Members of the Holston Conference form an assembly-line effort at Lake Junaluska, N.C., to pack 300 buckets with cleaning supplies. The supplies were to replace those sent to the Memphis Conference in response to Mississippi River flooding.
By Emily Snell United Methodist News Service
The efforts that went into raising money and gathering supplies for victims of the devastating tornadoes, record-setting floods and wildfires across the United States clearly were evident as the U.S. conferences of the United Methodist Church gathered for their annual meetings.
While conferences also turned their attention to feeding the hungry, fighting malaria and encouraging youth, the victims of this year’s weather remained in the forefront.
The Baltimore-Washington Conference donated $56,866 for U.S. storm and flood victims and for Haiti and Japan earthquake victims. The Northern Illinois Conference gave $5,250 and gathered 2,655 pounds of health-kit and cleaning-bucket supplies for the United Methodist Committee on Relief. The Illinois Great Rivers Conference collected 12,454 towels in a competition with Iowa for UMCOR cleaning buckets to go to the distribution center.
The Dakotas Conference gave $8,587.42 to UMCOR Domestic Relief and collected 2,276 health kits. The health kits will go to those who had to leave their homes because of floods.
Congregants in Central Texas donated $3,266 to UMCOR for spring disaster relief, and the Rio Grande Conference took up an offering for Missouri tornado victims.
The Missouri Conference, which met only 70 miles from tornado-ravaged Joplin, gave $79,524 for the conference to distribute to tornado victims there.
During the annual conference session, members of the Holston Conference, which includes many of the areas hit by tornadoes, raised $8,725 for disaster relief and recognized volunteers still cleaning up from April tornadoes.
The Virginia conference gathered 53,469 kits for UMCOR, including 944 cleaning buckets and 26,617 health kits.
The Alabama-West Florida Conference collected 3,700 relief kits. The North Alabama Conference dedicated a special time of prayer on Friday morning of the conference to lift up those directly affected by the deadly tornadoes of April 27. The conference’s connectional ministries report highlighted the significant efforts of the churches in providing disaster response since those tornadoes struck, causing damage in all eight districts.
Meeting the needs of storm victims was not the only focus of annual conference attendees. Many conferences also dedicated time to feeding the hungry.
Four conferences—Mississippi, Eastern Pennsylvania, New England and North Carolina—packaged meals and raised money for Stop Hunger Now, which provides food throughout the world. The conferences in total prepared more than 241,000 meals for the organization and raised at least $10,000.
In Virginia, 220 people packed 39,000 pounds of sweet potatoes for a Potato Drop, and United Methodist Men in the Eastern Pennsylvania Conference distributed 50,000 pounds of potatoes for local food banks.
The Upper New York Conference announced a new joint program with United Methodist Communications called HANDS4NY, a campaign to feed a million people in one year and to host Hunger Impact events on Oct. 15 in all 12 of the conference’s districts. Many conferences devoted some of their annual conference time to raising funds for worthy organizations.
Eleven conferences reported giving to Imagine No Malaria. Together those conferences raised more than $5 million in cash and pledges.
Priority on youth
Conferences across the nation discussed the importance of reaching young people and even categorized teen ministry as the highest priority. But they didn’t just talk about it.
The Minnesota Conference featured a panel of college students who spoke about their perspectives on faith and church, and the Upper New York Conference recognized the winners of its Youth Video Contest, which was created as a way to connect with teens.
Jeremy Holland, a 12-year-old from the Memphis Conference, gave the young people’s message about how the church can better reach youth. After the message, he received a standing ovation.
In North Texas, a 19-year-old college student, Ricky Harrison, became the youngest person from that conference to be elected leader of the lay delegation.
The Youth Delegation of the California-Nevada Conference was responsible for raising more than $7,000 for Imagine No Malaria. As part of the California-Pacific Conference’s Youth Day, teens created cardboard shelters to raise awareness about homelessness. The teens called the project “Shantytown Overnight” and spent the night on the lawn at Redlands University “as a way of empathizing with the reality of poverty housing.”
The annual conferences dedicate a portion of their time each year to discussing resolutions on important social issues in their communities, states and around the world. As in past years, the most widely discussed social issue was homosexuality. At least 12 conferences approved resolutions or affirmed petitions to change language regarding homosexuality in the Book of Discipline. Virginia and Arkansas defeated petitions.
Another major topic was the conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians. The conferences in Northern Illinois, Baltimore-Washington, North Carolina, West Ohio and New England approved resolutions to divest all conference investments from corporations that profit from the occupation of Palestinian territories. The Virginia Conference rejected the idea of divestment but agreed that the church should act as a peacemaker and should research effective methods of aid for Palestine.
The South Carolina Conference called for “comprehensive reform of the U.S. immigration system,” and the Eastern Pennsylvania Conference approved a similar resolution. The New England Conference passed legislation saying it would pressure legislators to support the DREAM Act, which would allow undocumented immigrant children to work toward citizenship after they graduate from high school.
The Western and Eastern Pennsylvania conferences and the Susquehanna Conference approved resolutions calling for drilling to stop in the Marcellus Shale and the creation of a tax in areas where drilling already has occurred. Many people are concerned about environmental damage from natural gas drilling in the Marcellus Shale, which is in Pennsylvania, New York, Ohio and Virginia. The Arkansas Conference approved a resolution calling for Congress to repeal the 2005 law that exempted hydraulic fracturing from accountability to the Clean Water Act.
Ms. Snell is a United Methodist News Service intern and a senior at Lipscomb University.