Annual Conference wrapup


By Paul Black
IGRC Director of Communication Ministries

PEORIA – The Illinois Great Rivers Conference was held June 10-13, under the theme, Healing the Circle, which included an Act of Repentance toward Indigenous People.
The conference also approved a proposal to close three of the conference’s five campsites due to declining headcounts over the past 10 years. Discussion was passionate and spirited as four counter-proposals were also debated.

Act of Repentance

Conference speakers Rev. Fred Shaw and Rev. Dr. Thom White Wolf Fassett prepared lay and clergy members for the Friday service by recounting the history of relations between the white population and Native Americans through the years.
The audience sat quietly as the two speakers told stories from American history that many said they “had never heard before.”
During the Act of Repentance, three IGRC pastors -– Rev. Dan Lybarger, Rev. Gary Billiot and Rev. Danira Parra told of their personal experiences via video.
Lybarger recounted the history which took place within the IGRC borders. Billiot shared from his own personal experience in the southeastern United States and Parra shared her story growing up as a person of both Native American and Hispanic heritage.
“It was easier to be seen as Hispanic, although I am only one-fourth Hispanic,” Parra said. “When you are Native American, it’s like you don’t exist.”
Parra noted that Illinois has the largest Native American population of any state without a reservation and challenged the IGRC.
“We have had a wonderful mission partnership with a third-world country in Africa,” Parra said.
“But we have Third World countries in the United States. They are called reservations.”
She challenged the conference to adopt a reservation – “just one” – in a mission partnership and she asked the United Methodist Women to adopt “just one” mission project that could build a relationship similar to the UMW’s relations with Cunningham Home and the Lessie Bates Davis Neighborhood House.
Pieces of burlap and a container of ashes were placed on tables and participants shared the imposition of ashes as part of the service.
An impromptu offering for Dayspring UMC in East Peoria – the state’s only Native-American United Methodist Church – collected $9,618.15, which will be used to assist the congregation in completing its building and paving its parking lot.

Special offerings

In addition to the impromptu offering, special offerings were received for: the Making Dreams Possible Scholarship campaign ($35,603); the Laity Session offering for the John Kofi Asmah School in Liberia ($5,609); the Ordinands’ Holy Land Pilgrimage ($5,626); and the Tom Brown Scholarship at Wiley College, one of 11 historically Black Colleges ($6,166); and 165 conference churches filled a trailer of 4,797 pounds of school supplies and $890 in monetary contributions for the Midwest Mission Distribution Center which will be sent as school bags to a Native American school in the Dakotas.
The conference was recognized by the General Council on Finance and Administration for its payment of 100 percent of general church apportionments for the 12th consecutive year and for $6.8 million in disaster relief by the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR).

Camping proposals

In the end, the conference session voted 492-292 to adopt the proposal of the Commission on Camping and Retreat Ministries and urged the Commission to grant a non-profit group, Jensen Camp Foundation, the right of first refusal on the sale of Jensen Woods Camp in Timewell, Ill. The other two camps closing will be Living Springs Camp in Lewistown, Ill., and Epworth Camp in Louisville, Ill.
During the debate, supporters of the various campsites urged delay of any action to sell the campsites, enabling supporters to develop strategy plans or put into place local management of the site while the conference would remain owners of the property.
“Let our past be our guideposts not our hitching posts,” said the Rev. Beverly Wilkes-Null during the debate. “As a parent of a camper, I understand the difference between ministry and real estate.”

Delegates elected

Delegates to General and Jurisdictional Conference were elected during the respective clergy and laity sessions. Elections were completed in the allotted four hours.
Clergy elected to General Conference are (in order of election): Rev. Sylvester Weatherall, Spoon River District Superintendent; Rev. Andy Adams, Champaign Quest UMC; Sara Isbell,  Chatham UMC; Rev. Robert Phillips, Peoria First UMC; and Rev. Chris Ritter, Geneseo First UMC.
Laity elected to General Conference are (in order of election): Rhonda Whitaker, Neoga Grace UMC; Bunny Wolfe, IGRC Coordinator of Missions and Outreach; Bobby Davis, Maryville St. Luke UMC; Kimberly Woods, Braceville UMC; and Steve Schonert, Olney First UMC.
Joining the General Conference delegation to form the IGRC Jurisdictional delegation includes:
Clergy: Rev. Randall Robinson, Danville St. James UMC; Dr. Roger Ross, Springfield First UMC;  Rev. Janice Griffith, Executive Assistant to the Bishop; Rev. Rose Booker-Jones, Iroquois River District Superintendent; and Rev. Beth Fender, IGRC Coordinator of  Discipleship and New Streams.
Laity: Larry Weber, Fairview Heights Christ UMC; Marian McCray, Granite City Namoki UMC; Anish Hermon, Normal Hope UMC; Fred Iutzi, Carthage First UMC; and Carol Sims, administrative assistant to Preachers’ Aid Society and Benefit Fund.
Alternates are Rev. J. Keith Zimmerman, retired; Nicole Cox, associate pastor, Springfield First UMC; Rev. Dennis Price, Troy UMC; Melissa Calvillo, Carthage First UMC; Carolyn Yockey, Normal First UMC; and J. LaVon Wilson, Springfield Grace UMC.

By the numbers

Total 2014 membership is 129,587, down 2,338 from 2013. Average worship attendance for 2014 is 59,200, down 1,669. Professions of faith for 2014 is 1,915, down from 2,202 in 2013.
Giving to missions for 2014 was $1,119,528, compared to $1,472,900 in 2013.
Bishop Jonathan Keaton ordained nine elders in full connection and three deacons in full connection. He commission nine provisional elders and one provisional deacon. Two pastors had their orders recognized and became provisional elders and one was elected to associate membership.  A total of 25 pastors, representing 584 years of service, retired. Ten churches, totaling 1,498 years of ministry, have closed or are closing following annual conference.