LAKE JUNALUSKA, N.C. -- The Holston Annual Conference followed up on bold decisions and giving of recent years by approving a tithe-based apportionment and collecting $154,625 in an offering for south Sudan.
Meeting June 13-16 in western North Carolina, members also raised $61,933 for children's ministry in Holston and in Africa (Change for Children). They sent food, health, and school supplies to Liberia and Zimbabwe valued at $232,221 (Hands-on Mission Project).
Led by Bishop James E. Swanson Sr., leaders of 902 churches in east Tennessee, southwest Virginia, and north Georgia met for the third year under the “Offer Them Christ” theme. Also for the third consecutive year, Holston rallied for its covenant partnership with the East Africa Conference, announcing commitments of two new missionaries and construction of wells, classrooms, and a guest house in Yei, Sudan. Several Sudan projects were not funded by the $627,000 collected in past offerings, but by individuals, churches, golf tournaments, auctions, and other fundraisers, Holston leaders noted.
“God is calling our church to do miracles,” Swanson told members. “South Sudan is nothing but a series of miracles going on.”
After two years of receiving a historically low 85 percent in apportionment payments, Holston voted with a strong majority to discard the existing apportionment formula, instead giving 10 percent of all undesignated local church income to support the conference budget. The tithe-based apportionment will become effective in 2011, at the same time “direct invoicing” will be implemented. In 2009, Holston voted to remove pensions and health insurance from the apportionment formula, instead allowing local churches to pay directly for those staffing costs.
The Annual Conference schedule was structured around the denomination’s Four Areas of Ministry Focus, with speakers addressing “Developing Principled Christian Leaders,” “Creating New Places for New People and Revitalizing Existing Congregations,” “Engaging in Ministry with the Poor,” and “Improving Health Globally.”
Speakers included: the Rev. Charles Kyker, senior pastor at Christ United Methodist Church in Hickory, N.C.; the Rev. Charles Edgar, senior pastor at the United Methodist Church for All People in Columbus, Ohio; Cal Turner, retired CEO of Dollar General Corp.; the Rev. Candace Lewis, new church strategist for the Board of Discipleship; and Kelly Piepenbrink, health and wellness program manager for the Board of Pensions and Health Benefits.
Two retired bishops, natives of Holston Conference, participated in the services. Bishop Kenneth Carder preached at Sunday's Service of Ordination and Commissioning. Bishop Richard Looney served as celebrant at Monday's Service of Remembrance and Holy Communion.
The Rev. Adam McKee, Oak Ridge District superintendent, preached at the Service of Remembrance. Jean Henderson, former conference lay leader and Discipleship Team chair, preached at Monday's Service of Retirement. Bishop James Swanson preached at Wednesday's Sending Forth Service.
In other conference action:
- Holston rejoiced in the return of the Rev. Boo Hankins and the Rev. Phyllis Hankins after their first year serving as mission leaders in south Sudan. The clergy couple will return to Africa for a second year in late June.
- Steve and Diantha Hodges announced their August departure for south Sudan. After 21 years of founding and leading the multi-mission Jubilee Project in rural Sneedville, Tenn., the couple will begin new ministries in economic sustainability and rural health in Sudan. Jubilee Project will go on with new leaders, Steve Hodges said.
- A 2011 budget of $10.8 million was approved, with a resolve to pay 100 percent of general church and jurisdictional apportionments and implementation of a special offering to support ministerial education.
- Health insurance premium rates for retirees will be based on years of service beginning in 2012, favoring clergy with longer ministries, according to Board of Pensions Chair Patty Muse. “We are simply trying to manage our future obligations.”
- Holston will start 15 new churches between 2009 and 2013, as part of the denomination’s overall effort to start 650 churches in the four-year period. Two new congregations have already started with Cokesbury UMC’s west campus in Knoxville and First Hillsville UMC’s “Out of the Box” campus. Three more churches are in progress. The Congregational Development Team announced a campaign to get 1,000 people to donate $100 each to finance the 15-church effort.
