More than 1,200 United Methodists felt God’s presence during the 2011 Kentucky Annual Conference session, held June 8-11 in Covington, KY. “Called by Christ, Sent to Sow” was the theme for this year's conference, and that theme was evident throughout our time together. Even the visuals on stage carried a rustic theme to remind us that we are all called to be sowers of God's Word.
In the opening worship, Rev. Rebecca Curry, Louisville District Superintendent and Assistant to the Bishop of the Kentucky Annual Conference, preached a sermon titled “Celebrating the Sower.” She encouraged those present to "give thanks for those who have gone before us and the seeds they planted," We also remembered 19 clergy and clergy spouses who died in the past year. The opening worship concluded with the serving of Holy Communion.
Our other worship services consisted of:
• The Ordination and Commissioning Service, where fourteen people were commissioned as Provisional Members, two were recognized as Associate Members, and eight were ordained as Elders in Full Connection. Bishop James Swanson of the Holston Conference preached on “The Essential Nature of the Call.”
• The Retirement Service, where the Conference recognized, with gratitude, the ministry of 18 clergy who are retiring from active service this year. The Rev. Dr. Eddie Fox’s sermon was “Therefore, by God’s Grace, We Do Not Lose Heart.”
• Our Mission and Ministry Night, where we were again treated to a sermon by Dr. Fox. Our mission offering was collected, and over$82,000 was raised to plant a new church in Thailand and to help support the Seminary of the United Methodist Church in Venezuela as they prepare their young clergy to be church planters.
In keeping with our theme, the three Bible study leaders were pastors who have recently planted new churches. Rev. Rosario Picardo, Rev. Brian Ebel and Rev. Matt Johnson shared their stories of how they planted God's word and have come to see the fruit of their labor. We were also introduced to three new church planters: Rev. Mark Windley and Rev. Anthony Everett, who will plant new churches in the upcoming year, and Rev. Chris Campbell, who will be called upon to revitalize an existing congregation. Stories of other new church starts were shared via video presentations interspersed throughout plenary sessions.
During our business sessions, awards were given to churches that have hosted refugee families, implemented special needs ministries, and shown exceptional growth. The Harry Denman Evangelism Awards are given to individuals who have a passion for evangelism and make an impact on The United Methodist Church. Those receiving Denman awards this year were Bryce Osborne, Linda Gayheart and Don Barnett. Awards were also given to those clergy members who have reached the milestones of 25 and 50 years of service.
Delegates were elected to represent the Kentucky Conference at the 2012 General Conference and Southeastern Jurisdictional Conference. Clergy delegates to General Conference are Debbie Wallace-Padgett, Bill T. Arnold, Tom Grieb, Mike Powers, Maxie Dunnam and Thomas W. Smith; laity delegates are Carol Ackley, Michael B. Watts, Linda Underwood King, Ed Shytle, John R. Denham and Jayne Squires. Delegates to Jurisdictional Conference are the above-named clergy plus Julie Hager Love, Eliseo Mejia-Leiva, Rebecca Curry, Tamara Brown, John Hatton and David Grout. The laity delegates are the above-named laity plus Jan Brown-Thompson, Linda Gayheart, Terry Cunningham, Chrysanthia Carr-Seals, John Crissman and Nancy Wetzel. The clergy alternates are Brian Ebel, Charles Brockwell and Elvyn Hamilton. The laity alternates are Lewis D. Nicholls, Brenda Glover and Tim Roach.
Other business at this year's conference included recognizing this year’s LACE (the Lay Academy of Church Excellence) graduates. We continued to celebrate our partnership with the Red Bird Missionary Conference. Rev. Farley Stuart, Superintendent of the Red Bird Missionary Conference, brought greetings. Pam Buck from United Methodist Communications discussed Impact Appalachia, a one-day service event in which community and church volunteers from the Kentucky Conference and Red Bird Conference will work together on service projects in the Red Bird Conference. Rev. Stuart explained that the goal is to have over 200 people from the Kentucky Conference work at Impact Appalachia. Conference members also approved the 2012 budget, which will keep spending at the same level as 2011. In one of the more exciting developments, the Rev. Dr. Debbie Wallace-Padgett was nominated and endorsed for the Episcopacy in the Southeastern Jurisdiction.
Over 800 people participated in more than 24 projects in our second annual Afternoon of Service, where conference members give back to the community by doing service in the area where we are meeting. This year 58 people donated blood to the local blood bank, 600 agape letters were written to missionaries and military personnel, and over 1,500 health kits were assembled for UMCOR. Volunteers also led worship services at nursing homes, served meals at the Grace Campus of Immanuel UMC, did repairs at the Ida Spence Mission, and delivered books to children living in the area surrounding Ida Spence.
For the second year, people not in attendance were able to follow the activities of the conference sessions via live streaming. Over 500 unique viewers, both nationally and internationally, watched at least some portion of the conference.
Membership in the Kentucky Annual Conference stands at 150,822 people, down 1,230 people from the previous year. Average worship attendance stands at 56,571 people, down 1,320 people from the previous year and average church school attendance stands at 26,878 down 980 people from last year.