UM leaders meet in Chattanooga to create urban ministry network

UM leaders meet in Chattanooga to create urban ministry network

CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. -- A new team of leaders has formed a network from multiple southeastern United Methodist conferences to bring resources, support, and renewed energy to urban ministry. The team will pilot a new virtual conferencing system of high-tech tools adopted by the national office to build relationships and improve the quality and frequency of communications.

Bishop James Swanson was keynote speaker during the Nov. 18-19 meeting held at St. Andrews Center and on the historic Delta Queen Riverboat hotel docked at the Tennessee River downtown.

Participants in the meeting included Diane Johnson of the General Board of Global Ministries' Rural and Urban Network Office and the Rev. Craig French of the National Urban Strategy Council. About 15 clergy and lay leaders attended.

The group got a sneak preview of a new website under development as a web portal for the new organizational approach to urban and rural ministry. The site will be available in January 2010, according to Johnson. The new urban tagline is “Holy Boldness.” The “Town and Country" section offers the thematic perspective: “born again for every place.”

Swanson said that one important outcome of the network will be to help those from smaller towns  realize they are facing many of the same societal trends and shifts in demographics associated with larger metropolitan areas such as Atlanta, Nashville, or Lexington. Midsize towns such as Kingsport, Johnson City, and Bristol also have a need for strong urban ministry models, he said.

Swanson also referenced the growth of Hispanic and Asian populations and the steady growth of African-American congregations in creating a diverse Holston Conference. Holston is not as geographically defined as others in the denomination and includes three counties in North Georgia, all of East Tennessee, and extends as far north as the southeast corner of Virginia – 904 congregations in all, he said.

Drawing on scripture from Numbers (32:1), he said the challenge for the new urban network will be “to make a life for our children,” to help them thrive while remaining in covenant with their brothers and sisters. “We need to see more clearly our principles and not just our plans,” he said.

Swanson cited First-Centenary UMC as a model, with its after-school program for children that began nearly a century ago, before the historic merger of the North and South branches of the denomination.

“We need to listen well to voices we may not have heard before,” he said. “The suburbs have challenges too. Why can't we marshal our resources and learn from each other ... We are all tied together. Cities need our attention and smaller towns can be blessed by our cities.”

Focusing on the common landscape of the regional gathering, he added, “Then God can stand on one of the beautiful mountains – say, the Smokies – and call us all blessed.”

Officers of the new SEJ Urban Ministry Network include:

President: Rev. Joe Crawford, North Georgia Conference, Atlanta
Secretary: Jessica Mansfield, Kentucky Conference, Louisville
Co-Technology consultant: Rev. Andy Stoddard, Mississippi Conference, Jackson
Co-Technology consultant: Rev. Sherry Daniels, Virginia Conference, Norfolk
Treasurer: Rev. Michael Feely, Holston Conference, Chattanooga

Others participating in the formation of the new network included:
Rev. Brent McLaughlin, Florida Conference, Miami
Rev. Embra Jackson, Mississippi Conference, Jackson
Rev. Paul Hillard, North Alabama Conference, Huntsville
Rev. Randy Kelley, North Alabama Conference, Huntsville
Rev. Lawrence Johnson, North Carolina Conference, Raleigh
Richard Shinhoster, South Georgia Conference, Savannah
Rev. Fred Dearing, Holston, District Superintendent, Chattanooga
Becky Hall, Holston, Christ UMC, Chattanooga

The group's next steps will include planning a Southeast jurisdictional meeting that would include guest speakers and workshops that can further equip and inspire those who are actively engaged in urban ministry across the region.