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Report of the Annual Conference Secretary – #PNWAC23

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Hi, I’m Rev. Shirley DeLarme, conference secretary. I use she/her pronouns. It’s been important this week for us to name our pronouns as a way of letting everyone know, whoever they are, that they are welcome here.

How good it was to meet in person for those who could do so. And how good it was to have options for those who needed another choice. And so, grace began to bubble up, literally. With a children’s plastic bucket filled with bubble wands, we were ready to play, to have fun, and to let the grace flow.

In a beautiful service of worship, we joyfully commissioned and ordained some of our favorite people, some of whom were past due because illness prevented them from being here last year for their ceremonies. Grace welled up, and bubbles floated through the air as we laid on hands poured out blessings, and celebrated. Retired Bishop Mary Ann Swenson added to the grace by preaching for the ordinands and for us all.

But that came after we did some hard work, mixed generously with play and laughter, and a hard pinch of grieving. We were mournful, and we cried together, we recognized so much loss from the pandemic, from violence and church closures, escalating climate change, persistent racism and more. In worship, we lamented and sought hope. And in our work, we took action.

Picking up the theme and Bishop Cedrick’s opening sermon, we challenged one another not to look so much in the mirror at that which is familiar and has served for a season, but to look out the window to see what lies ahead, to see who are our neighbors to whom we have not been so good, despite all the good we do. We have some window work to do, lots of window work. And some of that work. In fact, all of that work is urgent. We must look out and see what is beyond ourselves that needs our urgent ‘good neighbor’ attention. And not just some of us, but all of us. Not just the ordained or licensed but the laity. Not just some laity, but all laity.

Bishop Cedrick added the ‘L’ to his M.I.L.E, which he began in the previous two sermons this conference season. In our window work, it is urgent that we eliminate racism, the ‘E’ in Bishop Cedrick’s M.I.L.E., about which we will hear shortly. In our window work, it is urgent that we stand in solidarity with the Filipino people who know so much. So much violence that a state-sponsored by their own state, so we committed to standing with them and asking our congressional representatives to do the same.

In our window work, it is urgent that we address climate change as individuals and as clergy and laity, and also in our ministry settings with our church buildings and parsonages and offices, and also with all those who handle our investments. So, we press one another to divest from fossil fuels with our monetary investments. We petitioned General Conference to add fossil fuel screens to the United Methodist investment screens, and we pledged to reach net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2030.

This is big, but not impossible, especially when partnering with other agencies sharing educational resources and the possibility of adding a staff person to facilitate our work for climate justice. Appropriate mundane matters were tended to, routine business matters made no less important by being routine. We provided for retirement benefits and equitable compensation, moving allowances and special offerings. We wrestled over some rules and some issues of fiscal transparency.

And then, since the Board of Ordained Ministry told us we ought to permit some of us to retire, we celebrated our retirees and witnessed the beautiful ritual of passing the mantle from the class of retirees to the class of the ordinance.

It might seem that the work of this 150th annual conference session is complete. But truthfully, the real work is just beginning. The window beckons us to see and go and do likewise.