Forty years ago on June 9, it rained in Decatur, Ga., just like it did last night outside Stuart Auditorium.
Bishop Mary Virginia Taylor remembers that, because 40 years ago, she married the Rev. Rusty Taylor.
At last night’s opening worship for Annual Conference, Taylor presided for the first time as Holston’s resident bishop and recalled her wedding day as she preached on the “Imagine” theme and Ephesians 3:20.
“There’s no way I could have imagined that 40 years later ... I would be standing before you as the resident bishop of Holston Conference,” she said, “but somehow, God did.”
Before celebrating Holy Communion with worshippers representing 899 churches, Taylor also spoke of her recent trip to South Sudan. She told of the four pastors she met from the Nuba Mountains who eagerly wanted to become United Methodists. She spoke of the 40 wells and six churches built by the Holston Conference.
“God is doing great work among us, and I believe he has greater work to do still,” Taylor said.
The evening service concluded a busy day, as preachers and lay members made their way from north Georgia, east Tennessee, and southwest Virginia to gather with other Holstonians in western North Carolina.
Some met up with traffic followed by congestion in Bethea Welcome Center, especially in the hour before the 5 p.m. Laity and Clergy Sessions. For the first time this year, members were required to register online for Annual Conference.
About 2/3 of this year’s participants had registered online by the time they arrived, according to conference staffer Karen Wright. The other one-third were required to sit down at computers in Bethea and register with assistance from staff.
“For it to be our first year with online registration, it’s going really well,” said Cheryl Thompson, Maryville District administrative assistant. “We’re finding out what we need to do to improve on it for next year.”
While they waited their turns to finish the registration process, members chatted about their expectations for Annual Conference.
The Rev. Chris Brown, pastor at Wheeler United Methodist Church in Blountville, Tenn., admitted that he missed his five-month-old daughter but said he was “looking forward to some renewal through worship.”
Asked what dream he might “imagine” for his church or for Holston Conference, Brown said, “More disciples for Jesus Christ.”
Marleen Varner said she always attended the Holston Annual Conference with her husband, Rev. Carroll Varner Jr., and continued to do so after he died in 1996. Varner currently lives in Asheville, N.C.
“I always go to the Ministers’ Spouses Luncheon, the Retirees’ Luncheon, and I like the ordination service,” Varner said.
In Harrell Center auditorium, Timothy Hankins set up his exhibit for Candler School of Theology. A former music minister at Green Meadow UMC, Hankins has just completed his first year in seminary. He’s serving as a Candler “student ambassador” at the Holston, North Alabama, Florida, and Virginia Annual Conferences.
The Candler exhibit is one of 50 displays representing a variety of ministries, located in Harrell Center auditorium.