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Looking Back at the 2023 Annual Conference
The Louisiana Conference of the United Methodist Church gathered for its 2023 Annual Conference, June 13-16, in Baton Rouge, LA.
The 2023 Conference featured delegates committed to staying united. With a theme of 'hope', this year's gathering marked a significant turning point, as disaffiliation concerns faded into the background, allowing for a renewed sense of optimism and purpose.
Although the decision to approve disaffiliation for nearly 40% of its churches has caused a reduction in size, the Louisiana Conference remains steadfast in its commitment to ministry and the strengthening of hope. Bishop Delores J. Williamston presided over her first annual conference as a bishop in the United Methodist Church.
"It was refreshing to know that we all wanted to be there, that we want to move forward in hope, that we want to put ourselves back in front of Jesus so that Jesus could say, 'Get up, take your mat, and go home,'" Bishop Williamston stated, emphasizing the shared enthusiasm and commitment to spiritual growth.
The Conference featured the traditional events held at annual conferences, including a clergy session that was marked by renewed hope.
“There’s still some difficult work we have to do, but there is a sense of hope,” said Rev. Brady Whitton of FUMC in Baton Rouge. Whitton said he believes that the true United Methodists “began finding themselves a little bit” at last year’s annual conference and will emerge this year with clarity and determination.
The business sessions were filled with uplifting stories of the Conference's determination to support areas of the state where United Methodists have chosen to stay united, despite the absence of a designated church home. Delegates also overwhelmingly approved a petition to create an “LGBTQIA+ Ministries Team” to help local United Methodist churches minister to the LGBTQIA+ community.
- Inspiring Episcopal Address by Bishop Delores J. Williamston
- Louisiana Delegates Approve Petition to Create LGBTQIA+ Ministries
- Louisiana Conference Addresses Disaffiliation Opportunities, Offers Support and New Beginnings
- Beloved Community
- Laity Address: 'Leaving No United Methodist Behind'
- Standstill Budget Approved
- Amy and Hannah Castro; Jay Hogewood Honored with Harry Denman Evangelism Awards
- Celebration of Ministry Service
- The Passing of the Towel, Basin, and Mantle
- Memorial Service
- Clergy Session
It is probably safe to say that in the history of the United Methodist Church, no dog-tag-wearing, Army-boot-clad bishop has ever concluded an episcopal address by clutching a rolled-up mat and beseeching delegates to “get up and go home.”
Maybe you had to be there because on Wednesday in Baton Rouge, the first full day of the 2023 Annual Conference, it seemed exactly the right thing to do.
Louisiana Conference Bishop Delores J. Williamston’s 25-minute episcopal address was a spirited booster shot for the gathered clergy and laity, and it took direct aim at the elephant in the room: This is the first Annual Conference since dozens of former UMC congregations voted to disaffiliate, leaving a noticeably smaller conference at the annual gathering.
However, those who expected Bishop Williamston to deliver a wistful, sepia-toned reflection of “what used to be” had misjudged the retired Kansas Army National Guard veteran.
Instead, she delivered a rousing exhortation that the 280-plus churches that remain United Methodists will be “fueled by the Holy Spirit” to move forward.
“We are 280 churches strong,” she said as shouts of “Amen!” and “Preach!” filled the room. “We have 280 reasons for hope!”
Bishop Williamston’s sermon was rooted in Mark 2:1-12, the story of the paralyzed man lying on a mat who was taken to Jesus for healing. The people carrying the paralyzed man couldn’t get through the crowded house to reach Jesus, so they got on the roof, cut a hole through the ceiling, and lowered the man so Jesus could see him.
“I believe we are on that mat, a mat of paralysis that has paralyzed the United Methodist Church and us for decades,” the bishop said, citing Covid, political divisiveness, gun violence, storm fatigue, and disaffiliation. “All this paralysis sounds like a report from Eeyore.”
But Bishop Williamston quickly switched tone, saying it is “time to make a swift transition, to change our paralysis with a dose of hope as we lower ourselves back down in front of Jesus Christ…It is time for us here, the Louisiana disciples of the United Methodist Church, to raise the ceiling of our hope.”
In the Bible, Jesus healed the paralyzed man by telling him, “I say to you, stand up, take your mat, and go to your home.” Bishop Williamston pounced on the theme, saying, “We, the United Methodist Church, must get up from our mat and transition and walk. It is time, church, to move!”
