Under the theme, “Pray Together,” an estimated 1,100 members of the Holston Annual Conference gathered June 5-8 at Lake Junaluska, representing 851 United Methodist churches in East Tennessee, Southwest Virginia, and North Georgia. Total current membership of voting clergy and lay members is 1,631, but overall attendance was down, according to conference staff. While worship attendance swelled to an estimated 1,200-1,500, the highest number of votes recorded during business sessions was about 710.
Presiding was Bishop Debra Wallace-Padgett at her first Holston Annual Conference as resident bishop. For the past 10 years, she has also served as resident bishop of the North Alabama Conference.
Wallace-Padgett emphasized discipleship in her opening Sunday-night sermon and also in her Monday-morning State of the Church Address.
“It is always, always the right season to make disciples, and that includes in a time in the church that is challenging, ever-changing, stormy, tumultuous, uncertain and hard,” she said on June 5.
She also emphasized unity. “I am deeply saddened that some churches and clergy will be leaving our denomination. I have literally cried tears over this because I believe with every fiber of my being that we are more together than we are separate,” Wallace-Padgett said on June 6.
Though some clergy and churches may withdraw, she said, “we hope that the majority of Holston will continue on the journey together. We will bless those who discern to disaffiliate. We hope and pray that they will bless us in return.”
For two nights, Holstonians worshiped with Bishop James Swanson, who preached passionately about how Jesus prays for his people (John 17) and how God is always with his people (Deuteronomy 33).
“Sometimes we’re going to make decisions that go in directions that are against the will of the God — and yet the Holy Ghost shouting, tongue-speaking folk, twirling around and giving God the glory — and God is saying, ‘Shout now, but tomorrow when you hit the ground, walk in another direction.’”
Currently serving as resident bishop of the Mississippi Annual Conference, Swanson was resident bishop of Holston Conference from 2004 to 2012. Worshipers stood several times to applaud with gratitude for his messages and memories of his leadership.
In addition to Wallace-Padgett and Swanson, other preachers included the Rev. Sarah Varnell speaking at the Memorial Service and the Rev. Jeffrey Wright speaking at the Sending Forth Service.
For two morning worship services, the Rev. Tom Albin offered “teaching moments” on prayer, urging his listeners to “get out of the baby bed and find a way to pray that feeds your soul.” Albin is an author and retired dean of The Upper Room Chapel.
An offering of $51,303 was taken for mission in South Sudan. The Change for Children offering was $25,118, designated for children’s ministry locally and overseas.
Hands-on Mission Project kits totaled 5,111 for United Methodist missions in Liberia and Zimbabwe, collected by local churches over recent weeks. All but two of nine districts exceeded their goals in providing food, school and health supplies packaged in buckets and backpacks.
Rachel "Dragonfly" Ahrens was commissioned as 2022 Appalachian Trail chaplain.
The Denman Evangelism Awards for 2020, delayed by the pandemic, were presented to the Rev. Barry Kidwell (clergy), Whitney Winston (lay), and Stoan Adams (youth). The 2022 awards were presented to the Rev. Larry Trotter (clergy) and Marva Clark Hickman (lay). There were no 2021 awards.
The Francis Asbury Award for ministry in higher education was presented to Anne Travis.
The Congregational Development Team announced revitalization of Magnolia Avenue United Methodist Church and Vestal United Methodist, and also the launch of Valley Church United Methodist Church, all in Knoxville, Tennessee.
Thirty-nine participants joined in an early-morning 5K run/ 1-mile walk fundraiser for South Sudan, including Bishop Wallace-Padgett. Winners of the run were the Rev. Wil Cantrell (male) and 11-year-old Rebekah Berg (female).
The Dismantling Racism Task Force reported that 22 clergy and lay members are meeting and planning to help change Holston Conference through resourcing local churches, events, training, storytelling, assessment and accountability. Following a video of white clergy repeating painful, traumatic statements said to Black clergy in Holston, five panelists discussed systemic racism and personal experiences on stage.
The Annual Conference adopted a rule ensuring all conference committees are comprised of at least 20% people of color. The concluding vote was accomplished after several debates and revisions of the percentage ranging from 5% to 50%.
A new “director of cultural diversity” position on the conference staff is currently under development, reported the Personnel Resources Team.
Bishop Richard Looney offered a prayer on gun violence following national news of several shootings in recent weeks, including two in Chattanooga, Tennessee, where he lives. “‘… Thoughts and prayers.’ I’m almost sick in my stomach now when I hear those words from those elected to lead us,” he said, before praying, “Help us all to know how to involve ourselves politically to do something beyond our praying.” Looney is a retired United Methodist bishop.
Seven clergy were ordained as elders; 3 were commissioned as provisional elders; 2 were commissioned as provisional deacons; 2 were recognized as associates, 2 were recognized as associates; and 14 were licensed as local pastors. One deaconess was commissioned.
