Disciple Bible prison outreach, Christian response to violence among approved legislation


PEORIA –The theme of “Extravagant Generosity” permeated throughout the 2013 Annual Conference session as the Illinois Great Rivers Conference raised its sights for a new outreach ministry in the state prison system as well as approving “A Christian Response to Violence,” primarily authored by two IGRC retired pastors.

In addition to more than $25,000 collected in special offerings and approval of a $1 million campaign for Africa University scholarships, a last-minute motion from the floor put a punctuation mark on the four-day gathering. The resolution, approved by a vote of 697-50, raised the goal for the conference’s Imagine No Malaria campaign from $2.3 million to $2.5 million.

Imagine No Malaria

The motion, made by Rev. Kim Dancey,followed just a day after Pittsburgh Area Bishop Thomas Bickerton spoke to the IGRC gathering and told how the conference’s efforts had encouraged the Western Pennsylvania Conference to increase their goal from $1.8 to $2.3 million. In speaking for her motion, she said, “if the people of Western Pennsyvlania want to join us, they are going to have to dig a little deeper.”

As of May 31, the IGRC has collected $2,038,373 of its $2.3 million goal. There are sufficient pledges to cover the remaining amount of the $2.3 million goal, but with the increased goal, an additional $200,000 will need to be raised. The Minnesota Conference recently completed a $2.6 million campaign and joins the IGRC as the only two conferences to have raised $2 million for the effort.

Bickerton noted in his remarks that the campaign is ahead of schedule in its goal to raise $75 million by 2015 to end the deaths and suffering from malaria in Africa.  The church initiative reached a June benchmark goal of $40 million ahead of schedule with $20 million received in gifts and pledges over the past year.

Disciple Bible Study outreach

Both the Illinois Great Rivers and Northern Illinois conferences approved an agreement with Disciple Bible Outreach Ministries of Illinois, Inc., an independent 501(c)3 corporation, aimed at assisting congregations in providing Disciple Bible Studies as a prison ministry within institutions of the Illinois Department of Corrections.

The two conferences will provide encouragement, support, funding and to identify itself as related by faith to the conferences. DBOM-IL will relate to the structure of the conferences through the respective Offices of Connectional Ministries.

DBOM-IL was born as a result of a March 2012 Deeper Still event in Decatur hosted by the conference’s New Streams Team which examined ways to develop and strengthen Bible study ministries in prisons. Because the statewide prison system encompasses two annual conferences, DBOM-IL will relate to both conferences in its ministry. (Legislative Item 125)

A Christian response to gun violence

A resolution, authored by retired pastors Miley Palmer and Howard Daughenbaugh, which called for enforcement of current gun laws, universal background checks on all gun purchases, required reporting into a statewide database of excluded gun purchasers and calling on churches to be places for conversation on the issue, was approved, 510-312.

“This resolution is not about gun control. It does not seek to take guns away from law-abiding, responsible citizens.  It does not recommend changes in the Second Amendment or our nation’s time-honored Constitution,” Daughenbaugh said. “The resolution does address the matters of regulation surrounding gun ownership, strict enforcement of present laws and urges dialogue in our local churches about what a Christian response to violence in our culture should be.”

During the debate, an amendment was offered by Howard Bell that would have stripped the word “gun” out of the resolution. The proposed amendment was rejected, 336-476. (Legislative Item 201)

Africa University scholarships

Conference members also approved a $1 million campaign for scholarships for Africa University that if successful, will endow an additional eight scholarships.

Currently, the conference has endowed four undergraduate scholarships and two direct scholarships. If the campaign meets its goal, the two direct scholarships will be endowed and six additional undergraduate scholarships will be added for a total of 10 undergraduate scholarships.

The conference heard from AU Committee Chair Rich Straub of Orion UMC and Joyce Francis of Peoria Bethel UMC, who were part of a four-person delegation to the school’s 20th anniversary celebration in March, and Dr. Paul Kasambira, a professor at Bradley University, member of Peoria First UMC and a native Zimbabwean. (Legislative Item 129)

Other action

  • The Conference also approved the Board of Pensions report with recommendations on changes to the Conference health insurance program. Although assessments to both pastors and churches remain unchanged, several changes were made to plan benefits as an attempt to close a $1.4 million gap between what is collected and what is paid out in the plan. (Legislative Items 105-108)
  • The Conference approved a $12,237,996 budget for 2014 – an increase of 0.80 percent. (Legislative Item 103)
  • Several standing rules regarding clergy housing, including a requirement that every church must provide adequate housing for its pastor through a parsonage or a housing allowance sufficient to buy or rent a home in the area that meets parsonage standards. The housing provisions shall be subject to Cabinet approval, and that the housing allowance should be reviewed annually to ensure its adequacy. (Legislative Items 113-115)
  • Four constitutional amendments were given overwhelming approval. However, the IGRC totals will be aggregated with the other 58 conferences with a 2/3 affirmative vote needed for ratification. (Legislative Items 116a-d)
  • Minimum salaries for full-time pastors for 2014 was set at $38,034 for clergy in full connection, associate members and provisional elders, a $34,948 for full-time local pastors (Legislative Item 117)
  • Covenant Agreement with the United Methodist Children’s Home (Legislative Item 124) and the United Methodist Village (Legislative Item 128) were also approved.
  • A resolution condemning the practice of coal companies using bankruptcy proceedings in order to avoid paying health insurance and pension benefits to workers and retirees. (Legislative Item 202)The conference also endorsed the Healthy Families, Healthy Planet initiative, a project of the General Board of Church and Society (Legislative Item 203).
  • A resolution encouraging local churches to learn more about hydraulic fracturing technology used to extract petroleum and natural gas was approved, 479-264. However, another resolution, calling for a moratorium on fracking was withdrawn due to action already taken by the Illinois General Assembly (Legislative Item 206). Although efforts were made to amend the legislative item, those amendments were never presented to the body as Bishop Jonathan Keaton ruled the major revisions would constitute “new legislation.
  • A resolution regarding local churches voluntarily making contributions to the state’s unemployment insurance fund to pay discontinued local pastors unemployment compensation, was referred to the Board of Ordained Ministry for further study. (Legislative Item 307)
  • The Conference also approved the discontinuance of two congregations – Lynnville UMC, in the LaMoine River District (Legislative Item 120) and Noble UMC, in the Kaskaskia River District (Legislative Item 121).