By Paul Black PEORIA -- The Illinois Great Rivers Annual Conference gathered around the theme, The Fields are Ripe for the Harvest June 8-11, 2016 at the Peoria Civic Center. This year’s conference celebrated the 46 years of ministry of Bishop Jonathan D. Keaton, who will be retiring Aug. 31 after 20 years as bishop in the North Central Jurisdiction. IGRC Communications produced five video vignettes entitled, Bishop Keaton: In His Own Words, as he shared about his life and ministry. As part of...
Bill Ettinger, a member of Springfield Laurel UMC received the Torch Award recently during a Court of Honor at the church. He has been involved in the Scouting ministries of his church for most of his life. He was a Cub Scout and Boy Scout at his home church in Taylorville, attaining the rank of Eagle Scout. After college, Bill became involved with the BSA in the Abraham Lincoln Council by serving as an adult advisor to the Order of the Arrow, and began serving as an Assistant Scoutmaster.
The Rivers of Life Clergy Band presented Bishop Jonathan Keaton a $2,647 check for Africa University’s Making Dreams Possible campaign prior to the band leading worship at Annual Conference.
The Rev. H. Russell Ewell gave a challenge to the churches of the Illinois Great Rivers Conference in becoming more aware of people with disabilities – Get Started!
“When you consider that about 20 percent of the U.S. population are persons with disabilities, that is a large audience that many are writing off,” Ewell said. “A larger share of persons with disabilities do not participate in weekly worship because the message is they are not invited.”
IGRC Coordinator of Congregational Development Mike Crawford was selected as the Denman Evangelism Award for clergy, while young adult Madeline Harrison of Canton Wesley UMC and Ean Fox of Kinmundy UMC were selected as the laity and youth recipients of the evangelism awards. Bishop Jonathan D. Keaton was awarded the Peter Cartwright Lifetime Achievement Award and all four were recognized on Friday as part of the Connectional Ministries report.
Our churches are full of broken people – old gray mares and stallions who “ain’t what they used to be” but are filled with passion, gifts, skills for ministry honed over a lifetime that they can still use to build up the body of Christ. Some of them have handicapping conditions they were born with or developed through age, accident, or illness.
They and I are children of God and can and should be contributing members to the Body of Christ, but are often overlooked because we lack the vision to see them.
There are a number of ways in which persons can develop their discipleship and leading others on their discipleship journey. Here’s a small sampling of opportunities:
Ministry with a growing Hispanic population represents one of the largest fields awaiting a discipleship harvest. IGRC Associate Coordinator for Hispanic Ministries Adrian Garcia believes that with planning and strategy, Hispanic ministries could be a bountiful harvest.
For Kristi Hopp, the journey to fully answering her call was a steady progression of being available and being faithful. Using her pair of boots as a centerpiece of her story, Hopp recounted how when putting on the boots she knew that it wasn’t going to be easy.
Seven years ago, Hopp said her mentor set her down at lunch and said, “Kristi, you are so passionate about trauma-related injuries and post-traumatic stress disorder, why don’t you consider a career in the military?”
What began 10 years ago as a single mission partnership with a west African country has now blossomed into four mission partnerships on four different continents. And there are plenty of opportunities to be involved with them.
I would like to share the rest of the story with you. It’s a story that amidst the chaos has a happy ending. It’s a story about a community that refused to allow adversity to defeat it. A community that reached out in a time of need and joined together to make itself stronger and about a church that was right in the middle of it all.
Bishop B. Michael Watson reminded those gathered for the Service of Ordination and Commissioning that all are called to be God’s ambassadors.
“Ministry is the calling of the baptized. Ministry is for us all,” Watson said. With selected verses of II Corinthians 4 and 5, Watson explained that baptism marks the beginning of being a minister of Jesus Christ.
Using the stories of the woman with an issue of blood and the death of Jairus’ daughter, Christ demonstrated a commitment to work on the nature and depth of our faith.
“We’re not just marching to Zion. We’re not just joining William Cullen Bryant’s ‘innumerable caravan of death.’ We’re not just singing It is well,” said Bishop Jonathan Keaton in the annual conference memorial sermon. “We’re on our way to that Great Getting Up Morning. On that day, Christ will call us to ‘Get Up.’ He will wipe every tear from our eyes… ‘mourning, crying and death will be no more’ for the former things will have passed away. Get up, there will be no more night (in the city of God) … no need for light of lamp or sun … for the Lord God will be our light, and we shall reign forever and ever. Hallelujah. Amen.”
Ministry with persons with disabilities and not ministry to or for them represents one of the largest fields the church has not fully harvested.
Dr. Amos Yong of Fuller Theological Seminary, set a theological framework for the church’s ministry with persons with disabilities as part of the 2016 Annual Conference emphasis on disability awareness.
Fuller, who has written two books on the theology and disability became interested in the topic when his younger brother, Mark, was born with Down's Syndrome.
What is it that either captivates us or that holds our attention? This is no idle question for where we direct our time, talents and passion determines to a very large extent the people we become. Do we concentrate on either the light or the darkness?
Year after year we are bombarded with information. We receive each annual conference the statistics regarding the membership in our churches, the strength of financial giving and the current trends. I am neither suggesting that someone shouldn’t be assigned to assemble this data nor that we shouldn’t pay attention to it. I am saying it should not be our primary focus.
The day of June 13, 1999, started like any other day. I felt good. I talked on the phone, watched TV and visited with family. Then that afternoon I started getting a headache. This didn’t alarm me. I got headaches all the time. I took some Ibuprofen, but it didn’t even faze my pain. My mom rubbed my head. I laid on the bed with the lights off. I tried to distract myself with a phone call to my best friend. Nothing was helping! The pain as unbearable. I didn’t know what to think. I had never heard of meningococcal meningitis.
Leave it to the 2011 World Series, a seminary experience at St. Paul’s School of Theology and a 2002 fire at Belleville Union UMC to reinforce the message for retirement, “See you tomorrow.”
“See you tomorrow is God’s loud shout, ‘This world will not defeat God,’” Weston said. “God gives us tomorrow – either here on Earth or on the other side. Because tomorrow is where God lives, where God’s Kingdom is and it is God’s gift to us."
Bishop Jonathan D. Keaton reminded those gathered at the 2016 Annual Conference that God uses some of the most unlikely people to help with the harvest.
In the opening worship, Keaton wove a tapestry of images based upon the story of the Samaritan woman at the well as the backdrop to punctuate the conference’s theme, The Fields Are Ripe for the Harvest.