Summary of the 2012 Annual Conference Session
With the sounding of a Pacific Islander conch shell, the California-Pacific Annual Conference assembled once again on the campus of the University of Redlands, California, June 14-17. Retiring Bishop Mary Ann Swenson called to order the 28th Session of the Conference, and the 161st since the organization of the Pacific Conference in 1851. She was accompanied in leading worship and in presiding by conference residents Bishop Jordan (retired,) Bishop Shamana (retired, and who previously served on Conference staff,) and special guest, retired Bishop Melvin Talbert, originally a superintendent of the Long Beach district, and who, as Bishop in the Pacific-Northwest Conference, appointed the Rev. Swenson as a district superintendent. The Session was marked throughout by video clips of Bishop Mary Ann’s various escapades during her assignment in the Conference.
The first full plenary began with a report of the General Conference delegates, each one reflecting on their experience at General Conference. The report concluded with the delegation’s call to “Be the Hope,” based on the preamble to the Social Principles of the U.M.C., and including a commitment to “freely extend all the ministries of the church to all God’s children.” In response, Rev. John Woodall, pastor of Westwood U.M.C., recalled the history of Bishop Melvin Wheatley, formerly the pastor of Westwood for 20 years, who was the first Bishop to speak openly for the inclusion of all persons in the U.M.C., regardless of sexual orientation. He spoke of “the need to see The Book of Discipline through the eyes of Jesus, and not Jesus through The Book of Discipline,” and affirmed the delegation’s call to “Be the Hope.” The Session later re-affirmed the Western Jurisdiction’s 2004 “We Will Not Be Silent” statement, calling “local churches to make clear their willingness to support and celebrate a pastor who is “out” concerning her or his sexual identity.”
The General Conference report was followed by a learning plenary with keynoter Erin Hawkins, General Secretary of the General Commission on Religion and Race, who was raised in the Los Angeles District. Drawing from Walter Brueggemann’s “Journey to the Common Good,” she described challenges to today’s church: “When the church rehearses the world’s practice of scarcity, then it has failed in its mission. When the church recreates societal systems of fear-based decision- making and coercive action in the name of survival it has failed in its mission. The church must be the prophetic voice that argues against the claim of scarcity and stands unapologetically for the common good.” She then outlined how the church can counteract these by focusing on gifts, abundance and “associational living.” (The entire address can be found here.)
The daily business of the conference was balanced by full worship each evening. The lives and ministries of 13 clergy and 12 clergy spouses were celebrated in the Memorial-Communion Service; 15 retirees were recognized with good humor and sincere appreciation and the music of the Revelation Youth Choir from Custer Road UMC of Plano, Texas; one clergy family infant (squealing) was baptized; and one person was commissioned Deacon, two were ordained Deacon; there were 7 commissioned as Elders, and 9 ordained to full Elder. Bishop Melvin Talbert (retired) preached the ordination sermon, titled “Do the Right Thing.” After recalling his own experience as a young pastor in the conference, as well as the recent history of the church, he concluded by reciting his post-General Conference invitation to “An Act of Biblical Obedience,” saying “I call on the more than 1,100 clergy who have signed pledges to stand firm in their resolve to perform marriages between same-sex couples in the normal course of their pastoral duties, thus defying our church laws which prohibit them from doing so.” He concluded with, “In the name of Jesus Christ, I declare you to “Take Thou Authority”, and “Do The Right Thing.” And remember this: you are called by God; and you are confirmed and sent by your church. There will be times when you will be called and challenged to choose between God and your church, because your church does not always “Do The Right Thing.” (The full sermon may be found here.)
In closing business, Rev. Jan Wiley, chair of the Episcopacy Committee, led in the recognition of Bishop Swenson’s 12 years of service in Cal-Pac, including gifts of folding patio chairs for the Bishop and her husband Jeff, gift certificates to Disneyland, and over $25,000 of water projects reflecting the Bishop’s “You are welcome to drink at this fountain” justice and relief initiative. In addition, young people on site raised over $1,200 for Imagine No Malaria in her honor.
Bishop Swenson concluded the Session with a Service of Sending including the traditional reading of every clergy appointment using the four new districts plus Hawaii approved by the Session, which were composed from the previous eight. She also preached, saying that “People looked to Jesus, because Jesus looked for what God was looking for—justice, compassion, the kingdom come.” A luncheon followed, featuring southern cuisine and multiple speakers celebrating the Bishop’s Episcopal leadership in the conference and denominationally. She will retire September 1st, and begin service as the Ecumenical Officer of the Council of Bishops.
Total membership stands at 77,799* down 2369 from the prior year; average worship attendance is 41,934, down 5,617.
*Does not include three churches who have not filed their reports: one each in Hawaii, Riverside and Santa Ana districts.