Preachers prepare for church restructure. Also: fighting family violence, pulling for storm recovery

Preachers prepare for church restructure. Also: fighting family violence, pulling for storm recovery


Conference Roundup 

Last year's Clergy Gathering theme was, "Can We Talk?" And boy, did they.

This year, the annual meeting was focused on the "Call to Action." The 358 attending preachers did a lot of listening -- and some question-asking -- about changes in the way they will work in the future.

Instead of the day-long event with lunch, the 2011 gathering was shortened to 12:30-4 p.m. and offered at two locations. Pastors could attend Monday, Oct. 10 at First Farragut United Methodist Church in Knoxville or Tuesday, Oct. 11 at First Broad Street United Methodist Church in Kingsport. (See brochure.)

The Knoxville event had 159 participants, while Kingsport had 199, according to Sue Weber in the Clergy Services office.

Guest speaker was Neil Alexander of the United Methodist Publishing House, who expanded on Call to Action material he presented at last summer's Annual Conference.

He explained why weaknesses and failures in the United Methodist system must change: "We've got 13 general boards with 600 people all coming up with things to do, and those things are all competing with each other."

He also explained how research had led to a list of indicators and drivers for vital congregations. For example: Vital churches have more than one kind of worship. Vital churches also have more small groups than non-vital churches.

"That's what the research shows," Alexander said. "You can argue about whether these are good indicators, or you can go have more small groups."

Bishop James Swanson followed by inviting questions from clergy before preaching and celebrating Holy Communion. Swanson's follow-up thoughts on Clergy Gathering are posted on his Bishop's Blog.  

Readers are invited to share their questions and discoveries related to the Call to the Action at or on the conference Facebook page.

In the meantime:

  • Visit for Call to Action/ Vital Congregations websites and Neil Alexander's presentation.
  • See our Kingsport and Knoxville photo galleries on Facebook.
  • See a short YouTube video of Bishop Swanson in Kingsport.

Swanson shares sad story with violence prevention group

Two years ago, the Clergy Gathering theme was domestic violence prevention. On Friday, Oct. 14, Bishop James Swanson again shared the tragic story of how his mother was killed with a Knoxville city group at World's Fair Park. 

About 120 people attended the Community Coalition on Family Violence program, including the Rev. David Green of Pleasant Hill UMC, the Rev. Leah Burns of Haven Chapel-Asbury UMC, and the Rev. Andy Ferguson of Church Street UMC. The Rev. Sarah Varnell of Church Street UMC gave the invocation, and Russ Jensen, Knoxville's 311 director and member of St. Mark UMC, was an organizer.

Swanson received a standing ovation for his lunchtime keynote message. He wrote about his appearance this week on Bishop's Blog.

October is National Domestic Violence Awareness Month. The United Methodist Women have a website with stories and resources that will help pastors and congregations, as Bishop Swanson says, "put a stop to the epidemic."

You asked about ... storm response

Coming soon will be answers to the following reader's question: 

What's the update on Holston and UMCOR efforts for those impacted by the flooding and tornadoes in our conference and neighboring conferences? What do they need at this stage?

Send questions to with "You Asked" in the subject line.