The Louisiana Conference is busy growing the church, she said, meeting with groups in Ruston, Monroe, and St. Tammany, where churches have disaffiliated to “strengthen the United Methodist witness.” The conference is working to strengthen “our ethnic and Black United Methodist churches and build enduring relationships.”
More positive signs of growth are happening in Alexandria, Ponchatoula, Covington, Baton Rouge, Lake Charles, and Lafayette, she said.
“The vision I see for this conference and the denomination is that we will set our sights on Jesus Christ as we march forward in hope, in a new day and a new dawn,” she said.
It is understandable that many United Methodists miss friends who are in churches that disaffiliated, but the bishop signaled a defiant note to anyone with designs on siphoning away any more United Methodists.
“We can no longer allow others to fish from our baskets again!” she said to applause and joyful shouts.
At that point, Bishop Williamston reached down and grabbed a rolled mat that was bound with string. “I’m glad we will pick up our mats and walk,” she said, marching across the stage in her combat boots as sustained waves of applause rose through the ballroom. “We will walk! We’ve got to pick up our mats and walk!”
More “amens” rang out as people spontaneously rose to their feet and the applause intensified.
“Will you pick up your mat and go? It is time to be the United Methodist Church!”
Throughout the room, more clergy and laity rose to their feet, not in a perfunctory fashion, but in scattered groups as they were organically moved. By the time Bishop Williamston wrapped up her address, the ballroom in Baton Rouge room rose in applause.
“Let us walk together! We’ve got this! We’ve got this!” she said, her boots thundering on the stage. “We’ve got everything we need!”
Delegates to the 2023 Louisiana Annual Conference on Friday overwhelmingly approved a petition to create an “LGBTQIA+ Ministries Team” to help local United Methodist churches minister to the LGBTQIA+ community.
The vote to approve the petition, taken by paper ballot, passed with 71 percent in favor of the action.
The petition was submitted by Caleb Porter, director of music ministry and organist at First United Methodist Church in Hammond, who gave delegates a heartbreaking description of the ways in which the Book of Discipline says he cannot serve in the United Methodist Church.
“I stand here not as an elder, because I am ineligible.”
“I stand here not as a local pastor, because I am ineligible.”
“I stand here not as a lay minister, because I am ineligible.”
“I stand here not as a deacon, because I am ineligible.”
“I stand here alongside so many of my queer siblings in the only space allowed for me: as a lay person.”
Porter said the United Methodist church “claims to have open doors, (but) there are many doors that remain locked.”
The vote was significant not only considering the recent disaffiliation of dozens of Louisiana churches, presumably over human sexuality issues, but also in the context of the history of the Louisiana Annual Conference, Porter said.
“For there never to have been any positive petitions passed in this conference (related to LGBTQIA+ issues), this has been huge,” Porter said in a hallway outside the conference room as people stopped and congratulated him on the vote.
Porter said the idea of the petition came to him a few months ago while he was taking a walk. After the walk, he wrote a five-minute statement in support of his ideas, “and I never changed a word.”
In his introduction of the petition, Porter said he and his “queer siblings in this conference…are tired. We are hurt. We feel ignored. We feel attacked. We wonder how much longer we can belong to a system that provides such little space for us.”
The resolution calls on the conference to “commit itself to protecting, affirming, and empowering LGBTQIA+ people within the life and ministry of the churches of our Conference, particularly as Laity and on boards and agencies.” The second action item calls on the bishop and cabinet “to form a conference-level LGBTQIA+ Ministries Team consisting of Laity and Clergy, tasked with creating/collecting/sharing resources to equip and empower local churches to do ministry to and with people of the LGBTQIA+ community.”
During debate on the petition, Porter read several statements he called “the words of queer delegates of the Annual Conference.” Those statements mostly voiced support for the current direction of the church but pointed out areas where queer people feel excluded from ministry and from fellowship.
Porter said he compiled the statements on Wednesday evening, after the first day of the Annual Conference. He and seven delegates had dinner at a riverfront restaurant in Baton Rouge and wrote down statements about how their sexuality had impacted their church lives.
“It was good to do something positive, constructive,” he said.
One of those delegates was Jessica Trahan, Director of Wesley United Campus Ministry at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. Trahan and the others stood behind Porter on Friday in support of the petition.
