March 6, 2019
FIVE DAYS after the conclusion of General Conference, about 2,600 Holstonians gathered to pray and learn how decisions made in St. Louis would affect their local churches.
Under the name 3/3@3, all of Holston Conference’s nine districts gathered in churches simultaneously on Sunday, March 3 at 3 p.m. The meeting was planned by Holston leaders prior to the special session of General Conference, held in St. Louis Feb. 23-26.
"I love the idea that after this General Conference, we are able to meet as an annual conference at nine different locations to have an opportunity to share info with you about happened, particularly the legislation," the Rev. Kim Goddard, delegation leader, said in an informational video. "And as importantly, what we want to do today ... is worship and be reminded of just who we are."
Church members heard comments from delegates, watched the video, and then shared Holy Communion. Some districts also offered opportunities to query delegates who were present.
Here are summaries of each of the district gatherings.
New River District
At St. Paul United Methodist Church in Wytheville, Virginia, 305 United Methodists gathered for what the Rev. Kim Goddard said was the largest New River District gathering she had seen. Goddard is district superintendent as well as leader of the Holston Conference delegation.
Deborah Neal and Mike Holcomb, district lay leaders, opened and closed the meeting with prayer.
Goddard said the special session of General Conference was the most difficult thing she had been a part of. “We're not finished talking about this,” she said. “We care too deeply about our understandings and beliefs on human sexuality to agree to disagree.”
Goddard encouraged her listeners to do no harm, but to show kindness on social media. She shared how she had driven around to see churches that were part of her personal story on the day after she arrived home from St. Louis.
"Your church has not changed,” she said. “Tell the stories of what happened in your church this morning."
-- Rev. Will Shelton, First United Methodist Church, Pulaski, Va.
Clinch Mountain District
“God still reigns in spite of our imperfections,” said the Rev. Sandra Johnson in her opening remarks to the 117 United Methodists gathered at Lebanon Memorial United Methodist Church in Lebanon, Virginia.
Johnson, Clinch Mountain District superintendent, was one of 12 delegates representing Holston Conference in St. Louis. Johnson said she was “frustrated with the process and how we have behaved with our process” during the special session of General Conference. After watching the “Holston is My Home” segment of the informational video, many of the attendees wept.
Joyce Moore, an alternate delegate to General Conference, shared her own experience in St. Louis: “We are going to have to continue loving each other,” she said.
The atmosphere was strained with anxiety, sadness, and tension. However, plans were made for a mission trip to El Salvador. The district youth rally and donations were shared with the Elk Garden School Community Ministry. It was refreshing to see that the mission of the local church was continuing despite the heavy hearts of those in attendance. Neighbors were being fed. Youth were being discipled. The good news of Christ will be shared!
-- Rev. Brooke Atchley, Church & Community Worker, Elk Garden School Community Ministry, Rosedale, Va.
About 400 people attended the Appalachian District gathering held at First Broad Street United Methodist Church in Kingsport, Tennessee.
The Rev. Jeff Wright and the Rev. Randy Frye began the meeting with prayer. Wright is Appalachian District superintendent. Frye is senior pastor at First Broad Street, as well as a Holston Conference delegate who went to St. Louis.
“We sometimes forget that we share very different cultures under the umbrella of the United Methodist and decisions made at General Conference can at times have very unfortunate and unforeseen consequences in other places in those other cultures,” said Frye.
-- Meredith Brown, First Broad Street United Methodist Church, Kingsport, Tenn.
Three Rivers District
The Rev. Dennis Flaugher, senior pastor at Gray United Methodist Church, welcomed about 300 United Methodists to the informational meeting and worship service. Nan Carver, district lay leader, led the opening prayer.
The Rev. Lauri Jo Cranford, Three Rivers District superintendent, thanked everyone for attending, especially on a rainy afternoon. She thanked them for their concern about the church while acknowledging it had been a hard week for everyone in the denomination.
The Rev. Carol Wilson, a delegate and senior pastor at Munsey Memorial United Methodist Church, offered three reflections:
1. When did we do our best work? “When we took our time. When we were not tired and hurried.” She encouraged her listeners to speak thoughtfully and kindly in their own local churches.
2. Acknowledge what holds us together is our faith in Jesus Christ. This is our common thread that binds us together as the Body of Christ.
3. We should do our work with convicted humility. We cannot see or understand all things. Seek understanding, rather than being understood, is always the best plan.
Cranford and Wilson concluded by serving Holy Communion.
-- Rev. Susan Arnold, Blountville United Methodist Church, Blountville, Tennessee
Mountain View District
About 325 United Methodists attended the gathering at First United Methodist Church in Morristown, Tennessee. The meeting was led by the Rev. Angela Hardy Cross, Mountain View District superintendent, and John Tate, Holston delegate.
Participants at first expressed gratitude for the opportunity to be together, as well as for certain parts of General Conference.
“I appreciated knowing that the General Conference was worshipping together at Christ’s table during this time of uncertainty,” said the Rev. Asa Majors, associate pastor at First United Methodist Church.
However, anxiety in the room became evident during the question-and-answer segment. Several people asked questions such as, “What is next?” “When will we know about the Judicial Council’s decision?” “Will we ever find an end to this argument?”
“I don’t feel like we decided very much at General Conference,” said the Rev. James Bennington, pastor at First United Methodist Church in Newport. “Instead we showed that we are even more divided than we first thought. As a pastor, all I can do is teach, share, answer questions honestly and accurately and guide my congregation as best as I can in light of the reality we have.”
“I hope the Church can continue to find ways to be in ministry and mission together,” said Haden Scott, lay leader at Trinity United Methodist Church in Greeneville.
