ALCOA, Tenn. (June 15, 2016) -- The Holston Annual Conference gathered June 5-8 in Lake Junaluska, N.C., with a membership of 1,962 clergy and laypeople representing 883 churches and 12 districts in east Tennessee, southwest Virginia, and north Georgia. The theme was “Bless,” based on 2 Corinthians 9:8. Bishop Mary Virginia Taylor presided.
Celebrating the past year of missions with children in poverty, the annual conference took an offering of $100,849. The funds will be distributed in the coming year through grants to local churches serving children in their own communities, especially through school partnerships
To encourage new school partnerships, members brought children’s books (seven titles recommended by school librarians) to Lake Junaluska. The books were assembled into 88 bags and offered to members during a unique altar call, with the goal of using the books to begin conversations with nearby school leaders.
An additional offering of $57,698 was collected for Holston’s longstanding “Change for Children” grant program, to be divided equally for children’s ministries at home and in Africa.
In other actions, members:
> Received a “State of the Church Report” from Bishop Taylor, who said, “The Holston Conference will honor and keep the Book of Discipline for those of us who are ordained.”
> Received a report from a “Conference Strategy Team,” assembled in the past year to study changing demographics and transform Holston’s structure to make disciples. “If you don’t think God is in the transformation business, then why are you here today?” said the Rev. Micah Nicolaus, pastor at Central United Methodist Church in Lenoir City, Tenn.
> Received a report from the delegation to General Conference 2016, comprised of 12 members and four alternates. “Our focus is not schism and what divides us, but making disciples for the transformation of the world,” said the Rev. David Graves, delegation leader.
> Voted against (366 to 308) a resolution increasing vacation time for full-time pastors under appointment. Current vacation guidelines for pastors, which still stand, are: 0-5 years, 2 weeks; 6-10 years, 3 weeks; 11+ years, 4 weeks.
> Approved a $9.4 million budget for 2017, representing a 14 percent reduction over the last two years.
> Approved a two-option health-insurance plan and a requirement for annual physical exams to avoid a $900 penalty in higher premiums in 2017.
> Approved a 2 percent increase to minimum salary requirements for full-time pastors in 2017, raising it to a range of $30,244 for pastors beginning studies to $40,988 for full members with an M.Div.
> Learned the episcopal residence was recently sold for $395,000. Excess from the sale will be invested and the interest will be used to provide a housing allowance for the resident bishop, according to the Board of Trustees.
> Received the Holston Conference Foundation’s report that $102.8 million in assets were managed in 2015, with 40 percent owned by local churches.
> Approved the discontinuance of Mount Olive United Methodist Church in Rural Retreat, Va., and Pleasant Hill United Methodist Church in Grayson County, Va. The Rev. Charles Maynard, Cabinet dean, said the closings “should not be seen as a defeat, any more than we see the deaths of our colleagues as a defeat. We need that moment of celebration for the ministries that have occurred.”
> Endorsed the Rev. David Graves as an episcopal nominee for the Southeastern Jurisdictional Conference beginning July 13.
> Presented the Francis Asbury Award for higher education to the Rev. David St. Clair, former chaplain at Emory & Henry College.
> Presented the first-ever R.N. Price Award for Archives and History to the Rev. Roy Howard of Chattanaooga, Tenn.
> Presented the Denman Evangelism Award to the Rev. Jason Roe, Maryville, Tenn. (clergy); Julie Hays, Broadway United Methodist Church, Maryville, Tenn. (lay); and Drew Dunn, Bear Springs United Methodist Church, Pearisburg, Va. (youth)
> Received a report from Del Holley, conference lay leader. “[Jesus] didn’t say, ‘Make sure to stay away from the Samaritans,’” Holley said. “The only instruction recorded was, ‘You feed them.’”
> Received a report from the Discipleship Team, announcing the creation of a new African-American Ministry Task Force and, also, Holston’s first hosting of the Upper Room’s Academy for Spiritual Formation at Emory & Henry College, July 24-29.
> Received news that the 2016 Appalachian Trail chaplain, Chuck Jones, had hiked through Georgia and Tennessee on his way to Maine. The Appalachian Trail Outreach Ministry Team also announced its first intern, Nathan Anderson from the Virginia Annual Conference, who will build partnerships with annual conferences and seminaries.
> Learned that Holston’s three operative camps had a 2015 summer attendance of 2,025, with 218 campers making first-time professions of faith and 691 renewing their commitments to Jesus Christ.
> Learned that 500 acres of Buffalo Mountain Camp, which flooded in 2012, was recently sold to the Nature Conservancy and Conversation Fund. The remaining 100 acres near Jonesborough, Tenn., is under contract and expected to close this month.
> Learned that the recently purchased Camp Bays Mountain in Kingsport, Tenn., hosted 43 campers in its first week.
> Organized a 5K run/ one-mile walk with about 200 participants to raise funds for children in poverty. First-place winners were the Rev. Robert Kariuki Nyaga, pastor at John Wesley/Charles Wesley United Methodist Churches in Bristol, Va., and the Rev. Nicole Krewson, associate pastor at Church Street United Methodist Church in Knoxville, Tenn.
> Organized a Society of St. Andrew “crop drop,” with 60 volunteers bagging 14,000 pounds of potatoes for area food pantries.
> Studied Psalm 40 in two morning Bible sessions with Bishop Richard Looney, who said United Methodists are always “rethinking church” to avoid their mission of making disciples for Jesus Church. “For some reason, we can’t seem to do our task,” he said. “We're like a football coach who keeps scheduling bigger and bigger games with fewer and fewer recruits.”
> Heard sermons from the Rev. David Graves during a memorial service for 32 deceased clergy and spouses and from the Rev. Brooke Atchley during a missions celebration. Graves is senior pastor at Church Street United Methodist Church in Knoxville, Tenn. Atchley is a Church and Community Worker in Holston’s Tazewell District. Bishop Taylor preached during opening and concluding worship.
> Learned that “Welcoming Communities” training for reaching immigrants and refugees is scheduled Sept. 9 at Washington Pike United Methodist Church in Knoxville, Tenn., and Sept. 10 at the Unity Center, Broad Street United Methodist Church in Cleveland, Tenn.
> Set the Holston Annual Conference 2017 for June 11-14 in Lake Junaluska, N.C.
> Number of people ordained is 7, commissioned is 8, and received into associate membership is 1. Their average age is 36.
> Number of licensed local pastors is 24.
> Number of people retired is 28.
> Membership stands at 163, 351, down 725 from the previous year.
> Worship attendance stands at 64,251, down 1,730.
> Church school attendance stands at 28,494, down 1,546.
> Professions or reaffirmations of faith for 2015 is 2,065, down 13 from 2014.
> Adults and young adults in small groups for 2015 is 41,955, up 39 from 2014.
> Worshippers engaged in mission for 2015 is 43,435, up 4,383 from 2014.