By Paul Black
SPRINGFIELD – The Illinois Great Rivers Annual Conference gathered online for its first ever virtual annual conference session on Aug. 15. The theme of the single-day gathering with a two-hour clergy session and a three-hour plenary session was Let’s Get Fired Up: On Holy Ground.
Despite the limitations brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic, conferees were able to worship and gather for Christian conferencing. IGRC Communications collaborated to produce a hybrid, part-live, part-recorded Annual Conference. Worship leader Cynthia Wilson provided music for both the opening and closing worship. Music was also provided by several music groups of Pekin Grace UMC. Attendees gathered virtually via Zoom web conferencing or by attending one of the 13 remote locations throughout the annual conference. Slightly more than 1,022 attended annual conference from home and another 166 attended through one of the remote sites and voted manually with marshals reporting vote totals via text messaging to the Annual Conference secretarial staff who aggregated the vote totals.
Leading up to the single-day conference, services were aired recognizing 31 retirees with a combined 868 years of service was held Aug. 10; the Cabinet Address on Aug. 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 1,561 years of ministry that have completed their mission – Center UMC; Claremont UMC; Dix UMC; LaHarpe UMC, Lawrenceville Otterbein UMC; New Salem UMC; Ohio Chapel UMC; Orange Chapel UMC; Tiskilwa UMC; and Vermont UMC – on Aug. 12; and Bishop Frank J. Beard’s Episcopal Address on Aug. 13.
The Annual Conference approved a 2021 budget of $11,206,875 – a reduction of 7.38 percent. While budgets have been relatively flat over the past 10 years, the total returns the spending level to 2014 levels. The $893,033 reduction comes on the heels of apportionment collections of 88 percent in 2019, down from 95 percent in 2018. The Conference ended 2019 with a $276,000 deficit which was addressed by using reserves of previous years’ surpluses.
This year, the Conference provided 312 congregations a forgivable loan during the pandemic at a cost of just over $1 million. The amounts were based upon apportionments paid in the three previous years and the percentage of apportionments paid in 2020 will determine the percentage of forgiveness to the loans. The conference also provided funds for 150 food ministries at a cost of $75,000 and 72 micro-grants to enhance technology in congregations.
Legislatively, the conference announced that the health insurance allowance paid to full-time pastors will remain at $17,500 for 2020. The conference also approved a 2.1 percent increase to its minimum salaries. In 2021, the salaries will go to $45,290 for clergy in full connection, associate members and provisional elders; and $41,560 for full-time local pastors.
Retirees under the pre-1982 pension plan will see a 2 percent increase to $810 per active service year in 2021.
The Conference approved a transportation procedure and language regarding cyberbullying recommended by the Bishop’s Task Force on Relational Ethics as an addition to the conference’s Abuse Prevention Policy for Children and Vulnerable Adults.
The Conference also remembered the ministry of MacMurray College which closed its doors in May after 174 years as a college affiliated with The United Methodist Church.
The Clergy Session approved the election of one associate member, nine elders in full connection, one deacon in full connection. They also approved the commissioning of four provisional elders, one provisional deacon; and celebrated the graduation of four local pastors from Course of Study.
Membership stands at 115,959 in 2019, down 2,722 (2.3 percent) from 2018. Average worship attendance is 49,270, down 2,426 (4.7 percent). Church school attendance stands at 16,206, down 840.
The 2021 Annual Conference will be held June 10-12, 2021, at the Peoria Civic Center in Peoria, Ill