With the theme of, “Judgment, Justice, Joy,” (#judgmentjusticejoy) the 31st Annual Session focused on Acts of Repentance with a particular emphasis on the communities of native persons throughout the California-Pacific region. Dr. Kim Marcus, a spiritual leader for the Serrano-Cahuilla people in this region, was invited and present to perform a Native American greeting ceremony offering Native American Words of Welcome and Blessing. In keeping with Native American tradition, Guest Speaker Dr. George “Tink” Tinker requested of Dr. Marcus permission to be a public speaker in the region of the Serrano-Cahuilla people.
Permission was certainly granted as Dr. Tinker led the 31st Session in deep teaching for three Spirit-filled days. In addition to learning about the ways by which United Methodists have been undeniably complicit in the atrocities against native persons, those present were challenged to change the narrative of what it means to be an “American” and a “Christian.” Dr. Tinker offered a tangible solution in repenting for our acts of sin against native persons in that we might begin to consider each other “relatives.” When we consider each other as relatives, we can have a deeper respect for the well-being of each other.
The teaching was extended through a panel discussion on Acts of Repentance that was moderated by Suanne Ware-Diaz, Field Organizer of Native American Churches and Communities with the General Board of Church and Society, and which included Georgiana Sanchez, a Barbareno Chumash esteemed Elder, Rev. Dr. Kaleo Patterson, President of the Pacific Justice and Reconciliation Center, and Julia Bogany, esteemed Elder of the Tonga Gabrielino people. The panel shared their vast array of experiences and histories of their peoples which included the era of the California Missions, the fact that the nation of Hawaii was illegally annexed by the United States of America, and a strong faith in God through life traumas.
Resident Bishop Minerva G. Carcaño, in the Episcopal Address, began by encouraging those gathered to consider seriously the teachings of Dr. George Tinker who would lead the 31st Session into moments with the Holy Spirit.
Bishop Carcaño shared with those gathered that the faithfulness of our local churches has been strengthening her own discipleship and hope for the church and the world. Identified were also areas where we could build on our faithfulness such as the ways by which our local churches might make real the vision of the Conference in the life of the local church, as well as our Imagine No Malaria efforts, and to support the nurturing of church leaders through the Young Clergy Initiative.
Bishop Carcaño shared the story of the ongoing work of ministry with the local churches in the San Bernardino area and the joint effort with them, the Cabinet, and Conference Staff as an example of how we might together inspire the world as passionate followers of Jesus so all may experience God’s life-giving love. Such Connectionalism is the same attitude that she encouraged our Conference to adopt in the approach to General Conference 2016. The criticisms of the “West” can be received in such a way where it would be a gift to our ongoing spiritual growth.
Phil and Connee Freeman, Conference Co-Lay Leaders, expressed their gratitude in being able to work with local lay leaders who led by love and were faithful leaders on whom Bishop Carcaño and our Conference could depend. Particularly recognized were the Lay Persons of the Year: Chelemar Hoskins (San Bernardino), Donna Johnson (Long Beach), and John Camphouse (Bishop). Finally, the Freemans committed to keeping in touch with the local lay leaders through a bi-monthly e-newsletter and to also soon providing a video on local lay leadership.
Major decisions made at the 31st Session included the establishing of the Conference Connectional Table to replace the Navigation Essential Ministry Team and the placing of the Congregational Loans Sub-Committee within the Council on Finance and Administration. These were actions taken based on the recommendations of the Rules and Structure Task Force and the Congregational Loans Committee Task Force which met throughout the 2014-2015 year to determine the best way forward in light of evolving leadership needs in the Conference.
The 31st Session affirmed a Communications Strategic Plan which would establish a Conference Communications Commission that would work to bolster the communications efforts of the Conference as a whole. And, the Session also passed a new way of providing Retiree Healthcare through One Exchange, a private medicare exchange broker, which would result in significant cost improvements while providing quality care for Conference retirees.
To support our connectional ministries, the 31st Session approved the 2016 Budget of $12.8 million, which is the same total budget amount as our 2015 Budget. The 2016 Budget reflects, in particular, the aligning of resources in support of Conference Communications and Hispanic-Latino Ministries. The Conference has been exhibiting signs of financial health in that the annual conference’s expenses have not exceeded revenue for the past three years. And, while we are not yet at 100% payment of our apportionments, our local churches paid $700,000 more on their apportionments in 2014 than in 2013.
The ministry of 17 clergy persons who moved into retired status was celebrated. Together, these retiring ministers gave over 509 years of active service as United Methodist clergy persons. They gave witness to their commitment to Christ through videos shown throughout the plenary sessions and a Retirement Banquet provided an opportunity to say thank you to these faithful servant leaders.
In a major event of celebration, the Conference received a (literally) large check of $200,000 from San Diego First United Methodist Church as a contribution to Cal-Pac’s Imagine No Malaria effort. The amount was made up of a $100,000 pledge by a generous donor that challenged the congregation to match the amount which the congregation was able to do through a variety of creative means.
In addition, just over $7,000 was received for Imagine No Malaria and over $9,000 was received in Special Offerings of which $4,236.25 was for Philippines Church Building Mission with Indigenous People, $1,942 for Latin America and the Caribbean, and $2,917.90 for Oklahoma Indian Missionary Endowment for Leadership Development.
The annual Memorial Service remembered with thanksgiving the lives of 4 Bishops, 3 Bishop’s Spouses, 18 Clergypersons, and 17 Clergy Spouses who had gone on ahead to eternal life since the last annual conference session. The preacher for this service was the Rev. Faith Conklin, a retiring clergy person with 44 years of ministry service and who is the first woman Ordained Elder in the California-Pacific Conference. Her thoughtful and inspiring sermon was entitled, “Obituaries and Maternity Clothes.”
The Ordination Service was the final service of the 31st Session. There was great celebration in the Commissioning of 4 on the Elder track, and the ordination of 10 new Elders. One Deacon transitioned to the Order of Elders. The preacher for this service was Resident Bishop Minerva G. Carcaño who included in her sermon the tragic shooting at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina. Reflecting on the biblical Zachaeus story, a story of God’s grace at work in the lives of all God’s children without exception, she invited us to wonder how things might be different today if the Methodist Episcopal Church had not acted with racism against Richard Allen, one of its local pastors who would eventually found the African Methodist Episcopal Church.
Corrections: Changing of the date from 20 to 18, addition of noting Rev. Faith Conklin as first woman Ordained Elder in the California-Pacific Conference, and various grammatical corrections.