LAKE JUNALUSKA, N.C. (June 7, 2016) -- Bishop Dindy Taylor talked about General Conference, staying together as a denomination, and a way forward in her “State of the Church” report -- and then she talked about the Book of Discipline.
“What happens in the meantime? The only conference I can speak about is the Holston Conference. The Holston Conference will honor and keep the Book of Discipline for those of us who are ordained.”
Taylor spoke to the Holston Annual Conference, meeting in Stuart Auditorium on Monday morning, June 6.
She shared a photo of a delegate and nurse from Nigeria, who was dressed as she was on a day during General Conference, which happened May10-20 in Portland, Ore.
“We are so much more alike than we are different, and we are part of a glorious, global church where we are the children of God,” she said.
Taylor said she found it “sad and sobering” to read petitions to General Conference that proposed splitting the denomination because members could not agree on issues of human sexuality. The petitions didn’t progress beyond legislative committees, she said, despite rumors that United Methodist bishops were discussing a denominational divorce.
Instead, the Council of Bishops reaffirmed its “commitment to the unity of the church,” Taylor said. She referred to Bishop Sharon Brown Christopher’s experience in Brazil, where the Methodist church is remembered as “the church that divided” instead of “the church that loves.”
Taylor also referred to the 1844 split of the Methodist church between the South and North.
“One hundred and seventy-two years later, we are still paying for it, for there are places in our annual conference where there are two United Methodist churches that can easily throw a stone at each other,” she said. “Are we stronger for that decision? I’m not sure we are.”
Taylor said the Council of Bishops is deliberately “praying and trying to discern where God is leading God’s church,” as they consider the next steps in organizing the human sexuality commission approved by General Conference. In the meantime, she said Holston Conference will follow the Book of Discipline.
“… Do not mend our rules, but keep them: Not for wrath, but for conscience’s sake,” Taylor said, quoting John Wesley.
Taylor noted that the denomination’s “Four Areas of Focus,” to which General Conference has recommitted for the next four years, is a “helpful platform for serving people in the name of Jesus.” (See box.)
In a Monday afternoon report, three General Conference delegates shared information and experiences from their 10 days in Oregon.
The Rev. David Graves, head of the Holston’s delegation, talked about tense days when schism rumors, heated accusations, and legislation votes placed the denomination in peril. “It’s very evident that we are at a crossroads,” he said, encouraging members to pray and “guard your hearts” as the denomination moves forward with forming a human-sexuality commission.
“Our focus is not schism and what divides us, but making disciples for the transformation of the world,” Graves said. “My heart hurts for the United Methodist Church, but God’s heart hurts for the people who are going to hell while we get caught up in institutions.”
The Rev. Wil Cantrell said he supports church unity and longs for the day when United Methodists “will draw circles instead of lines.” However, he said brothers and sisters whose faith calls them to draw lines are not his enemies but “beloved partners in ministry.”
“This thing we call Holston runs deep,” Cantrell said, confessing that it was chilling to think that the United Methodist Church – and Holston Conference – could cease to exist.
“Friends, we can’t spend so much time feeling frustrated about General Conference and worrying about what’s going to happen in the next few years that we do not participate in the miracle-working power of Jesus Christ,” he said. “I’m tired of worrying about the United Methodist Church, and I’m not going to do it anymore.”
Emily Ballard talked about her participation on an Imagination No Malaria press-conference panel at General Conference. She also shared the denomination’s rollout of a new “Abundant Health” campaign to reach 1 million children with life-saving interventions between 2017 and 2020. Participation in the campaign will help churches meet the “global health” focus in the “4 Areas of Focus,” she said.
> Del Holley shared the story of Jesus, the disciples, the hungry crowd, and the loaves and fishes during his Lay Leader’s Address. “[Jesus] didn’t tell them to favor any particular age group, or skin color, or gender. He didn’t say, ‘Make sure to stay away from the Samaritans,’” Holley said. “The only instruction recorded is, ‘You feed them.’” (See complete report.)
> Rev. David Graves received a standing ovation and was endorsed by the Annual Conference as a nominee for bishop. The Southeastern Jurisdictional Conference election begins July 13 at Lake Junaluska.
> Bishop Richard Looney opened the morning with a Bible study on Psalm 40 (“I waited patiently for the Lord”), mixing humor about aging with examples of how God blesses us. “If we just look, we are overwhelmed with God’s blessings,” he said. “God’s great gift is God himself.”
> The Committee on Rules and Order presented a revision to “Rule 38,” clarifying the process of the Extended Cabinet acting on behalf of the Annual Conference between sessions. The revision was approved. (See pages 19 and 31 in the “Book of Reports.”)
> The Cabinet’s Report included resolutions for discontinuance of Mount Olive UMC, Rural Retreat, Va., and Pleasant Hill UMC, Grayson County, Va. The Rev. Charles Maynard said that the closings “should not be seen as a defeat, any more than we see the deaths of our colleagues as a defeat. We need that moment of celebration for the ministries that have occurred.” The resolutions were approved.
> The Congregational Development Team report featured four ministries that received funding: Shades of Grace, Kingsport, Tenn.; Bethlehem-Wiley, Chattanooga, Tenn.; The Connexion, Sevierville, Tenn.; and Leonard Memorial of the Galax Circuit, Va.
> The Holston Conference Foundation reported a record high in assets managed: $102.8 million in 2015. Forty percent of the assets are owned by local churches, Executive Director Roger Redding said. He also reported 42 new accounts, $4.9 million in deposits, and $6.8 million in distributions.
> Graves preached on Ephesians 3:1-7 during the Memorial Service, honoring 32 clergy and clergy spouses who died within the last year. He recalled the witness that Rev. John Bacon and Rev. Bill Horner shared in his own life. “It was a call and an apostolic vocation,” he said.
> The truck carrying Hands-on Mission kits for Liberia was delayed and is expected on Tuesday. The food, health and school supplies collected by local churches for Zimbabwe are on the way to Africa, Bishop Dindy Taylor reported.
> Eight members from the Galax Circuit held signs protesting gay clergy outside Stuart Auditorium during the morning session. “It’s against the Bible,” said one of the protesters, holding a sign stating, “God’s word never changes.”
> During the delegation’s report, Graves invited members to an informational meeting about General Conference, to be held 3 p.m., Sunday, June 12, in the Parish Hall at Church Street United Methodist Church, Knoxville, Tenn.
Download complete Tuesday edition (Holston Annual Conference 2016)
Annette Spence is editor of The Call, the Holston Conference newspaper.