Katrina puts '06 AC focus on missions


By Woody Woodrick

Advocate Editor

Based on plans developed so far, the Rev. John Moore predicts the 18th session of the Mississippi Annual Conference will be “power-packed.”

Annual Conference is scheduled for June 11-14 at Christ United Methodist Church in Jackson.

While the format of Annual Conference won’t change much from previous years, the specter of Hurricane Katrina will be on the minds of clergy and lay members.

“The impact of Katrina has created an overwhelming missional focus for our churches and our annual conference,” Bishop Hope Morgan Ward said. “Our churches have been at our very best. We look forward to being together in June, to celebrating our life together, to encouraging one another forward.

“The huge challenge of recovery is embraced through our connectional life together. We have been loved, supported and gifted by the connection. As a result, we appreciate more than ever our connection as United Methodists. Planning Annual Conference is a labor of love. We know more than ever how important our shared life is.”

Speakers for the conference include Bishop Eben Nhiwatiwa of the Zimbabwe Area and Bishop Thomas J. Bickerton of the Western Pennsylvania Conference. Marcia McFee will lead worship. Bickerton will preach at morning worship services.

“Bishop Bickerton is an energetic leader and a partner with us in the recovery effort,” Ward said. “He challenged the clergy in Western Pennsylvania to support clergy on the Gulf Coast, clergy helping clergy. The clergy gave personal gifts of $104,000, half to Louisiana and half to Mississippi. This gift to us of $52,000 has been used to support the salaries, pensions and insurance of impacted clergy in the Seashore District.”

The Mississippi Conference and Zimbabwe have been forging a long-distance relationship Bishop Ward is calling the Chabadza Covenant.

“Bishop Nhiwatiwa welcomed Mississippians to Zimbabwe in 2005 and introduced us to the wonderful spiritual concept of chabadza,” Ward said. “He is a powerful preacher and compelling teacher and a constantly joyful presence.”

 “Chabadza” is a Shona word meaning helpful partnership. “We practice chabadza when we join friends already at work in the field.  Through chabadza we are mutually enriched and blessed,” Ward said. This year’s Annual Conference Chabadza mission offering will support ministries of the Zimbabwe Area and Africa University. 

Nhiwatiwa will preach and the mission offering will be collected at the opening worship service, scheduled for 8 p.m. June 11. Bishop Nhiwatiwa will also be the featured speaker at the conference youth banquet.

McFee directed worship at the 2004 Southeastern Jurisdictional Conference and has planned worship for General Conference and dozens of annual conferences.

Moore said reports delivered during plenary sessions will be focused on the missional initiatives – health and wellness, inclusiveness, mission, small-membership churches and congregational development – established last year. “In so doing,” Moore said, “we’re wanting to look at how we’ve done so far and the direction we want to go as an annual conference.”

Two additional changes to help streamline the event will be evident before Annual Conference officially opens. First, the Pre-Conference Workbook will be slimmer this year, said Moore, director of Connectional Ministries.

“Rather than duplicate the reports from various committees in the workbook and the Journal, the workbook will only have reports from committees that require action by the Annual Conference,” Moore said. “The other reports will be contained in the Journal.”

Second, clergy check-in will be conducted June 11 at Anderson UMC, where the clergy executive session will be held, helping clergy avoid having to register at one site and then go to another for their meeting. The laity check-in and session will be at Christ UMC. Clergy arriving after June 11 will register at Christ UMC.

A new event this year involves youth. A Celebration of Youth Ministries banquet is scheduled for June 12 at Madison UMC. Nhiwatiwa will speak and is expected to extend an offer to youth from Mississippi to visit Zimbabwe. In addition, some 25 youth members of the Annual Conference will be recognized during the plenary session.

Breakout sessions are again planned for Annual Conference, but each workshop will only be offered once. For the second year, the Annual Conference will feature a 5K run and walk the morning of June 12. About 70 people took part last year.

One new feature this year is a planned catfish lunch on June13 prior to the closing service and sending forth.