2012: A new bishop, risk-taking mission and extravagant generosity
United Methodists in the Illinois Great Rivers Conference practiced risk-taking mission and extravagant generosity on several front as well as welcome new episcopal leadership in 2012.
Bishop Jonathan D. Keaton, who completed two terms as leader in the Michigan Area, was assigned to the Illinois Area by the North Central Jurisdictional Conference Committee on Episcopacy. Bishop Gregory Palmer, who served only one term in Illinois, was assigned by the same committee to West Ohio.
For some, the change in episcopal leadership was a surprise, but Bishop Keaton waxed prophetically in a sermon, But We Had Hoped, at the NCJ gathering and delivered the message just the day before his new assignment was announced. Utilizing the text of Cleopas and the other disciple on the Road to Emmaus, Keaton spoke of how they had lost their hope and how a little talk with Jesus changed things.
“Feasting on the word of God, and seeing the risen Christ in the breaking of bread rebuilt their hope,” Keaton said as the message reached a crescendo with the word of the hymn, The Solid Rock (My Hope is Built).
Bishop Palmer, in his farewell column, was quick to give credit to others. “Whatever was accomplished during these last four years was built upon the strong foundation that I inherited,” he wrote. “I followed a superb visionary and strategic leader in Bishop Sharon Brown Christopher. …All of you – the lay and clergy of this conference – have been warm, generous and responsive to me and my ministry initiatives. You are a grace-filled, leader-full people. What more could I have asked for? You have everything you need to keep on keeping on for God.”
Bishop Keaton, who has only one term of service remaining, said of the new assignment, “It’s going to be another good opportunity. I say that because I have been in ministry for 40 years and it has all been itinerant ministry. That means that in all these years, I have gone where I have been sent. My whole ministry has been that whenever I have gone, God is already there awaiting me and it will be the same in the Illinois Great Rivers Conference.”
Imagine No Malaria
The year 2012 was also a year that the IGRC zeroed in on its $2.3 million goal for Imagine No Malaria. At the beginning of December, contributions and pledges fell $140,000 short of the goal.
Two farewell offerings for Bishop Palmer in separate gatherings at Normal Calvary and Fairview Heights Christ pushed the total past the 90 percent mark and the welcoming gift to Bishop Keaton also was applied to the campaign. A May golf outing in Fairview Heights generated $30,000. The IGRC is one of only two conferences to have surpassed the $2 million mark (Minnesota is the other).
In early December, Bishop Keaton set down a Red Flannel Challenge – that if churches would raise new funds or new pledges to meet the $140,000, he would bring a pair of red flannel pajamas to annual conference and would provide a photo opportunity for folks as he held them up.
Churches who have already made pledges need to continue paying on those commitments. Some 200 churches have not yet participated in the campaign and could still do so with an offering or a pledged commitment for up to three years. Any new money or new pledges count against the $140,000 goal.