LAKE JUNALUSKA, N.C. -- Returning to Stuart Auditorium to preach for worshipers grateful for his exuberance and memories of his leadership, Bishop James Swanson brought home the Missions Celebration tonight (June 6) with stories of how God worked in his own life and how Jesus is praying for his people.
At times shouting out praises and carrying the microphone through the audience, Swanson brought worshipers to their feet more than once. Preaching on John 17, he said believers should quit trying to make things happen and “let God open the door for you.”
“The world needs us to be the church,” he said. “Some of us want to win more than we want to please God.”
Swanson preached on the second night of the Holston Annual Conference's June 5-8 annual meeting. Swanson is currently serving as resident bishop of the Mississippi Annual Conference, soon to retire after 10 years of leadership there. He served as resident bishop of Holston Conference from 2004 to 2012 and reminisced about his calling prior to and during those years.
Swanson thanked Holston for teaching him about mission development and “giving me the heart to do what Jesus wanted us to do.”
Holston’s partnership with South Sudan was born under Swanson’s leadership. Tonight Holston took its sixth Annual Conference mission offering to support the pastors, orphans, churches and other missions still in connection through the partnership.
The Rev. Fred Dearing and Libby Dearing updated the packed auditorium on the mission with South Sudan, most which has migrated to Ugandan refugee camps due to war and violence. Paul and Amy Priest, members of Fairview United Methodist Church, shared a video of their new ministry at Campamento Nehemias in Costa Rica.
Mary Lou Greenwood Boice, director of the Advance for the General Board of Global Ministries, thanked Holston Conference for its long history of hard work and devotion to mission.
Worship music was shared by the Magnolia Avenue United Methodist Church Praise Team, who also had worshipers on their feet.
Earlier in the day, Bishop Debra Wallace-Padgett addressed the Annual Conference by echoing her Sunday-night sermon -- emphasizing that making disciples is the crucial and right thing for Holston United Methodists to do in the face of division within the church. “Our laser focus will be on discipleship, not on programs,” she said.
Wallace-Padgett said she is “deeply saddened” and has shed tears over the disaffiliation of some members and churches from the denomination, yet "we hope that the majority of Holston will continue on the journey together. We will bless those who discern to disaffiliate. We hope and pray that they will bless us in return."
See Bishop Wallace-Padgett's complete "State of the Church Address."
In other activities:
> Becky Hall delivered her first lay leader’s report since stepping into the role last year. “God hears our prayers,” she said. “That’s our basis for our hope.”
> Leading the Dismantling Racism Task Force, the Rev. Leah Burns said 22 lay and clergy members were preparing to help change Holston Conference, beginning with an early-morning prayer service and a special exhibit in Harrell Center Auditorium. Following a video of White clergy repeating painful, traumatic statements said to Black clergy in Holston, five panel members discussed systemic racism and experiences on stage. Panelists included the Rev. Sharon Bowers, the Rev. Brenda Carroll, Gary James, the Rev. Valerie Ohle, and the Rev. Susana Lopez.
> The Annual Conference celebrated the collection of 5,111 Hands-on Mission Kits for Liberia and Zimbabwe, assembled by local churches over recent weeks. (See list.) All but two of nine districts exceeded their goals, said the Rev. Tom Hancock, Mission Ministry Team chair. Currently stored at Fairview United Methodist Church in Maryville, Tennessee, the Zimbabwe kits will be transported to the South Carolina coast (where they will be shipped to Africa) June 14. The Liberia kits will depart for Africa June 21.
> The Rev. Sarah Varnell preached on “Faithful Ones” for the Memorial Service, with a volunteer “Conference Choir” singing “Give Me Jesus.” Remembered were 33 clergy members, 7 clergy spouses, and 16 surviving spouses. (See pages 21-57 in Worship Book.)
> Bishop Richard Looney offered a prayer related to gun violence following national news of several shootings in recent weeks, including two in Chattanooga, Tennessee, where he lives. “‘… Thoughts and prayers.’ I’m almost sick in my stomach now when I hear those words from those elected to lead us,” he said, before praying, “Help us all to know how to involve ourselves politically to do something beyond our praying.”
> The Denman Evangelism Awards for 2020 and 2022 were presented by the Rev. Ray Amos, chair of the Witness Ministry Team. (There are no 2021 awards.) Delayed by the pandemic, the 2020 awards were presented to the Rev. Barry Kidwell (clergy), Whitney Winston (lay), and Stoan Adams (youth). The 2022 awards were presented to the Rev. Larry Trotter (clergy) and Marva Clark Hickman (lay).
> The Francis Asbury Award was presented to Anne Travis by the Rev. Beth Tipton, representing the Board of Higher Education and Ministry.
> During the Committee on Rules and Order report, a motion was made to require a percentage of persons of color on all conference committees instead of “at least one” per team. The Rules and Order committee, led by the Rev. Brad Scott, will review the motion tonight and return the amendment to the floor tomorrow for debate and vote. The Annual Conference voted to approve the Rules and Order report (on page 190 of the “Book of Reports”) with the exception of the motion.
> Council on Finance & Administration Chair Carolyn Kidd reported that a study will be conducted of conference staffing and facilities over the next year. The study is a different response than repeatedly cutting ministry budgets when tithe receipts from local churches were not sufficient to support the budget in recent years. “We made the decision to prioritize the funding of ministry and mission in Holston," Kidd said. (The proposed 2023 budget of $8.89 million will be presented for vote on Tuesday.)
> In the Personnel Resources report, the Rev. Reed Shell, chair, said a new “director of cultural diversity” position on the conference staff is under development. He recognized two retiring staff members: Sue Weber and the Rev. Rusty Taylor.
> John Eldridge, conference chancellor for 11 years, will retire at the close of Annual Conference, Bishop Wallace-Padgett announced. Mike Eastridge will serve as chancellor effective June 9.
> Bishop Wallace-Padgett assigned "alternate bishops" to preside over the Annual Conference in the unlikely event she cannot. She recognized Bishop Kenneth Carder and Bishop Richard Looney, both Holston natives and retired United Methodist bishops.
> Del Holley will serve as conference parliamentarian, Bishop Debra Wallace-Padgett announced.
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Annette Spence is editor of The Call, the Holston Conference newspaper.
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