Why I stayed: 'I believe God is calling me to serve here'

Why I stayed: 'I believe God is calling me to serve here'

This is fifth in a series of stories shared by United Methodists in Holston Conference during a season of renewal in our faith tradition. Eli Bray is currently a member at Elm Springs United Methodist Church in Church Hill, Tennessee.

I joined Elm Springs United Methodist Church in 2022 after six years of going there with my family. We all joined the church together, but I was old enough to make the decision to become a member on my own.

I spent most of my childhood at a Baptist church, but I saw God at Elm Springs. The people there were loving: They didn’t care about what you looked like or where you came from. They just wanted you to have a good relationship with Christ.

I started going to Elm Springs before all this division started to blow up in The United Methodist Church. This is a distraction to ministry, is what this is, and we have forgotten how to agree to disagree. I consider myself more of a traditionalist. I believe we should be inclusive, but I also believe we should follow the scriptures and the Book of Discipline. That’s not what other conferences are doing, but I feel Holston Conference is standing for the truth.

Last September, I believe I heard a call to ministry from God. At Resurrection in January, that calling was confirmed, and I recommitted my life to Christ. By that time, my church had already voted to disaffiliate, so it’s been hard to know where I belong. I was at a loss for a while, so I talked to my pastor and I prayed, “God, just tell me where to go.”

I have this gut feeling that I need to stay in The United Methodist Church. I feel God telling me, “You will serve here.” I don’t believe it really matters what denomination you are in as long as you are doing God’s work. The United Methodist Church does that with grace and love, and right now this is where I feel I need to be.

On Sunday, April 30, I will join Lebanon United Methodist Church in Church Hill. I have the love and support of my family and my two churches. I feel God calling on us to pray that we are united in Christ and on Galatians 3:28:

There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

Other stories in this series:
Part 1: Vickie Rogers - "I took my membership vows seriously"
Part 2: Rev. Sam Dzobo - "I experienced amazing, amazing love"
Part 3: Tracy Gormley - "I don't think we should be excluding anybody"
Part 4: Joanna Corvin - "Our faith is ingrained in how we live"
Part 6: Rev. Jason Mullins - "I am proud of our effort to be a community"

If you are a member of a disaffiliating congregation who wishes to stay in the UMC, please visit the Invitation Team's web page for resources designed for you.

If you wish to share your "Why I Stayed" story, please email thecall@holston.org. Holston Conference includes member churches in East Tennessee, Southwest Virginia, and North Georgia, with main offices in Alcoa, Tennessee. Sign up for a free email subscription to The Call.


Annette Spence

Annette Spence is editor of The Call, the Holston Conference newsletter.