Holston clergy returned to Lake Junaluska Feb. 6-9 to learn from an esteemed brother still grieving the loss of his wife and to pay humorous tribute to their resident bishop.
The Wesley Leadership Institute reports that 241 attended the annual continuing education and fellowship event for Holston clergy, which this year was titled, "Convocation: Communicating Christ in Connection."
The featured speaker was the Rev. Kent Millard, recently retired senior pastor of the denomination’s 12th largest congregation, St. Luke's United Methodist Church in Indianapolis, and co-author of books including “The Passion-Driven Congregation” and “The T.I.M.E. for Devotion.”
“I had seen him speak at an event in Chattanooga a few years ago, and he was the main reason I went to Convocation,” said the Rev. Tim Smith, pastor of the Fries Circuit in Wytheville District.
Millard shared lessons learned during his 18 years at St. Luke's, when the church grew from 4,000 to 6,000 members with 3,000 in average worship attendance. He spoke of choosing a staff with equal representation of progressive and conservative views and managing conflict with heavy doses of prayer and listening.
Millard also shared his grief and spiritual growth since the September 2011 death of his wife, Minnietta, after 48 years of marriage.
“He has wisdom and experience that speak to the possibilities of what can happen in other churches,” Smith said. “He has a humbleness that comes across and a servant attitude that makes him very approachable.”
'Warm words' for Swanson
In what is projected to be his final year as Holston’s episcopal leader, Bishop James Swanson was celebrated on the final evening with a roast titled, “Warm Words for a Spiritual Leader.”
Pastors including Don Nation, Sandra Johnson, Randy Frye, and Doug Fairbanks teased Swanson about his cabinet choices, inconvenient telephone calls, and animated preaching. (See YouTube video.)
The Rev. Mike Travis, Cleveland District superintendent, won loud laughter with his “Top 10 Innovative Words from Bishop Swanson,” which included “blama lama lama” (a really good golf shot), “hully bully” (conflict in a church), “huppy druppy” (conflict with money in the church), “jilly jackie” (intentionally not doing what you are supposed to do), and “ka blunky” (ultimate extreme of laziness).
Swanson later explained that his mother had used funny word substitutes to refrain from cursing, and he followed suit.
Clergy from the audience, including Rebekah Fetzer and Charlie Harrison, also shared humorous memories and thanked the bishop for his gifts and leadership. Swanson followed the evening with his own words of gratitude and love, remembering how Holston “taught me how much mission really means” and how, when he visits churches, “I still see vitality all over the place."
“I trust for some of you that even if the road has been bumpy, we can embrace each other and have forgiving hearts,” he said. “I will no longer be referring to you as my pastors but as my friends.”
Swanson is expected to be assigned as resident bishop to another annual conference during the Southeastern Jurisdictional Conference, July 18-20 at Lake Junaluska, N.C.
Persevere in faith
Swanson preached for convocation's concluding worship and celebrated Holy Communion with pastors. He read from Hebrew 10:19-25 (“a call to persevere in faith”) and said pastors should not see each other as adversaries but as a community of encouragers.
“Don’t let it ever be said in Holston that somebody had a bad day by themselves,” Swanson said, borrowing from a friend who had once asked the question, “Where were the disciples when Judas was getting ready to hang himself?”
In addition to plenary sessions with Millard and time with Swanson, participants worshiped Monday and Tuesday evening at Long’s Chapel UMC in nearby Waynesville. The Rev. Will Shelton, pastor at Ceres Circuit in Tazewell District, led morning devotions. A group of about 20 joined a Wednesday afternoon hike led by the Rev. Randy Pasqua of Holston Conference Camp and Retreat Ministries.
Ten workshops were offered, including “Dealing with Conflict Effectively” by the Rev. Carol Wilson and “Sharing the Gospel with the 20- and 30-Something Generation” by the Rev. Wil Cantrel.
“Ann did a great job of using the talent of Holston,” said the Rev. Karen Lane, referring to this year’s convocation dean, Rev. Ann Robins. “Every workshop I attended was great, and I didn't miss a single one.”
The Rev. John Crabtree said he most enjoyed a contemporary worship workshop led by the Rev. Larry Trotter, associate pastor at Concord UMC, Oak Ridge District.
“He gave us some detailed, nuts-and-bolts information about who to hire first, where to find media, and how to use it well. We got the benefit of hearing Larry talk about what worked and what didn't,” said Crabtree, pastor at Jones Chapel-Wesleyanna UMC, Cleveland District.
"I was also glad he named the elephant in the room, namely that the church is going to have to spend money on this for it to work, and that production values matter," Crabtree said.
Annette Spence is editor of The Call, the Holston Conference newspaper.