I was 14 years old, and because I didn’t know any better, I had agreed to be the lay member to annual conference for my local church. I was a brand, new Christian attending a gathering that I knew nothing about, it was my first time in Peoria…I was out of my element.
The theme was Making Room in the Promised Land. I remember being in awe of the opening processional as the robed Bishop and cabinet made their way to the platform. I remember hearing the booming organ and singing And Are We Yet Alive? and thinking, “I’m home. This is where I belong.” It was at that first annual conference that, full of fear and trembling, I responded to the invitation during the ordination service.
I have a lot of fond memories of that first experience with the Illinois Great Rivers Annual Conference, but one stands out above the rest. Back then, the John Wesley Fellowship luncheon was the place where the evangelism awards were presented. I sat there and marveled at the stories of the churches who were presented with growth awards, the tenacity of those who received the Denman Awards, and the faithfulness of the one who received the Peter Cartwright Award. This became my favorite part of Annual Conference each year. I aspired to be like those who received these awards, I had a deep desire to learn from them. Two years ago, I was overcome with pride as one of my student leaders received the Denman Award for laity.
At Annual Conference 2018, I had the incredible privilege to stand before the body as the chair of your conference evangelism committee to announce the growth award recipient churches, present the Denman Award to Rev. Bruce Rushing and recognize the years of faithful evangelistic work of Rev. Bill Jones as he received the Peter Cartwright Lifetime Achievement Award. I was humbled and excited to recognize their contribution to the Church of Jesus Christ in the IGRC. We got to celebrate the ministry and legacy of these men and seek to learn from them.
However, I was also disheartened last year that our committee received no nominations for the Denman Award for laity or youth. In our reflection on that disappointment, your conference evangelism committee feels confident that it’s not because the youth and laity of our conference aren’t doing good evangelistic work that we received no nominations. We own that the process for receiving nominations has been on autopilot. So here’s your refresher.
The Harry S. Denman Evangelism Award is named to honor the legacy of the late Dr. Harry Denman, a lay evangelist. The Foundation for Evangelism, founded in 1949 by Dr. Denman, makes this award possible in every conference of The United Methodist Church. The Illinois Great Rivers Conference accepts nominations for clergy, laity, and youth not because these people are “super-Christians” but because they are faithful and missional leaders and are especially effective at sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
The Peter Cartwright Lifetime Achievement Award is unique to our conference. To honor the legacy of Peter Cartwright, this award is presented to a retired clergy member who has demonstrated effectiveness in and provided leadership to our conference in evangelism throughout their ministry career.
Think of people in your life who demonstrate these qualities. The layperson who is passionate about reaching out to those who don’t know Jesus. The youth who has caught fire and can’t stop inviting their friends to youth group. The Pastor who consistently and effectively shares the Gospel plainly each week. The retired pastor whose legacy influences your relationship with Jesus still today. If you’ve got people like this in your life, please consider nominating them for one of these awards so that we may all celebrate their work and learn from their ministry.
The nomination forms can be found on the conference website at www.igrc.org/evangelismawards. This year, the deadline for submitting a nomination is April 1. Our committee is looking forward to prayerfully considering many nominations and celebrating the wonderful evangelistic ministry that is happening in the Illinois Great Rivers Conference.
By Larry Frank
Chair, Conference Committee on Evangelism