By Melissa Lauber
While never discounting their many differences in gender, sexual orientation, geography, economics, age, race, culture, physical abilities, education and theology, the clergy and lay members of the Baltimore-Washington Conference gathered together “As One: Beneath the Cross,” May 30-June 1 at the Marriot Waterfront Hotel in Baltimore.
The members at the Annual Conference Session, representing 157,060 members in 626 churches, spent much of the time focused on the church’s stance on homosexuality. At a prolonged clergy session, Bishop LaTrelle Easterling upheld the Book of Discipline and issued a ruling of law that two Board of Ordained Ministry-approved candidates, who were each married to people of the same gender, could not be ordained.
In between the two meetings of the clergy, the members worshipped, erupting into spirited applause several times as Bishop Easterling preached.
“Beloved, to be Christ-followers, we have to be willing to immerse ourselves in love – a love that’s self-sacrificing, self-emptying” and embraces those on the opposite political, economic and theological side – those who don’t think, act, preach, pray, dance or believe like us, the bishop said.
Proclaiming the need for love and unity might seem, to some, to be hypocritical. But, said, Easterling, “some things are true whether we accept them or not. … The ‘is-ness’ of God is not threatened by the ‘
She reminded the more than 1,200 lay and clergy members present, that “the road God called us to travel began at the foot of the cross.”
But the question is, are we capable of traveling it together, Easterling said. “How can we do that in our present state? We travel it with humility. We travel it understanding ourselves as sinners saved by grace … We travel it by allowing the Holy Spirit to transform us. We travel it by embracing the meaning and message of the cross.”
Way Forward on Human Sexuality
The next morning, Easterling attended her son’s graduation, and Bishop Sudarshana Devadhar of the New England Annual Conference presided over the BWC session. He provided members with a detailed account of how the denomination will be holding a special called session of General Conference in February 2019 to address the issues of homosexuality – including same-gender marriage, the ordination of gays and lesbians, and language in the Book of Discipline that calls homosexuality “incompatible with Christian teaching.”
The Council of Bishops will be presenting to the delegates of this special session, a One Church Model, that allows each local church and annual conference to decide, based on their own context, how they will address these issues.
The One Church Model was created by the denomination’s 32-member Commission on a Way Forward.
The Rev. Tom Berlin, pastor of Floris UMC in Herndon, Va., and a member of the Way Forward
“We can’t solve our problems with the same thinking we used to create them,” said Berlin, quoting Albert Einstein.
He encouraged the conference members to realize The United Methodist Church is facing a polarity – in which two opposite concepts cannot be held true at the same time. It’s like grace and law, faith and works, in addressing issues of human sexuality, the church will have to choose between unity and contextuality.
“You will discover you will have to walk together loosely or part with a blessing,” Berlin said.
Considering a resolution brought forward by the Rev. Philip Wogaman the next day, members of the Baltimore-Washington Conference voted 310 to 233 to endorse the One Church Model plan, which the Council of Bishops will bring before the 2019 Special Session.
BWC members also voted to
In Holy Conferencing
As a part of their holy conferencing, members also passed a budget of $18,730,264.
This is the seventh year that apportionment spending in the conference has remained flat, hovering between $14.1 and $14.3 million, said Phil Potter, chair of the Conference Council of Finance and Administration.
Last year’s generous apportionment giving to mission shares allowed benevolence factor, which determines how much each church will contribute, to drop slightly from 17.725 percent to 17.6 percent.
With this budget, congregations will give approximately 10.5 percent of their income to mission and ministry beyond the local church.
The minimum salary for clergy went up 2 percent this year, to $44,012; the housing allowance rose to $20,263, reported Jim Johnson, chair of the Equitable Compensation Committee.
During the stewardship report, members learned from the Board of Trustees about a $546,000 bequest from the Glassman Estate and voted to designate it to go toward new faith expressions, clergy self-care and a facility update to the archives at Lovely Lane Museum.
In other action, conference members heard a report on the possibilities of increased and more vital ministry that could be possible with a realignment of current discipleship committees and commissions.
The new structure would include strategic ministry tables for the areas of leadership, new faith expressions, young people’s ministry, advocacy and action, and abundant health.
+ Recognized the closing of Centre Street UMC in Cumberland and honored the church for its
Members voted 313 to 296 to continue this effort in expanding discipleship and to seek out further intentional input from the BWC’s Discipleship Council, Connectional Table, and Rules Committee. They affirmed the specifics of the realignment and of connectional ministry plans more robustly by a vote of 485 to 115.
