COVINGTON, Kentucky –
In a passionate, emotional message delivered to Annual Conference participants, Bishop Leonard Fairley called Monday for God’s unfailing leadership during challenging times for the United Methodist Church.
“Come, Holy Spirit, fill this place with your glory,” the KAC bishop said during the opening worship service at the Northern Kentucky Conventional Center, where clergy and laity have gathered for the three-day conference.
Bishop Fairley delivered the sermon at the service attended by about 2,000 people. His message was titled, “Looking Through the Eyes of the Spirit.”
The bishop acknowledged during his 35-minute sermon that the sometimes-heated debate over human sexuality has made for tense times in the UMC and that some people have come to Annual Conference with feelings of anger and disappointment.
“I don’t come in despair,” Bishop Fairley said. He invited the audience to believe, as he does, “in the promise of Jesus Christ, and I choose to look through the eyes of the Holy Spirit.”
Pray for the church, the bishop urged, urging God to “send your Holy Spirit down like a dove, and let it dance. Let it dance!”
“Let us say, Holy Spirit, you are welcome here!”
The challenges of a broken world – hunger, poverty, school shootings, and all the others we face today – require Christians to spread the word of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. There is much to accomplish here and now, Bishop Fairley said.
“Now is not the time to gaze into heaven. … There’s work to be done. There’s souls to be saved, doors to be opened,” the bishop said. Drawing laughs at one point, the bishop said, “Pardon my French,” but it’s time to “get off our butts” and follow Christ’s example.
The bishop’s message, and the worshipful tone set during the service had a noticeable effect on the audience and carried over into the three-hour afternoon plenary session, when various reports were presented.
“I know you thought the bishop was speaking to you this morning, but he was really speaking to me,” Julie Love, director of Connectional Ministries and conference secretary, said half-jokingly as the plenary session opened.
Rev. Love was a member of the UMC’s 32-member Commission on a Way Forward, which spent more than a year crafting various options for delegates to the special February 2019 General Conference regarding the church’s LGBTQ policies. Rev. Love delivered a detailed update on the commission’s work and where things stand.
She said perhaps the most difficult conversation during her time serving on the commission was when her 19-year-old daughter, Eliza – who is contemplating a career in ministry -- told her mother, “I hope there is something left to lead when we get a chance.”
“That was like a knife in my heart,” Rev. Love said. The mission of the UMC must be to stay on task, to make disciples of Jesus Christ, she said.
The Council of Bishops has recommended the One Church Plan be adopted by the General Conference, but she stressed that all three plans will be submitted. Legislation will be ready by early July, after it is translated into multiple languages.
Over the summer and fall, delegates will prepare for the General Conference. The KAC delegates and alternates will join the rest of the UMC delegates in St. Louis at the Feb. 23-26 conference.
After Rev. Love concluded her report, Bishop Fairley reminded people that nothing in the Book of Discipline has changed and that only the delegates at General Conference can change it.
In one piece of formal business, delegates voted to approve a motion that would require the Board of Pensions to refund a portion of deductibles paid by members on the KAC’s insurance plan.
The KAC recognized outgoing Director of Administrative Services/Conference Treasurer Joni Way, who joined the Conference in 2013 and is retiring. Mrs. Way, who is also a retired Yum! Brands Inc. executive, will move to Dallas to be closer to her family. Rev. David Garvin is assuming the role as director of Administrative Services/Conference Treasurer.
Ecumenism awards were presented to Donna Aros and Ggayle Kelly.
One playful moment came when Camp & Retreat Ministries proclaimed Christmas in June as advertisement for the ministry’s Christmas Catalog. Several people invaded the stage in their most garish Christmas outfits to drive home the point and urge people to contribute when it is available. The presentation ended with a T-shirt launch by the youth and young adults – assisted by Bishop Fairley.
During the evening Ordination Service, seven people were ordained as elders: Tyler Brumfield, Kaury Edwards, Kevin Lee Johnson, Jeremy Stephen Ruegg, Sean Ryan, Charles Victor Shroll, and Cambron Lee Wright.
Six people were commissioned on the elder track: Chad W. Brandt, Peter Han, Claudia Nava-Galloway, Drew Oakley, James Todd Smith and Caleb Wheat. Michael Chambers Armstrong was commissioned on the deacon track.
Bishop Kenneth H. Carter of Florida gave the message, “A Future with Hope.” His theme was that in order to fulfill its mission, the church must be willing to adapt. It’s a given, he said, that the church of 2050 will be structured different from today’s. “God calls us to love people. God does not call us to love structures.”
The service concluded with a moving alter call by Bishop Fairley. Several people responded to the bishop’s call for those who might want to explore a call to ministry.