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2023 Pacific Northwest Annual Conference Report

June 13-15, hybrid with in-person locations in Tacoma, Wash.

The 150th session of the Pacific Northwest Annual Conference was held in a hybrid format on June 13-15, 2023, with shared Greater Northwest Episcopal Area (GNW) gatherings opening and closing the conferencing season. Newly elected Bishop Cedrick D. Bridgeforth of the Greater Northwest Episcopal Area officiated. 

During the GNW Opening, leaders and guests gathered in Juneau, Alaska, to celebrate the installation of Bishop Bridgeforth on May 20. The occasion allowed the bishop to introduce the area’s Annual Conference theme – “Go and Do Likewise” based on Luke 10:30-37 – as he encouraged United Methodists across the Greater Northwest to “pray with our feet” and “get to neighboring.”

During the opening worship for the PNW Annual Conference Sessions in June, Bishop Bridgeforth continued a series of messages he has offered to the conferences of the Greater Northwest Area, this one focusing on enhancing lay ministry. A lovely service of music, liturgy, and Holy Communion complemented it. The opening was followed by a laity session where the bishop conversed with members for nearly an hour.

Later in the day, members processed numerous petitions assigned to the Administrative Support Focus Session chaired by lay member Stephanie Henry. They also received reports from Disaster Response Ministries, the General and Jurisdictional Conference delegation, the GNW Innovation Vitality Team, the Rules Committee, and an initial presentation of the proposed 2024 budget.

Members approved annual updates to its conference advances and several administrative support items. It also affirmed modest changes to its rules regarding lay membership and agreed to study separation pay for clergy ordained in another denomination.

The conference voted to close two churches – Pe Ell and East Wenatchee: Trinity – and celebrated the ministry these churches accomplished over the years. No disaffiliations were voted upon during this year’s regular session of annual conference. Appointments were read for the Crest to Coast and Inland Districts.

For the first Memorial Service for the Pacific Northwest Conference since 2019, Sue Magrath offered a message challenging us to make space for grief. In her sermon, she honored the passing of those saints over the past year and marked several other shared moments of grief since our last gathering. Appropriately subdued and beautiful music, led capably by Worship Team chair Rev. Justin White, accompanied reflective moments for members to remember those they have lost.

Conference secretary Rev. Shirley DeLarme, Bishop Cedrick Bridgeforth, and Orders of the Day lead Rev. Elizabeth Schindler guide members through a long day of plenary.

The second day brought a plenary full of legislative work, celebrations, reports, and other recognitions. It started with a lively devotional offered by Crater Lake District Superintendent John Tucker, a guest from the Oregon-Idaho Conference.

The Connecting for Missions Focus Session legislation consumed much of the second morning. However, chair Rev. Mary Stanton Nurse noted that the initial focus session conversations took much longer. Members approved a petition to call on General Conference to add fossil fuels to United Methodist investment screens, agreed to encourage divestment of local church, conference, and Faith Foundation NW funds from fossil fuels, and committed to seeking partnerships with environmental and climate justice organizations. The conference also affirmed its solidarity with the Filipino people and their struggle for human rights. In a final petition, the conference challenged itself to achieve net-zero emissions by 2040. It also encouraged its local churches to increase the energy efficiency of their church buildings and parsonages by 50% by 2030.

The morning also included recognizing the gifts and witnesses of certified lay ministers, Hispanic lay ministers, home missioners, deaconesses, and licensed local pastors. And just before lunch, retiring clergy members were celebrated. In her message, Rev. Karen Yokota Love congratulated six retirees while lifting up their good fortune to have arrived at retirement. She alluded to the many things they have accomplished as a class in ministry while encouraging them to think deeply about what is next for them.

The afternoon included reports from several conference boards and agencies, highlighting their excellent work. The Board of Ordained Ministry introduced the candidates for provisional and full membership. Church and Society announced this year’s Peace with Justice and MLK, Jr. award recipients, and Archives and History marked several significant ordination milestones before celebrating Fern Prairie UMC and its 150 years of ministry.

Three districts – Puget Sound, SeaTac and Seven Rivers – had their appointments read on Wednesday. Feeling under the weather, SeaTac District Superintendent Derek Nakano joined Bishop Bridgeforth to read the SeaTac District appointments via Zoom.

The last item on the day’s agenda was receiving the GNW Vitality Commission’s Report. Formed 18 months earlier, the commission was charged with exploring the possibility of an area-wide decision-making body to oversee innovation and vitality work. Responding to members’ questions, they explained a withdrawal of legislation that would have established the team and shared mixed feelings about the former plan.

Rev. Meredith Gudger-Raines lights a candle in remembrance during the PNW Memorial Service at Mason UMC.

The final day of its 150th regular session was busy and productive for the PNW. During its final plenary, members received several reports, and Bishop Cedrick Bridgeforth honored retiring Faith Foundation NW Exec. Dir. Tom Wilson with his first Bishop’s Award.

Conference members passed the proposed budget for 2024 (decreased by 3.94% from 2023) with the assurance that the Conference Finance and Administration board would be working with the Treasurer’s Office to provide more details in future years. Appointments to extension ministries were read, and dates and a general location for the 2024 annual conference were announced – June 13-16 in the Seven Rivers District.

People pray for Evangeline Rand and Ashley Skinner-Creek before their commissioning as provisional elders.

Shortly after members approved a closing motion from conference secretary Rev. Shirley DeLarme, members and guests celebrated the commissioning of two provisional elders – Evangeline “Vangie” Rand and Ashley Skinner Creek – and the ordination of one deacon – Mary Stanton Nurse – and several elders – Yvonne Agduyeng, Murray Crookes, Drew Frisbie, April Hall, Laura Holmes, Danielle Ramsay, and Dirk Wooten.

Retired Bishop Mary Ann Swenson delivered the sermon after an introduction from Bishop Bridgeforth, sharing her impact on his ministry and reminding PNW members of her connections to our conference.

A shared GNW Closing Worship, live-streamed to Alaska, Oregon-Idaho, and Pacific Northwest conference members from the Mason UMC sanctuary, brought a final opportunity to worship, learn and celebrate. Members heard reports from each conference secretary, and GNW Area Disaster Response Coordinator Jim Truitt was honored as he retired from this role.

During the closing, members also received an Episcopal Address from Bishop Bridgeforth, the conclusion of the bishop’s inaugural preaching series on M.I.L.E. with a message focused on Eliminating Racism. All five sermons are now available to watch here.

  • Membership stands at 30,234, down 763 from the previous year.
  • Worship attendance stands at 8,815, down 821 from 2021.
  • Church school attendance stands at 2,144, down 634.
  • Professions or reaffirmations of faith for 2022 were 178, up from 2021 by 16.
  • Adults and young adults in small groups for 2022 were 7,360, up from 2021 by 441.
  • Worshippers engaged in mission for 2022 were 7,091, down from 2021 by 109.

— Patrick Scriven, Director of Communications, Pacific Northwest Conference