“It’s a first step,” Trahan said after the vote. “We have to start the conversation. We have to build the relationships.”
Porter, who said he mostly was “relieved” after the affirmative vote, wanted to make clear that he has never felt discrimination at his hometown church in Hammond, LA.
There were a handful of delegates who voiced objection to the petition, but only on procedural grounds. No one spoke against the substance or spirit of the petition.
Porter said he suggests that the Annual Conference begin looking at other conferences and churches that have created similar ministerial teams to get ideas on how to engage with LGBTQIA+ United Methodists.
The 2023 Annual Conference of the Louisiana Conference of the United Methodist Church witnessed a significant development as efforts were announced to address the void left by churches that have chosen to disaffiliate from the conference. In recent months, a number of churches, including 95 this year and 68 last year, decided to leave the denomination due to resistance to LGBTQ inclusion.
One area affected by disaffiliation was Ruston, Louisiana, where two United Methodist churches made the decision to leave the UMC. Grace United Methodist Church found itself nearly divided, with numerous members opting to transfer their membership to the conference while embarking on establishing a new congregation. Recognizing the importance of supporting these individuals, the Louisiana Conference Congregational Development team is actively working with the Ruston group to explore various possibilities.
Recently, District Superintendent Reverend Tom Dolph expressed gratitude and excitement for the ongoing commitment of the Ruston group. He assured them of the conference's unwavering dedication, saying, "We are as committed to you as you are to our beloved church. We will spend time with one another, sharing both our grief and our hopes for the future."
As part of the efforts to transition into the future, it was announced that retired Reverend Fred Wideman has agreed to serve as "pastor pro tem" while the conference and the group work together.
Rev. Dolph also emphasized that the path forward holds boundless opportunities, contingent upon the desires and willingness of the Ruston group. The aim is to establish a regular pattern of worship, potentially on a weekly basis, as well as Bible studies, Christian formation opportunities, and mission work.
In a separate corner of the state, members from the now-departed St. Timothy's on the Northshore have found solace at First United Methodist Church in Covington.
Anita Goode, one of the displaced members, shared her experience, noting that signs of unwelcoming behavior had become increasingly evident within the leadership of St. Timothy's. She reflected, "We saw it in real-time. This evolvement of making sure everyone who was different was made to feel unwelcome. So we got the message loud and clear."
Rhonda Rouyer echoed Anita's sentiments, expressing the discomfort she felt at St. Timothy's. "Can we be comfortable here? And the answer was no," she stated. "And so it's kinda like Jesus told the disciples, shake the dust off your feet and move forward and wish 'em well and hope their ministry continues to be fruitful, but not with us."
Undeterred, both Anita and Rhona found solace at First United Methodist Church of Covington. Anita described the love she experienced at Covington as a manifestation of the love Jesus has for her. "It is an extension of his love. I feel it's palpable. I feel that love every time I walk into this building," she said, "We're alive. We're thinking forward. We're bringing the message to generations that are to come. We're not thinking about the past. We're not thinking about old thoughts and old opinions and old mindsets. We're thinking about how we can bring the most amount of people into a relationship with Christ. That's an alive church!"
In light of these disaffiliations, the conference extended an invitation to those facing similar situations but desiring to maintain their connection to the United Methodist Church. Individuals are encouraged to transfer their membership to the annual conference, which will hold their membership and actively work to find them a new church home.
For the second consecutive year, delegates to the Louisiana Annual Conference urged the Louisiana Legislature to create a new Congressional map with an additional majority-black district to represent the state’s population more equitably.
The petition for the second minority district was presented to the conference by Rev. Tiffanie Postell, senior past of Hartzell Mt. Zion United Methodist Church in Slidell and chair of the Beloved Community Coalition, previously named the Anti-Racism Task Force. Rev. Postell introduced the petition as part of the committee’s report to the conference.
Last year, the Louisiana Annual Conference petitioned the Legislature to make two of the state’s six Congressional districts majority black. The Legislature refused to do so, despite the latest U.S. Census data showing that African-Americans are 33% of the state’s population.
On June 8, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Alabama had diluted black voting strength by not adding an additional majority-black Congressional District. Legal observers believe that court decision could force the Louisiana Legislature to redraw its Congressional map to make two majority-black districts.
“That ruling gives our legislators a second chance to do the right thing,” Postell said in asking the delegates to consider the petition. “And it gives us a second chance to let them hear our voices.”
