LAKE JUNALUSKA, N.C. -- The Annual Conference worked its way through hearing reports and making decisions yesterday, stopping along the way to worship, celebrate retiring clergy, plan for the future, and eat ice cream.
The day started with humor from the Rev. Walter Cross as he remembered his own childhood baptism in a 200-gallon-tank in a church basement: “One side of it was glass where they could see you struggling for your life when they plunged you in.”
He led worshippers through learning about baptism (Luke 3:21-22) before they reaffirmed their own baptism. “We want to demonstrate to the world that there has been an inward change,” Cross said. “We do this outward ritual that blesses us and blesses the world.”
A mid-morning ceremony recognized the ministries of 26 retiring clergy, 20 who were present. A video shared some of their reflections (“If you will just hold on to God’s coattail, then he will kick down doors for you that you can never imagine,” said the Rev. Terri Johnson Gregory). The newly retired Rev. Reed Shell “passed the mantle” to the Rev. Charlotte Williams, ordained as an elder on Sunday night. An afternoon ice cream social gave members an opportunity to greet retirees.
About 775 voting members were present to approve the Council on Finance and Administration’s budget recommendation of $8.18 million for 2024.
The Annual Conference also voted to approve a Nurture Team proposal to raise $1.5 million for a “New Voices” campaign culminating in the June 2024 missions offering. The "New Voices" campaign will invest in Holston’s five camps, five Wesley Foundations and two colleges ($125,000 each) which already have a legacy of developing church leaders.
By lunchtime yesterday, the campaign had already received a $10,000 gift from the Rev. Doug and Carolyn Fairbanks and $2,500 from Michael Feely.
Totals for the Annual Conference’s two offerings this week were announced: $36,616 for Ishe Anesu Mission in Zimbabwe and $26,401 for Change for Children. Funds are still being accepted at Stuart Auditorium information desk or at the Holston Conference office in Alcoa.
ResolutionsThe Annual Conference considered five of nine resolutions published on pages 148-157 in the “Book of Reports.” The Rev. Wil Cantrell, Petitions and Resolutions Committee chair, introduced the resolutions and the committee’s recommendations. During a 90-minute period, 26 members participated in asking questions, making motions, and speaking for or against resolutions on the floor.
Resolution 1: The conference voted in favor of the Extended Cabinet’s resolution to collaborate with other annual conferences in working for legislation providing a “gracious, fair and nonpunitive separation process” for local churches at General Conference 2024.
Resolution 2: The conference voted in favor of a resolution (submitted by UMC Next Holston) in support of a U.S. regional conference. The vote was 443 to 102.
Resolution 3: The conference voted to “postpone indefinitely” a resolution calling on clergy and lay members who intend to disaffiliate from the denomination to recuse themselves from church leadership roles. The resolution was submitted by UMC Next Holston. The vote was 313 to 235.
Resolution 4: The conference voted in favor of a resolution aspiring to a future in the denomination “where LGBTQIA+ people will be protected, affirmed, and empowered in the life and ministry of the church … including as laity, clergy, in the episcopacy, and on boards.” The vote was 339 to 223, or 60% of the vote. The resolution was submitted by Danny Tullier.
Resolution 5: The conference voted to refer a resolution calling for Holston’s nine districts to be renamed according to city names within their boundaries to the Strategy Team for consideration. Submitted by Larry Dial, the resolution’s stated purpose was to reduce confusion and make district names easier to remember.
Resolutions not considered by the Annual Conference during yesterday’s allotted time will be referred to related entities for consideration, Bishop Debra Wallace-Padgett said.
Other actions:The Francis Asbury Award for a person contributing significantly to higher education was presented to the Rev. Beth Tipton, director of the Wesley Foundation at University of Virginia College at Wise.
Higher education: President John Wells of Emory & Henry College and President Tyler Forrest of Tennessee Wesleyan University shared reports from their schools. In one year, Tennessee Wesleyan will launch the “TWU Pledge,” Forrest said, a “last dollar” scholarship allowing children of families with gross adjusted income of $36,000 or less to attend the college tuition free.
Multicultural ministries: The Rev. Leah Burns shared her dreams for multicultural ministry as the recently appointed associate director of connectional ministries for multicultural ministries, a new position in Holston Conference. “God always intended the work of his church to be multicultural,” she said.
The Board of Pensions reported that collections of direct billing for pensions and health care benefits for participants continues to be received at 99 percent. “In the midst of what we’ve been through, that is tremendous,” said the Rev. David Tabor, president.
Health benefits: Tabor also said the Holston Conference health plan “nearly broke even” in 2022 after years of losses. “That’s an amazing change for us as we continue to go forward,” he said. Rates for the 2024 active employee plan will be set in late August 2023 and announced in October 2023.
Information from other reporting groups will be provided in future stories.
See livestream recordings.
Annette Spence is editor of The Call, the Holston Conference newsletter.
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