Laity, clergy experience extravagant generosity


PEORIA --The Illinois Great Rivers Annual Conference was held in Peoria, Ill., June 5-8, under the theme of “Extravagant Generosity.” The 2013 session completed a five-year journey through the five practices of fruitful congregations.

The theme was apparent throughout as the conference celebrated reaching its $2.3 million goal for Imagine No Malaria. Bishop Thomas Bickerton of the Pittsburgh Area was a special guest for the celebration and told how the Illinois Great Rivers Conference had inspired Western Pennsylvania to increase their goal for its conference campaign from $1.8 million to $2.3 million. In the closing minutes of the annual conference, a motion was made by Rev. Kim Dancey, a West Pennsylvania native, to increase the Illinois Great Rivers goal to $2.5 million, saying, “if the people of Western Pennsylvania want to join us, they will have to dig a little deeper!” The motion carried, 697-50.

During the conference, special offerings were held for a variety of causes. Laity of the conference collected $6,013 to help in furnishing the John Kofi Asmah School in Monrovia, Liberia, a school they had built with laity session offerings from previous years. The conference also took offerings for New Hope UMC in Liberia; for the Tom Brown Scholarship at Wiley College; funding for Holy Land trips in February 2014 for this year’s class of ordinands; and scholarships for Africa University.

In addition to collecting $7,933 in the AU Scholarship offering, lay and clergy members overwhelmingly supported a $1 million campaign to endow eight scholarships at Africa University. Currently, the conference provides four endowed scholarships for undergraduate students and two direct scholarships for graduate students. When completed, the two direct scholarships will be fully endowed and the number of undergraduate scholarships will increase to 10.

IGRC Communications also produced three videos telling the story of extravagant generosity. The first vignette told the story of a 100-year-old Bernice Stropes of Orion, Ill., who sews for a children’s hospital in Haiti; a second on a United Methodist Church that became the community’s school following a fire in 2006; and the story of District Superintendent Randy Reese’s journey of donating his 19-year-old son Dylan’s organs and tissues after being killed in a car-pedestrian accident.

The conference speaker was the Rev. J. Clif Christopher who spoke twice on Not Your Parents’ Offering Plate and Changing the Culture of Giving.

Matt Conover, representing the General Council on Finance and Administration, was present to give an award to the conference for its 100 percent payment of general church apportionments for the 10th year in a row. The Illinois Great Rivers Conference was one of 20 U.S. annual conferences to pay 100 percent in general church apportionments.

Legislatively, the body approved a joint agreement with the Northern Illinois Conference and Disciple Bible Outreach Ministries of Illinois, Inc., an independent non-profit corporation, that will partner with the two conferences to provide Disciple Bible Study in the state’s prison system.  The annual conference also approved a resolution entitled “A Christian Response to Violence,” which called for enforcement of present gun laws, universal background checks on all gun purchases, a strengthening of governmental mental health services and a call for local churches to be places of discussion of the spiritual and ethical issues related to the growing presence of violence in society and communities.

Bishop Jonathan D. Keaton, in his first year of presiding in Illinois, ordained seven elders, and commissioned three provisional deacons and seven provisional elders.  A total of 23 pastors, celebrating 567½ years, retired.

Attendance stands at 63,718, down 1.72 percent from 2011. Membership is at 133,753, down 1.73 percent from 2011. Sunday school attendance stands at 21,592, a decrease of 7.10 percent from 2011.