Because the Supreme Court ruling came after the deadline to submit petitions for annual Conference consideration, delegates first had to suspend conference rules before voting for or against the petition. Both votes passed easily.
The committee, which was formed in 2020, aims to encourage United Methodists “to grow in knowledge and understanding of race, racial history, increased equality, education, and advocacy,” Rev. Postell said. “We are committed to an ongoing conversation that challenges our conference and its people as we move toward greater discernment of disparities within our system and the world around us and take steps toward equality and justice for all.”
In other matters, Rev. Postell reported that the Beloved Community Coalition hosted an online study of Rev. Jonathan C. Augustine’s book, “Reconciliation: How the Church Can Model Justice, Diversity, and Inclusion.”
“We are thrilled to report that eighty-three clergy and laity from across our Conference, and even beyond our Conference, joined in four weeks of open, honest, challenging, and at times vulnerable conversations,” Rev. Postell said.
Five committee members made a pilgrimage to Whitney Plantation in Wallace, Louisiana, to learn about “the story of slavery from the perspective of the enslaved,” she said. Whitney, which bills itself as the only plantation that focuses on the story of the slaves who worked there, “is an eye-opening experience for all who visit this historic and tear-stained site.”
The committee also is planning a trip with representatives of the Great Plains Conference in July to Montgomery, Alabama for “a civil rights justice encounter,” Rev. Postell said. Montgomery is home to several significant civil rights sites, including Dr. Martin Luther King’s church and the Civil Rights Memorial Center.
Committee members also plan to take the Intercultural Development Inventory, an assessment of “intercultural competence, that is, the capability to shift cultural perspectives and appropriately adapt behavior to cultural differences and commonalities,” she said. Rev. Stacey Cole-Wilson, an elder and executive minister in the Baltimore-Washington Conference, will lead the committee members through their assessment results.
Rev. Postell also asked the delegates to sign the Beloved Community Covenant “to pledge your commitment to creating a culture of beloved community and do the work.”
Through collaborative efforts and a spirit of inclusivity, the Louisiana Conference of the United Methodist Church remains committed to supporting its members and fostering new beginnings amid the challenges posed by disaffiliation. United Methodist laity in Louisiana wants a church that is inclusive and welcoming, is engaged with its communities, and is building new ministries in “deserts” so that “no Louisiana United Methodist is left behind,” the conference lay leader said Thursday at the 2023 Annual Conference.
While the business of the Annual Conference must include dealing with the fallout of disaffiliation, lay leaders across Louisiana are quietly doing God’s work, “not watching or waiting for us to act,” Louisiana United Methodist Church Lay Leader Jennifer Swann told delegates. Swann said.
“Many don’t even know we are here,” Swann told the delegates during the second day of the conference in Baton Rouge. “They are at work literally as I speak in their churches, homes, workplaces, and communities. The work they are doing in their communities and the world is how the church exercises its power.”
During the previous day’s laity session, Swann asked lay delegates to write responses on index cards to three questions:
- What are your hopes and dreams for the church?
- What are the essential conference functions?
- How can laity help raise up and develop more lay leaders?
Lay people also said they wanted the church to “dream big” with a “renewed commitment…to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world” and to be “more engaged and committed to learning from and serving our communities,” Swann said.
Considering the short-term post-disaffiliation reality of fewer members and smaller budgets, Swann said, “We asked our laity to help us answer the question: What are the conference’s essential functions?” Lay people responded that “we need to be led in a spirit of hope, and not just some kind of rosy optimism or superhero magic…We follow the real Jesus who lived and died and rose from the dead, the resurrected Jesus.”
Laity also said it is important for the conference “to help fill those United Methodist Church deserts in Louisiana,” Swann said. “Many of our communities in Louisiana are unserved or underserved since the recent disaffiliations. We need leadership, assistance, and resources in these areas so that no Louisiana United Methodist is left behind or forgotten.”
Additional responses included treating pastors “justly and compassionately” and “holding them accountable for their calling;” training lay people so they can be “ministry partners with our clergy, not consumers of ministry services;” and helping bring lay people across the conference together to “tend our essential connection.”
The last question involved developing more lay leaders, Swann said, and it elicited varied responses, including supporting young people, mentoring and training, and being “a living example of what you want to see,” Swann said.
