'Calling All Men' offers new brand of spiritual enrichment for males across Holston

'Calling All Men' offers new brand of spiritual enrichment for males across Holston

Complimentary pocket knives were attached to nametags. Speakers joked about eating meat at every meal and leaving the channel on ESPN, free of the watchful eyes of women. A preacher used warrior anecdotes, and "power tool" themes were rampant in the publicity and workshop titles.

But aside from the playful stereotypes distinguishing this event as one for guys only, "Calling All Men" was less about separating the men from the women and more about drawing men closer to God.

Held Aug. 15-16 at Severville Events Center, the spiritual weekend for men was the first of its kind for Holston Conference, drawing 555 in pre-registrations and an estimated 750 for the Saturday worship services.

The theme was "Gaining Your Edge," based on Proverbs 27:17: "As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another."

The event was organized by the Holston Conference United Methodist Men, led by current president Mike Smith and immediate past president Jim Ball.

Visit the Calling All Men photo gallery.

More than a year in planning, Calling All Men was designed to appeal to men who "do not respond to the gospel in the same way and in the same spirit" as women, according to Bishop James Swanson.

"All people -- men and women -- come to Christ with all kinds of hang-ups and beliefs that may not be consistent with the teachings of Jesus," said Swanson. "But as they yield themselves to the Holy Spirit, transformation takes place.

"Those in attendance this weekend came because they are hungry for what only God can supply," Swanson said. "I was overwhelmed by their response, and wept with joy as I recalled that many did doubt that this was a 'God thing,' but the Lord, the Holy Spirit, made this happen."

Men representing all 12 districts arrived on Friday afternoon for registration, followed by free time. They returned after dinner for worship and preaching by the Rev. Jason Roe, followed by music and testimony by Jason Crabb.

After Saturday-morning worship led by the Rev. Allen Black, participants attended workshops with titles like, "How to be a Godly Man in an iPod World" and "Quick, Get Me Out of Debt and Keep Me Out."

In the "iPod" workshop, the Rev. Brad Hyde warned that technology has made pornography and infidelity easier to engage in privately.

"You don't have to go to a gentlemen's club anymore. You don't have to go to a bookstore. You can sit in your own home or office and get it right there," Hyde said.

In the debt workshop, Conference Treasurer John Tate explained, "It's quick and easy to get into debt, but it takes hard work to get out of debt."

Workshops seemed lively and participatory. Earl Maine, member at Three Springs UMC in Abingdon District, explained that the male-only audiences helped him to feel "less inhibited" to speak out.

After the workshops, box lunches (ham or turkey sandwiches) were included in the cost of registration. Bishop Swanson preached at the afternoon worship with Holy Communion.

Music was contemporary style, with praise bands from Concord United Methodist Church in Oak Ridge District and Fairview UMC in Maryville District. Many worshippers danced, raised their hands, and sang to the music. Some clapped and called out in affirmation during the preachers' messages.

Many came in church groups, led by their pastors. The Rev. Tony Collins, pastor at Loudon UMC in Maryville District, brought a group of 10. Fees were paid by the church. A parishioner offered his vacation cabin for lodging, Collins said.

The Rev. Will Shewey, pastor at Hiltons Memorial UMC in Big Stone Gap District, came alone on Friday, then returned with two van loads of church members on Saturday. He explained that many had Friday work obligations, but wanted to attend the Saturday worship services.

Several female pastors accompanied their male members, including the Rev. Betty Furches of First Farragut UMC (Oak Ridge District), the Rev. Sharon Bowers of Randolph-Wells Chapel UMC (Chattanooga District), and the Rev. Stella Roberts of First Oak Ridge UMC.

Some said that attending the event required sacrifice, but they were encouraged by their pastors or district superintendents to be part of a new movement -- of men who will lead their families, congregations, and communities to Christ.

"This was not a matter of finding time. It was a matter of making time," said Kent Booher of Loudon UMC. "I told my wife, 'Don't plan anything for me this weekend unless someone dies.' It was that important to me."

The Rev. Dowahking Bestman, pastor at Albright-McCarty UMC of Johnson City District, said he came with the goal of taking the spirit back to his own congregation.

"Each man is like an island," he said. "I want to try to organize my men to build Christian fellowship among themselves."

A group of men dressed in overalls and T-shirts labeled "Handymen for Christ" attended from Telford UMC in Johnson City District. Troy Arnold said that men are sometimes the "weakest link" in a congregation because they fail to take accountability for their actions. By building handicap ramps, installing dishwashers, and mowing lawns, Handymen for Christ offers men a chance to serve along with opportunities for Christian fellowship, Arnold said.

"We've got eight or nine men involved in this ministry, and that's 60 pecent of the men in our congregation," he said.

In the closing worship, Bishop Swanson referred to Matthew 26 to show that even Jesus, in the garden of Gethsemane, prayed to the Father for help.

"It's tough sometimes, being the man, carrying the burden and load of responsibilities, with the kinds of images that flood our minds about what it means to be a man," he said. "We as men have been created out of the image and likeness of God, but we are not God. We need help ... Look at what Jesus did. He called for help."

The goal of Christian living, Swanson said, "is not to get to heaven. The goal is to be like Jesus, and then heaven gets thrown in. You say you are a man. Then you better step up, because being a Christian is not for wimps. But when your burden gets heavy, call for help. Call for help."