It's time to turn on the AC


 3-day session starts Sunday;new order among proposals

 By Woody Woodrick
Advocate Editor
Could a more focused and open approach to ministry help the Mississippi Conference achieve its goal of bringing more people to Christ?
Conference leaders hope so, and that goal will be reflected in proposal offered to the 2008 session of the Mississippi Annual Conference. The meeting begins at 2:30 p.m. June 8 and runs through June 10 at Christ United Methodist Church in Jackson. The lay executive session begins at 2:30 p.m. in the church sanctuary, followed at 4 p.m. by the clergy session.
Among the proposal slated to be presented to the representatives from 1,142 churches will be a change in the structure of the conference.
“We want to relook at the way we align leadership with our mission,” said the Rev. Steve Casteel, director of Connectional Ministries. “We’ve always had committees that were workable, but what we haven’t had is a real convergence of their work in a connectional way. So other than at Annual Conference or on the conference Leadership Team, those groups never go together and never had conversations around their central missions and did any strategic planning.”
One of the key changes would be in how the leadership of the conference works. A group of 25 people would be primarily responsible for keeping the denomination’s mission before the annual conference. That mission is to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.”
Coupled with the Connectional Leadership Team, as the 25-member group would be called, are five “tables” — spiritual leadership, reconciliation, mission, stewardship and young people. Each table’s purpose will be to gather together people who have a passion for those areas of ministry. The Connectional Leadership Team would be convened by the conference lay leader, while each table would also have a convener.
Another slight change would be how those tables are manned. While conveners will be offered as nominees, those attending the conference will have the opportunity to choose the table to which they feel called. Casteel said committees required by the Book of Discipline will still stand, but committees won’t be seated for the sake of having a committee.
The idea of an open invitation to serve came from the 2006 Annual Conference when some 60 people responded to an “altar call” to help improve health care. Of that initial response, about 40 people across the conference are still active.
Another aspect of the evolving structure will be better communication among the tables, Casteel said. That way continuing threads and themes consistent with United Methodism can be maintained.
To enact those changes will require some changes in the conference’s standing rules. Those changes will allow the structural changes to take place, but will likely take two years to tweak, Casteel said.
Another issue that will likely spark debate will be a plan from the Conference Council on Finance and Administration to begin a four-phase plan moving toward direct billing for pension and insurance of clergy. Right now, pensions and insurance, with costs rising steadily, take up a large portion of the conference budget. By removing pensions and insurance from the budget, more money will be available for ministry at both the conference and local church levels, conference leaders say.
Guest speakers
The theme for this year’s conference is “Arise! Shine! Magnify!” based on 2nd Corinthians 4:6-8.
Guest speakers for the conference include Bishop William Hutchinson of the Louisiana Area, Dr. Lovett H. Weems Jr. (left) and Theon Johnson III.
Weems, a Mississippi native, will speak Monday morning about his “10 Provocative Questions,” a report he prepared for the Council of Bishops that challenges the denomination about its future.
Weems is distinguished professor of church leadership and director of the Lewis Center for Church Leadership at Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, D.C.  
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 (right) 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.
He has taken an active role in helping Louisiana recover from Hurricane Katrina.
Johnson (below) will lead the worship service on Monday night. Johnson 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. He also has taken part in general church events around the world.
After the worship services, including Sunday night’s Ordination Service, “afterglow” opportunities will be offered. These will provide a time of fellowship, music and discussion with the evenings’ speakers. While located close together, each aspect will be in a difference room. Refreshments will be provided.
Breakout sessions
Break-out groups are scheduled to meet Monday and Tuesday afternoons. Monday session topics include:
• Conference Health Benefits Plan
• Wesley Foundations, featuring universities and community colleges
• Your Church and Missions
• Designing a Leadership & and Congregational Wellness Program
• Family Ministries & Your Local Church
• From A2 to A29
• How We Do is as Important as What We Do
• Light Partners
• Stewardship
• Taking the Next Faithful Step
Sessions offered Tuesday will include:
• From A2 to A29
• Breaking the Silence
• Thirteen to Thirty — Tools for Youth & Young Adult Ministry
• Making the Connections in Youth Ministry
• Overseas Missions and Missionaries
• Safe Sanctuaries
• Taking the Next Faithful Step
• The World Food Shortage and the Society of St. Andrew
• Changes & 2009 Budget
• Your Church and Missions
• Visioning for the 21st Century
Mission Opportunities
Those attending Annual Conference will an opportunity to take part in a variety of mission efforts. The Mission Offering that will be taken Monday night will go toward the Global AIDS Initiative. The goal is to raise $1 for every member of the Mississippi Conference, or about $187,000.
In addition, other offerings taken during the conference will help fund the Stop Hunger Now program. That effort mixes gifts and hands-on work. Those who participate in filling bags with food products to be shipped around the world will be asked to give 25 cents per meal. The goal is to pack 100,000 meals and raise $25,000. Any group in the conference that wants to help in that effort is invited to come to Annual Conference for a few hours and help. The packaging needs 40 volunteers per hour to reach the goal. All ages are welcome.
Another mission oriented activity is the Mission Passport. Each member of the Annual Conference will receive a passport that can be stamped at displays in the mission fair and redeemed for prizes.
Other events
The annual fun run-walk held at Annual Conference is scheduled for 6:30 a.m. Tuesday morning. All are invited to participate. Those who registered in advance will receive a T-shirt.
The Amazing Pace, the conference’s wellness and fitness program, has scheduled a luncheon on Tuesday. Tickets will be available during the registration time on Sunday.