A few days ago, the religion writer for The Tennessean approached our team about writing a story about our new conference. We believed in the good faith of the writer to offer a story to the readers that reflected the good and faithful work of the Tennessee and Memphis Conferences. We were asked many things and offered several positive expressions of this work over the last nine years. Much of what we offered was not included in the article.
The Future of the UMC
There were some questions about the future of the United Methodist Church in light of the Protocol for Separation with Grace. To be clear, the Protocol is legislation that is being proposed to be considered when the General Conference is held. You will recall that the 2020 General Conference was postponed due to Covid-19. Currently, it is scheduled for September of 2022. If it is safe to travel worldwide and if we can gather for the important work of the United Methodist Church, the Protocol Legislation will be considered along with hundreds of other petitions and resolutions that shape our Church.
We are not sure where the reporter found the information he initially included in the story. It was not from those of us who were interviewed.
The implication of the writer of The Tennessean was that the potential divide of the denomination was already approved and action was waiting to occur. Unfortunately, this new writer is unfamiliar with the United Methodist Church and inaccuracies were reported.
The reporter has since made corrections to his online version of the article that more accurately reflects the truth.
In the age of social media, several opinions are expressed about the future of our beloved Church. When General Conference meets, whether it is 2022 or after, only ideas that have been offered properly will be considered. It is premature to speculate what the outcomes of General Conference will be.
To be clear: no denominational decisions have been made by the general Church or by our future Tennessee-Western Kentucky Conference (TWK). If you have heard otherwise, the information is incorrect.
Our New Conference
The article paints a picture that reflects more about the editorial perspective of the newspaper than about the reality of how our new conference has been formed.
Likewise, this article seems to want to produce a story about a church in distress. That is not what is happening in our conference – our churches are evidence of this. In 2012, when I was assigned to the Nashville Episcopal Area, the rationale for my assignment was my history in Mississippi of being a part of two Annual Conferences that had formed a new conference. I understood that one of my responsibilities was to lead the Memphis and Tennessee Conferences to form a new Conference. This we have done with a steady pace over 9 years. On December 4 we will hold the organizational meeting that is the next step as we officially become the Tennessee-Western Kentucky Conference.
One of our commitments, which we have intentionally led over the last 9 years is to allow congregations to retain more of their tithes and offerings at the local church rather than hold apportionments at the previous rate. The fact is that the apportionments across the two legacy conferences have been reduced by 40%. Our goal has always been to strengthen our local churches. The reduction of apportionments has been one of the strategies.
Another strategy is that our new leadership structure redefines the roles for conference-employed staff. In recent years, our conference staff has become smaller and more decentralized. Our strategic direction and conference ministry are now in the hands of volunteer leaders with staff there to support them.
Here is what is true: God has provided us with abundance – strong, connected churches with spiritually gifted leadership. God has equipped us with a nimble, hopeful vision for the future.
In Christ Jesus, we have a sure and certain hope, rooted in Scripture, centered in Christ as we seek to serve in love. We have not wavered from that foundation.
Over the last 9 years, many people – more than 500 lay and clergy members from both legacy conferences – have worked diligently to create this path to our new conference. These teams collaborated and created our new leadership and funding models for the new TWK conference. Because so many faithful disciples of Christ provided input and have been a part of the journey, we are stepping into a new era with strength.
Our new funding model that we chose together at the annual conferences is simple. Local churches will begin working toward giving a simple tithe as a connectional commitment to the ministries of the conference. Choosing to gradually reduce the commitment over the next several years reflects the new focus of keeping financial resources in the local faith community.
Finally, our strategic decision to create a new conference is rooted in our response to follow God’s call so that we can share the transforming love of Jesus Christ in a deeply connected way. At no time was the vision of a new conference rooted out of financial necessity. Certainly, we are looking for efficiencies, which we have found.
Our Call Moving Forward
Our call has been to follow God’s leading to create a new vessel for us to share the transforming love of Jesus Christ in a deeply connected way. It is in that connection that we will find strength. In the midst of the stress of Covid 19, we have found strength together.
This has not been an easy time for any of us.
Here’s what I know:
I know that God is still at work.
I know that God has work ahead for us to do.
I know that God is going to raise up something powerful out of this moment.
I invite you to join me on a journey of paying attention to God’s call on our lives so that we are able to nimbly respond to that which God invites us to be and do.
May the peace of Christ be with all of you,
I am pleased to announce that the Memphis and Tennessee Annual Conferences have voted, each by more than 87%, to endorse the intent to move forward with a plan to form a new conference!
With this positive vote, the conferences have agreed to rely on God to show us the “new thing” that God is doing! (Isaiah 43:19).
- We will continue to model innovation, unity, and good stewardship of our resources.
