I know I want to be part of that! I pray that we will all be part of that new to reach more people with the love of Jesus Christ!"

 

Conference Anti-Racism Taskforce


Rev. Tiffanie Postell, who co-leads the Louisiana Anti-Taskforce Committee, reported on the Conference's work to dismantle and address racism. Last year Bishop Cynthia Fierro Harvey asked for clergy and laity to explore ways to engage the critical conversations in Louisiana about racial injustice.

The goal of the gatherings was to hear the hearts of the people and to arrive at the next steps organically. Postell shared that Bishop Harvey cast a vision but that that vision did not have specific actions in mind but instead for it to be organic in nature.


"She left it in our hands," Postell said. "And we began to have the hard conversations. The goal was twofold. First, we needed to train. What does it look like to be in a space where you are asking folks to engage, and you yourself are not even comfortable? It's okay to ask the question, and it's okay not to have the answer. Secondly, we wanted to develop a methodology to share what we have learned with the Conference."

Postell shared a quote from Martin Luther King, Jr. that summed up their work. 'If you can't fly, then run. If you can't run, then walk. If you can't walk, then crawl. But whatever you do, you have to keep moving forward." 

"This work needs all of us", Postell said. "We need you to be open to listening. We may not have all of the answers and we might not be flying about or even running in Louisiana, but we might be crawling. By all means, my ask to you today is that you help us to continue to move forward." 
 

Laity Report


Jennifer Swann, Conference Lay Leader, shared the laity report. In it, Swann discussed the power of story and specifically the difference between stories we find in Hollywood and the story we find in Scripture. 

"I think movies touch us because they are finding a way to connect with those universal truths, but I don't think that alone is the reason why they sell," Swann said. "I think the reason they sell as they do is that they are fiction. These stories allow us to explore themes of good and evil and community and integrity and bravery in very abstract ways, never having to actually be good. Never having to question whether we have been complicit in evil, never having to be in community with other misfits, never having to exercise integrity or bravery."


Swann continued, "The story of God as revealed in the death and resurrection of Jesus is a powerful thing. We can tell the story of the first Easter. It will reach out and touch us in powerful ways. It will tap into universal truths about what matters most and about good and evil and community. But I hope instead that we, both lay and clergy, are willing to take the role of the laity seriously - to make it our mission to show people that the Gospel message is not something that happened a long time ago and that it does matter - to find our role in God's story right here and now in our homes and in our workplaces and our communities, and even in our churches. 

Swann concluded her remarks by asking all of us to stay curious about other people and learn their stories so that we can help them find their role in God's story right here and now. "Jesus told us that the world would know that we are his disciples by our love for each other," she said. "I pray that our work today and every day might continue to reveal Jesus to the world."
 

Conference Board of Ordained Ministry
 

The Board of Ordained Ministry reported on the business of the annual conference; the report can be found here. 

Highlights from the report include the Louisiana Conference ordained and welcomed into full connection: 

  • Lenda Faye Matthews (Deacon)
  • Erik Lewis Rasmussen (Deacon) 
  • Timothy James Barnes (Elder)
  • Tiffanie Certrina Postell (Elder) 

The following persons were elected as provisional members:

  • Megan McGuirt Stuermann (Deacon) 
  • Brian Eric Coplin (Elder)
  • Mary Rachel Moore (Elder) 
  • Megan Leah Twyman (Elder) 

This year also marks the 25th anniversary of the order of deacons in the United Methodist Church. The Conference celebrated this order with a video as Rev. John Edd Harper and Rev. Latrice Mallard shared more about this unique calling inside the United Methodist Church. 

The report also highlighted a unique ordination service that was held in March of this year. This ordination service was specifically held for Rev. Chris Winterman and Rev. Reyn Sewell, as they both had to skip the November ordination due to COVID exposure.

