Nearly 900 clergy and laity gathered together at the 178th Northern Illinois Annual Conference from June 4-6, 2017 at the Pheasant Run Resort in St. Charles, Ill., to seek and share how God’s light is illuminating through our churches, congregations and ministries. This year’s Annual Conference focused on the theme “Light Shines Through…there are cracks in everything that’s how the light gets in,” based on lyrics from singer/songwriter Leonard Cohen.
“The light shines through cracks all over the Northern Illinois Annual Conference,” said Bishop Sally Dyck during her 2017 Episcopal Address
Despite doors closing, financial challenges and a rapidly changing religious landscape, Bishop Dyck encouraged local churches to look for the cracks of hope that let the light in.
“Let’s save cynicism, despair and dystopia for better times and live in the reality of our world with the faith and hope of Jesus’ followers,” said Dyck. “The good news is that we’re not alone – God and a connection of United Methodists – are with us!”
Service of Commissioning and Ordination
The two-and-a-half day conference opened Sunday afternoon with the Service of Commissioning and Ordination. Bishop Dyck commissioned four candidates for the work of a deacon and eight for the work of an elder. She ordained two deacons and six elders. The Rev. Francisco Cañas, national coordinator for Hispanic/Latino Ministry at the General Board of Global Ministries, introduced the 13 lay missioners who were commissioned.
The Rev. Judy Y. Chung, associate general secretary for Missionary Services at the General Board of Global Ministries, commissioned missionaries Rev. Kyeong-Ah (Kay) Woo and spouse Rev. Jin Yang Kim from the Northern Illinois Conference. They will be based in Geneva, Switzerland.
In 2016 Bishop Dyck named three co-lay leaders for the conference as something new in order to have better geographical representation as well as to divide the responsibilities of this role. Jessie Cunningham, Elisa Gatz and Mark Manzi have worked together over the last year hosting the Laity Convocation as well as reaching out to district lay members. They shared their vision for the Northern Illinois Conference in the annual Laity Address.
“We see people coming together to look at new possibilities of how we organize ourselves and how we will staff what we do,” said Mark Manzi. “We see people coming together to try new things or old things in new ways to see if we can reach more people.”
During the retirement service, 17 retired clergy and local pastors received recognition for their combined 529 years of service. Before the passing of the mantle, the retirees reflected on one of three questions around how the light has shone in their ministry in both dark and good times.
The Rev. Thomas Kingery said, “I don’t think we are meant to be the light but to reflect it.” The Rev. Mary McKinney offered her wisdom saying it’s important to remember those who shine a light on you and the Rev. Richard Mosely, Jr., shared three thoughts on where to find the light. He said, “maintain a sense of humor, find a spiritual companion and read the prophets daily.”
A special recognition was made to Samuel W. Witwer, Jr., who is retiring from his law practice and served as the Conference Chancellor for the last 40 years. The United Methodist Foundation also recognized Janet Boryk who is retiring after 12 years as the Foundation’s Director of Planned Giving.
During the Memorial service, we remembered Bishop Felton May, 14 retired clergy, five spouses of retired clergy, two surviving spouses of clergy and six lay members to Annual Conference.
The Rev. Anne Hampson, an endorsed pastoral counselor who works in the areas of grief and depression, delivered the message, “Walking by Light.”
“I think learning to grieve is learning to live,” she said. “We are here today to lament to God, to mourn and to memorialize together, as we find a path to enable us to walk forward in the light and love of God.”
Drs. Jack Seymour and Margaret Ann Crain returned again this year to lead the Bible study looking at the scripture text John 1: 1-18 and asking the question, “what does it mean to follow the way of Jesus?”
“We are the word, we are the light, we are the ones that reflect the way of Jesus,” said Seymour who referenced Hebrew scriptures saying it is our responsibility to be light to the nations.
This year’s worship design leader, Dr. Marcia McFee brought light into the Pheasant Run MegaCenter where the services and business were held. Artistic doors, windows and vases glowed serving as the backdrop along with a radiant baptismal font in the center aisle. The Rev. Kristine Marshall’s artwork, “The Great Hope”, hung from the drapery at the back of the stage.
Other special guests included Pan-Methodist partner Bishop John F. White, who serves the Fourth Episcopal District of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, and Bishop John Schol, resident Bishop of the Greater New Jersey Conference of The United Methodist Church, whose son Mark was commissioned for the work of an elder.
In legislation, the annual conference approved the organizational restructuring plan, which will create a central Shepherding Team and six District Shepherding teams to focus on four core areas in an effort to streamline the work of the conference. The diverse organizational task force, which consisted of 27 members from across the conference, worked for nine months totaling more than 1,500 hours, held listening sessions, and organized teams to come up with the presented plan (the 6th iteration). The legislation allows room for adaptations and reevaluation in 2019.
“We must have faith that we will continue to learn, evaluate and adapt,” said Task Force Chair Liz Gracie. “Ultimately we must have faith that God is at work in the NIC and that this proposed structure is intended to be the best possible way to equip and connect to the ministry which God is calling each and every one of us.”
Other legislation that passed included holding the election of Delegates for the 2020 General Conference during the 2019 annual conference session, calling for affordable health care and recognizing the closing of Bethany UMC in Itasca.
Doc. 700.01 which called for the NIC to divest from Fossil Fuels was referred for further conversation and to be brought back in 2018.
A budget of $6,648,410, about the same amount as last year, was approved.
Our annual conference voted on the five new amendments to the constitution of The United Methodist Church which were approved by General Conference in 2016. However, we will not know whether they passed right away. The amendments must pass by 2/3 of the aggregate of members of annual and central conferences from all over the world. Once the results are certified by the Council of Bishops at their first meeting following the last annual conference vote, we will find out the results.
The 2017 Bishop’s Appeal special offering raised more than $71,400 dollars for the United Methodist Global AIDS Fund. Twenty-five percent of the money will stay in the Northern Illinois Conference for local projects including education on prevention and resources for those living with HIV/AIDS. The Aurora District took home the Bishop’s Appeal traveling trophy for raising the most funds per capita. Sales of postcards featuring the annual conference artwork by Rev. Kristine Marshall raised an additional $300. Bishop Dyck thanked everyone for their contributions which will help to eradicate this disease. An offering for the Ministerial Education Fund totaled $4,043.20.
Membership in the Northern Illinois Conference stands at 85,350, up 547 from the previous year. Worship attendance stands at 30,120, or down 1,366. Sunday school attendance stands at 7,836, down 561. Professions or reaffirmations of faith for 2016 was 1,355, down 584 from 2015. The number of adults and young adults in small groups for 2016 was 16,836, down 342 from 2015. The number of worshippers engaged in mission for 2016 was 20,402, up 660 from 2015.
The 2017 Annual Conference closed Tuesday afternoon with the Fixing of Appointments and sending forth.
The 2018 Annual Conference will be held June 3-5 once again in St. Charles.
For more information and photos from this year’s conference visit: www.umcnic.org/AC2017.
To download a pdf to share the highlights of Annual Conference with your local church click here.