Because of a 2016 clerical error, a re-vote on a Constitutional Amendment that called for gender equality in the denomination was also taken. The results of that voting will be made public in 2020, after every annual and central conference vote.
+ Created a new BWC mission statement: “to inspire and equip local faith communities to develop disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.”
+ Tabled a resolution to examine the relationship between Africa University and the government of the Republic of Zimbabwe.
+ Revised the BWC moving policy for clergy to address tax cuts that eliminate moving expense reimbursements.
+ Adopted a policy to formally guide local churches and conference leaders upon the death of an active clergyperson.
Celebrated in Worship
While all the work of the conference was in a setting of worship, three special worship services were held. During these services:
+ Abraham James McCubbin-Dominguez was baptized. He is the son of the Revs. Bonnie McCubbin and Lemuel Dominguez.
+ Clergy and lay people who died during the previous year were remembered in a Memorial Service, at which the Rev. Craig McLaughlin preached.
+ Welcomed the 28 men and women candidates who were commissioned, ordained and/or readmitted as BWC clergy at a service of Ordination, where Bishop Cynthia Fierro Harvey, of the Louisiana Area, preached.
+ Irene DeMaris was consecrated as a deaconess.
+ Offerings at these services brought in $13,351 for camperships and $10,329 for Seeds for Security to assist victims of domestic violence.
Connected as One
The diversity of the Baltimore-Washington Conference was evident in the vast array of activities shared and reports presented. Among some of the highlights of the session:
+ At the Laity Session, the Rev. Barb Lemmel, director of Tending the Fire, spoke on leadership and the Rev. Rick Vance, of the General Commission on United Methodist Men, shared resources on domestic violence.
+ The General Council on Finance and Administration honored the BWC for its 20 years of paying 100 percent of its General Church apportionments.
+ Connectional Ministries honored several people for their outstanding work, including: Sharon Milton of Emory UMC, Youth Worker of the Year; Hannah Callihan and Zackary Armacost, Young Adult Leaders of the Year; Emory UMC in Washington, the Advocacy and Action award; and Adullum Community Healthcare Center at St. John’s UMC in Baltimore and Grace UMC in Fort Washington, the Abundant Health Award.
+ The Rev. Shively Smith of Wesley Theological Seminary led a Bible study on Ephesians 4:1-6 and “the landscape of meaning” it creates.
+ Usha Satish, of Bennet College, thanked the BWC for their generous gifts to the Black College Fund.
+ The Wesley Covenant Association held their inaugural meeting with guest speaker, the Rev. Keith Boyette, the Association’s president.
+ Acell Alexander Spencer, Rev. Timothy Warner
+ Twenty-four retirees, representing 695 years of service, were honored at a banquet where Bishop Forrest Stith spoke on call, love
+ Members applauded the BWC’s 24 new Certified Lay Ministers.
+ As one of the BWC’s covenant partners, Bishop Seung Ho Choi, of the South Conference of the Korean Methodist Church, along with a visiting delegation from that region, brought greetings from South Korea.
+ Caroleann Myers of Glenmont UMC was named God’s Foolish One and honored by the Methodist Federation for Social Action.
+ The Rev. Albert Mosely preached and celebrated the promises of God at a Black Methodists for Church Renewal luncheon.
+ James Salley thanked the BWC for its ongoing support of Africa University in Zimbabwe, making it possible for 7,000 students to have graduated from this pan-African, United Methodist school. He also noted that funds donated by the BWC for a new athletic complex are being used to build a swimming pool at Africa University.
+ Celebrated ecumenism with the Right Rev. Eugene Sutton of the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland.
+ Hundreds of pairs of shoes were collected, and members walked and ran with Back on My Feet, in ministry with the homeless.
Next year, the annual conference session is expected to expand by a day. It is scheduled for May 29-June 1, 2019 at the Marriott Waterfront Hotel in Baltimore.
By the Numbers
The 2017 statistical reports indicate that within the Baltimore-Washington Conference:
- Membership stands at 157,060, down 1,988 from 159,048 in 2016.
- Worship attendance stands at 56,505, up 270 from 56,235 in 2016. (Note: in a new stat for 2017, our churches reported online worship at 3,174.)
- Church school attendance stands at 17,583, up 1,167 from 16,416 in 2016
- Professions or reaffirmations of faith for 2017 were 2,600
,down43 from 2,643 in 2016
- Adults and young adults in small groups for 2017 were at 56,960, down 1,515from 58,475 in 2016.
- Worshipers engaged in mission for 2017 were at 66,479, down 3,201from 69,680 in 2016.