Seventy-four clergy retirees from the classes of 2020, 2021 and 2022 were recognized with prayers, hymns, a video and an ice cream social. Of those, 21 were 2022 retirees.
A Memorial Service recognized the lives and ministries of 33 clergy members, 7 clergy spouses, and 16 surviving spouses, who died between May 2021 and April 2022.
The Annual Conference recognized the closing of 10 local churches, including Ducktown in Ducktown, Tenn.; Sinking Springs in Bristol, Tenn.; Shiloh in Sneedville, Tenn.; Laurel in Damascus, Va.; York’s Chapel in Jonesville, Va.; Ester in Castlewood, Va.; Speaks Chapel in Rose Hill, Va.; Exeter in Exeter, Va.; Chatham Hill in Saltville, Va.; and Rheatown in Chuckey, Tenn. The updated total of Holston Conference local churches is now 842.
Finance and Benefits
The Annual Conference approved a 2023 budget of $8.89 million.
The Council on Finance and Administration reported that 439 churches paid 100% of their tithes in 2021, while 186 churches have not paid any tithe in at least two years. Over the next year, a study will be conducted of conference staffing and facilities to identify ways to adjust to budget shortfalls caused by insufficient tithe receipts.
The Board of Pension has contracted with Trinity Benefits Advisors to negotiate rates for its self-insured health plan administrated by Blue Cross Blue Shield. In 2023, the board will stop offering a stipend toward the retiree Medicare supplement health insurance premium.
Resolutions and Motions
The Annual Conference voted to adopt the resolution, “Moratorium on Church Trials in Holston Conference.” After a 40-minute discussion with 11 speakers, the vote was 361 in favor, 323 against. During the discussion, Bishop Wallace-Padgett responded to a question by answering, “Here in Holston, we will continue to uphold our Book of Discipline. We will do it with grace. We will do it prayerfully.”
The Annual Conference voted against “A Resolution Encouraging Discernment,” asking General Conference delegates “to prayerfully discern how they may support legislation that removes discriminatory language and the restrictions and penalties in the Discipline regarding ministry of and with LGBTQ persons.”
A motion was made for the Holston Annual Conference to request a declaratory decision from the Judicial Council regarding the constitutionality of the postponement of the 2020 General Conference. Bishop Wallace-Padgett ruled that the request was not in order because it did not meet the requirements of the Book of Discipline for requesting such a decision. A motion was made to appeal the bishop’s ruling to the Judicial Council. The motion to appeal failed to receive the required 1/5 vote in support.
The Annual Conference adopted a motion calling on finance leaders to report the estimated unfunded pension liabilities for the Annual Conference. The vote was 346 to 238. By July 8, the estimated amount and each church’s responsibility is required to be posted on the conference website.
Becky Hall delivered her first Conference Lay Leader’s report since stepping into the role last year. “God hears our prayers,” she said. “That’s our basis for our hope.”
The Rev. Kim Goddard, incoming dean of the Cabinet, announced Bishop Wallace-Padgett’s recent launch of an “Invitation Team” to determine how Holston Conference may move forward united.
The Sexual Ethics and Boundaries Committee reported that all clergy will be required to participate in ethics and boundary training in September-October 2022.
The Board of Trustees reported that 18 properties are currently under trustee management, and the board is committed to liquidating properties. Churches are urged to carry sexual misconduct insurance for the protection of children, churches and pastors, and also to set security procedures.
The Children’s Ministry Team presented a new initiative, Cultivate Faith, inviting parents to partner with churches to teach their children about faith.
The Board of Ordained Ministry reported that all clergy will be required to be “Safe Gatherings” certified beginning June 1, 2023. Congregations are asked to help pastors meet the cost of the certification process, which includes checks in background, sexual predator list, motor vehicle and credit as well as boundaries training. Certification will need to be updated every three years.
The United Methodist Women reported on the organization’s name change to United Women in Faith over the past year. Holston’s United Women in Faith includes nine active district units including 250 local units. Three women from Holston were recently consecrated as deaconesses.
United Methodist Men in Holston Conference has been inactive in recent years, the Conference Secretary reported. Efforts are underway to revive leadership.
Membership stands at 151,982, down 2,214 from the previous year.
Worship attendance stands at 99,027, down 30,184. This includes in-person worship (35,642) and online worship (63,385).
Church school attendance stands at 14,650 in 2021, down 4,346 from 2020.
Professions or reaffirmations of faith in 2021: 719, up 211 from 2020.
Adults and young adults in small groups in 2021: 26,208, down 2,609 from 2020.
Worshippers engaged in mission: 24,355 in 2021, down 3,787 from 2020.
—Annette Spence, editor of The Call, Holston Conference.
Like what you're reading? Support the ministry of UM News! Your support ensures the latest denominational news, dynamic stories and informative articles will continue to connect our global community. Make a tax-deductible donation at ResourceUMC.org/GiveUMCom.