The summer before I began seminary, I had breakfast with the pastor of the Baptist church I grew up in. I told him that I had been offered and accepted a fellowship, which promised a full scholarship in exchange for a commitment to serve the rural church for at least five years after graduation.
“Why would you do that?” my pastor asked. “Don’t you want to go serve at a larger church? That’s how you launch your career.”
It’s a refrain that I heard often, even after I began serving in a rural parish. Well-meaning clergy, people that I respect and admire, would offer similar advice. “Go to that rural church,” I was told, “Don’t make any waves, and in a few years, they’ll reappoint you as an associate pastor at a larger church.”
When I first entered into seminary, my pastor’s remarks, along with that consistent line of advice about waiting out my five years in the rural parish, echoed in my head. Underneath all of those comments is an assumption that valuable ministry rarely happens in the small-membership rural church. For many, the narrative is that rural ministry is a place for the beginning of careers – a place to escape from once you’ve proved your skill – or a place to end a career. Underneath this well-intentioned but misguided advice is that rural communities are not places to have a high-impact ministry. In reality, though, our rural congregations face unique challenges that require thoughtful and strong leaders.
In many rural communities, local churches are some of the only permanent institutions. While businesses, elected officials, and even schools come and go, the rural church remains. Each week, the pews are filled by small business owners, teachers, nurses, and community leaders – a claim which almost no other organization can make.
My previous appointment was a small, rural church in North Carolina. Brought into the connection by Francis Asbury, the area has seen a tremendous amount of change over the last few decades. In the 1970s, farmlands were converted into a lake, which today is a popular daytrip for the nearby urban areas. The once quiet farm road where the church sits is now a busy backroad between two suburbs. Hundreds of cyclists dot the road each weekend in the fall and spring to take advantage of the rolling hills and scenic paths.
The questions that we wrestled with are not that unique: How do we navigate this change? Who is in our community now? What resources are available to us? How do we make this community better?
Rural churches have the potential – and responsibility – to be leaders in the midst of this enormous change in their communities. The Turner Center at Martin Methodist College is committed to empowering and supporting rural congregations as they explore how their congregations can lead transformation. Our goal, as we like to say, is to help rural congregations recognize, cultivate, announce, and invite others to participate in the Kingdom of God that is already being built around them.
At times, that means taking a step back and learning how to see the real needs and gifts of a community. Or, other times, it might mean forming connections with other community leaders in business, non-profits, and elected officials. And still other times, it might just mean taking a look at how our congregations can better serve the changing communities.
I often think back to that time when my pastor told me I would be wasting my time in a rural congregation. Then I think about the meaningful moments in my ministry: helping high school seniors write their college applications and watching them become first generation college students, partnering with a local hospital to offer preventative health-screenings, or working with a food pantry to distribute healthy meals to families during the summer. While those moments are not big and flashy, they will have ripple effects that continue on for years to come.
The truth is that rural communities have a huge potential for high impact ministries. Given that 65% of the churches in the Nashville Episcopal Area are rural, our opportunity for transformation is enormous.
Our goal is to help rural congregations unlock their potential to transform the world for the sake of Jesus Christ. One way that we’re doing that is through our Community Transformation Grant. Rural congregations and District leaders are encouraged to apply for a grant up to $10,000 to fund a project that will impact their communities in a meaningful way. For more information about that program, along with resources for rural ministry, visit us online at www.mmcturnercenter.com, follow us on twitter (@mmcturnercenter) and like us on Facebook.
Rural churches are not forgotten places, rungs on a career ladder, or communities to avoid. They are places where God is at work, where Christ is transforming the world, and they need leaders who are committed to seeing the beauty, the challenges, the gifts, and the opportunities to make lasting, meaningful, God-honoring change.
Reverend Allen Stanton is the Executive Director of the Turner Center at Martin Methodist College
It is Time to Fill the Truck with Disaster Supplies!
Thank you so much to those churches that have been gathering and storing supplies for our sister churches in communities affected by the recent hurricanes. It now is time to fill the truck!
Thanks to the generosity of Sundown Express in Gates, TN, the Nashville Episcopal Area has a semi-truck that we can fill and transport the supplies where our UMCOR teams need them the most. The shipment will leave our Area at the end of October, so please bring supplies to the indicated drop-off locations by the dates given below.
Our Area-wide Disaster Response Coordinator, Rev. Robert Craig, says that the supplies begin accepted for this shipment include the following:
Hygiene kits | DETAILS
Cleaning kits | DETAILS
Tornado buckets | DETAILS (Tape list of contents to side of bucket.)
Tarps: 12×16 feet and larger
20-inch box fans
25-ft extension cords
2-gallon garden sprayers
Metal garden rakes
Please choose one of the following locations to deliver kits, supplies and buckets. Feel free to use the closest, most convenient location. CALL FIRST to confirm hours/deadline before making delivery.
