News and Views

For BWC, it's 'All About Love'

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By Melissa Lauber

The theme “All About Love” set the stage for four days of worship, learning, mission, fun, deep conversation and holy conferencing as 1,200 members of the Baltimore-Washington Conference gathered in Baltimore, in person, for the first time since 2019, for their annual session, May 31-June 3.

Love in Action

For the first time in the BWC’s 239-year history, conference members engaged, en masse, in a service project, doing maintenance and repairs at six sites where young people live and learn, writing “love notes” of encouragement to Baltimore school children, and packing 2,000 bags with $15,000 worth of school supplies and culturally relevant books to be distributed at eight elementary schools.

“In this one way, on this one day, we are doing it all,” said the Rev. Wanda Duckett, superintendent of the Baltimore Metropolitan District. “Partnering with schools and investing in children is also economic empowerment of families, it’s prison ministry, it’s increasing cultural awareness, it’s gang intervention and gun violence prevention that can impact generations to come.”

The service project was done in partnership with Heart of America as a part of Bishop LaTrelle Easterling’s call to Missional Action Planning, an approach to church vitality that encourages congregations to serve in relationship with and in their communities, so that 100 percent of congregations become 100 percent vital.

At the heart of true vitality, Easterling reminded the members in opening worship, is love.

“Love is as love does,” Easterling said. “Love is not an emotion; it is an action. It is better provided than professed. … We must do love, be love, and give love to one another. Love is as love does.”

23 Churches Leave Denomination

A part of that love, was letting go – with grace and blessing – as members voted to allow the disaffiliation of 23 churches. The churches wanted to leave the denomination over the church’s stance on homosexuality and were able to do so under guidelines provided by the Board of Trustees and paragraph 2553 in the Book of Discipline.

Para. 2553, which passed at the 2019 Special Session of the General Conference, provided a limited opportunity, within the context of the trust clause, where disaffiliation payments could be made in exchange for the Conference relinquishing the trust clause claims on church property. Congregations were asked to pay an additional 12 months of mission shares, the church’s pro-rata share of the unfunded pension obligation, and fifty percent of the assessed value of the church property.

When the process is completed, no later than Dec. 31, the 23 churches will collectively pay:

  • $605,000 in mission shares, which will go into the Council on Finance and Administration’s reserve funds to address needs that might arise with the BWC’s 2024 budget;
  • $984,000 in pension-related fees, which will go to the denomination’s Wespath benefits reserves; and
  • $10,805,000 in property payments, which will be invested, and managed by the BWC’s Trustees through the MidAtlantic United Methodist Foundation to be used for future ministries and faith expressions within the Conference.
Outward Signs of Inward Grace

Throughout the conference, members lived out their love for one another, God, and the world.

The conference opened with Circles of Love, which gathered the members around 92 tables for two hours of conversation prompted by provocative questions about building Beloved Community. At the end of the session, participants wrote a word about their experience on a stone. These stones were placed on the edge of the stage, where they stood as a cornerstone throughout the sessions of holy conferencing. Among the words were trust, compassion, openness, acceptance, grace, and love.

The conference ended with the Service of Ordination and Commissioning, where two Deacons and six Elders were commissioned and six Elders were ordained, a deaconess was commissioned and four children were baptized.

Bishop Peter Weaver preached at the service. He told those present about the importance of names and about his father, Adolph, who was ordained into the Methodist Episcopal Church in 1936. On his father’s ordination certificate were the words: “This person is authorized to administer the sacrament and ordinances and to feed the flock of Christ so long as his spirit and practice are such that they become the Gospel.”

Your life is God’s message, Weaver told those present. “Become and keep becoming the Gospel.”

Bishop Weaver also led the Bible Study on the Pentecost story in Acts 2, in which he reminded everyone that United Methodists are called to be “perpetually Pentecost people” – Spirit-filled and Spirit-sent.

“The power of love doesn’t come because we have meetings and manufacture it,” Weaver said. “When we are open, the Spirit moves in and through us so that we become love, become truth, become reconciliation, become justice, become hope, become faith, become love. 

That Spirit-filled love was expressed throughout the session. One moment occurred when it was announced that an offering for Seeds of Security raised $6,311 to assist victims of domestic violence. The bishop, and her husband, the Rev. Marion Easterling, pledged additional funds to bring the total to $7,000; and conference members responded with additional gifts, bringing the total to $16,203.

Focus on Young People’s Ministries

Saturday morning of the session was devoted to young people’s ministries. Nine confirmands from churches around the Baltimore-Washington Conference gathered around a central altar as Bishop Easterling blessed the youth for their decision to become disciples of Jesus Christ. “We stand here today in awe of your journey and the dream that you bring today,” she said. Members celebrated the youth by “making a joyful noise” and ringing cowbells. 

