By Paul Black
SPRINGFIELD – The Illinois Great Rivers Annual Conference gathered online for its second virtual annual conference session June 11-12. The theme of the two-day gathering with a two-hour clergy session and a four-hour plenary session was A Time for Healing, the first of four themes focusing on a quadrennial theme of God Has Made Everything Beautiful in His Time, based upon Ecclesiastes 3.
The start of Annual Conference came with the announcement by the State of Illinois that it was lifting masking and social distancing requirements for fully vaccinated people. Conference leadership, which has provided guidance for the past 15 months through the pandemic, is now returning such decisions to the local church in consultation with local health officials. Despite the limitations brought about by the pandemic, conferees were able to worship and gather for Christian conferencing. IGRC Communications collaborated to produce a hybrid, part-live, part-recorded Annual Conference. Attendees gathered virtually via Zoom web conferencing or by attending one of the eight remote locations throughout the annual conference. Slightly more than 930 attended annual conference from home and another 90 attended through one of the remote sites and voted manually with marshals reporting vote totals via a roll call vote once voting was completed in the Zoom room. Annual Conference secretarial staff aggregated the vote totals.
Bishops Sharma J. Lewis, episcopal leader of the Richmond (Va.) Area, was the preacher for the Opening Worship and Bishop Frank J. Beard preached the closing worship service.
Leading up to the single-day conference, services were aired recognizing 26 retirees with a combined 635 years of service was held June 11; A Memorial Service remembering clergy, clergy spouses and lay members to annual conference that had passed away in the previous year and remembrance of 10 congregations with a combined 1.405 years of ministry that have completed their mission – East Peoria Faith UMC, St. Elmo: Fairview UMC, Florence UMC, Granite City Niedringhaus, Iroquois UMC, Girard: New Hope UMC, Sumner: Olive Branch UMC, Roberts UMC, Saint David UMC and Texas UMC -- on June 10.
The Conference also approved the closure of two congregations -- the former United Church of Altona and the former Fairview Heights Christ UMC -- which have left the denomination to become independent. Both resolutions followed negotiations between the congregations and conference leadership.
The Annual Conference approved a 2022 budget of $11,040,909 – a reduction of 1.48 percent. However, included in the spending plan is the use of $700,000 from Conference reserves to enable a second straight year of decrease in apportionments of more than 7 percent. While budgets have been relatively flat over the past 10 years, the $10,340,909 apportioned total returns spending levels to 2005. The $893,033 reduction comes on the heels of apportionment collections of 90 percent in 2020, slightly higher that the 88 percent in pre-pandemic 2019, and still lower than 95 percent in 2018. The Conference ended 2020 with a $352,000 surplus.
The 2022 Spending Plan also includes funding for a new position -- a Director of Ministerial Excellence -- which will relate to the Conference Board of Ministry, the Bishop and Cabinet, and be a single link for clergy from the beginning of candidacy throughout their active ministry. The position not only includes administrative tasks but it also includes providing direction for the Pastoral Care and Counseling network within the conference. The search process is underway and is being guided by the General Council on Finance and Administration. Applications are being accepted through June 25, 2021.
Legislatively, the conference announced that the health insurance allowance paid to full-time pastors will remain at $17,500 for 2022. The conference also approved a 2 percent increase to its minimum salaries. In 2022, the salaries will go to $46,195 for clergy in full connection, associate members and provisional elders; and $42,391 for full-time local pastors.
Retirees under the pre-1982 pension plan will see a 2 percent increase to $827 per active service year in 2022, funded by a gift from Preachers' Aid Society and Benefit Fund..
In anticipation that General Conference action may result in a split of the denomination, conferees approved a change to the Preachers' Aid Society's by-laws that would extend benefits to any pastor who is a member of the IGRC at the time of separation when they retired. The measure, which required a 90 percent affirmative vote was approved 714-14.
The Clergy Session approved the election of one elder in full connection and three deacons in full connection. They also approved the commissioning of seven provisional elders and one provisional deacon; and celebrated the graduation of three local pastors from Course of Study. Ordination and Commissioning Services will be held at Champaign Faith UMC on Saturday, June 19. Commissioning will be at 11 a.m. and Ordination will begin at 2 p.m.
Membership stands at 112,122 in 2020, down 3,249 (2.8 percent) from 2019. Average worship attendance is 35,151, down 14,119 (28.7 percent), although congregations also reported 45,665 person attending online, which would result in a substantial increase. Church school attendance stands at 12,509, down 3,697.
The 2022 Annual Conference will be held June 9-11, 2022, at the Peoria Civic Center in Peoria, Ill