Bishop Wallace-Padgett shares hope for 'a united Holston'

Bishop Wallace-Padgett shares hope for 'a united Holston'

Bishop Debra Wallace-Padgett talks with communications staff March 22 in the Alcoa Conference Center.

ALCOA, Tenn. -- Earlier this week, during a lunch break from meeting with her Cabinet to make ministerial appointments for the upcoming year, Bishop Debra Wallace-Padgett sat down with communications staff to answer questions about the controversial postponement of General Conference. She also shared how she hopes Holston Conference will move forward into the future.

Communications staff: The announcement that General Conference 2020 was postponed for the third time – to 2024 – has been met with a range of emotions, as you know, throughout the denomination and also in Holston Conference. What are the various reactions to this news that you have noticed or heard about in our Holston Conference over the last three weeks? 

Bishop Wallace-Padgett: “Range of emotions” is the right phrase. People have responded with disappointment, grief, anger, relief and in some instances distrust.

Communications: What was your initial reaction to the postponement? 

Bishop: On one hand I was surprised because leading up to the announcement, COVID-19 numbers were improving and there were some reports that many international delegates had access to vaccinations. On the other hand, I anticipated that there was a greater likelihood of postponement than not, due to international visa challenges in a COVID-19 world.

Communications: For people who may not follow General Conference as much as others, why is the postponement such big news in the first place?

Bishop: The General Conference is a place where legislation is enacted and changes occur related to our “Book of Discipline.” The conflict in our United Methodist Church has been growing for decades around understandings of human sexuality, particularly as it relates to ordination and weddings.

In response to the turmoil after the 2019 Special Session of the General Conference, Sierra Leone Bishop John Yambasu invited a group of 16 persons including bishops, clergy and laity -- who had a whole range of theological perspectives -- to find a solution. The result was an agreement called the “Protocol of Reconciliation and Grace Through Separation.” As we approached General Conference 2020 there were many people across the church who felt like this protocol was the way forward for us out of our conflict.

Of course, COVID-19 caused the 2020 General Conference to be postponed, first to 2021, then to 2022. When it was postponed again to 2024, there was a lot of disappointment and frustration.


Communications: Does this delay in scheduling for General Conference have any effect on our Holston Annual Conference meeting that’s coming up June 5-8?

Bishop: There are many exciting plans for the 2022 Holston Annual Conference. This will be my first Annual Conference in Holston. It will be at Lake Junaluska, which is the custom for Holston, and I sense that people are feeling excitement at the thought of being together again. It will be great to gather for worship, prayer, learning and doing the business of the Annual Conference. I don’t anticipate the delay of General Conference will have a huge impact on our Annual Conference meeting.

Communications: When the Commission on General Conference announced the postponement, a group of theologically conservative United Methodists, “traditionalists,” in turn announced they would not wait until 2024 but would start a new denomination beginning May 1. What is your response to this action or to those who may be considering leaving the denomination? 

Bishop: I encourage our churches, laity and clergy to take a deep breath, inform themselves of the facts and stay focused on making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. Yesterday, we had a hope-filled Extended Cabinet meeting as we envisioned how we will move forward as a united Holston. We are hopeful that the majority of Holston will continue on the journey together. We are in the process of identifying a team of persons who will work on logistics that will provide space for traditionalists, centrists and progressives to continue living as United Methodists in relationship together. 

I also know that some clergy, laity and churches may discern that they can no longer make the journey with us. My heart goes out to them. For those who feel it is time to reexamine their connection with The United Methodist Church, the very first thing they should do is talk to their district superintendent. There are materials and information available that will help with discernment.

My hope, though, is that most of us will continue to move forward as a united Holston Conference.

Communications: What does a “united Holston Conference” look like?

Bishop: A united Holston looks like a conference that is more together than it would be separate. It looks like a conference that is very engaged in each other’s lives and the life of its community. It looks like a conference that is worshiping in rich and meaningful ways all across the Annual Conference. It looks like a place where there is a lot of diversity, where there are traditionalists, where there are moderates, where there are progressives. It looks like a place that is building on its past even as it moves forward into the future.

It’s a conference that has all age levels and has rich diversity in ethnicity and is growing and moving together. It’s a place where traditionalists make progressives sharper and where progressives enhance traditionalists. It’s a place where we are witness to the world of the richness that exists as people who have different perspectives and yet have so much in common in our love for God and for the church.

Communications: So here we are. Once again, United Methodists seem to be in a period of waiting and waiting for the next General Conference. Now what? Where do we go from here?

Bishop: That’s a great question. I urge us to continue to be in prayer for each other, for our communities, for our world and for our Annual Conference. I encourage leaders and members to be respectful to each other and to be patient. The most important action any of us can take is to grow in our relationship with God and others, including sharing our faith and being involved in outreach. As we do so, we will continue moving into the future, making a difference in the lives of Holston members, churches and communities. 

Communications: Is there anything else you would like to share?

Bishop: We are in the middle of the Lenten season, a time often characterized by wilderness questions and prayerful discernment. On this side of the cross, we also know that Easter is around the corner. Even as we deal with challenging life and denominational questions, may we be filled with the hope and joy that comes from serving our Resurrected Savior.


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Communications Staff

The Holston Conference Communications Staff includes Tim Jones, director; Annette Spence, editor; and Ben Smith, multimedia specialist.

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