Due to the Covid-19 Pandemic, the Northern Illinois Annual Conference met virtually on Saturday, November 14, 2020 for its 181st Session.

Here are three takeaways from our virtual Annual Conference

  1. Well Done!
    The NIC has been meeting in person for 180 years. Making the change to a totally virtual platform for meeting with less than six months planning time was a monster challenge. The planners and technical support team may not be the “up-fronters” for the NIC, but they are champions! Thank you for the pre-conference information, trainings, support, and the big event itself. Take a bow and listen to the applause! (virtually, of course).
  2. So Sad We Had to Meet Like This
    Despite the wonder of digital media, we were not actually able to meet, conference, remember, and celebrate. There was no actual Memorial Service, Retirement Story-Telling, Celebration of Commissioning and Ordination, or Communion. This, of course, is a collateral casualty of the current pandemic, but digital “community”, as so many of us have experienced it, relegates most of us to the role of observers rather than participants. Even the recognition of Bishop Sally Dyck’s ministry among us upon the occasion of her retirement could not escape the sense of being pro forma. The virtual annual conference was promoted as the means to accomplish the “essential business” of the NIC. We made decisions on organizational structure, financial management, and a new requirement for clergy continuing education. Necessary business of the conference? Yes. The “essential business” of the conference? Not really.
  3. The Awkward Unspoken
    The “essential business” of the conference, according to our Annual Conference mission statement, is “making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.” The awkward unspoken reality of the NIC is that we continue to decline in numbers, vitality, and impact. This chronic failure to fulfill our mission now leads to dramatic impacts.
  • The budget background materials provided by CCFA register one impact: the difference in apportionments from 1997 to the proposed 2021 budget is a reduction of 60% (meaning, we will seek to operate on about 40% of what we did 24 years ago).
  • And the comments about our transition of episcopal leadership only hinted at what might be our future beyond 2021. Though we will have an “interim bishop” beginning in January, it is probable that the NIC will be yoked with another annual conference sharing a bishop in 2022 and likely be merged with another annual conference as soon as 2024 and almost certainly no later than 2028.
  • The rationale for reducing the number of districts from six to five was described as “missional,” “demographic changes,” “developments in technology,” and “better use of resources.” Despite the positivity of the presenters, we have all seen this story unfold in businesses, industries, and organizations. Names like Sears, Oldsmobile, and the Society for the Preservation and Encouragement of Barbershop Quartet Singing in America come to mind. We’re going out of business.

    The 2019 NIC Session strongly expressed its refusal to abide by the decisions of the Special UM General Conference related to human sexuality, marriage, and ordination. The assumption, of course, is that the overwhelming majority of United Methodists in Northern Illinois agree with our Annual Conference refusal to abide by the decisions of the global General Conference. What that assumption disregards, however, is that clergy make up just 0.5% of United Methodists yet are given 50% of the vote in Annual Conference decision-making. Clergy are inequitably over-represented in determining the “position” of the NIC.

    So the matter unattended to at the virtual annual conference session was the many United Methodists in local churches who have no voice at the Annual Conference session but realize we are probably less than a year away from a vote to separate the United Methodist Church into two or more denominations. Like adolescent children who have been informed their parents are divorcing, they realize each of us – and the congregations of which we are part – will have to make a decision as to where we will find our spiritual “home” in the future.

    The Laity Address, illustrated by Newton’s Law of Inertia, unintentionally assured us the downward trajectory of the NIC will continue. The only thing certain to grow is an increasingly anxious focus on institutional survival.

    If you or your congregation would like to explore an alternative, you might consider checking out the emerging global network planning for the launch of a new traditionalist Methodist denomination in 2022.

    The Northern Illinois Wesleyan Covenant Association is available to provide resources, support, networking, and consultation toward a healthier, more vital, and vibrant future for you and your local church. You don’t have to make a decision right now, but you might want to evaluate the options for your future.

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REV. DR. SCOTT FIELD

REV. DR. SCOTT FIELD

NIC Clergy/Retired
Resource Networking Coordinator
Northern Illinois Wesleyan Covenant Association

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