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Conference Overview: Come to the Table, Go Out in Ministry

Posted: June 25 2023 at 09:09 PM
Author: Victoria Rebeck

The following report was compiled for United Methodist News Service.

“I believe God is preparing a table,” Bishop Dan Schwerin told Northern Illinois Conference members at their 184th annual session, which met June 6-8 in Schaumburg, Ill. “I believe God is preparing this remnant church to cast vision for a great coming together as a resistance and alternative to the hurt and harm in our culture.”

The conference theme, “Come to the Table,” informed Bishop Schwerin’s “state of the conference” address, in which he reported on what he’s heard since being assigned to Northern Illinois in January. Clergy and lay have told him of hopeful changes and distressing divisions.

“Tables can be the place where your fault lines hurt even more, or they can be the place of equipping God’s newness. There is something sacramental about a table where people have had difficult conversations, with respect and dignity, and a sense of God's presence. We know from the gospel accounts that betrayal at a table of fellowship stings deeply.”


Recalling that many of the gospel stories of meals and feasts point to inviting those who are not always considered worthy, the bishop said that healing from wounds created by division and injustice will require the belief that all people are of sacred worth. “We must equip all the callings in our span of care that enable our conference to live out of a beloved community framework. Clearly, ‘beloved’ must describe the composition and ethos of our community.”

A highlight of the conference was an evening of prayers and testimonies for peace in the Korean peninsula. The Korean-American clergy of the conference led prayers and songs and told stories of the harm done by the delay of a peace agreement between the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (North Korea) and the Republic of Korea (South Korea).

Signed on July 27, 1953, the armistice was designed to end armed conflict on the peninsula until a final peaceful settlement was achieved. It established the Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ)—the de facto new border between the two nations—put into force a cease-fire, and finalized repatriation of prisoners of war.

The division of the peninsula into two nations separated families. The hoped-for peace has yet to materialize.

Between songs, some of the leaders spoke of their own or their family’s personal experiences of the Korean war and the waiting period of the armistice. Rev. Hwa Young Chong spoke of her father’s having lost an eye during the war and, though he was once an active church member, he began to question the existence of a loving God who would allow the violence and suffering of the war years.

The tong sung prayer—in which people simultaneously speak aloud their own prayers—was the culmination of the event. It was like a scene out of Acts 2: A diverse group of a few hundred people, with skin colors ranging from brown to ivory and speaking with varying accents and in many languages, stood facing the same direction, arms outstretched, praying loudly in their native tongues for peace on the Korean peninsula.

Liz Gracie, a laywoman who has served as a co-chair of the Annual Conference Shepherding Team for the past eight years, emphasized in the team’s report the importance of leadership. For its ministry to move forward and grow, “our annual conference must engage in and empower genuine leadership,” she said. “If you are in this room, you are a leader of the Northern Illinois Conference and your constructive contributions are needed.”

During their session, lay members learned some important practices of having Christlike conversations with people with whom they disagree. During a time of conflict in the denomination and the wider world, these skills are greatly needed.

Continuing the theme of “Come to the Table” during his two-part Bible study, Dr. Rolf Nolasco reminded conference members that Jesus’s banquet includes everyone—and gives those of lower social status places of honor at the table. Dr. Nolasco, Rueben P. Job Professor of Spiritual Formation and Pastoral Theology at Garrett-Evangelical Seminary in Evanston, Ill., proposed that if Jesus is God in human flesh, Jesus identifies with the most disdained in society. This includes those who identify as being part of the LGBTQ+ community.

Eight churches were approved for disaffiliation, contingent on their completing all requirements by June 30: Calvary UMC in Stockton, McConnell UMC, Faith Evangelical UMC in Elmhurst, Fenton UMC, Plano UMC, Van Brocklin-Florence UMC in Freeport, La Luz UMC in Elgin, and Willow UMC.

Three churches closed because they were no longer sustainable, to the regret of the annual conference: Epworth UMC, Chicago; Grace Calvary UMC, Chicago; and Trinity UMC, Sterling.


The conference approved a 2024 budget $6,176,042, increased by $102,591 over 2023.

These resolutions were passed: Affirmation of the Queer Delegates (which includes affirming the spirit of the abeyance or moratorium as proposed to the General Conference, until changes can be made in The United Methodist Book of Discipline, and imploring the annual conference to not pursue, to hold in abeyance, or to resolve in a timely fashion through a process of just resolution, any complaints against clergy regarding their sexual orientation or the officiating of weddings of LGBTQIA+ persons); Affirmation of the Queer Delegates’ Call to Center Justice and Empowerment for LGBTQIA+ People in the UMC; Concerning the Rise of Child Labor (including but not limited to condemning the flagrant disregard and violation, by corporations and businesses across the United States of America, of child labor laws, including limits on shift lengths, restrictions on industries, and other policies that are in place to protect children’s well-being and safety); Concerning the Current State of Attacks on Transgender People in U.S. (including but not limited to opposing the proliferation of bills across the United States targeting transgender people that restrict access to health care, bathrooms, the joining of sport teams and other rights and freedoms; and condemining rhetoric that portrays trans & non-binary people as dangerous or unworthy of love and respect); Support of a Parole Pathway for Illinois Resolution (including, but not limited to, supporting Illinois HB3373 as an essential step forward to address this racist injustice by ensuring that every person who has served 20 years in the Illinois Department of Corrections would be eligible for a parole hearing and the possibility of earned re-entry); In Support of the Pretrial Fairness Act Resolution (including but not limited to supporting the full implementation of the Pretrial Fairness Act (a part of IL Public Act 101-11 0652, the SAFE-T Act) and supporting the bill’s goal of ending money bond and reducing pretrial jailing; and recognizing the leadership of our local congregations and clergy who 13 worked for passage of this historic legislation); Supporting Creating a US Regional Conference (including but not limited to supporting the expressed intents of the Christmas Covenant and Connectional Table legislation that would create regional conferences in Africa, Europe, the Philippines, and the U.S; and sending copies of this resolution to all delegates to General and Jurisdictional Conferences, including alternates; the Commission on the General Conference; and the Council of Bishops); Supporting the Removal of Discriminatory Policies (including supporting a number of petitions already sent to General Conference that would remove all discriminatory policies harmful language related to sexual orientation); Standing with our Immigrants, Refugees, and Asylum Seekers Communities (including but not limited to reaffirming the conference commitment to support the rights of immigrants, refugees, and asylum seekers to legal services, health, housing, education, and other necessary services to become full members of our communities); A Resolution in Response to the Overturning of Roe vs Wade (expressing outrage toward the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade and the adverse impacts this decision will have on women, children, and youth throughout the United States); and Identifying and Opposing Apartheid in the Holy Land (including but not limited to calling on the U.S. government to condition military funding to Israel, upon Israel’s willingness to dismantle its apartheid system and implement all the rights due to Palestinians under international law).

Three people were commissioned for the work of an elder. One person was ordained as a deacon. Seven people were ordained as elders.

Eleven newly licensed local pastors were recognized. One person was recognized as a consecrated deaconess (lay order). One missionary was sent forth.

The retirement of 16 clergy was recognized.

Membership stands at 66,737, down from 70,554 from the previous year.

Worship attendance stands at 15,390 in person and 11,432 online, up from 14,512 in person the previous year and down from 14,191 online.

Church school attendance stands at 2,997, down from 3,103.

Professions or reaffirmations of faith for 2022: 751, up from 697.

Adults and young adults in small groups for 2022 :1,150, up from 1,125.

Worshipers engaged in mission for 2022: 8,595, down from 8,778.

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