-- Rev. Sarah Varnell, Trinity United Methodist Church, Greeneville, Tenn.
Tennessee Valley District
Three delegates opened the Tennessee Valley District gathering, attended by 500 and held at Powell United Methodist Church.
The Rev. Mark Flynn, delegate, said that General Conference was a “brutal, painful experience ... We have reached a point where we can no longer legislate our way out of the place where we are.” He encouraged his listeners to “reach out” to friends or family who identify as LGBTQ, who are likely deeply hurt by the denomination’s recent actions.
Emily Ballard, delegate, noted that young adults made up a small percentage at General Conference, and yet, “We do have a voice, and we really want you to listen.”
The Rev. Wil Cantrell, delegate, said that holy conferencing using Robert’s Rules of Order is an impossible undertaking. He said he had heard from many hurt United Methodists, including one who said, “It’s hard for me to hear that because I have a conservative viewpoint, I’m a bigot.”
Before serving Holy Communion, the Rev. Brenda Carroll, district superintendent, said she was ordained in 1972, the same year that “homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching” was added to the Book of Discipline.
“In all my years of ministry, all of this hope for change has been taken to the floor of General Conference – and it continues to go.”
-- Annette Spence, Editor, "The Call"
Smoky Mountain District
The sanctuary at Fairview United Methodist Church in Maryville was nearly full for the Smoky Mountain District gathering and the service opened with two verses of “And Are We Yet Alive,” a nod to the simultaneous gatherings of Holston Annual Conference across the nine districts. About 330 attended the gathering at Fairview.
Bishop Mary Virginia “Dindy” Taylor was part of the congregation, while the Rev. Jason Gattis, district superintendent, was the celebrant for Holy Communion, assisted by Holston Conference Lay Leader Del Holley, who also served as a lay delegate to General Conference.
Karen Wright, also a lay delegate to General Conference, told of how she supported the One Church Plan and the Simple Plan during the conference, but watched as the plans were defeated, while the Traditional Plan passed by a mere 54-vote margin. Wright, who identified herself as an LGBTQ ally, spoke of the hurt experienced by children who are born into the United Methodist Church in Holston where they grew up learning about Christian love and acceptance, only to find themselves excluded if they are gay.
Wright, a member of Broadway United Methodist Church, Maryville, spoke of how gay youth experience higher rates of suicide than heterosexual youth and encouraged those who may be suffering to such a degree — or who know of someone else who is in crisis — to talk to someone or contact The Trevor Project at TheTrevorProject.org.
Holley, a member of Colonial Heights United Methodist Church, Knoxville, told the congregation to continue in prayer and warned that social media posts claiming to detail percentage breakdowns of delegate votes were inaccurate. Delegate voting is confidential by electronic device, and no one is obligated to reveal how they personally voted, nor are able to speak on another delegate’s or the delegation’s behalf. Holley explained that anyone seeking to provide valid statistical data would have to contact every delegate, and “no one has contacted me.”
The somewhat subdued congregation was brought to its feet in song as Wesley Rouse, minister of music at Fairvew, led the gathering in the singing of Michael W. Smith’s “Agnus Dei” as the serving of Holy Communion was coming to a close.
-- Rev. Buzz Trexler, Green Meadow United Methodist Church, Maryville, Tenn.
About 150 people attended the Hiwassee District gathering at Keith Memorial United Methodist Church in Athens. The Rev. Hugh Kilgore, district superintendent, opened the meeting and welcomed participants.
Tracy Gartmann and Matthew Crabtree led the singing of “And Are We Yet Alive.” Rick Lay, district lay leader, led the group in prayer.
Following the informational video, delegate Bob Lockaby said the St. Louis session was his fifth General Conference. He said it was a “gut-wrenching experience,” by far the most difficult, in which “passions ran high.”
“We are a deeply divided church on this issue,” he said.
Lockaby thanked Holston members for supporting the delegation in prayer and invited them to stay after the conclusion of the Sunday-afternoon meeting to ask questions. He cautioned them on reading some articles about General Conference, which he said were inaccurate.
Kilgore led participants in Holy Communion.
-- Rev. Andrew Lay, Keith Memorial United Methodist Church, Athens, Tenn.
Scenic South District
In the Scenic South District meeting, lay delegate Becky Hall shared the positive and negative observations she had of General Conference.
As an example of the latter, she said that during one break, she noticed progressive and conservative people taking part in a heated discussion. Hall heard one boy who was present for the volleyball tournament (which was also held at the arena), ask his mother who the people were.
“The boy seemed perplexed and said, ‘Mom, what is this?’” Hall said she heard him ask. His mother responded, “I don’t know, some church thing with the Methodists.” Hall said she thought, “Isn’t that sad? That was their image of ‘some church thing.’”
Hall, a member and staff at Christ United Methodist Church, also said she feels certain that human sexuality will be the main topic at General Conference 2020 as well. “It seems very difficult to see how the divide will be solved,” she said. (The next General Conference is scheduled May 5-15, 2020, in Minneapolis, Minnesota.)
Hall added that she remains hopeful The United Methodist Church can find a way to go forward in a positive manner. She said she has tried to use the words of a favorite hymn, “God Will Make a Way,” as inspiration.
“God will make a way,” she said. “We want our churches to go on."
The Rev. Randy Martin, district superintendent, presided and served Holy Communion. Attended by 150, the gathering was held at St. John United Methodist Church in Chattanooga.
-- John Shearer, First-Centenary United Methodist Church, Chattanooga, Tenn.
Holston Conference includes 160,000 members in 872 congregations located in East Tennessee, Southwest Virginia, and North Georgia. For more information, contact Annette Spence at email@example.com