His voice rough and hoarse from days of reading election results and calming the storms over resolutions, Bishop James Swanson pleaded with church leaders at the final worship service of Annual Conference.
"I know where you’re going,” he said. “I don’t think God would send you if you couldn’t shine light into the darkness … I know, I know. I sleep with 910 churches every night. God set me up, gave me a double whammy, made me fall in love with you all …
But this was once a great kingdom, and somebody lost their faith,” he said referring to the children’s book, “The Spyglass,” read aloud at the beginning of his sermon.
“My sisters and my brothers, let’s leave here today, and let’s gird up our loins. Let’s be so passionate about the hurting things in our communities that we will change … so that others might come in.”
In the year before leaders of the entire denomination gather to make decisions at the 2008 General Conference, this Annual Conference was expected to be more emotionally charged than usual.
It was, but reactions varied. While some members sparred over resolutions and worried over health-insurance coverage, others skipped out on long, hot business sessions to maximize fellowship opportunities with old friends.
In the end, the work got done, and God was praised. The Holston Annual Conference raised $121,644 for mission work in Brazil, sent 6,300 supply kits to Liberia and Zimbabwe, adopted a domestic-violence ministry, and elected delegates to General and Jurisdictional Conferences.
The theme was “Boldly, Passionately, Joyfully Making Disciples of Jesus Christ,” based on a vision statement adopted by the 2006 conference. Bishop James E. Swanson Sr. presided over the meeting of 1,114 clergy and 921 lay members representing 910 churches in east Tennessee, southwest Virginia, and north Georgia. The four-day conference was held June 10-13 at Lake Junaluska Assembly in Lake Junaluska, N.C.
The Annual Conference addressed 10 resolutions, including one requiring domestic-violence education for clergy and establishing advocacy and policy for congregations.
The deafening and disabling silence that has surrounded the abuse of women, children, youth and elders is being broken,” the adopted resolution states.
Bishop Paulo Lockmann, resident bishop for the Rio Conference, preached at a service that included an offering for two Brazilian ministries: Evangemed and the School of Missions. In addition to $121,644 raised for Brazil, members also gave $50,125 for children’s ministries in Holston and in Africa. Following opening-night music by the Latvian United Methodist Youth Choir, members gave a love offering of $4,547.
The annual “hands-on mission project” was celebrated with applause and cheering, as Holston’s 12 districts more than doubled their goals for supplies donated to schools in Liberia and Ishe Anesu in Zimbabwe. More than 6,300 kits containing food, clothing, health and school supplies were loaded into two tractor-trailer trucks and dispatched to Africa, with Bishop Swanson’s prayer for safe passage.
Hindered by invalid ballots and low attendance, the election was barely completed in time for Wednesday afternoon’s Sending Forth Service. Among the 28 delegates elected, only one is a current resident of Virginia. Two are African-Americans. One is a young adult, and one is a youth member. Four are current district superintendents, and three are former district superintendents. One deacon is represented.
- Lay delegates elected to General Conference are: Bob Lockaby of Harrison, Tenn.; Casey Graves of Ooltewah, Tenn.; Del Holley of Knoxville, Tenn.; Anne Travis of Knoxville, Tenn.; Jean Henderson of Cleveland, Tenn.; Joyce Moore of Bluff City, Tenn.; Paul Brown of Johnson City, Tenn.
- Clergy delegates elected to General Conference are: H. Eddie Fox of Nashville, Tenn.; Al Bowles of Chattanooga, Tenn.; Carol Wilson of Maryville, Tenn.; W. Randall Frye of Johnson City, Tenn.; Dennie Humphreys of Chattanooga, Tenn.; Kim Goddard of Abingdon, Va.; Jerry Russell of Maryville, Tenn.
- Lay delegates elected to Southestern Jurisdictional Conference are: Becky Hall of Chattanooga, Tenn.; Ginny West Case of Maryville, Tenn.; Teddy Stevens of Piney Flats, Tenn.; Matthew Park of Cleveland, Tenn.; Steve Hodges of Sneedville, Tenn.; Jay Garrison of Knoxville, Tenn.; James Ferguson of Knoxville, Tenn.
- Clergy delegates elected to Southeastern Jurisdictional Conference are: Angela Hardy Cross of Kingsport, Tenn.; Stella Roberts of Oak Ridge, Tenn.; Charles Lippse of Chattanooga, Tenn.; Mark Flynn of Chattanooga, Tenn.; Jonathan Jonas of Knoxville, Tenn.; Lynn Hutton of Knoxville, Tenn.; Nathan Malone of Hixson, Tenn.
- The conference approved a resolution requesting the Outreach/Advocacy Ministry Team to study the social costs versus the social benefits of the Tennessee State Lottery. An amendment was added to also study the costs of the Georgia and Virginia lotteries.
- The conference approved, by narrow vote, a resolution “calling for the United Methodist Church to withdraw from the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice.” The resolution states that the RCRC “is dedicated to defending and expanding abortion rights,” while the Book of Discipline supports “the sanctity of unborn human life.”
