Plan calls for shorter 2008 AC


By Woody Woodrick
Advocate Editor


The days of Annual Conference taking nearly a week just might be over.


The 2008 session of the Mississippi Conference will last just over two days. The gathering is scheduled for June 8-10 at Christ United Methodist Church in Jackson.


“We found out last year in an election year that we could do it in a day less,” said the Rev. Steve Casteel, director of Connectional Ministries.


Casteel said the decision to shorten Annual Conference at least partially grew out of listening sessions held around the state by Bishop Hope Morgan Ward. “We’re in conference almost year-round from place to place talking about critical issues. Those give us a chance to come together in more than one spot or having to have all the conversations at one time,” he said.


Casteel said those meetings and the pre-conference briefings get done a lot of the preliminary work of the Annual Conference.


Another factor influencing the change in order was the response in 2006 when nearly 100 people came forward to an “altar call” relating to health issues. Casteel said the response to that call has been one of the conference’s most successful efforts in years, partly because those involved acted on what God had put on their hearts.


One of the popular aspects of Annual Conference is visiting with friends and colleagues from around the state. Casteel said special time has been created for renewing and building those relationships. After each evening’s session, those attending will be invited to an “after glow” where speakers and others will be available along with refreshments and music.


Otherwise, the schedule of events won’t change much from 2007. The ordination service will be held Sunday night, with a youth-led service on Monday night.


Those attending conference will hear from Dr. Lovett Weems, who has challenged the denomination with his “10 Provocative Questions” about the future of the church, and Bishop William Hutchinson of the Louisiana Conference, who will preach and lead Bible study. Theon Johnson III, a seminary student from Canton, will preach at the young people’s service.


Break-out sessions this year will center on a new plan for the order of the conference and how it does ministry. The conference is inviting anyone called by God to be in service to volunteer. This will replace the traditional nomination process for conference committees and commissions. At Annual Conference, folks will have the opportunity to sit in on sessions centered on mission and ministry areas of interest.


More than 60 people had responded by Feb. 29.


Also on Tuesday, the Amazing Pace program will offer a special meal with celebrity chefs showing how to prepare healthy meals, especially church meals. Amazing Pace is a wellness program offered free to conference insurance program participants that is designed to help participants embrace more active lifestyles.


Weems wrote a paper for the Council of Bishops based on the state of the church report. He wrote that the report raised “10 provocative questions” about the future of the United Methodist Church.


Weems is distinguished professor of church leadership and director of the Lewis Center for Church Leadership at Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, D.C. He came to this position in 2003 after 18 years as president of Saint Paul School of Theology in Kansas City, Mo. Previously he was a local church pastor in Mississippi for many years. 


A native of Mississippi, Weems is a graduate of Millsaps College; Perkins School of Theology, Southern Methodist University; and Wesley Theological Seminary. He holds honorary degrees from Baker University and Central Methodist University. 


His years in local church ministry in Mississippi were marked by emphasis on both evangelism and social concerns.  His work in Mississippi led the distinguished Mississippi writer Willie Morris to describe him as “one of the persons who added much to the growing civility of Mississippi.”


Hutchinson was elected to the episcopacy in 2000 from the New Mexico Annual Conference. He has served as a local pastor and as a district superintendent. He also served as executive director of the New Mexico Conference Methodist Foundation.


Johnson (right) is a graduate of Millsaps College and is a student at Wesley Theological Seminary. While at Millsaps, Johnson developed a reputation as an outstanding speaker and leader. He also has taken part in general church events around the world.


10 Questions

The follow are the “10 Provocative Questions” Dr. Lovett Weems included in his report to the Council of Bishops:


Can we capture the Wesleyan power of being an evangelical church in a liberal tradition?


Can the growing global regions of United Methodism remember the first law of life-guarding — don’t let the drowning person drown you?


Can we move from a structure of control to a structure of grace?


Can medical science continue to keep U.S. United Methodism alive?


Can we escape the approaching “tipping point” of declining income after over 30 years of aging as a denomination?


Should we declare young United Methodist clergy as an endangered species?


Should the affirmative action and monitoring priority for the next decade be people of color professions of faith?


Can the church change to reach more people, younger people, and more diverse people?


Can we learn from a cohort of large churches that have for 30 years been reaching more people, younger people, and more diverse people?


Can we shift our attention from a few ineffective clergy to the many faithful pastors who desperately need help in becoming fruitful?