Meeting May 10-20, General Conference 2016 is already much hyped and anticipated, and an avalanche of reporting and analysis of the proceedings is yet to come.
However, The Call wanted to know something more personal about the Holston delegation, which has been meeting and preparing for the voyage west since they were elected in June 2015. We asked four delegates six questions before their departure:
EMILY BALLARD is 21 and a rising senior at Emory & Henry College. She’s the daughter of a preacher who currently calls First United Methodist of Morristown, Tenn., her home church. She is assigned to the Discipleship legislative committee, and this is her first General Conference as a delegate.
REV. DAVID GRAVES, 58, is senior pastor at Church Street United Methodist Church in Knoxville, Tenn. He is head of the delegation and a nominee for bishop during the Southeastern Jurisdictional Conference in July. He serves on the Faith and Order legislative committee, and this is his second General Conference as a delegate.
JOYCE MOORE, 69, is a member at John Wesley United Methodist Church in Bristol, Va. She is a retired elementary schoolteacher. Moore serves on the General Administration legislative committee, and this is her fourth General Conference as a delegate.
JOHN TATE, 44, is a member at Fairview United Methodist Church in Maryville, Tenn. He is immediate past Holston Conference treasurer and serves on the Financial Administration legislative committee. This is his second General Conference as a delegate.
Q: The days can be long and challenging for delegates at General Conference. How are you preparing physically or spiritually?
Joyce Moore: I’m reading the Bible and meditating every day, but I do that anyway. I’m trying to cut back on my luggage and paperwork so I bought a tablet. But I still need to take a lot of books. I guess I’m just old school.
John Tate: I've obviously blocked off my calendar and tried to meet with my clients before I leave. I typically try to read the Bible every day, and I think I’m more open to specific verses that speak to activities at General Conference.
Emily Ballard: I did a lot of praying before I even put my name in the hat to be elected, and I’ve done a lot more praying and reading since then. I’ve also had to buy some clothes. Coming from working at camp over the last few summers, it’s really different to have to look nice for 10 days in a row. I’m really grateful to my parents for helping me with that.
Q. What are you looking forward to at this General Conference?
Emily Ballard: I’m an extrovert, for sure, so I’m looking forward to being around a lot of people from around the world … I’ve always wanted to be a global citizen, so this is the perfect opportunity to be a globalized United Methodist.
John Tate: I'm looking forward to seeing colleagues I have worked with. I’ll get to see a lot of the conference treasurers that I was friends with and that I don’t have the opportunity to see.
David Graves: Great times of worship – seeing the world-wide church come together. The last eight years have also enabled me to meet a lot of people, and I get my personal energy from being reunited with them. That’s the biggest blessing to me.
Q. What are you concerned about?
John Tate: Besides being away from my family … I expect I will see a lot of Christians who aren’t being nice to each other. I’m concerned about seeing the bad side of so-called Christians.
Joyce Moore: I’m concerned about actually seeing how the structure of the church might change … Everybody tells me that things will change eventually. I keep telling myself this is not the year.
Emily Ballard: I’ve never been on an airplane by myself, so traveling there and back is a concern.
David Graves: My number-one concern is that we leave General Conference as The United Methodist Church unified in mission and ministry to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. That’s my number-one hope and desire.
Q. What do you wish could be different about General Conference?
Joyce Moore: I wish we could agree, and I wish we could come together with each other’s interests at heart. Sometimes we are selfish, thinking only of our own interests. Being the global church that we are, it’s hard to come together in unity.
John Tate: What is that song, “Can’t We Just Get Along?” I would love to see movement or progress or resolution of some issues that have been ongoing. I want to see a connection between the things that happen at General Conference and making disciples.
David Graves: I wish we would be able to sit around table and have difficult conversations in a Christ-like way. I wish we could trust each other more … I wish we could listen more than we talk. If people came to General Conference with that spirit, wouldn’t it be interesting to see what the Holy Spirit could do?
Q. How will your family or staff cope without you for almost two weeks?
David Graves: The Church Street staff has been so supportive of me. They’ve said, “David, we’re going to take care of things.” So I have no reservations that it’s in good hands.
Joyce Moore: [Laughs] My husband happens to be a gardener. He could have gone with me, but he’ll be all right without me, and he’ll work on his garden. If he has a need, all he has to do is call the grandchildren and they’ll be over.
Emily Ballard: I asked my mom how she feels about me being gone, and she said, “Lonely.” I asked my dad, and he said, “Proud.” I have two dogs that will miss me. I have a cat who really doesn’t care. I have a fish – the greatest fish ever – and it might be extra work for my mom to take care of Walter. I have a lot of friends who are excited for me and who have learned a lot about the United Methodist Church through all this.
Q. Tell us something about General Conference or the Holston delegation that you think people ought to know.
John Tate: That’s a hard one, because so many people think they know what General Conference is all about. I think people know more about General Conference than they know about Annual Conference. The focus is all on the Book of Discipline.
Joyce Moore: General Conference involves people from all over the world, and everyone is not alike. We just need to find the commonality that’s going to unite us instead of divide us.
Emily Ballard: Holston already knows we have a great delegation because they elected them. Everyone on the delegation really loves God, really loves the United Methodist Church, and wants to do good work. We all want to see our church prosper and grow.
Delegation says 'thank you' for prayers, support (The Call, 4/26/16)
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Annette Spence is editor of The Call, the Holston Conference newspaper.