“And as Bishop Williamston urged us yesterday, it’s time to get up and do it,” Swann said. “We have everything that we need. We can’t wait until we have all the answers. We need to get started right now with the answers we have right now.”
Despite losing more than 90 churches to disaffiliation since 2022, the Louisiana Conference will not increase apportionment payments from United Methodist churches that are staying, delegates to the 2023 Louisiana Annual Conference decided Thursday.
With no discussion, the delegates overwhelmingly approved the 2024 budget as presented on Wednesday by the Council on Finance and Administration Chairman Kenny Beauvais. The vote, taken by a show of green cards, appeared to be nearly unanimous.
Money that used to come from disaffiliated churches comprised about 40 percent of the conference’s apportionment revenue in the past, Beauvais said on Wednesday. But the overall budget impact is being softened by utilizing the nearly $3.4 million those churches paid to exit the conference, money that is now referred to as “the disaffiliation fund.”
Although the conference only prepares budgets one year at a time, the overall strategy is to use the disaffiliation fund to supplement the budget, as needed, over the next three years, he said. Through a combination of belt-tightening and using leftover and reserve funds in specific areas, the conference is planning few budgetary changes in 2024.
The budget includes a 10 percent revenue reduction from anticipated apportionment payments, a recognition that the financial repercussions from disaffiliation probably will impact some churches that are staying United Methodist.
Beauvais called it a “realistic budget.”
The 2023 Annual Conference of the Louisiana Conference of the United Methodist Church handed out the prestigious Harry Denman Evangelism Awards to two exceptional clergy members. The awards, which honor individuals who have demonstrated exemplary ministry of evangelism, were given to Rev. Amy Castro and Rev. Jay Hogewood during a special ceremony.
Also, this year, a youth was chosen as a recipient, and that recipient just happened to be Hannah Castro, the daughter of Rev. Amy Castro.
The Harry Denman Evangelism Award program recognizes United Methodists in each annual conference who have made a significant impact on people's lives by leading them into a transformative relationship with Jesus Christ. Recipients of this esteemed award are distinguished by their unwavering commitment to sharing the Good News through their words, actions, and unwavering dedication to spreading the Gospel.
The recipients of this year's Harry Denman Evangelism Awards in the Louisiana Conference of the United Methodist Church were both clergy members who have exemplified the spirit of evangelism in their respective ministries. Rev. Amy Castro, the pastor of Westlake United Methodist Church in Westlake, and Rev. Jay Hogewood, the senior pastor of Rayne United Methodist Church in New Orleans, were honored for their outstanding contributions to spreading the message of Jesus Christ.
Also honored was Rev. Castro's daughter, Hannah, who exemplified excellence in youth ministry. Hannah plays an instrumental role in helping her Mom set up 'Playground Church', an outreach started by Westlake United Methodist Church where moms are able to enjoy church. While the kids are busy playing on the playground, church is held for the busy moms in the grassy area next to the swing set. Hannah, the helper, has consistently helped her Mom with everything from set-up to breakdown.
Evangelism is not confined to a single context or setting, and it engages individuals across all generations. It requires the development of meaningful relationships and reaching out to people from diverse backgrounds. The award winners were recognized for their exceptional ability to connect with others and guide them on their faith journey, with many new Christ followers attributing their spiritual growth to encounters with these two remarkable individuals.
The Foundation for Evangelism, a grant-making organization rooted in the Wesleyan tradition and located in Lake Junaluska, North Carolina, oversees the Harry Denman Evangelism Awards. The foundation was established in 1949 by Dr. Harry Denman, the General Secretary of the Board of Evangelism of the Methodist Church at the time, along with a group of visionary laymen. Its mission is to spread the blessings of the gospel of Jesus Christ to the world.
As the recipients of this year's awards, Castro and Hogewood embody the spirit of evangelism, and their exemplary ministries will undoubtedly continue to touch lives and bring people into a life-transforming relationship with Jesus Christ.
The Louisiana Conference of the United Methodist Church congratulates Rev. Amy Castro and Rev. Jay Hogewood on their well-deserved recognition and expresses gratitude for their tireless efforts in spreading the Good News.
Thursday evening witnessed a momentous service at First United Methodist Church in Baton Rouge as congregants gathered for the Celebration of Ministry Service.
