Holston groups hope for different designs in church future

Holston groups hope for different designs in church future

J.J. Warren, at right, speaks at Church Street United Methodist Church on Nov. 9. At left is Helen Ryde, southeastern jurisdiction coordinator for Reconciling Ministries Network.

November 13, 2020

Saturday, Nov. 9, was a news-making kind of day, as Holston church members with opposing designs and hopes for the denomination’s future gathered at two separate events.

The first was the Wesleyan Covenant Association’s “Global Gathering” in Tulsa, Oklahoma, attended by four clergy and three lay members elected to represent the organization’s Holston chapter. Additional Holston church members watched the Tulsa meeting through simulcast locations closer to their homes.

The second was a “Forward Together” workshop and presentation featuring J.J. Warren, a gay aspiring pastor whose passionate speech at General Conference 2019 went viral on YouTube. Attended by about 125 people, the event was sponsored by the Reconciling Ministries Network group at Church Street United Methodist in Knoxville, Tennessee.

Both the Tulsa and Knoxville gatherings were not organized by Holston Conference's central or district offices, but included United Methodist church members and clergy in Holston churches. Both events were covered by media.



In Tulsa, about 1,000 people participated in worship and presentations organized by the Wesleyan Covenant Association. During the meeting, the organization released the draft of a "Book of Doctrines and Discipline" that could be used by a new, traditionalist denomination.

The Wesleyan Covenant Association supports the Traditional Plan that passed 438 to 384 at the 2019 General Conference in St. Louis. The plan strengthened church restrictions against ordination of gay clergy and same-sex unions.

The Rev. Ronnie Collins participated in the Tulsa gathering. Collins is senior pastor at Out of the Box, Mt. Vale, and Savannah United Methodist Churches in Hillsville and Galax, Virginia.

“The church that I love is in a battle, much like the rest of our world, over human sexuality issues,” Collins said, while reporting the event’s proceedings on social media. “The UMC has come to a place where it is no longer possible to continue as we are, and I have been elected to help with a solution. God already has the solution. Please pray that we have ears to hear and courage to do what needs to be done.”
Wesleyan Covenant Association
meets in Tulsa on Nov. 9.
UMNS photo by Sam Hodges.

Also elected to participate in the Tulsa meeting was the Rev. Doug Jennings, the Rev. Jay Ferguson, the Rev. Russ Young, Charles McEntyre, Gregg Benefiel, and David Bowden.

The Rev. Chuck Griffin, chair of the Holston chapter, declined to provide the total number of Wesleyan Covenant Association members in Holston Conference.

For more details of the Tulsa gathering, read the United Methodist News Service report: WCA looks toward new, traditionalist church



Members of the “Church Street UMC Reconcilers” invited United Methodists to gather in workshops, share dinner, hear Warren speak, and ask questions.

Warren is a recent graduate of Sarah Lawrence College and a seminary student at Boston University School of Theology. After his Feb. 25 speech at General Conference, Warren was invited to speak for full inclusion of LGBTQ people throughout the denomination. Church Street was his 40th church in the 12th state, he said. Warren is an Upper New York Conference delegate to General Conference.

The Rev. Sharon Bowers attended the Knoxville event. Bowers is director of the University of Tennessee Wesley Foundation in Knoxville and a Holston delegate to General Conference 2020.

“I wanted to hear directly from the perspective of the person group that is affected the most by our current human sexuality dilemma,” she said. “I had previously heard him speak on behalf of the LGBTQA+ community with such passion at General Conference 2019. I wanted to make sure that the passion that he had previously shown for the ‘community’ was still alive and burning for him after the rendered decision of the passing of the Traditional Plan. I witnessed that he is as passionate as ever.”

The Reconciling Ministries Network has about 300 members and 10 member churches or communities in the Holston Conference, according to Helen Ryde, Southeastern Jurisdiction coordinator.
Holston Conference includes about 159,000 members in 864 congregations in East Tennessee, Southwest Virginia, and North Georgia.

For more details of the Knoxville gathering, read the Knoxville News Sentinel story: Gay aspiring pastor brings his platform of LGBTQ inclusion to Church Street.


Related events

On Feb. 15, 2020, UMCNext Holston will host “Holy Conversations" at Central United Methodist Church in Knoxville, Tennessee. The gathering will include worship and communion followed by table discussions on inclusivity.
The Wesleyan Covenant Association, Reconciling Ministries Network, and UMCNext are all unofficial advocacy groups working in The United Methodist Church.
General Conference will be held May 5-15, 2020, in Minneapolis, Minnesota.


Annette Spence

Annette Spence is editor of The Call, the Holston Conference newsletter.

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