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A different kind of Annual Conference

Posted: November 24 2020 at 12:00 AM
Author: Anne Marie Gerhardt, Dir. of Communications


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Practicing social distancing, Bishop Sally Dyck and Assistant to the Bishop Rev. Arlene Christopherson stand by for the first-ever virtual Northern Illinois Annual Conference.

The 181st Northern Illinois Annual Conference with the theme “Y Church” was marked by some firsts and lasts. In response to the COVID-19 pandemic and efforts to keep members safe and healthy, the first-ever virtual conference was held as a one-day webinar on Nov. 14.

More than 630 members participated in the five-and-a-half-hour interactive session through Zoom video conferencing. Annual Conference members viewed pre-recorded messages and music videos, and voted on key legislation. The Annual Conference approved a requirement for anti-racism training for clergy, a $4.4 million 2021 budget, and a redistricting plan to reduce the number of districts from six to five.

This was also Bishop Sally Dyck’s last annual conference session as an active bishop and eight years as the NIC’s episcopal leader. With the postponement of the General and Jurisdictional conferences, Dyck shifted her retirement date to December 31, 2020, in order to see the conference through the Annual Conference meeting.

“It was over a year ago that I proposed the theme “Y Church” to help us focus on what it means to be the church in our challenging times—and then the times just got more and more challenging!” Dyck said.  “Not being able to gather in person has forced us all to think about what the church means to us and what’s most important in being church in the world today. Sure enough, during the pandemic, some churches across our conference have focused on their 'why' and found new ways of 'how' to be church!"

In her last Episcopal Address, delivered socially distanced behind cameras in the Barrington United Methodist Church sanctuary, she reflected more on the theme “Y Church.”

“Our theme is based on the scripture 1 Peter 3:15b: ‘Always be prepared to give an answer to anyone who asks you why you have hope in Christ Jesus.’ We may feel that our hope is flagging from day to day, but yet it’s exactly for times like these that we need not only a personal response to why church, but a community of faith that can answer that question,” Dyck said. Click here to read and watch her Episcopal Address.

Laity Address

The Laity Address was also delivered virtually through a prerecorded message. This was NIC Co-Lay Leader Elisa Gatz’s last year in this role. Gatz along with Jessie Cunningham are rotating off the Board of Laity after serving four years. Gatz challenged all of us to take some time to consider how to be God’s hands and voice in your church, your community, and your world.

"We are in unprecedented times. Let it be the time we respond in unprecedented ways," Gatz said. Watch the Laity Address.

The Annual Conference approved Connie Augsburger and Eugene Williams as the next two Co-Lay Leaders joining Mark Manzi for the next quadrennium. An amendment brought forward for discussion was approved to send the nominations for the annual conference secretary and annual conference committee chair back to the nominations committee to select a layperson to fill each position in order to alternate clergy and laity each quadrennium.  

Legislation

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Behind the Scenes: Special thanks to Good News TV (GNTV) for helping in the webinar production and voting process to make this annual conference run smoothly.

The  Annual Conference approved legislation requiring all active clergy to participate in an anti-racism training workshop at least once per quadrennium. This includes local licensed pastors, deacons, and elders. The Board of Ordained Ministry (BOOM) will determine appropriate trainings each year and publicize them to clergy, designating an existing in-person or online training through an organization outside the UMC, or the conference may organize its own training. The Anti-Racism Task Force (ARTF), created in 2019 to support the conference goal “to live out our belief that racism is incompatible with Christian teaching,” recommends continual learning of best practices in anti-racism for all clergy so that they might more effectively lead their congregations in this work.

The ARTF said the legislation is only a first step. “There is much work to be done now, and we need your input,” the ATRF said in a statement issued after the Annual Conference session. “We heard your concerns about the development of the training and are committed to a transparent process of creating a meaningful and impactful curriculum based on best practices from both secular and denominational organizations. Our sincere prayer is that this training, as part of the entire work plan of the Anti-racism Task Force, will be for the glory of God and move us closer to being the beloved community.” 

Redistricting

The Annual Conference also approved reducing the number of Districts and the number of District Superintendents(DS) by one, going from six to five, effective July 1, 2021. The recommendation was made given the changes in population/demographics, decline in church membership, number of churches within the Annual Conference, and downward financial trends. Also, DSs are able to conduct their work more efficiently thanks to advances in technology.

“Our aim is to maximize ministry and stewardship within the NIC that will help us be more effective and efficient as we continue to focus on the Conference’s three strategic goals,” said Rev. Darneather Murph-Heath, Dean of the Cabinet. Read more on the redistricting plan.

2021 Budget

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Annual Conference members say they missed the fellowship from an in-person gathering but many said they didn't mind meeting from the comfort of their homes.