The Board also recognized the retirement of 25 pastors; 2 associate members, five deacons, 13 elders, and five local pastors. Together, the amount of service combined amounts to nearly 500 years of combined service with an average of 23 years of service each. To view the stories of these retirees, please head here

 

Memorial Service


During the 2021 Annual Conference, we memorialized the saints whom we have lost in the past year. This memorial service featured the reading of names by Rev. Angela Bulhof, set to music, and the artistic writing of Kathryn Moore as she addressed envelopes to each of the families. 

We encourage you to watch this service - it can be found here

 
 

Petition 1


In the afternoon, Petition 1 was debated and discussed. The petition was submitted on behalf of the Louisiana Conference Anti-Racism Taskforce, which called for the chair of all conference councils, boards, agencies, commissions, and committees to designate a member to serve as an anti-racism advocate to help the members do their work in an intentionally anti-racist manner.

The petition also called for members of the Louisiana Conference Anti-Racism team to provide training for the chairs, and anti-racism advocates, and members of all councils, boards, agencies, commissions, and committees to equip them for this work.

The petition passed by a vote of 294 in favor (69.7%) to 128 (30.3%) against.

 

Petition 2


Petition 2 entitled "A Resolution of Open Meetings" called for the Louisiana Annual Conference to adopt policies in keeping with the spirit of openness and accountability described in ¶722 of the Book of Discipline. 

Bishop Harvey pointed out several instances where the petition was voted non-concurrence. She asked Rev. Wilkinson to clarify what might be missing and what Rev. Wilkinson was trying to accomplish. 

The petition passed by a vote of 281 in favor (59.4%) to 192 against (40.6%). However, it was later ruled out of order. 

After the passing of the petition, Bishop Harvey took a moment to address some questions that arose during the discussion of the petition. She offered to meet with the Petitioner and discuss ways to address the spirit of the petition. 
 

Board of Trustees Report


The Board of Trustees recommended seven churches be approved for closure: 
 
  • Grand Chenier United Methodist Church, Grand Chenier, LA – Lake Charles District
  • Little Creek United Methodist Church, Mangham, LA – Monroe District
  • Bayou Scie United Methodist Church, Zwolle, LA - Shreveport District
  • Lacombe United Methodist Church, Lacombe, LA – New Orleans District
  • Arizona United Methodist Church, Shreveport District
  • Beulah United Methodist Church, Calhoun, LA – Monroe District (exigent circumstances)
  • Chatham United Methodist Church, Chatham, LA – Monroe District (exigent circumstances)
     
A special moment of recognition for Grand Chenier United Methodist Church included this video. 

 

 

Reserve Funds


Late in the day, CF&A presented their report that included a proposal to change the reserve fund policy equal to the apportionment budget, twelve months versus six months. 

An in-depth conversation reviewed the pros and cons of the change to the reserve policy.

The amendment passed with 154 votes in favor (52.9%) and 137 votes against (47.1%)
 

Sending Forth

 

In the final moments of the 2021 annual conference, Bishop Harvey shared a word of sending forth.

"We have done the hard and beautiful work today of understanding, sharing, and writing the story of God and the story of us," she said, "There have been moments of inspiration and times of writer's block. We have witnessed cliffhangers and character development. We have gotten lost in the details of the setting and remembered the bigger picture of the plot again."

Bishop Harvey then thanked all of the delegates for attending the virtual session and for sharing their stories.

"Your stories are ours; we hold them with you," she said. "And you do not write the coming days alone."


Epilogue


In a video released Sunday, Bishop Harvey added her reflections of the annual conference session.

Bishop Harvey acknowledged the tough and important questions that came before the annual conference. "The pension, trustee, and CFA report included important questions," she said. "I believe these reports require greater clarity each and every year because of the complexity of the season we are in."

Bishop Harvey noted that it'd been over 700 days since the annual conference was last together in person. 

"That distance of days, coupled with so much trauma in between, has created a chasm," she said. "We need to create a space to share. There is something about proximity that helps us process or stories of pain, joy, despair, and trust! Listening to one another's story. Really listening! Petitions don't create trust – people do. Relationships do."
 


 

Videos to Watch

 
 

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