July 19, 2016
Thank You Holston Conference!
After serving in the Holston Conference for 37 years, Nancy and I find ourselves planning to move to Montgomery, Alabama. On September 1, we begin a new journey as a Bishop in the United Methodist Church serving in the Alabama/West Florida Conference. Ever since my election on July 13, I wake up every morning reminding myself that I really am a Bishop.
Yet, it is not I, but God who has blessed me through the United Methodist Church especially the Holston Conference. It began with Christian parents who took me to Fountain City United Methodist Church. There countless persons nurtured the call of God upon my life. It was Christian teachers and coaches that encouraged, challenged, and made me a better person.
It was a step of faith when I accepted a youth worker position at Second United Methodist Church while attending the University of Tennessee. From there was my first full-time ministry position at Hixson United Methodist Church in Chattanooga, attending seminary at Candler School of Theology in Atlanta, seeing my two children born, and then moving to Kingsport and serving St. Matthew and Mountain View United Methodist Churches.
I had the privilege of returning to Chattanooga to serve Ooltewah United Methodist Church for 11 years. After that, I went back to Kingsport to serve as District Superintendent for six years.
This past year I returned back to Knoxville, after 32 years, to serve as the Senior Pastor of Church Street United Methodist Church. I now become the 5th Bishop to be elected from this great church. Yet each church is a great church that helped me be all that I am today. Each experience prepared me to now take this next challenge.
Who would have thought that a shy, introverted person like myself would ever speak in front of people and get to share ministry in all the places that I have.
Last week was like a dream. I give thanks to the Holston Delegation who believed in me and worked so hard on my behalf. I give thanks for the multitudes who have prayed for me. I have never felt the power of prayer in my life like I have in the past few months. Randy Frye, Daniel Ogle, LeRae Collins, Wil Cantrell, Stephen DeFur, Sandra Johnson, Randy Martin, Victor and Jackie Dingus, Dennie Humphreys, and Anne Travis gave me great guidance. I am thankful for all those who listened to my practice presentations and were willing to challenge me. To the staff of Church Street; my wife, Nancy; my parents, Fred and Billie Graves; my son, Gregg and his family, Tracy and Hannah; along with my daughter, Casey and her family, Bryan and Brooks; and all those countless others who worked closely to help me be my best self ... I thank you!
Yet, I also thank all of you in the Holston Conference who have had a part in my life. I am who I am because of Holston. To be elected second on the fourth ballot is a great honor for me personally, and it was because of the support of the Holston Annual Conference. So thank you!
On the day of my Consecration Service, Al Bowles and Nancy presented me. It was a fitting tribute to my journey. Al, a mentor in my life, not only stood for himself, but for Ed Eldridge who helped me discern my call to ordained ministry; for Ben St. Clair who was the District Superintendent when I became a candidate for ministry; for Bill Horner, my candidacy mentor; for Bob Walker who taught me so much, especially that it is all about winning people to Jesus; and for Steve Sallee who instilled great leadership principals in my life. Nancy not only stood as my wife, but for all the laity who have nurtured and supported me. Four of those lay persons who I felt were rejoicing in heaven were my grandparents, Fred and Ruth Graves, and T.O and Lucy Schumpert.
I also offer a personal note of thanks to Annette Spence who has followed me around for 8 years as a Holston communicator and who was always kind and supportive to me. Thank you!
Thank you, Holston! These are challenging times for our world and the United Methodist Church, but I will give my all for winning people to Jesus, seeing the unseen, transforming lives, and changing the world.
Keep praying, keep focused on mission, and remember the best is yet to come.
U.S. bishops begin new assignments on Sept. 1 (UMNS, 7/18/16)