Bishop Bill McAlilly officially opened the 53rd Tennessee Annual Conference at 9 a.m. on Sept. 19, 2020. While a limited number of leaders were present at Brentwood United Methodist Church, the bar for voting was set for lay and clergy members to participate via Zoom Webinar with the production assistance of GNTV. The annual conference originally was to meet in June 2020.
Due to pandemic precautions, the 2020 Clergy Session was held via Zoom webinar in August. The service of licensing, commissioning and ordination was split into two small gatherings at Franklin First United Methodist Church in Franklin, Tennessee, on Aug. 21. The services were recorded and edited together so a combined service could be broadcast the Friday evening before the annual conference session.
A brief recap of the conference follows. General statistics are at the end of this report.
Opening worship began with a call to worship from the conference lay leader. A traditional verse from the hymn “And We Are Yet Alive!” was sung, then followed by a collection of singers from around the Tennessee Conference singing a contemporary arrangement by Mark Miller of “And Are We Yet Alive!”
A prayer was offered. The scripture reading, Hebrews 11:1-11 and 12: 1-2, was presented by a diverse group of clergy and lay members of the conference in a variety of languages.
Bishop Bill McAlilly preached a heartfelt, visionary and inspiring sermon, “By Faith We Travel.” His sermon discussed the many struggles the church is facing right now, from learning to preach during a pandemic to facing the reality of racism and the importance of walking by faith throughout these struggles. He closed the sermon with this impactful quote: “We pray, we live, we overcome. Yes, we struggle. But we thrive when we travel by faith.” A pre-recorded confessional prayer by a lay leader followed the sermon.
The 2020 conference offering for Tornado Recovery was taken up online. The offertory hymn, “We’ve Come This Far by Faith” was sung by a virtual choir consisting of members from several churches in the Tennessee Conference. Worship concluded with a benediction by Bishop McAlilly, in which he said, “Step boldly, step courageously, and do not be afraid. For God is with us.”
Morning Business Session
Tennessee Conference Secretary joined Bishop McAlilly for notes of welcome and conference organization. Following a call to order, a roll call of 658 clergy and 658 lay delegates was taken and opening motions were made that included setting the bar as the online Zoom webinar.
Votes were then taken on organizing motions and the Consent Agenda. They were affirmed.
The Resolutions Committee report was presented. All resolutions met the test of constitutionality and concurrence. Resolutions were presented individually and all were approved.
- Rental/Housing Allowance for Retired, Disabled or Former Clergypersons of the Tennessee Conference
- Call to Care for God’s Good Creation After discussion, an amendment was made and affirmed to replace Heavenly Parent with Heavenly Father. (Resolution passed as amended)
- Golden Cross Date Change Resolution
New Conference Report and Resolutions
New Conference Guide Team members presented information to support the resolutions brought before the annual conference. The make-up, function and work of the Advisory Team also were explained.
Information was shared about the new conference website www. twkumc.org and about our ever-changing context, timeline, tools used, covenant and current transition task teams. This work is not complete but is laying the foundation for our future church. For more information, visit the TWKUMC website for launch packet tools and communication strategies.
Teams already are working to make the new conference a reality. Each is discerning how to live out the conference’s mission, vision and values and has been collaborative, engaging clergy and laity from both conferences. No team stands alone; they interact with one another. Many teams are in different stages of development.
The Structure Design Team used The Book of Discipline and other resources for guidance for the proposed structure. The structure is based on our mission to discover, equip, connect and send lay and clergy leaders that offer Christ to the world one neighborhood at time. The goal is to streamline and simplify to eliminate silo functions while keeping our mission front and center. More on the proposed structure.
Nominations were affirmed by each legacy conference’s committee, but vacancies have and will occur. The hope is to live into the new conference structure as much as the Book of Discipline and civil law will allow until we formally become the Tennessee-Western Kentucky Conference. It was proposed that current officers and leaders continue in their positions as willing, able and needed through Dec. 31, 2021.
The 2021 Budget Task Team developed a joint budget but each conference will vote on their own portion of the budget. The team wants to achieve as much alignment and consistency as possible and have made good progress with the 2021 proposal. The new funding model for the conference will be through a percentage-based Connectional Commitment. For information and slides related to the budget process visit the page twkumc.org/materials-for-2020-annual-conference-consideration.
Information was presented about the work of the Benefits Task Team on aligning conference health plans and pension benefits as well as about the Tennessee Conference property and a proposed office space study. The disciplinary need for a Joint Distributing Committee during 2021 was also explained.
The following resolutions then were presented, and all were passed.
- New Conference Resolution
- Joint Distributing Committee
- Office Space Study
- Officers, Boards, and Agency Representatives
Council on Finance and Administration Action Items
The CFA report and action items all were passed. Slides and budget narrative are available online under Budget Information at tnumc.org/reports-for-annual-conference-2020.
Martin Methodist College Presentation
Rev. Dr. Mark La Branche addressed the annual conference about the proposal and the merits for Martin Methodist College to become part of the University of Tennessee system. “Although our partnership may change in its structure, it will be more important than ever,” he said. To view the video go to tnumc.org/reports-for-annual-conference-2020.
