2023 Mississippi Annual Conference

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The Mississippi Conference convened at the Cadence Bank. It was the first annual conference presided over by Bishop Sharma D. Lewis, the new episcopal leader of the Mississippi area. The theme of the conference was “Moving Forward in Making Disciples,” and the theme scripture was Matthew 28:19-20.

Tuesday

The first business session was gaveled to order by Lewis at 1:30 p.m. June 27. The session opened with the traditional Wesleyan hymn “Are We Yet Alive,” followed by a welcome from Tupelo district lay leader Tom Wicker. The session concluded with a report on the budget from conference treasurer David Stotts, and a setting of the bar from conference secretary, the Rev. Trey Harper. Following the first business session, laity and visitors left the arena for the clergy executive session.

The evening of June 27, new clergy were ordained during the Celebration and Ordering of Ministry Service.

Wednesday

The second day began with the recognition of former conference chancellor, Clifford Ammons and the introduction of new chancellor Leslie Bounds. Next, GNTV Ministry gave a presentation on electronic voting instructions in preparation for the vote on disaffiliating churches. All 189 churches were approved for disaffiliation. After the vote, Lewis called for an intermission to prepare for the Service of Blessing and Communion.

The Service of Blessing and Communion followed the second business session. The worship service served as a reflective and healing time for members of the Mississippi Conference, as many were saddened by disaffiliation and the departure of brothers and sisters in Christ. Lewis preached a healing sermon during the service that reminded the Mississippi Conference that we must stand together and that we needed each other to survive.

Wednesday’s second business session featured presentations from the Rev. Tim Thompson, director of faith community formation, on Lighthouse churches, the laity address from conference lay leader LaToya Redd-Thompson and reports from conference benevolences, seminaries, trustees and the conference youth and family ministries coordinator.

Thursday

Thursday’s opening business session began with a report on the office of spiritual leadership from director of spiritual leadership, Harper. At the conclusion of the business session the bishop called for a break to prepare for the Service of Thanksgiving and Remembrance. After the memorial service, the annual conference session broke for lunch.

The afternoon business session featured the first State of the Church address from Lewis. The nine-minute video presentation reminded the Mississippi Conference that it is time to move from disaffiliation to discernment to discipleship.

The second presentation of the session was from the district realignment task force. The task force presented its findings and concluded that the Mississippi Conference should reduce the number of districts from 11 to seven. After the presentation the floor was opened for questions and discussion.

Thursday’s session concluded with the passage of the conference connectional ministries and conference lay ministries report and included reports from Mississippi Conference benevolences and campgrounds.

The Mission Service followed Thursday’s business session. The event featured performances from youth and a sermon from the Rev. Stephen Cook entitled “Moving Forward All In.” All funds raised during the worship service benefitted Methodist Disaster Response in Mississippi and abroad.

Following Mission Service, conference attendees walked across the street to Tupelo’s Fairpark for the first ever “Take Jesus to the Streets” block party. The fellowship included food trucks, splash pads, bouncy houses and informational booths from mission agencies.

Friday

The final day started with a presentation from the petitions and resolutions committee and a vote by hand on resolutions one, two, three and four. Resolutions five through seven were tabled and sent back to their committees for further consideration.

Cook, outgoing dean of the cabinet, shared the cabinet report detailing the names of closing churches. The church closures were affirmed by a hand vote.

Conference Treasurer Stotts clarified the post-December 2023 disaffiliation process and answered questions about the process. Stotts also presented the conference finance and administration budget for 2024. The budget was adopted by the conference.

The conference made the decision to meet in the Jackson, Mississippi, area in 2024. Originally, the 2024 Session of the Mississippi Conference was to meet in Biloxi, Mississippi, but due to a scheduling conflict with the venue, plans were made to hold annual conference in the Jackson area.

Friday ended with a final worship service presided over by Lewis. Instead of ending the service with a sermon, Lewis gave an altar call for all who wanted to come forward and join in prayer.

Main actions enacted by the conference.

The conference voted on the following resolutions.

The Johnny A. Dinas Call to Prayer

The resolution was passed by hand vote.

Housing/Rental Allowance for Retired and Disabled Ministers

The resolution was passed by a hand vote.

Eradication of Racism

The resolution was passed by hand vote.

Financial Equity

The resolution was passed by hand vote.

Resolutions five, six and seven were referred to their respective committees for further discussions.

Disaffiliating Churches

Following a time of discernment, discussion and prayer, 189 churches disaffiliated from The United Methodist Church through a simple majority vote of their membership according to paragraph 2553 in The Book of Discipline. All church disaffiliations were approved by vote during annual conference.

Closing Churches

In 2023, 28 churches voted to discontinue functioning as a congregation and entrust their property to the Mississippi Conference. In addition, Christ United Methodist Church and St. Paul United Methodist Church in the Seashore District merged to become one congregation.

Brookhaven

Baylis Chapel

Fayette

Foxworth

New Fork

Hattiesburg

Carson

McLauren

Cedar Grove

Meridian

Lake

Lake Central

Shubuta

New Albany

Hopewell

Rutledge Salem

Seashore

Wesley

Roberts Chapel

Senatobia

Cold Springs

Lifespring

Starkville

Brownlee

New Light

Chapel Hill

Piney Jordan

Salem

Rural Hill

Tupelo

Belden

Bethel

Sherman

West Jackson

Briarwood

Van Winkle

Bethany

 

Special Conference Session

A called conference session will be held in Jackson, Mississippi, on Dec. 9.

Budget

The conference approved the proposed budget for 2024 of $8.2 million, a 27% decrease from the 2023 budget of $11.3 million.

Mississippi Conference Delegation

No replacement delegates were elected due to there being enough alternate delegates.

Jaci Murden was the only delegate under 35 elected to the Mississippi Conference delegation.

General Conference Delegates

Fred Britton

Clergy

Zach Beasley

Clergy

Mitchell Hedgepeth

Clergy

Leanne Burris

Clergy

John Branning

Clergy

David Stotts

Lay

David Beckley

Lay

Latoya Redd-Thompson

Lay

Jaci Murden

Lay

Jan Hit

Lay

 

Southeastern Jurisdictional (SEJ) Conference Delegates

Embra Jackson

Clergy

Fitzgerald Lovett

Clergy

Karie McCaleb

Clergy

Stephen Cook

Clergy

Stephen McAlily

Lay

Ann LaSalle

Lay

Kathleen Smith

Lay

 

Ordination and Retirees

At the Celebration and Ordering of Ministry service, four clergy were ordained to serve as elders in the Mississippi Conference. The average age was 40. Seven people were commissioned. The average age for the commissioned is 50. No one was received into associate membership.

The conference noted the long and dedicated service of 28 sisters and brothers of the clergy who retired.

The session concluded with a report on the budget from conference treasurer, Stotts, and a setting of the bar from conference secretary, Harper.



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