- The Witness Ministry Team celebrated 1,151 baptisms in response to the 50 Golden Days of Evangelism campaign, concluding on Pentecost Sunday, May 23. Bishop Swanson later noted that 251 of 904 churches were responsible for the total and encouraged the remaining churches to report baptisms at evangelism.holston.org. The Witness Team will offer a second annual evangelism conference April 1-2, 2011, at Cokesbury UMC.
- The Francis Asbury Award for higher education was presented to the Rev. Jerry Everley, retiring director of the Wesley Foundation at East Tennessee State University. Everley led several students to full-time ministry, including five now under appointment, two camp directors, three youth directors, and two General Board of Global Ministries staff members.
- The Denman Evangelism Award was presented to lay member Bill Gaultney of Rutledge UMC, Morristown District, and the Rev. Sarah Wells of Taylor Memorial UMC, Johnson City District.
- Twenty-five clergy and 28 clergy spouses were memorialized in a special worship service. Twenty retirees were recognized.
- A service of ordination and commissioning included 19 ordinands: 15 elders and four deacons. Sixteen provisional elders were commissioned.
- The statuses of four Chattanooga District churches were changed during the Cabinet Report: Highland Plaza merged with Hixson. East Lake was closed. After closing in 1992, Bethel was designated “abandoned and discontinued.” Forrest Avenue was closed and designated a “mission church.” Forrest Avenue will relocate to St. Andrews Center or to the former East Lake building.
- The Disaster Response Team reported that Holston workers played a key role in the denomination’s ongoing flood recovery effort in Nashville, logging 1,188 labor hours. Ham radio operators are needed for future missions and are requested to email email@example.com.
- Holston Home for Children announced that 733 children were served by their ministries in 2009 and 720 Holston churches had participated in the Fifth Sunday Offering.
- The Cabinet recommended formation of an ad hoc committee to review the Annual Conference organization, with a goal to “streamline the structure.” The recommendation was approved.
- Three retiring conference staff were recognized with gratitude for their years of service: Kathy Parker, pensions and health administrator; Sheila Knowles, administrative assistant; and Norma Edwards, bishop's secretary.
- A total $23,000 in grants were awarded by the Witness Ministry Team to churches beginning new ministries for reaching people. Recipients: Lake City UMC, Oak Ridge District; St. John UMC, Maryville District; Friendsville UMC, Maryville District; and Telford UMC, Johnson City District.
- A total $35,000 in Change for Children grants from 2009 offerings were presented to 16 churches with children’s ministries: Damascus Circuit, Abingdon District; Three Bells, Big Stone Gap District; St. Elmo, Chattanooga District; Wesley Memorial, Cleveland District; Roan Mountain, Johnson City District; Cassidy, Kingsport District; Community, Kingsport District; Trentville, Knoxville District; Middlebrook Pike, Knoxville District; Washington Pike, Knoxville District; St. John, Maryville District; Casa Del Alfararo (Potter’s House), Maryville District; Pleasant Hill, Maryville District; Trinity, Morristown District; First Honaker, Tazewell District; and Jordan’s Chapel, Wytheville District. An equal amount of $35,000 will support children’s ministries in Africa, for a total $70,000 in grants.
- Some of Holston’s most powerful ministries were celebrated in the video-enhanced “State of the Church Report,” delivered by Bishop James Swanson and Conference Lay Leader Mary Ruth Richards. “No matter where your church is located, that is not the extent of your activities,” Swanson said. “You are part of something greater.” Featured ministries included Cokesbury UMC’s Hardin Valley campus in Knoxville; Hispanic ministries at St. Andrews Center in Chattanooga; Trenton UMC’s work with the impoverished and incarcerated in north Georgia; Strength for the Journey serving HIV victims at Buffalo Mountain Camp; Emerald Youth Foundation’s Just Lead for urban youth in Knoxville; The Remedy’s worship and outreach for the young and unchurched in Maryville; the multifacted Big Stone Gap District Church and Community Renewal; and Forrest Avenue’s homeless ministry in Chattanooga.
Membership stands at 166,625, down 180 from the previous year. Worship attendance stands at 70,200, down 1,477. Church school attendance stands at 36,988, down 1,046.
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Annette Spence is editor of The Call, the Holston Conference newspaper.