LAKE JUNALUSKA, N.C. (June 11, 2018) -- Crawling interstate traffic and sudden rainstorms didn’t deter church leaders yesterday as they made their way to Lake Junaluska for the 2018 session of the Holston Annual Conference.
They came -- clergy and lay members -- from 877 churches in east Tennessee, southwest Virginia, and north Georgia. Many came after preaching at Sunday morning worship or after packing up their families for a Lake Junaluska vacation.
The Rev. Sarah Varnell arrived in western North Carolina with her three children and husband after preaching her last sermon at St. Paul (Fountain City) United Methodist Church.
Varnell said she had been crying after saying goodbye, yet she arrived with a smile at Stuart Auditiorium, ready to assist the communications staff as this week’s Instagram operator.
”It’s good, but so hard,” Varnell said. “I’m sad to leave a church I love dearly, but I’m excited to get to know the new church.”
The Rev. Robert Countiss and Carla Countiss also came to Lake Junaluska yesterday, 31 years after Robert was ordained here and asked Carla to marry him on the same day. The couple came with their memories as well as pride and anticipation because their 23-year-old son, Jacob, will be licensed as a local pastor on Tuesday afternoon.
“Lake Junaluska has a lot of meaning for us,” said Robert Countiss, senior pastor at Abingdon United Methodist Church.
One year ago on June 11, 2017, Jacob Countiss was married at Lake Junaluska. He is a student at Candler School of Theology, projected for appointment at McDonald United Methodist Church in the Hiwassee District.
Bishop Dindy Taylor opened the Annual Conference session last night in Stuart Auditorium by preaching on this week’s theme, “Jesus is Good” and Acts 10: 34-38.
“What do you think would happen if we looked at everyone as created in God’s image?” Taylor asked. Instead of doing so, she said, we often “focus on issues where we have disagreements.”
“God shows no partiality … He loves us all exactly the same,” Taylor said.
Taylor shared stories and a video clip from the creation of the United Methodist Church in 1968. Referring to Acts 10:38 (“…how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good”), Taylor said that Holston Conference has been “doing good” since its beginnings in 1788.
She spoke of how Holston sent its first mission team to Sudan in 2006. She also shared an email from a Korean writer who said she had just attended the 119th anniversary celebration of the Holston Girls’ High School in Korea, created by a church member from Holston Conference in 1899.
Taylor said she prayed for the “Holy Spirit to fall on us, each one of us, that our focus will be nothing but the fact that Jesus is good, and that we will rely on Jesus’ goodness and not our own.”
Location change: The “Chat Room” on the Commission on a Way Forward – scheduled Tuesday 12:30-1:30 p.m. – has been moved to Susan Todd Lounge in Harrell Center.
Annette Spence is editor of The Call, the Holston Conference newspaper.