Director of Administrative Services Report and Action Items
Four action items regarding the health plan, pensions and equitable compensation. All were passed. Following Jim Allen’s presentation – which included his tradition of singing a song from the podium – his years of service as director of administrative services and conference treasurer were acknowledged by Bishop McAlilly. Allen’s retirement began at the close of the annual conference.
Bishop McAlilly recognized and prayed for missionaries, home missioners and deaconesses.
The conference secretary introduced the video of the 2020 annual conference award recipients. This video is available at tnumc.org/tnac2020videos.
Bishop McAlilly made a personal point of privilege and spoke about his receiving a Harry Denman Award and heartfelt reflections from his childhood about Harry Denman.
Board of Ordained Ministry Report
The report for the Board of Ordained Ministry was presented including the names of those who were licensed, commissioned and ordained in August during the clergy session and at two services held separately because of COVID-19 precautions. A recording made using footage from both of the worship services was shown the Friday evening of the annual conference (tnumc.org/tnac2020videos).
- 4 Licensed local pastors
- 2 Provisional deacons
- 5 Provisional elders
- 4 Deacons in full connection
- 6 Elders in full connection
Video clips were shared of ordinands answering historical questions as well as the symbolic passing of the mantle.
The conference’s 19 Certified Lay Ministers also were recognized, many who are faithfully serving local congregations as their spiritual leader or leading in varying ministries on the district and local church level.
A retirement video featured this year’s retirees reflecting on questions about our current annual conference theme “By Faith” as well as about past annual conferences. They also gave advice for new pastors. Bishop McAlilly offered a prayer for the retirees. The video is on the conference website at tnumc.org/tnac2020videos.
Anti-racism Coalition Presentation
The Tennessee-Western Kentucky anti-racism coalition presentation featured a video centered on the question: “Systemic change begins with us. What are we going to do?” Invest in our younger generations; embrace the diversity of our community; be open to learning and changing how things are done; and go home, gather your loved ones and have the hard conversations. “It is the church that has been ordained to transform our broken world.”
Next Step Resources (tnumc.org/anti-racism-coalition-resources/)
The presentation was followed with a spirit-filled version of “Order My Steps.”
This year’s memorial recognition video featured a ringing of the bell as the names and images were shared of the 29 saints who have gone before us during this past year. This video and the 2020 Memorial Book written about each person are available on the conference website at tnumc.org/tnac2020videos/
Board of Laity and Lay Servant Ministries
The Board of Laity and Lay Servant Ministries video celebrated that lay servant ministries existed in over 500 churches, in rural, suburban and urban areas. People in lay servant ministries are called to use their gifts, services, witness and prayers to serve their communities as lay people in God’s name. This year, over 200 people participated in lay servant ministry training.
The Resolutions Committee correction was noted that in some of these resolutions, the date for changes or closings needed to be changed to reflect today’s date.
All District Charge Line Resolutions were approved.
- Caney Fork Charge Line Resolutions
- Cumberland River Charge Line Resolution
- Harpeth River Charge Line Resolution
- Red River Charge Line Resolutions
- Stones River Charge Line Resolutions
District church closing resolutions were voted on individually and all were passed. Bishop McAlilly prayed for each district’s closed churches.
Wartrace UMC | Hickory Grove UMC | Hilham UMC | Pleasant Grove UMC | Martin’s Chapel UMC | Jacob’s Pillar UMC | Shipley UMC
Bigbee Chapel UMC | Payne Chapel UMC | Trinity UMC | Mt. Olive UMC |
Mt. Nebo UMC | Shawnettee UMC
Barth Vernon UMC | Cedar Valley UMC | Cumberland City UMC | Leatherwood Asbury UMC | Spring Hill UMC
Bishop Bill McAlilly closed the Tennessee Annual Conference with the inspiring and passionate sermon, “In Christ Alone.” He used the text from Exodus 14:13-29, the story of the Hebrew Midrash, Nashon: The first to walk into the Red Sea. It did not part until he had taken the final step to be all in.
The bishop said, “When we depart this Annual Conference session, God will invite us to take steps into God’s future — unafraid.” He sent everyone forth into the future with quiet courage and a gladsome mind, free and joyful, in the spirit of Christ. “The spirit of the Lord is all upon us because our Lord has anointed us to bring good news to the poor, the recovering of sight to the blind, and to set at liberty those who are oppressed.
“We look to Jesus, who is the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, for without Him we don’t have a prayer — in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.”
The closing hymn, “Go to the World,” was performed by the West End United Methodist Church “COVID quintet.”
Number of clergy retired: 33
Membership stands at 109,504, down 4,483 from the previous year.
Worship attendance stands at 41,271, down 65.
Church school attendance stands at 19,750, down 545.
Professions or reaffirmations of faith for 2019: 1,524, up 174 from 2018.
Adults and young adults in small groups for 2019: 27,780, down 5,888 from 2018.
Worshippers engaged in mission for 2019: 27,016, up 285 from 2018.
—Amy Hurd, director of communications, Tennessee Conference