by Maddie Steinway & Jane Stricklin

This year’s Illinois Great Rivers Annual Conference gathered with the theme “Let’s Get Fired Up… For Kids” on June 8-10 at the Peoria Civic Center.  Pastor Sara Isbell and lay members Jane Stricklin and Madeline Steinway represented Chatham UMC; other participants included district youth at-large Layton Frost, clergy Keith Anderson, Ted Frost and Tom Logsdon, and conference staff Paul Black, Nancy Patton, Laura Steinway and Jill & Doug Stone.

The conference was centered around prayer and outreach as we welcomed Bishop Frank J. Beard, who was elected and assigned to the Illinois area last year.  The conference celebrated the combined 894.75 years of service of the 31 retiring pastors this year, recognized 11 churches that have completed their mission, and memorialized 24 clergy who passed away.   We welcomed nine ordinands, two elders from other denominations, and seven provisional members who have not completed their training.  We received confirmation that Pastor Sara will remain at Chatham UMC for another year!  There was a lot of good singing, good preaching, and generally three days for laity and clergy alike to meet new people from throughout Illinois south of I-80, renew old acquaintances, refuel the spirit, bring back new ideas, and praise God from whom all blessings flow.

At this event, the conference officially launched the $2.5 million Our Conference, Our Kids campaign to fund the spiritual care programs of five child welfare agencies in the Conference—The Baby Fold, Chaddock, Cunningham Children’s Home, Lessie Bates Davis Neighborhood House, and Spero Family Services (formerly the United Methodist Children’s Home).  These five agencies rely on the benevolent giving of the Conference, as the State of Illinois has not passed a budget since 2014.  It was announced that as of June 30, the Baby Fold will close its residential treatment center, displacing 14 children, due to the lack of a State budget.  The campaign has already received $75,000 in gifts prior to the launch.

In addition, clergy and laity were invited to attend workshops on a variety of issues including Building the Church in Prayer, Can We Talk?, Evangelism for Non-Evangelists, and Reaching New and Next Generations.  Between us, we covered each topic and learned some new things, so don’t be surprised if the Spirit moves us in new ways this year!

The conference debated a proposal to enlist Wespath to provide clergy health insurance for 2018, but in the end delayed this decision until a future session.  In the meantime, the current insurance allowance was increased to $15,000 for 2018 to accommodate expected market changes, while church contribution rates for the pastor’s pension will remain at the 2017 level.  The 2018 budget for the Illinois Great Rivers Conference was approved at $12,202,213, an increase of 0.50% over the 2017 levels.

There were special offerings taken during the three days: the conference laity donated $5,645 for the John Kofi Asmah School in Liberia, and $8,504 was collected for the Wesley Pilgrimage for newly ordained pastors, and $8,195 for the Tom Brown Scholarship at Wiley College.  Conferees also brought 2,129 lbs. of supplies and $3,024 in monetary gifts for the Fair Hope Children’s Ministry in Danville.

The 2018 annual conference session will be held June 7-9, 2018 at the Peoria Civic Center in Peoria, Illinois.