Hope remains


Ward re-appointed to Mississippi Conference during SEJ gathering

By Woody Woodrick
Advocate Editor

LAKE JUNALUSKA, N.C. – A new structure and a new bishop were among the results of the 2008 Southeastern Jurisdictional Conference.

Meanwhile, Hope remains in Mississippi. Bishop Hope Morgan Ward was re-appointed to the Mississippi Area for another four years. Ward was elected to the episcopacy in 2004 and assigned to Mississippi.

The conference was held July 16-19 at Lake Junaluska Conference and Retreat Center, which is owned by the jurisdiction. Some 500 delegates representing 15 annual conferences participated.

Bishop Paul Leeland of the North Carolina Annual Conference was elected to the episcopacy on the sixth ballot. The election took only about 24 hours.

Leeland was elected to fill out the jurisdiction’s College of Bishops following the retirement of Bishop Lawrence McCleskey. Leeland was appointed to the Alabama-West Florida Area, which includes the Alabama-West Florida Conference.

Meanwhile, the delegates approved a plan to bring Lake Junaluska Assembly, Gulfside Assembly in Waveland, Miss., and Hinton Rural Life Center under the scope of the SEJ. In addition, each agency will become self sufficient by 2012.

Ministries of the SEJ will be overseen by the new Committee on Coordination and Accountability. The committee will include 15 members. The Rev. Ginger Holland of the Mississippi Conference expressed concerns about the plan.

Bishop Larry Goodpaster, a Mississippi native, said that the three agencies would be accountable to the jurisdictional conference.

“This proposal frees Lake Junaluska, Hinton Rural Life and Gulfside Assembly to become more in their mission and ministry than they have been and allows them to develop,” Goodpaster said. “None of them are cut free and told to go out there and do what you can.”

Holland offered an amendment to the proposal increasing the number of at-large members from six to 16, bringing the total membership to 25. The amendment was defeated.

The Rev. Jimmy Carr, executive director of the SEJ Administrative Council, which formerly administered the jurisdiction, supported the new plan.

"The changes in our organization will allow the board of Lake Junaluska and the officials of Lake Junaluska to give their entire attention to running our institution,” said Carr, a clergy member of the Mississippi Conference, in a statement released by the SEJ. “Because of this more focused attention to Lake Junaluska Conference and Retreat Center, we believe it will allow us to continue to improve our facilities, grow our business and market our wonderful Conference Center. The changes will allow us to be more focused on one institution other than leading the broad Jurisdictional organization."

After several attempts at amendment and involved discussion, delegates approved a proposed $8.8 million budget for the next four years.

Most of the discussion centered on funding of youth ministry and how much each conference will be asked to contribute to the Lake Junaluska Restoration Fund.

Concern was raised over a budget line item providing salary for a youth ministry leader. The line item shows decreasing funds for youth ministry over the next four years as Lake Junaluska moves toward self sufficiency. Goodpaster pointed out that funds would be provided under other sections of the budget reflecting the structural changes approved for the SEJ. “This does not mean that ministry will go away,” he said “The funds will be available under the Lake Junaluska board of directors.

“It is almost impossible for youth to self-fund ministry,” said Andy Lambert of the Western North Carolina Conference. “I believe youth ministry should be the last ministry where we make cuts.”

However, others pointed out that many youth ministries are currently self funded or close enough to it for that not to be a concern.

The SEJ Council on Finance and Administration called for each conference to contribute $1 (25 cents per year) for each member of each of the 15 annual conferences in the jurisdiction over the quadrennium. However, the legislative committee dealing with the budget amended the report to 50 cents (12.5 cents per year). The Council on Finance and Administration sought the higher funds to help pay the debt on funds borrowed to make repairs to the lake and dam during 2005-2007. It was pointed out that more repairs will likely be needed and that by 2012 the debt service on the funds borrowed could reach $1.3 million.

The conference approved the 50-cent plan. The body also approved a report calling for a cap of $300,000 on SEJ contingency funds.

Elizabeth Cumbest and Bishop Hope Morgan Ward of Mississippi highlighted a presentation on Hurricane Katrina recovery. Goodpaster also participated in the presentation.

“United Methodists are the last group doing relief work across the area,” said Goodpaster of the storm that hit Aug. 29, 2005 and caused heavy damage from Mobile to New Orleans. “I knew the huge losses would require a long-term recovery effort.”

Although Alabama-West Florida turned down sharing in recovery funds raised by the church, volunteers have done vital work in the conference, Goodpaster said.

Ward pointed out that 70,000 homes in Mississippi were heavily damaged or destroyed by the storm. “People ask how is it now?” she said. “It depends on which way you look.

“You look one way and you see a home that has been rebuilt and a family that has been restored. You look the other way and you see a long stretch where everything has been bulldozed.”

While Katrina slammed the Gulf Coast hard, the storm’s impact has been felt all over the Southeastern Jurisdiction. Several folks who had been to the region as volunteers were asked to share what the experience had meant to their church or district.

“We went to Mississippi and a wonderful and amazing thing happened – we saw the face of Jesus,” said the Rev. Leonard Fairley of the North Carolina Conference. “We saw the face of Jesus in ordinary people doing extraordinary things.”

He said the mission team was so inspired that the Rockingham District began its own mission effort called Rockingham Outreach And Recovery.

Tom Jackson of Athens, Ga., First UMC, told how his church has partnered with Mississippi City UMC, donating $100,000 to the small church and sending work teams. He told of a group of United Methodist Women who worked on the Gulf Coast and came back on fire to serve. The churches have continued the partnership by working together on a Habitat for Humanity house.

Ward was joined on stage by Cumbest, 17, who sang the original song Press On, written about the recovery process. The song was written after she recorded All Things New, a collection of original songs about Katrina. Funds raised from the sale of the CD go to help rebuild Seashore Mission, which was destroyed by Katrina. The CD has raised $50,000.

Ward invited all those present to continue to give to the Katrina Church Recovery Appeal, which helps restore churches damaged in the storm, the only general church fund that goes to rebuilding churches.

“A light does shine in the darkness and the darkness does not overcome it,” Ward said as she led the congregation in singing This Little Light of Mine.

Another highlight of the conference was a series of teaching sessions under the theme “Living the United Methodist Way.” The series, coordinated by Bishop Kenneth Carder, brought in speakers to discuss various aspects of life within Methodism. Included in Carder’s presentation on being a pastor in the Wesleyan tradition was a video featuring the Rev. Ricky James, associate pastor at Jackson (Miss.) Christ United Methodist Church.