An overview of the 2017 session of the Baltimore-Washington Conference
June 4, 2017
This article was updated on June 8, 2017.
By Melissa Lauber
When Bishop LaTrelle Easterling pronounced the 233rd session of the Baltimore-Washington Conference open, she made history as the first woman to lead the 159,000 members and 1,050 clergy who make up the 628 churches of the Baltimore-Washington Conference.
But Easterling’s actions were more focused on the future as she set an ambitious, faith-centered and Spirit-driven vision for the Conference during the three-day event, May 31-June 2, at the Wardman Park Marriott Hotel.
During opening worship, the bishop stressed the theme of the session, “We are One: Connected in Covenant.” She preached to a spirited gathering of more than 1,527 registered members and guests, who filled the ballroom to capacity.
“We are the body of Christ together,” she said. “How we choose to live out our days is our response to this covenant. … If we allow ourselves to be divided, we will lose our moral witness to the world.”
Some of the tensions the church is experiencing arose at the very beginning of the conference, in the clergy session, when the Rev. J. Philip Wogaman handed in his clergy credentials.
His gesture, he said, was made out of a “broken heart” for T.C. Morrow, a lesbian who was not approved for ordination as a Deacon in 2016 and who was not brought forth to the clergy session this year, and for others who have been excluded “as a result of bad church law, applied legalistically and hurtfully,” he said.
The 54-member Board of Ordained Ministry has created a task force to review the board’s policies and practices around LGBTQI candidates, especially in light of the denomination’s Commission on a Way Forward, which will deliver its report on human sexuality and The United Methodist Church in February 2019.
“We solicit your prayers for this very important work,” said BoOM Chair Rev. C. Anthony Hunt, “and look with hope to the day when The United Methodist Church will reflect God’s gracious expression of what it means to be Beloved Community.”
During the session’s times of holy conferencing, members:
- Voted on five amendments to the denomination’s Constitution, including one that addresses discrimination against women and girls within the UMC. The results of these votes will be announced after all the United Methodist conferences, worldwide, cast their ballots.
- Passed a resolution to become a member of the Religious Coalition on Reproductive Choice.
- Chose to participate in a conference-wide boycott of Hewlett Packard products until the company ceases to profit from the Israel-Palestine conflict.
- Rejected calls for the BWC and Mid-Atlantic Foundation to adopt stronger socially responsible investment screens and to divest from Caterpillar, Hewlett Packard, and Motorola, three companies noted by some for their financial involvement in Israel’s occupation of Palestine.
- Revised the conference moving policy so that retirees have the same moving benefits as active clergy.
- Officially closed Centennial-Caroline Street UMC in Baltimore and Overlea Chapel UMC in Baltimore.
- Adopted an $18,463,136 budget for 2018, only a 0.3 percent increase over 2017.
- Slightly lowered the benevolence factor, used to determine apportionments, to 17.725 percent; and affirmed a projected collection rate of 92 percent.
- Increased the equitable compensation rate for clergy by 2 percent to $43,149, with the minimum housing rate remaining the same at $19,866.
In moments of celebration and remembrance, members:
- Rejoiced at the ordination of seven Elders and the commissioning of one provisional Deacon and nine provisional Elders during a service in which Bishop Ernest Lyght celebrated Jesus as the bread of life.
- Gave thanks for the 617 total years of service of 24 clergy who retire July 1 at a luncheon where Bishop Forrest Stith spoke on the importance of passing the torch with purpose.
- Lit candles remembering the bishops, pastors, clergy spouses and lay people who died during the past year during a memorial service led by the Rev. Ginger Gaines-Cirelli.
- Recognized, in the laity session, eight new Certified Lay Members (CLM) who completed their two-year course of study.
- Honored two Cabinet members: The Rev. Laura Easto, superintendent of the Baltimore-Suburban District, who has been appointed to serve Potomac UMC; and the Rev. Ed DeLong, interim superintendent of the Baltimore Metropolitan District; and welcomed two new superintendents, the Revs. Wanda Duckett and Ann Laprade.
- Welcomed new conference leaders: Christie Latona, the new Director of Connectional Ministries; the Rev. Antoine Love, who will serve as assistant to the bishop; and the Rev. Rodney Smothers, who will become the BWC’s new congregational development resource specialist.
- In special offerings, collected $10,051 for Seeds of Security, a ministry to assist people leaving situations of domestic violence and $4,075 for scholarships for youth to attend the ROCK retreat.
- In a district-centered Penny War, raised $814 for the Adrienne Terry Affordable Housing Fund.
- In a new tradition, held a worship service recognizing the 75 clergy who are appointed to new churches this year and the lay people who will receive them.
During reports about a variety of ministries, members:
- Committed themselves to personally addressing racism during the Call to Action report, which outlined a new conference-wide initiative on racial justice and reconciliation.
- Honored Andy Thornton, who is retiring after 30 years as director of the conference’s camping and retreat ministries.
- Learned about a new resource for individual and youth groups created by the Conference Council on Youth Ministries called Stress Less, which addresses issues affecting young people.
- Received information about how they can become more involved in the conference’s Young Adult Council, especially in the One Love creative worship experience next fall, and the expanding conference Hispanic Ministries programs.
- Celebrated with BWC Lay Leader Delores Martin how the laity are active in ministry, with more than 1,000 lay servants and 143 Certified Lay Ministers working in covenant relationship with others to glorify God.
- Heard from the Rev. Jim Miller of the Episcopacy Committee how last year, the BWC raised $330,740 to help build a health and wellness center at Africa University.
Members also heard from several honored guests, including:
- The Rev. Steve Manskar, of the Board of Discipleship, who led a two-session Bible study on Ephesians 4:1-16, the guiding Scripture of the Conference Session. During the session, he explored how United Methodists are to be a sign, foretaste and instrument of God as they make disciples, serving as Christ’s ambassadors and servants.
- Bishop Seung Ho Choi, and a delegation of leaders from the South Conference of the Korean Methodist Church in South Korea, who are in covenant partnership with the BWC.
- Jodi Cataldo, of Discipleship Ministries, who instructed the laity on a discipleship system built on H.O.P.E. and outlined the various roles and requirements for those called to be certified lay servants, certified lay speakers and certified lay ministers.
- Bishop Mariann Edgar Budde, of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington, who is celebrating the move for greater unity between United Methodists and Episcopalians.
- Tiaara A. Anderson, a student at Philander Smith College, who thanked the BWC for its support of the Historic Black College Fund.
- Representatives from the General Board of Church and Society, who encouraged United Methodists to become active in the sanctuary movement, opening their hearts and doors to provide shelter and safety to immigrants in need.
- The Commission on the Way Forward, which showed a video with words of hope about their work addressing issues of human sexuality in the denomination.
- The Committee on Faith and Order which encouraged BWC members to participate in the study “Wonder, Love and Praise,” that explores the United Methodist understanding of what it means to be church.
The 2018 session of the Baltimore-Washington Conference will be held May 30–June 1 at the Waterfront Marriott Hotel in Baltimore.
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