From his June 15 presentation at Annual Conference
There is a Negro spiritual entitled, “My Lord, What a Morning.” I paraphrase this to describe this annual conference year: “My Lord, What a Conference!” Holston, there is much to celebrate.
We have touched six of the seven continents with the love of Jesus Christ, helping people to “Offer Christ” in their parts of the world. Our efforts to equip and embody social holiness are evident in our work with the Rio Conference in Brazil. Through a conference-wide offering, we provided for Brazilian Methodist pastors and our own young adult pastors to be trained for EvangeMed service. EvangeMed is a Rio Conference ministry combining medical care with the proclamation of the gospel.
Our Hands-on Mission Project once again experienced growth in the amount of food, school, and heath supplies sent to Zimbabwe and Liberia. We deployed four mission teams to southern Sudan since last year’s annual conference. The medical teams ministered to more than 3,000 people during each trip. Pastors and laity were trained for ministry. We dug five wells and three springs to provide clean drinking water. We built classrooms on the United Methodist compound to provide a learning atmosphere for the children of Yei. We have three students enrolled in Africa University and 12 children in Uganda at Humble School.
We are planning for next year’s Annual Conference mission offering for Southeast Asia. We also continue, through districts and local churches, to support missions in Latvia and Estonia, the Russian Seminary, and the Baltic Seminary. Many of our local churches are still helping to rebuild the Gulf Coast after the devastation of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.
Work is ongoing in the Oklahoma Indian Missionary Conference, Alaska, Red Bird Missionary Conference, Iowa, and many other parts of the United States. Then, there is the tremendous number of local mission efforts that many of you participate in and support. Holston we have much to celebrate!
Our ministry with young people is growing in numbers and spirit, as the conference partners with districts and local churches to “Offer Christ” to children, youth, and young adults.
One of Holston’s best-kept secrets is Camp Discovery. This weekend experience offers senior high and college students an opportunity to explore if God is calling them into the ordained ministry. Our summer camps also continue to experience record attendance in a time when secular camps are declining.
Resurrection … need I say more?! Another event, F.U.E.L., helps youth workers grow spiritually, equipping them for quality ministry. Junior High and Senior High Assemblies also build the spiritual lives of our youth.
Holston children are involved in ministries of their own. Many are helping to eliminate malaria, raising money to buy mosquito nets at $10 a net to save the lives of people in Africa. Many of our children are excited about Sunday school as their teachers implement Rotation Sunday School. Their pastors and lay leaders are helping them to confirm their faith through confirmation classes. Change for Children continues to raise money to underwrite grants for children’s ministry in Holston as well as in Sudan.
Our young adults are also deeply involved in offering and receiving Christ. Events like Divine Rhythm give them an opportunity to fellowship with peers and to claim their faith. Our five Wesley Foundations on state college campuses and our three conference colleges all serve as places to strengthen the faith of young adults. Realizing that some young adults prefer a more contemporary worship, church leaders are supporting, starting, and improving new worship experiences.
For 40 years, The United Methodist Church has been losing members. In Holston we began to turn this around in 2007. The Congregational Development Team and Extended Cabinet have been collaborating to reclaim our Methodist DNA as church planters. At one time, one of every three persons in the United States was a Methodist – and at that time, our denomination was planting one new church a day. Many believe that planting new churches spearheaded the phenomenal growth of the Methodist Movement. With this in mind, the Extended Cabinet and Congregational Development Team have decided that between 2009 and 2013, Holston will start 15 new churches. Pastors and locations are already being identified and other plans are underway.
Yet, amidst so much to shout about, there is a stark reality challenging us today. Our conference is currently running about 10 percent below our normal average of paying 90 percent of the apportionment. If giving continues at its current level, we will finish the year at about 80 percent of the apportionment.
We have taken steps to help us be faithful to our mission: District superintendents and other executive staff volunteered to not accept their raises for 2009. We limited travel expenses through electronic meetings. We cut expenses by 15 percent. Other actions are in process and under consideration.
However, our statistics show we can still grow in our giving. Holston has always been known as a generous conference in giving to missions and special offerings, but we can still challenge ourselves to do as the Bible directs. We are admonished by scripture that a tenth of all we have belongs to God. We are admonished to give to God based on the tithe, not to give simply out of surplus.
Let us look at these statistics: In 2008, Holston Conference members accounted for $88.9 million in total giving. If all our identified givers (47,446 of approximately 167, 000 members) earned at the poverty level – and if they gave 10 percent as the Bible directs – our conference annual giving would total $102.6 million. This amount would provide an additional $13.8 million for the transformation of Holston Conference and for this world.
If those same members earned at the average income for the area – and gave 10 percent of their earnings – our conference annual budget would total $247.5 million. What type of difference could we make with an additional $158.6 million?
So even in the face our current economic crisis, I challenge us to be the Church. The mandates of the gospel are clear and will not change. We are still called by God – embraced and forgiven by Christ and empowered by the Holy Spirit – to “go and make disciples.” Ecclesiastes tells us to “observe the wind and regard the clouds.” We must not ascribe more power to our challenges than they actually possess.
Warren Buffett recently said in the New York Times, “Be fearful when others are greedy, and be greedy when others are fearful.” The Bible says it this way: “For God did not give us a spirit of cowardice but rather a spirit of power and of love and self discipline.”
How shall we go forward? God says to us as God said to Moses, “Why do you cry out to me? Tell the Israelites to go forward. But you lift up your staff, and stretch out your hand over the sea and divide it, that the Israelites may go into the sea on dry ground.”
The economic condition is our sea, but I say as the Lord has said. “Go forward!”