For the second straight year, CCFA presented a conference budget showing a reduction of approximately 5%. The 2021 budget of $4.4 million includes estimated conference apportionment receipts of $4.17 million and takes into account the half-year reduction in District Superintendent compensation of $76,300. Additionally, the 2021 budget reflects the full-year reduction from downsizing district administrative staff, closing district office locations in 2020 and eliminating two part-time programming positions that are currently vacant.

CCFA will continue to monitor the conference’s income and adjust expenses as was done during 2020 when the conference was able to reduce expenses through less meeting, travel and program ministry costs (primarily for programs that were unable to happen due to the pandemic). During this anxious and difficult time, CCFA will continue to do their best to be faithful stewards of conference resources, keeping conference expenses within apportionment funds. CCFA greatly appreciates the continued faithfulness of our local churches in supporting our connection and shared ministry.

In addition under the Consent Calendar, the Annual Conference approved the 2021 equitable compensation, which includes a 3% increase to the minimum salary for full-time clergy to $36,359 in an effort to move the NIC closer to the North Central Jurisdiction average.

Worship Services

The Memorial Service opened annual conference with a Nov. 12 video premiere on the Conference Facebook page and YouTube channel. NIC Director of Benefits and Human Resources Woody Bedell prerecorded his message, “Listen: God is Talking,”  prior to his passing on Nov. 1 after a long journey with cancer. 

“As I have journeyed with cancer over these eight years, what I thought would be a handicap has become a blessing,” Bedell said in his message. “Being handicapped physically, I learned to listen, learned to ask for help, and learned the value of a simple touch. And, I found the true church. Not the buildings that I am so comfortable with, but I found a community that cared for, supported and loved not just me, but my whole family.” Watch the Memorial Service.

A retirement service closed the Annual Conference with a video premiere on Nov. 14 honoring 22 retired clergy and local pastors with a combined 422 years of ministry.

After 30 years in ordained ministry, Rev. Irene Taylor was one of several retirees who delivered a video message and answered the question to the theme “Y Church.” 

“Why church? Because the church holds the key of salvation for all,” said Taylor. “It’s been my magical place where I can envision a world filled with love, hope, peace and justice. The church equips and prepares people to become agents of transformation in their community and the world.” Watch the Retirement Service.

In producing several music videos for both services and the AC session, Worship Leader Rich Rubietta brought together a variety of musicians from across the Conference in several different settings while highlighting their many talents.

At the Clergy Session held in June via Zoom, 12 candidates for elders in full connection and three deacons in full connection were approved. Also approved were seven provisional elders and three provisional deacons for commissioning.

An in-person Ordination and Commissioning Service that was planned with social distancing, masks and safety precautions had to be postponed after a new rise in COVID-19 cases in the state. A new date will be scheduled in 2021 when it’s safe to hold the ceremony. 

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The pandemic forced the NIC Board of Global Ministries to rethink this year's mission challenge. More than a dozen NIC churches served as drop-off locations for donations to the Midwest Mission Distribution Center and more than 5,000 pounds of items were collected.

Offerings/Mission Challenge

The Bishop's Appeal offering raised a total of $36,837 for the Global Mission Secondary School in Tanzania, which will help in the final phases of construction. The co-ed school for youth ages 13-18 is expected to open in January 2021. 

Churches also went above and beyond the call for the Annual Conference Mission Challenge despite the pandemic. More than a dozen churches across the conference served as donation sites. More than 5,000 pounds of items and $1,000 were collected for the Midwest Mission Distribution Center to help people around the world and in our own neighborhoods who are struggling through a disaster or humanitarian crisis. Read more.

Statistics

  • 2019 membership in the NIC stands at 76,458, down from 77,496 in 2018. 
  • Worship attendance stands at 24,430, down from 26,059.
  • Church school attendance stands at 5,814, down from 6,531. 
  • Number of professions or reaffirmations of faith was 858, down from 979.
  • Adults and young adults in small groups totaled 24,567, down from 26,812.
  • Worshippers engaged in mission totaled 14,594, up slightly from 14, 551. 


The year 2021 will likely deliver more firsts for the NIC, including interim leadership with Bishop John Hopkins, who will begin Jan. 1. While there’s no guarantee of the last of Zoom meetings and COVID-19 restrictions, the Annual Conference will continue to assess and monitor the safest way to gather and will announce information for the 182nd Annual Conference when more information is available.

To follow more news, information and videos from the 2020 Annual Conference, visit umcnic.org/AC2020.

~A special thank you to Good News TV (GNTV) for helping in the production and voting platform to help make the NIC's Annual Conference run smoothly.

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