- The conference rejected, by narrow vote, the “Resolution Reconsidering the Level of Our Support of the National Council of Churches.”
- Three resolutions were referred back to the originating groups for submission as petitions to General Conference: “Resolution Affirming the Position of the United Methodist Church on Marriage Between a Man and Woman, and the Practice of Homosexuality as Being Incompatible with Christian Teaching”; “Resolution on Ordination of Practicing Homosexuals”; and “Resolution on Church Membership by the Holy Bible and the United Methodist Book of Discipline.”
- The conference approved two resolutions related to young adults. One calls for the inclusion of at least one young adult on all local, district, and conference teams. The other supports the movement to increase the age range of young adults as defined in the Book of Discipline to 18-35 years of age.
- The conference rejected a resolution calling for limits per lifetime a person can serve as a General Conference delegate, after the Resolutions Committee reported that the resolution violates the Book of Discipline. The resolution was submitted by the Young Adult Ministry Team, calling for “a need to obtain fresh and current perspectives and voices across all age levels.”
- The conference approved a 2008 budget of $15.7 million – a 1.96 percent increase over 2007. Sandra Davis, president of the Conference Council on Finance and Administration, reported that 2006 receipts for apportionments paid were the lowest in Holston Conference history at 88.3 percent. Whereas the CFA has previously budgeted for a possible shortfall, Davis reported that the 2008 budget does not reflect any projected shortfall. “We’re taking a bold step and expecting 100 percent in apportionments paid,” she said.
- After months of communicating with retirees about proposed changes to the health insurance plan, the Board of Pensions’ report was approved with a majority vote. Effective Jan. 1, 2008, the new plan converts 559 retirees to a Medicare supplement program for health insurance and allows them to enroll in Medicare Part D prescription drug programs.
- The conference approved the Cabinet’s report, calling for the closing of one church, Yellow Springs UMC in Abingdon District, and the merging of two churches, Huckleberry Springs UMC and Riverdale UMC of French Broad Circuit, Knoxville District. The combined congregation will be renamed French Broad UMC.
- Membership stands at 166,815, down 525 from the previous year. Average worship attendance stands at 73,956, down 844 from the previous year.
- The Rev. Dorothy Watson Tatem, director of the Office of Urban and Global Ministries, Eastern Pennsylvania Conference, preached at a Service of Remembrance memorializing 13 deceased clergy members and 16 deceased clergy spouses.
- Bishop Clay Lee, who served as Holston’s resident bishop from 1988 to 1996, preached at a celebration for 16 retiring clergy and a commissioning service for nine probationary elders and one deacon.
- Bishop Robert Hayes, resident bishop for the Oklahoma Annual Conference, preached at a Service of Ordination including 21 full-connection elders, one full-connection deacon, and three deacons in associate membership.
- Bishop James Swanson preached at a Sending Forth Service recognizing 26 newly licensed local pastors.
- The Francis Asbury Award for higher education was presented to the Rev. Bob Parrott, who served the UTK Wesley Foundation from 1964 to 1993.
- In a drive sponsored by the Young Adult Ministry Team, members collected 442 jars of peanut butter for Haywood Christian Ministries of western North Carolina.
- During the Board of Ordained Ministry report, the Rev. Brenda Carroll and Bishop Swanson noted that Resurrection and other events for youth and young adults have led Holston to become the United Methodist conference with the highest number of clergy under age 35.
- Rosalind Reichard, president of Emory & Henry College, experienced Annual Conference for the first time. She spoke of her first year at Emory & Henry as a year of “traditions and transitions” and referred to a two-part $7 million renovation of historic E&H buildings over the next two summers. Renovation to Byars Hall has already begun; work on Wiley Hall begins in 2008.
- Six children’s ministries received Change for Children grants: Harrison UMC, Chattanooga District; Roan Mountain UMC, Johnson City District; Wesley House Community Center, Knoxville District; Green Meadow UMC, Maryville District; Valley View UMC, Oak Ridge District; and Morgan’s Chapel UMC, Wytheville District.
- Rozetta Mowery gave a testimony on living with domestic violence and hunger as a child before experiencing a new life through Holston Home for Children. After her father killed her mother, she and her five siblings were removed from their rural home. Mowery spent 12 years at Holston Home and has written a book, “Tragedy in Tin Can Holler.” “We can do something about domestic violence, because God wants us to,” said Holston Home’s Charles Hutchens.
- Missionary Maria Humbane dropped to her knees to present Bishop Swanson with gifts from Ishe Anesu in Zimbabwe. Missions Coordinator Bill Daugherty announced that the children of Ishe Anesu would have starved this past year if not for food buckets supplied by Holston churches. “Thank you for your heart,” Humbane said.
- Sponsors for fellowship refreshments were Asbury Inc., Emory & Henry College, Tennessee Wesleyan College, Hiwassee College, Holston Home for Children, and the Holston Methodist Federal Credit Union. The Holston Conference Foundation provided tote bags.
Annette Spence is editor of The Call, the Holston Conference newspaper.