Bishop tackles various issues in Pre-Easter meetings
By Paul Black
SPRINGFIELD – Bishop Frank J. Beard updated lay and clergy on a variety of issues during seven virtual pre-Easter gatherings March 21-25.
“My hope is to lower anxiety, provide you with clear, direct communications, offer guidance, direction and to share with you my expectations as we move forward together,” Bishop Beard said to those in attendance.
The 90-minute sessions – designed to be instructional, informational and inspirational – were not intended to debate or discuss “hot button issues,” but to provide the community with up-to-date information.
“I truly believe that God has placed each of you in a prime spot for a special purpose but God will not force you to do anything,” Bishop Beard said. “Mordecai reminded Esther that God always has a Plan B.”
Here is a synopsis of the various issues discussed:
A restructuring plan will be submitted to the Annual Conference for adoption no later than 2022. In the interim, the task force has identified several areas for its work:
- With the retirement of two District Superintendents, there will be eight superintendents that will cover the 10 districts starting in July 2021. No district boundaries or reduction of the number of districts are being contemplated at this time.
- Formation of a new position, Director of Clergy Excellence, which will work with the Cabinet, Directors and Board of Ministry to create a one-stop shop for clergy that would span the time between entry into the ordination/licensing process to retirement.
- Continued training and cross-sharing of information for the District Administrative Assistants.
In 2018, at the request of the Conference Council on Finance and Administration, leadership began looking at restructuring in order to be flexible to changes in the organizational landscape.
Utilizing consultants from the General Council on Finance and Administration, a small task force has been convened and is working on the plan.
Changes have already occurred among the Connectional Ministries, Finance and Administration and Communications teams as personnel have been moved into new areas and existing staff have filled positions due to employees leaving or retiring from Conference employment.
IGRC Director of Connectional Ministries, Dr. Curtis Brown, reported on recent guideline changes that impact churches. The latest information can be found by visiting: www.igrc.org/coronavirus
. Included in the new guidelines are ways for churches to increase seating capacity by being able to not include persons who have been fully vaccinated two weeks after their final vaccination (the second on two-stage vaccinations by Moderna and Pfizer; or the one-dose vaccination by Johnson & Johnson).
General Conference Update
Bishop Beard reported that General Conference has once again been postponed until 2022 due to Covid-19 restrictions.
A special, called session of General Conference set for May 8 was reversed in a March 22 Council of Bishops meeting
The new date for General Conference is now Aug. 29-Sept 6, 2022, in Minneapolis, Minn.
Bishop Beard noted that the May 8 session would have had just a quorum of delegates and that some bishops reported that it would cost their delegates $600 U.S. traveling from remote areas of the world that have no electricity to cities where they could obtain internet access. This led to a discussion of equity and potential disenfranchisement. Some parties had been pushing to add the Protocol of Reconciliation and Grace through Separation to the special session agenda.
“It would require a two-thirds vote and there are at least eight plans that delegates will deal with at the next in-person gathering,” Bishop Beard said. Although several plans have indicated support for the Protocol and have said they would withdraw their plans, the General Conference now owns the legislation and will consider it and other legislation in 2022.
Jurisdictional Conference Update
IGRC Delegation Chair Paul Black updated persons on Jurisdictional Conference. Due to a requirement that the five U.S. jurisdictions meet simultaneously and after General Conference, it appears that jurisdictional conferences will be pushed back to 2022.
In all, 16 bishops were to retire in 2020 and their retirements have been put on hold until received the respective jurisdictions.
For the North Central Jurisdiction, delegates will gather and decide how many bishops to elect. By formula, the General Conference sets the number of bishops based upon membership. Because of shrinking membership numbers, the NCJ is entitled to eight bishops over a 10-conference area, down from nine in 2016.
That means that NCJ delegates may decide to elect one bishop or perhaps, no bishops in 2021.
Two NCJ bishops have retired and have taken assignments with the Council of Bishops – Bishop Bruce Ough, who presided over Minnesota and the Dakotas conferences; and Bishop Sally Dyck, who presided over the Northern Illinois Conference.
In the interim period for calendar year 2021, Bishop David Bard is providing oversight for Minnesota in addition to his responsibilities in the Michigan Area and Bishop Laurie Haller is overseeing the Dakotas Conference in addition to the Iowa Area. Retired Bishop John Hopkins, who retired in 2016, is providing episcopal leadership for the Northern Illinois Conference.
The Council of Bishops have recommended not replacing the 18 retired bishops but ultimately, jurisdictional delegates will make the final decision based upon leadership needs.
Annual Conference plans
Dr. Curtis Brown, chair of the Sessions Committee, updated participants on the 2021 Annual Conference. See related story
Rev. Janice Griffith, Executive Assistant to Bishop Beard, outlined the disaffiliation process passed by the special session of the 2019 General Conference, which allows congregations to exit the denomination.
The legislation specifically addressed persons who disagreed with the denomination’s position on human sexuality, which says, “homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching.”
Griffith also outlined other procedures for closing a church and a process that is followed if a church wishes to leave. Information on that process is available through the District offices.
Bishop Beard and Griffith both stressed that this is not a means to ask anyone to leave.
“We don’t own the church; it’s Christ’s church,” Bishop Beard said. “And you have my word – I will not be leading a rebellion against The United Methodist Church. At my ordination, I vowed to be loyal to The United Methodist Church. At my consecration as bishop, I vowed to guard the unity of the church. If there every comes a day when my disagreement means I cannot do what I promise, I will resign or I will retire.”
He also reminded pastors of their vows and the distinction between talking about what one will do if certain legislation is passed and crossing the line by leading one’s church out of the denomination. “It doesn’t belong to you; it belongs to Christ,” Bishop Beard said.
IGRC Director of Administrative Services Mike Potts reported that the IGRC finished with a $352,000 surplus in 2020 due to a sizable reduction in expenditures from the Covid pandemic.
The Conference also received 90 percent collection on apportionments – up 2 percentage points from 2019.
Total revenue was $10.9 million to fund a $12.05 million budget. Expenditures totaled $10.55 million, leaving the surplus.
“2020 was unusual to say the least, but we are thankful for the sacrificial giving that enabled the mission of the church to move forward – even in unusual times,” Potts said.
Bishop Beard noted that the level of giving resulted in no layoffs or furloughs of staff during the pandemic with many of them adjusting to working from home.