The focal point of the evening was the ordination of three deacons in the Louisiana Conference; Rev. Tiffany Lyon, Rev. Latrice Mallard, and Rev. Carol Twyman.
Also recognized were two commissioned deacons, Rev. Katrena King and Rev. Magdeline Russo, and a commissioned elder, Rev. Johnathan C. Richardson.
Bishop Delores J. Williamston made history once again as she presided over her inaugural ordination service as a bishop in the United Methodist Church. Her remarkable journey as the first African American bishop in the Louisiana Conference has been an inspiration to many.
Assuming her role in January of this year, Bishop Williamston wasted no time in immersing herself in the work of the church and the community she serves. With grace and wisdom, she led the service, embracing the sacred responsibility of ordaining individuals into the ministry with utmost reverence.
Bishop Williamston's presence and leadership have already begun to make a profound impact on the Louisiana Conference and beyond, and she continues to pave the way for a more inclusive and diverse future within the United Methodist Church.
Bishop Williamston, drawing on the story of The Widow's Olive Oil, found in 2 Kings 4:1-7, looked at each of the candidates and said, "You have been called to a lifetime of Pouring the Oil!"
"Remember that God can take a little oil, a little something that we have, and turn it into a whole heck of a lot! When we have faith and shut the door on unbelief, and extend ourselves beyond ourselves and trust in God as we pour oil into the kingdom of God, from the gifts God gives us," said Bishop Williamston, "And if we do that, we’d be blessed in all we do. We’d be blessed in the city, in the fields, we’d be blessed when we come in and go out, we’d be blessed by whatever we put our hands to. We’d be blessed with plenty!"
Her sermon continued, "You Just gotta pour the oil! Whether it’s in your personal lives or in the life of the
ministries, God has placed each of us. Your ordination and commissions are grand reminders to us all to pour the oil. And we celebrate with you and will be alongside you to pour the oil."
"Pour the oil of the good news of Jesus Christ, pour the oil of healing, pour the oil of blessing into someone else’s life! Pour the oil of kindness, brotherly and sisterly love into your communities, in your ministries, at the gas station or store! Pour the oil that God gives you, to pour, into empty vessels"
Following a series of examining questions for the newly ordained deacons and provisional members, Bishop Williamston extended an invitation to all the laity present, urging them to stand.
Addressing the faithful, she called upon them to embrace their role as steadfast supporters of the church. The bishop asked the laity to affirm and receive the newly ordained men and women as devoted servants of Jesus Christ and to pledge their unwavering support.
The laity responded joyfully, reaffirming their faith in Christ and their covenant to uphold the mission and ministry of the church, pledging to fully support the newly ordained ministers in their shared ministry endeavors.
The atmosphere at First United Methodist Church was elevated by the incredible music presented by The First United Methodist Church Chancel Choir under the skilled direction of Lamar Drummonds. Holden Miller played the organ, while Sara Cage, a soprano of extraordinary talent, graced the celebration with her exquisite voice. Accompanying the choir and soloists was the accomplished cellist Dr. Susannah Knoll.
As the evening came to a close, the congregation united their voices to sing the hymn "Go Make of All Disciples." With 'Hope' as the theme of the 2023 Annual Conference, the final stanza resonated loudly for all those in the sanctuary or viewing online as everyone sang, "We take Thy guiding hand; The task looms large before us, We follow without fear, In heaven and earth. Thy power Shall bring God's kingdom here."
The Celebration of Ministry Service served as a powerful reminder of the importance of collective support and unwavering commitment within the church.
In a solemn and symbolic gesture, the Passing of the Towel, Basin, and Mantle took place during the 2023 Celebration of Ministry service at First United Methodist Church in Baton Rouge.
This service signifies the transfer of responsibility, wisdom, and anointing from retiring clergy to newly ordained clergypersons. The service, led by Bishop Delores J. Williamston, emphasized the significance of shepherding God's people and nurturing new leaders for the mission of God.
Bishop Williamston, addressing the congregation, highlighted the biblical examples of mentoring and equipping new leaders found in Scripture. From Moses and Joshua to Jesus and his disciples, the passing of the torch from one generation to the next has been a cherished tradition. She reminded the newly ordained clergypersons that they are "now called to be the light of the world, shining with the good works that bring glory to God."