In small homilies, the young people lifted up the values that undergird effective youth and campus ministries: courageous love, bold innovation, faithful openness, and respectful urgency. The Rev. Jacob Cogman shared how too often members reflect on the good-old-days. “But the past should be a place of reference and not a place of residence,” he said. He encouraged members to stop trying to recreate the past and be open to the movement of the Holy Spirit in and through all people – from the youngest to the oldest.

10 Resolutions Considered

Conference members also addressed ten resolutions brought forward by individuals and groups. They:

  • Passed a protocol and policy that addresses providing paid bereavement leave for clergy;
  • Supported steps to ensure the best alternative use of available church properties for missional purposes;
  • Voted to identify and oppose apartheid in the Holy Land;
  • Supported two weeks of paid maternity and paternity leave for clergy foster/resource parents;
  • Affirmed the Queer Delegates’ Call to Center Justice and Empowerment for LGBTQIA+ People in the UMC;
  • Opposed a resolution to request district superintendents aspire to preside at each local church conference;
  • Moved to postpone indefinitely a resolution that asks that those seeking to leave the denomination not serve in positions of leadership in the conference, districts and local churches;
  • Voted to support the creation of a U.S. Regional Conference;
  • Supported the removal of discriminatory policies in the Book of Discipline; and
  • Referred the policy for churches that want to disaffiliate and later return to the BWC, to the Board of Trustees.
In other actions, conference members:
  • Gave $5,802 to the Bishop Peter D. Weaver Congo Partnership;
  • Honored 31 retirees, representing 838 years of service to the church;
  • Learned about Non-Anxious Leadership from the Rev. Jack Shitama of the Center for Vital Leadership during the Laity Session;
  • Welcomed Bishop Senugho Choi and a delegation from the Nambu Annual Conference of the Korean Methodist Church;
  • Celebrated at as several awards were presented to people and churches who excelled in ministry including: the Harry Denman Award for evangelism that went to Sadie Kollias, Pastor Angelic Williams, Bart Cookus, Pastor Cassandra Núñez, and Bishop LaTrelle Easterling. The Youth Worker of the Year went to Natiya Bennett. Asbury, Jackson Chapel and Mt. Carmel UMCs were awarded the $1,000 Advocacy and Action award; Oak Chapel UMC was honored with the $1,000 Wellness and Missions award; and Ames UMC in Bel Air won the $1,000 One Matters award.;
  • Recognized seven new Certified Lay Ministers and nine local pastors;
  • Honored the saints of the conference who died during the previous year at a Service of Remembrance, which included the preaching of the Rev. Linda Motter of Calvary UMC in Annapolis;
  • Adopted a 2024 budget of $18,107,147 including a mission-share income budget of $12,564,729; reduced the benevolence factor for mission shares to 17.45 percent and set the collection rate at 87 percent, 3 percent less than the 2023 assumption;
  • Increased the base salary for clergy by 4 percent, or $1,920, which will make the base salary $49,910; and raised the recommended housing allowance by 3 percent or $642, to a total of $22,036;
  • Heard a report from the Discipleship Council Chair, the Rev. Jessica Hayden, who applauded the effectiveness of Discipleship Ministry Reports, which are filled out annually by local churches, and how they’re being used by church and conference leaders to help 100 percent of our churches grow to be 100 percent vital;
  • Thanked Hayden and Phil Potter, chair of the Commission on Finance and Administration, who will be stepping down from these roles;
  • Heard a Laity Address by Bisi Adebesin, of Liberty Grove UMC, who shared her call story;
  • Approved the closure of four churches: Carlos UMC in Eckhart, Friendship UMC in Martinsburg, Hyattstown UMC in Hyattstown, and Marley UMC in Glen Burnie;
  • Were invited by the Board of Ordained Ministry to say “yes” to the joyful call of God within their congregations and attend a Culture of Call event at Wesley Freedom UMC on June 24;
  • Received word about the importance of supporting the Black College Fund from the Rev. Kevin Kosh, Jr.;
  • Learned about Pathways for Congregational Development and the Center for Vital Leadership, which are creating vital leaders and congregations;
  • Received information and inspiration about young adult ministries, the BWC’s four campus ministries, IDEA internships, Retreat and Camping Ministries, Project Transformation, and vital ministries at Hughes UMC in Wheaton and Reisterstown UMC;
  • Explored how to open the church’s doors wider for young people with a panel that provided reverse mentoring; and
  • Participated in an evening of fun and karaoke sponsored by Young People’s Ministries.

Next year’s session of the Baltimore-Washington Conference will be held at the Hilton Hotel in Baltimore May 29-31.