The 2022 Indiana Annual Conference was held in person at Indiana Wesleyan University with over 1,300 attendees in June. I love Annual Conference gatherings, and the Holy Spirit was evident as people gathered in person for the first time in over two years.
Adaptive leadership and attention to relationship building allowed the Conference to build out a live gathering that featured vibrant worship, Bible study, prayer walks, the debate over difficult resolutions, and the baptism of babies.
Over 2,000 school supply kits were brought to Annual Conference in support of our Missional Offering, and over $100,000 was raised in support of Exodus Refugee Immigration, as Hoosiers supported refugees from Afghanistan, Ukraine, and other countries resettling in Indiana.
Our Annual Conference theme, Love God and Love Neighbor, was emphasized throughout the three days, and talk of disaffiliation was not the only menu offering for the week.
Unlike other conferences, Indiana approved disaffiliating churches for the second consecutive Annual Conference since ¶2553 was added to the United Methodist Book of Discipline by the action of the Special-Called General Conference in 2019. A total of 29 churches have disaffiliated thus far in 2022.
A retired pastor approached me during a break at Annual Conference and said, “Bishop, lay people from some of our churches who are thinking about disaffiliation or have voted to disaffiliate do not want to leave The United Methodist Church or ministries they have committed to in their communities.”
In one of my monthly meetings with leaders from ecumenical church bodies in Indiana and Kentucky, a Presbyterian official said, “Julius, some of the United Methodists have joined our Presbyterian Church because they do not want to be Global Methodist.”
This division is leading to a sad reality: many people will be left out in the cold. We will make every effort to ensure that there are no major United Methodist deserts in Indiana. UMC Deserts, like food deserts, are places where people live but do not have access to what they need for healthy living. As of today, there are around 1,000 United Methodist churches in 92 counties in our state.
The Bishop, Cabinet, Church Development, and our Coordinating Council will ensure that we invest in communities where—through no fault of their own—United Methodists have been forced to become spiritual refugees. This is a time to leave no opportunity gap ignored as we keep the main thing of disciple-making and multiplication before us.
If you want to remain United Methodist but have not felt you have allies, I encourage you to reach out to your Conference Superintendent. Please, tell someone if you feel forced to become a refugee from your own church.
It is in times like these that Satan can rear his ugly head and tempt us to fear the future. Instead, I implore you to hold fast to verses like Deuteronomy 31:6 (CEB). “Be strong! Be fearless! Don’t be afraid and don’t be scared by your enemies because the Lord your God is the one who marches with you. He won’t let you down, and he won’t abandon you.” Amen and amen.
Julius C. Trimble
Indiana Conference of The United Methodist Church