As the retiring clergyperson, Rev. Tracy MacKenzie, presented the towel and basin, symbols of servant ministry, she expressed faith in God's unwavering love. The passing of these symbols into the waiting hands of the newly ordained clergypersons represented the transfer of the sacred duty of proclaiming the Word of God and leading God's people to lives of service in the world. Rev. MacKenzie encouraged the newly ordained to "remain faithful, devoted, and steadfast in their calling."
Responding, Rev. Latrice Mallard, a newly ordained deacon, gladly accepted the towel and basin, recognizing the weight of the service to which she and her fellow newly ordained deacons were called. They pledged to honor the foundations laid by their predecessors and faithfully continue the ministry of calling the church to faithful discipleship as followers of Jesus Christ.
Following this exchange, Rev. Tracy MacKenzie presented the mantle, symbolizing the passing of the anointing and empowering presence of the Holy Spirit. She assured the newly ordained clergypersons that they had been called, nurtured, and equipped by the same Spirit, just as their predecessors were. She urged them to go forth in the power of Christ, proclaiming the mighty acts of God and shining His light in a darkened world.
Expressing gratitude, Rev. Latrice Mallard received the mantle, embracing the responsibility it represented. They offered prayers for the Holy Spirit to ignite the gift of God within them through the laying on of hands, enabling them to serve with power, love, and self-discipline.
In response, Bishop Williamston invoked the words of St. Paul, urging the newly ordained clergypersons to lead lives worthy of their calling, characterized by humility, gentleness, patience, and love. She emphasized the unity of the Spirit and the shared faith, baptism, and hope that binds them together as they embark on their ministry journey.
The Passing of the Towel, Basin, and Mantle continues to serve as a significant moment in the ordination ceremony, symbolizing the continuation of God's work through successive generations of clergy. It underscores the importance of mentorship, nurturing, and passing on the call to serve God's people faithfully.
The 2023 Annual Conference of the Louisiana Conference of the United Methodist Church officially began with a beautiful and moving Memorial Service at University United Methodist Church. Delegates gathered Tuesday evening to remember and celebrate the lives of those who have recently passed away, leaving behind a remarkable legacy.
The service featured heartfelt musical performances, and provided a poignant moment of reflection and remembrance to start the 2023 Annual Conference.
The service commenced with a beautiful rendition of "Song of the Wanderer" performed by Dr. Johnnie Bankens on bass and accompanied by Ms. Mary Bresowar on the piano.
Rev. Johnathan C. Richardson delivered the prelude, emphasizing the enduring love for humanity and the significance of the gathered community. "In these liturgies of life, we tell the story again and again of how you so loved the world," Rev. Richardson said. "We tell it now as we remember those who have most recently passed from our midst—whose legacy is ours to treasure and whose love is ours to extend."
Following the prelude, the congregation united their voices in a Hymn of Praise, "For All the Saints," expressing gratitude for the lives of those being honored.
Rev. Kathy C. Fitzhugh and Rev. Dr. Carl E. Rhoads guided the congregation through the Remembering of the Saints.
Rev. Fitzhugh expressed gratitude to an infinite God who had been present in all ages and seasons, partnering with every generation in an unfolding story.
Rev. Rhoads encouraged a moment of silence and remembrance, trusting in the everlasting hope and the comforting presence of the Spirit, who is near to the brokenhearted.
The following saints were lifted and remembered:
- Tommy Ray Bergeron, Sr.
- Lillard Rhoades Bevill
- Robert Earl Carter
- James Vernon Fairley, Sr.
- Elmer Benjamin Fant
- Kenneth M. Fisher
- Michael Thomas Head
- Richard Charles Hebert
- Frank Morrison Jones
- Steven Randall Kelly
- Calvin Oliver Lapuyade
- William Marshall McCutcheon
- James Albert McLean
- Jerry Akin Means
- Jesse Lafayette Means, Jr.
- Roy Brown Nash
- Kenneth Randall Reed
- Maynard Rolly Walker
- Marva Louise Washington-Mitchell
- Theodore R. Weber
- Christmas Carol Wilbur
- Shirley M. DeLaughter
- Percy Joseph Guidry
- Peggy Anne Moore Johns
- Ocelia Jo McLean
- Susan Mary Bell Trickett
- Sue Johnston
- Jordan Warren
- Sarojini Welch
Bishop Delores J. Williamston proceeded to lead the congregation in the solemn act of Holy Communion, a sacred tradition that unifies the community in remembrance and celebration of Christ's sacrifice. Bishop Williamson then closed the service with a moving prayer, acknowledging the mysteries of life and death and affirming the power of love that transcends the grave. The prayer reassured delegates, guests and family members that love, which raised Christ from the dead, would sustain them until the day they worship together in the eternal kingdom.
