Monday at Annual Conference: 'Poverty matters, but you matter more'

Monday at Annual Conference: 'Poverty matters, but you matter more'

Annual Conference members line up to share stories about how to reach children in poverty. From left to right: Rev. Kim Goddard, Byron Williamson, and Sally Morris.

 LAKE JUNALUSKA, N.C. (June 9, 2015) -- Tammy Pawloski shared statistics and science showing how poverty reduces brain development and opportunities for children. In the end, her own experience as well as those of audience members may have had the most impact.

Pawloski led two teaching sessions for the Holston Annual Conference yesterday to prepare and motivate members for the mission emphasis on local children in poverty. In the afternoon, she presented a real-life case study of a child born into poverty but whose development improved as he was nurtured and educated in his adopted middle-class home.

“He didn’t talk until the age of 32 months,” said Pawloski, professor of education at Francis Marion University in Florence, S.C. “He’s a kid of poverty, and this is very personal for me.”

Pawloski revealed that the child, now 17 years old, is her own adopted son. She explained how learning, reading, and interaction at young ages make all the difference in a child’s potential, while stress and low resources stifle development.

“Poverty matters, but you matter more,” she said, before inviting members to share how their churches are reaching out to help families fill the gaps. “This isn’t about money. This about resources,” she said.

A lay member from Ottway United Methodist Church in Greeneville, Tenn., said her church provides school supplies twice annually and supper on Wednesday nights for local kids. “We thought through all the barriers,” she said. “We are a small church with 75 people, and we have 20 to 25 children every Sunday.”

Penny Helms of Central United Methodist Church, Knoxville, said a “neighborhood bus tour” gave teachers an opportunity to see where their students live. Monica Johnson of Madam Russell UMC in Saltville, Va., said her church was campaigning against the closing of two local libraries. “We have fought back,” she said.

A laundry mat ministry at Daisy UMC provides coins to help families wash their clothes, according to a member from the Cleveland District church. (“Clean clothes make you feel important.”) A member from First UMC of Elizabethton, Tenn., said his church partners with four others to deliver meals to families during summer.

Mafair UMC in Kingsport, Tenn., has partnered with teachers in a nearby school for more than four years, providing items on their wish lists, said the Rev. Kim Goddard. “The best thing I’ve ever done is to open car doors in the morning,” she said, explaining how traffic duty is an opportunity to develop relationships with teachers, students and parents.

Harrison UMC, Chattanooga, provides school supplies and also mentors children. Tom Hinkle said that 30 minutes of one-on-one reading with a child provides “eternal blessings … There’s something spiritual about it,” he said.

Scott Young of Depews Chapel UMC in Kingsport, Tenn., gave an emotional testimony of how a teacher helped him learn to talk at age 14, when he was in dire need of resources as a deaf child. Byron Williamson of Martin Chapel UMC, Knoxville, said he was a child who benefited from free lunches and teachers who encouraged him to learn.

Williamson reminded Annual Conference members that many inner-city children don’t have internet access in their homes. “Churches, open your doors to allow these young people to come in and use the internet to do their homework,” he said. “That’s one way you can change a life.”

Other highlights from Monday’s session:

BIBLE STUDY-- The Rev. Stephen DeFur kicked off the first of three Bible studies this week with lessons from the book of Acts on becoming a spirit-filled church. Churches should connect to their power source (the Holy Spirit), pursue a “laser-beam focus” on the priorities (win people, serve people), and pray, said DeFur, senior pastor at Cokesbury UMC in Knoxville. “I want to experience this right now … which is to win as many people as we can to Jesus Christ. That’s it. It’s really not that complicated.”

HANDS-ON MISSION PROJECT -- The Rev. Tom Hancock, Missions Ministry Team chair, announced that churches had collected 9,123 kits for Ishe Anesu in Zimbabwe and schools in Liberia. The food, school, health, sewing and cleaning supplies are valued at $225,679. In 2014, Holston collected 8,651 kits valued at $194,188. Bishop Dindy Taylor prayed for the loaded trucks located outside Stuart Auditorium, before they departed for the South Carolina coast where the goods will be shipped to Africa. (See related storyDownload complete totals.)

MEMORIAL SERVICE -- The Rev. Gary Grogg preached for the Memorial Service for families and friends of deceased clergy and spouses. He spoke of his wife Ann, who died in July 2013. “Part of the certainty of faith is knowing we don’t have ready answers to life’s tragedies or difficult situations. At least, not yet,” he said. A 95-member choir comprised of clergy and lay members from all over Holston sang “I Will Rise” with the Fairview UMC orchestra accompanying.

ELECTRONIC VOTING -- Members practiced and learned how to use their electronic voting devices throughout the morning, before taking the first ballot after lunch. Del Holley was elected to General Conference 2016 on the first ballot. The Rev. David Graves was elected on the second ballot. A third ballot was taken during last night’s session; results will be announced at this morning’s session


Annette Spence

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