What a difference a year makes
Conference presidents hold virtual meeting
In March 2020, a time when people were only beginning to be aware of a pandemic, 81 conference presidents of UM Men gathered for a 4-day meeting in the Denman Building, a Nashville building owned by Discipleship Ministries, including the world-famous Upper Room Chapel.
Fast forward to Feb. 25, 2021, The Denman building and the Upper Room Chapel is closed and conference presidents meet virtually to receive reports from UM Men leaders. Additional virtual sessions are scheduled for March 4, 5, and 6.
Herman Lightsey, a former president of South Carolina Annual Conference elected president of the National Association of Conference Presidents (NACP) at the 2020 meeting, said pandemic has resulted in a “changing UMC” in a “changed world.”
One of the changes announced the day of the Feb. 25 NACP meeting is that General Conference originally scheduled for 2020 has again been postponed to Aug. 29- Sept. 6, 2022, with a special one-day virtual house-keeping session set for May 8, 2021.
Negative effects of the pandemic
Gil Hanke, top staff executive of the commission, told some 40 participants in the virtual meeting that the pandemic has resulted in a decline in the number of chartered organizations, a loss of $100,000 and a 40 percent reduction in the amount of money provided by the denomination through the World Service Fund.
He urged the conference and jurisdictional presidents to invite churches to charter or renew their charters, and he suggested they send links to the bimonthly newsletter and the quarterly magazine to district and conference leaders, General Conference delegates, and local church members.
Hanke noted that during the pandemic UM Men have used Zoom to recover Wesley Class Meetings, a practice that expanded the denominations outreach following the Revolutionary War. “In 1776, Methodist made up 2.5 percent of the religious population of the colonies which is not the United States,” said Hanke. “In 1850 (74 years later) the Methodist had become the largest denomination with 34.2 percent of the religious population.” Hanke attributed most of that success to Class Meetings and he said he would provide additional information about the small-group meetings during March 4, 5 and 6 virtual meetings.
“With all the uncertainties I want you to know you can count on us to build new avenues to welcome youth to scouting and men to discipleship,” said Hanke in his written report.
Some positive results
Steven Scheid, director of the commission’s Center for Scouting Ministries, lamented opportunities for scout leaders to meet face-to-face, but said the number of Scout leaders trained in Zoom workshops has increased.
“In a typical Scouter’s Religious Academy, we have 50 to 70 participants,” said Scheid. “We shared a virtual conference with 364 participants.” The group included people from 48 states and six nations. Eighty-five percent stayed in the Zoom meeting for the entire 6-hour session. A Methodist Scouting Conference also had 64 participants.
Scheid reported that despite the pandemic, 3,500 young people received PRAY (Programs of Religious Activities with Youth) Awards. Most of the classes were conducted via Zoom.
While Boy Scouts of America continues to struggle with bankruptcy, Girl Scouts have renewed their emphasis on faith development. “The GCUSA footprint to serve girls within the UMC has grown even during the pandemic,” reported Scheid. He recently trained some 700 professional Girl Scout leaders in how to work with the UMC and other denominations.
Increased number of resources
The Rev. Rick Vance, director of the Center for Men’s Ministry, said the increased use of Zoom technology provided opportunities for conference and jurisdictional leaders of men’s ministry to pray together. It has also enabled the center to reach out to men in other nations. Men from Estonia, Philippines, Zimbabwe, and Germany participated in a Watch Night service. “It was especially moving to hear the man from Estonia say, “I’m praying for the U.S. church,” said Vance.
During the pandemic, the center has increased the number of resources available to UM Men around the world. Vance and Hanke developed a ministry study titled Out of the Box, and they are publishing The Way Home, a book based on the Prodigal Son by the Rev. Jay Hanke (yes, he is Gil’s brother).
The center also produced an analytical resource to help men gain information about men in their faith communities, and several worship resources. Asked if the commission would again provide a video resource for use in annual conference sessions, Vance assured the Zoom participants staff would soon begin work on that resource.
The center continues to encourage men to participate in Amending through Faith, an 8-week study which addresses a culture that objectifies women and allows domestic violence. UM Men are also invited to participate in “Lead Like Jesus” and “Understanding Men’s Ministry” courses.
The center is also developing resources that will help facilitate discussions about dismantling racism
Feeding the hungry
In a video report, Wade Mays, a staff executive with the Society of St. Andrew, told the gathering the pandemic has doubled the number of hungry adults and quadrupled the number of hungry children.
He thanked the men for their support of Meals for Millions. He said their financial support provided 3.7 million servings of food for hungry Americans.
As usual, Mays reported on the top conference supporters. Northern Illinois was again the top giver, followed by Virginia, North Carolina, Upper New York, Iowa, and Missouri. He gave the “Bud-the-Spud” Award to Oklahoma as the conference with the greatest percentage increase in giving. That conference increased its giving by 510 percent.
Ministry provides devotional books
L.W. Smith, president of Strength for Service, said the ministry gave out 17,852 devotionals during 2020.
He noted that many of the books were given to nurses, physicians, and other hospital employees during the pandemic. His written report included a photo of Robert Hurst, a SFS board member, presenting SFS books to the staff of the Nacogdoches (Texas) Medical Center.
Smith reported that the ministry would be celebrating its 20th anniversary during 2021 and would also be employing a new executive director, following Larry Coppock’s retirement.
The meeting adjourned with a prayer by Greg Arnold, a Mississippi-based staff member who praised the group for embracing technology.