By Paul Black
PEORIA -- The Illinois Great Rivers Annual Conference gathered around the theme, The Fields are Ripe for the Harvest June 8-11, 2016 at the Peoria Civic Center. This year’s conference celebrated the 46 years of ministry of Bishop Jonathan D. Keaton, who will be retiring Aug. 31 after 20 years as bishop in the North Central Jurisdiction.
IGRC Communications produced five video vignettes entitled, Bishop Keaton: In His Own Words, as he shared about his life and ministry.
As part of the theme, conferees were also invited to a new field to harvest, as exhibits and speakers examined the issue of disability awareness and ways in which the church can be made more welcoming.
Morning speakers were Dr. Amos Yong of Fuller Theological Seminary, author of Theology and Down Syndrome: Reimagining disability in Late Modernity and The Bible, Disability and the Church: A New Vision of the People of God; and the Rev. H. Russell Ewell, board member of United Methodist Association of Ministers with Disabilities. A third speaker, Gretchen Sidell, a member of Pekin First UMC, addressed the conference with a voice box, having been stricken with meningococcal meningitis as a teen. Sidell “speaks” as she moves and blinks her eyes to read the comments she had composed.
As part of the celebration of Keaton’s ministry, the conference is completing a $1 million Making Dreams Possible Scholarship campaign for Africa University, which has been named the Bishop Jonathan and Mrs. Beverly Keaton Endowment funded by the Illinois Great Rivers Conference. With full endowment, eight scholarships will be given to AU students annually into perpetuity.
Entering conference, gifts and pledges totaled $700,000 and with the assistance of two offerings, which included a $100,000 gift and additional pledges to be paid by the end of the year, the campaign is just $41,000 shy of its goal.
The Conference overwhelmingly approved a $2.5 million campaign to endow the spiritual life programs of the conference’s five child-serving ministries – The Baby Fold, Chaddock, Cunningham Children’s Home, Lessie Bates Davis Neighborhood House and the United Methodist Children’s Home.
The five agencies have had to rely upon benevolent giving as the Illinois General Assembly has failed to pass a budget since July 2014, causing many agencies to lay off personnel as they await payment from the state.
“This proposal will ensure that the children’s spiritual needs are met and not subject to whether the state gets out of its budget mess or not,” said Cunningham CEO Marlin Livingston, in urging conference members to approve the campaign which will run from Jan. 1, 2017 to Dec. 31, 2019. The measure passed 699-40.
The conference also approved the minimum compensation for full-time pastors be increased by 3 percent in 2017. Pastors in full connection, associate members and provisional elders will have a salary of $41,616 and full-time local pastors will receive a minimum of $38,188. The annual health insurance allowance that assists pastors in purchasing health insurance will increase to $13,200 in 2017, up from the current $12,000.
The conference also approved the Conference Board of Pensions Report that will hold local church contribution rates for 2017 at their current levels of $5,700 for full-time pastor, $4,275 for ¾ time pastor; and $2,850 for ½ time pastor. Pastors at ¼ time are not eligible for the pension program. In addition, the pension rate for pre-1982 years of service will increase by 2 percent in 2017 to an annual rate of $747 per service year.
A $12.14 million budget was approved for 2017 – a decrease of nearly $200,000 or 1.58 percent compared to the 2016 budget. It was noted that apportionment collection came in at 94 percent for 2015 – the second best year of apportioned giving since the former Central and Southern Illinois conferences merged in 1996.
The conference laity collected $4,943 for the John Kofi Asmah School in Liberia. The school, located in West Point section of Monrovia, was built by IGRC laity and annual offerings have been taken to furnish the building since its opening in 2011.
Other special offerings included $5,938 for the 2017 Holy Land Pilgrimage for this year’s newly-ordained pastors and $7,164 for the Tom Brown Scholarship at Wiley College, one of the church’s historically Black Colleges.
The Midwest Mission Distribution Center collection included 3,419 pounds of supplies which almost filled the MMDC van and 12 foot trailer and $5,678 monetarily for kits and supplies.
Three elders and one transitioning deacon to full elder were ordained and one associate member was approved. Eight provisional elders and one provisional deacon were commissioned. The conference also celebrated the consecration of Melissa Iutzi Calvillo of Dallas City as a deaconess through United Methodist Women. The consecration took place at the 2016 General Conference (see related story in the June issue of The Current, p. 25).
A total of 33 pastors with a combined service of 959.75 years retired.
Membership stands at 127,052 in 2015, down 2,535 from 2014. Worship attendance stands at 57,620, down 1,580. Church school attendance stands at 18,121, down 431. Professions or reaffirmations of faith for 2015 is 1,948, up 33.
The 2017 annual conference session will be held June 7-10, 2017, at the Peoria Civic Center in Peoria, Ill.