Rev. Jan Curwick preached, drawing inspiration from Hebrews 11:1-2, 8-16. Rev. Curwick shared words of comfort, hope, and inspiration, reminding everyone of the faith that sustained the saints who have gone before them.
"We begin to realize that with everyone, we have more in common than the things that divide us. The people here in the pews around, look around you," Curwick said. "Think about the people in our churches, in our communities, in our state, in our nation, the people around the world, old and young, poor and rich, Republicans and Democrats, First Nation people and lawful immigrants and undocumented immigrants. No matter the color of the skin or the educational level or the sexual orientation, we were all, ALL created by God and are loved by God."
Finally, Bishop Williamston imparted a benediction, sending the congregation forth with peace and hope, urging them to carry the memories and stories of the departed into the future, knowing that death had not separated them from the love of God in Christ Jesus.
Rev. Austin Rinehart, pastor of Zachary United Methodist Church, greeted old friends in the narthex of First United Methodist Church of Baton Rouge on Tuesday as he passed out programs for the clergy-only session that kicked of the 2023 Louisiana Annual Conference.
For Rinehart, “disaffiliation” was more than just a process that has dominated church business for the last year. When his former church in Monroe voted to leave the United Methodist Church, Rinehart decided to stay, which meant he had to leave – leave his church family and his hometown. He described disaffiliation as “deep trauma and pain."
His former church was “no longer focused on serving Jesus Christ,” he said. “The only focus was on the details of the disaffiliation process. I’m grateful to be in a church now that has moved on from that decision.”
Rev. Allison Sikes is between churches, having just finished an appointment at Moss Bluff UMC in Lake Charles, and now set to begin her appointment as pastor for St. Francisville UMC on July 1. Her former church – and her new church – emerged from a disaffiliation process that revealed strong feelings for leaving and for staying. Both ultimately voted to stay United Methodists.
“It’s been a season for a lot of change,” she said. “The whole process was heavy.”
Rev. Jo Cooper of Gretna First United Methodist Church sat to rest her sprained ankle as she waited for the clergy-only session. She reflected on the disaffiliation process and gave a name to what she and others are feeling.
“It’s grief. You go through loss. You go through anger. You go through all of it.”
In the shadow of the disaffiliation movement, Rinehart, Sikes, Cooper, and other pastors gathered in Baton Rouge on Tuesday to share a sentiment that is appropriate for the 2023 Annual Conference – hope.
“There’s still some difficult work we have to do, but there is a sense of hope,” said Rev. Brady Whitton of FUMC in Baton Rouge. Whitton said he believes that the true United Methodists “began finding themselves a little bit” at last year’s annual conference and will emerge this year with clarity and determination.
Rev. Ed Cooper, pastor of St. Mark’s UMC and Aurora UMC in New Orleans and husband to Rev. Jo Cooper, said the worst part of disaffiliation is behind the church. “I feel like the really hard work, the excruciating work, has already been done,” said. “Let’s just turn the page and move on. We’re United Methodists. That’s who we are.”
Rinehart said he looks forward to the future with a smaller and more nimble conference because “I think we will have permission to experiment, and there will be times when we’ll get it wrong, but we’ll also get it right in serving Christ.”
That sentiment echoed the words of Bishop Delores J. Williamston, who recently told a gathering of United Methodists to use whatever tools they have available to do the work of God.
“If you don’t have a screwdriver, get a butter knife, and it’ll do that same work,” Bishop Williamston said. “That’s the kind of innovative spirit we need as we move forward and reimagine our future. So, let’s do that together.”
Rev. Jo Cooper said she believes the conference “is doing the best it can to move forward,” and so is she.
“One lay person told me, ‘It’s like the world around us is starving, and the church is having a food fight,’” Cooper said, shifting her weight in her seat to find relief for her sprained ankle.
Cooper’s ankle is bound tight, and she can walk fine, just not as quickly as she could before the sprain. It is a short-term hindrance, something that has temporarily slowed her down.
In time her ankle, like her church, will recover.
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