- In the 2018-2019 conference year, the Memphis and Tennessee Conferences will continue the process of alignment in any additional areas where there might be a benefit to both conferences.
- The advisory team will continue its work on two main items listed below needing more clarification, with quarterly reports during the 2018-2019 conference year.
a. The methodology used to pay for the conference budget, including health
and pensions costs.
b. A decision regarding utilization of one health care provider for both conferences.
- The advisory team will complete its study and offer its findings on these and any other remaining items no later than the 2019 annual conferences.
- Each conference will receive additional information and will then vote upon whether or not to approve a plan for a new conference in 2019.
- If each conference votes in 2019 to approve such plan(s), including a motion for approval to the Southeastern Jurisdictional Conference in 2020, and if those are passed, we will meet as a fully unified new annual conference in 2021.
The Advisory Team includes lay people and clergy from both conferences. This includes leaders identified by position and also those who have shown dedication in service. The individuals serving are:
Scott Aleridge Jim Allen
Allen Black Bill Bowen, Sr.
Melinda Britt Bryan Brooks
George Brown Lane Camp
Lisa Carson Richard Clark
Kevin Conrad Larry Davis
Keith Enders Joe Geary
David Hayes Frank Holbrook
Leslie Hotzfeld Bethany Huffman
Terry Hundley Amy Hurd
Johnny Jeffords Tom Laney
Rob Martin Bishop Bill McAlilly
Bill Milliken Ken Murray
Holly Neal Donna Parramore
John Pearce Paul Purdue
David Reed Deborah Smith
Lynn Taylor Tommy Ward
Ed White Nita Wright
Grace and peace to you from God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.
In the days to come, you will hear more and more about the future of the Nashville Episcopal Area, the Tennessee and Memphis conferences – that we dreamed together about the possibilities of a new annual conference. Remember, in the district visits we talked extensively about what a new conference might look like. We realized that our future is unfolding before us and that we need to be positioned for a future that God is going to show us in the days to come.
We believe that we’re better together.
Indeed, over the last six years, we’ve talked about the mission. That, in fact, nothing is sacred but the mission and our call is to serve Christ in the world, reaching those who have not yet come to know Christ. We believe that we are better together to reach that mission.
I’m reminded of the story of Lewis and Clark when they explored a passageway to the Pacific Ocean through the Rocky Mountains. They had followed waterways up to the point that they reached the Rockies, and then they discovered there was, in fact, no river to follow. They came across a young Native American woman named Sacagawea, 14 years old, a mother, and she led them through the passageways, off the map, to a new future.
We are in that season in the church where we have to realize that we’re leading now into a new era. Where is God calling us? What will the maps look like? How will we get there?
We believe that we’re better together. These two conferences converging, finding a new future.
You will find resources on the conference website, a toolkit for communication that will give you more details about what this conversation will begin to look like. When we come to the annual conference session we expect to receive a resolution that will allow us to vote on our future.
I encourage you to explore the information that will be available to you on the website and use that information to prepare yourself to become a part of a new future in the Nashville Episcopal Area. God bless you.
Memphis Conference website (scroll down to “Business Items” under “Delegate Business Materials”)
As a boy, we would camp along the Tennessee River at a place we called “Sycamore Cove.” I used to sit on the banks of the river there between Pickwick Dam and JP Coleman State Park. I would watch the water glide by. It made its way downstream, gained speed and momentum, and disappeared out of sight. Around the bend the waters converged, becoming one.
This is where I fell in love with The River. Sometimes calm and sacred. Sometimes swift and turbulent. It is also where I learned to respect it after once being stranded in a storm.
The Bible is full of rivers. There is the Nile where Moses was adopted. There is the Jordan where Jesus was baptized. And there is The River of Life about which John of Patmos speaks in Revelation 22.
Water. River Water. Baptism.
A river runs through us. I’m told that the Tennessee River is a dividing line in this world I’ve come to inhabit. I hear folks speak of the “other side of the river,” and they mean the other Annual Conference, not theirs. But there is a song that has been sung on both sides of the river for longer than we can remember, “Shall We Gather at the River.”
Today, the river is calling me to it again – this time, with you.
Thank you for spending time with me in our 18 conversations across both conferences to discuss how we may partner in our growth and, indeed, in our future disciple-making.
You’ll see in the report that the financial implications, benefits, and clergy interests are top-of-mind topics, which are appropriate for a convergence such as the one we are proposing.
Together, we can become stronger, much like the rivers that converge around and through Middle and West Tennessee and Western Kentucky. The Tennessee. The Cumberland. The Ohio. The Duck. And others. Flowing into the Mighty Mississippi. My hope is that we will work together with open hearts and open minds as we navigate these waters.
Shall we gather at the River?
Map Source: Robert Szucs, Hungarian cartographer, GrasshopperGeography (Etsy)