By Woody Woodrick
Music stole the show Tuesday as members of the Mississippi Annual Conference received an unexpected treat topped by a service in song.
The Rust College A’Cappella Choir performed several numbers during the afternoon as part of the college’s report to the 19th session of the conference being held at Christ United Methodist Church in Jackson.
During the evening, the conference celebrated the life and music of Charles Wesley with styles that ranged from choral grandeur to rockin’ contemporary.
The conference is scheduled to conclude this afternoon. Today’s schedule includes more business items, including the final consideration of the conference budget for 2008, the Service of Commissioning and the reading of the clergy appointments.
As inspiring as the music was, it almost gave way to the blues as voting for delegates to the 2008 General Conference proceeded slowly. However, by the end of the night eight lay and eight clergy delegates had been elected. In addition, three lay delegates to the jurisdictional conference were elected.
Also during the day, the 2,196 voting members heard ministry reports, attended ministry workshops, celebrated the ministry of retiring clergy and presented awards.
The high point of the day was the Wesley celebration. This year marks the 300th anniversary of Charles Wesley’s birth. He wrote some 6,500 hymns, and several are still in use today. His brother John Wesley is credited with founding the Methodist movement.
The service, led by the Rev. Jim Matheny, featured the Christ UMC Sanctuary Choir and Worship Orchestra, a short account of Wesley’s life and performances by Jonathan Moore of Grenada, the Delta State University Wesley Foundation praise band and the Trinity Mission Marimba Band from Forest.
Moore, a native of England, performed songs adapted from Wesley compositions and also shared his perspective on Wesley and his music.
It seemed the looming deadline of today’s conclusion of the conference pushed members toward electing delegates. The laity needed 12 ballots to secure eight representatives to the 2008 General Conference in Fort Worth. The conference meets once every four years to set policy for the denomination.
Those elected to the delegation (in order of election) include Turner Arant, David Beckley, David Stotts, Bill Smallwood, Sara Hillman, Mary Ford, Jack Ramsey and Steve McAlilly.
Clergy members needed 16 ballots to elect a delegation. It includes Steve McDonald, Joe May, Bill McAlilly, Sheila Cumbest, Tim Thompson, Ginger Holland, Mike Childs and Bryan Collier.
In addition, the laity elected three of eight candidates to the Southeastern Jurisdictional Conference to be held in July 2008 at Lake Junaluska, N.C. They include Phoebe Hawthorne, Kiah Hitt and Anne Harrington.
“We are doing better and better,” said Roger Puhr, conference secretary, of the voting. “We had a little hiccup when the laity went back to voting for eight for jurisdictional conference. There was a little confusion. Now we’re putting up the names of those eligible for election on the video screens so there is no question who to vote for.”
After an early worship time and business, members chose one of 12 breakout sessions to learn more about conference and other ministries. One of the more popular sessions was Dr. F. Belton Joyner Jr.’s discussion of life in a parsonage called “Life in the Fish Bowl.” He has written a book by the same title.
Joyner said tension between someone who owns a house and someone who lives in it is inevitable. However, he said most mistakes in those relationships are the result of mistakes in judgment not caring.
”I hope people got some sense of balance, that everyone is not out to get them,” said Joyner, who makes his points using humorous stories.
Sherrill Heidelberg, spouse of the Rev. Philip Heidelberg, was among those attending the session and asked Joyner to sign copies of his books.
“The thing I got out of it was that when a church or parsonage committee comes in with a caring attitude, it makes all the difference,” she said. “That’s where the rubber meets the road.”
Other well-attended sessions included a discussion of Sunday school in small-membership churches, spiritual wholeness and Hurricane Katrina recovery.
On the business end, several resolutions received action. A resolution on prayer was approved, as was a measure allowing Camp Lake Stephens to sell or swap property to create a buffer around the camp as the Oxford community grows.
A resolution calling for bishops to face re-election after eight years prompted some discussion. The measure passed with some wording removed. The measure calls for a petition to General Conference on the matter.
A resolution on continuing to examine legalized gambling in Mississippi was approved, as was a resolution calling for churches to work toward eliminating the use of plastics and Styrofoam.
A resolution asking that the Delta Mission Foundation, Inc., be designated an Advance Special was referred to the Committee on Missions. A measure seeking to empower ordained deacons the right to administer Holy Communion was referred to the Board of Ordained Ministry.
Several awards were presented:
Mark Geher of Ocean Springs and the Rev. Prentiss Gordon Sr. received the Harry Denman Evangelism Awards
Susan Vuyovich of Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College, Perkinston campus, won the Francis Asbury Higher Education Award
The Rev. Wayne Webster of Brookhaven won the Tobias Gibson Award
The Rev. Keith Tonkel and Wells Memorial UMC of Jackson received the Emma Elzy Award for Racial Reconciliation.