Memphis Conference Dropoff Locations
From the below locations in the Memphis Conference, all items will be transported to Forty West Designs in Jackson, TN. On Saturday, October 27, volunteers will palletize all supplies at Forty West Designs for shipping out on Monday morning.
- Christ United Methodist Church| 4488 Poplar Ave. | Memphis, TN | 901-683-3521 | Drop off items at front of church (under breezeway) Mon-Thursday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Friday 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
- Germantown United Methodist Church| 2331 South Germantown Rd. | Germantown, TN 38138 | 901-754-7216
- Mississippi River District Office|1382 West Church St, Alamo, TN 38001 | 731-696-4117
- Omni Tech| 1050 S. Main, Dyersburg, TN | 1050 South Main St, Dyersburg, TN | 5 to 8 p.m. each weekday. Go to lower rear building and enter at large rollup bay door.
- Benton First United Methodist Church| 845 US Hwy 641 Spur, Benton, KY | 270-527-3990
- Tennessee River District Office| 24 Corporate Blvd., Jackson, TN | 731-660-1376 | Monday – Thursday: 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. | Friday: 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.
If you have any questions, please contact Robert Craig at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tennessee Conference Dropoff Locations
In the Tennessee Conference, supplies can be dropped off during the week at the locations listed below.
- Feed America First, 319 Murfreesboro St., Murfreesboro, TN 37127 | Monday-Friday. 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. (The Feed America First staff will palletize and shrink wrap supplies as they arrive! This is a great blessing for us.)
- Cedar Crest Camp | 7900 Cedar Crest Camp Road | Lyles, TN 37098 (There will be an enclosed trailer located at the Cedar Crest office for deposit of supplies from 8 a.m. until 5 p.m. Monday thru Friday. If you have questions, call the camp office at 931-670-3025.)
- Columbia First UMC | 222 W 7th St. | Columbia, TN 38401 (Dropoff at the church between 8 a.m. – 4 p.m. Call the church for more information at 931-388-3306.)
- New Chapel UMC | 5016 Highway 49 W. | Springfield TN 37172 (Please call Jim Rogers at 615-944-3327 to set up a delivery time.)
- Waverly First UMC | 115 W Main St. | Waverly, TN 37185-1556 (Please call Betsy Haley at 931-622-0692 for a drop off time between 8 a.m. -2 p.m. on Monday-Thursday)
Churches on the western side of the Tennessee Conference also are welcome to bring their supplies to Jackson on Saturday, October 27, to Forty West Designs warehouse, 52 Ragland Rd., Jackson, TN.
Final Shipment to Load and Leave on Monday October 29
Volunteers are needed on Monday, October 29, to help transport supplies as well as on-site at Feed America First to help prepare the load for shipping. If you can help, please email Robert at email@example.com.
Thank you in advance for answering this call to action to help our neighbors in need!
I am pleased to announce that Rev. Deborah S. Owens will be the Director of the Nashville Area Office of Leadership Formation and Development (formerly known as the Office of Ministerial Concerns). Rev. Owens is an ordained elder in the Tennessee Conference and currently serves in the Harpeth River District.
Before entering vocational ministry, Rev. Owens had a long career in project management with AT&T. She holds an M.Div. from Vanderbilt Divinity School and a B.S. from Middle Tennessee State University. In addition, she also holds a Masters Certificate in Project Management from George Washington University School of Business and Public Management and advanced certification in AT&T’s Quality Management System.
The focus of this position has evolved with the renaming and redirection of the office from the Office of Ministerial Concerns to one that is now dedicated to the leadership formation and development of laity as well as clergy.
The Director is an employee of the Tennessee Annual Conference, but oversees three primary areas of ministry for the Nashville Episcopal Area:
- Operations of the Boards of Ordained Ministry of the Tennessee and Memphis Conferences
- Clergy Development and Nurture
- Lay Leadership Development
Rev. Dr. Bryan Brooks, head of the search team, said that Owen’s experience prepares her well for the added lay leadership emphasis for this position. “Deborah served as a Certified Lay Speaker in her church and received her license as a local pastor while in seminary. She then left her corporate career after her ordination as an Elder.”
Rev. Owens brings strong communications, counseling, and organizational skills to this position. She also has served with several district and conference organization and ministry teams, including serving as the secretary of the Tennessee Conference Board of Ordained Ministry.
“The search team was pleased to have so many good candidates apply for this position,” said Brooks. “In the end, we felt that Deborah’s experience aligned best with the new direction for this office.”
Rev. Owens will begin as director in late October at the Tennessee Conference Center in Nashville. She can be contacted at Deborah.Owens@tnumc.org.
More About the Position
The Director oversees all aspects of the Office of Leadership Formation and Development, serving as the direct supervisor of the Assistant Director and Coordinator. The Director is the chief resource for the Nashville Area Boards of Ordained Ministry as well as the candidates/clergy of the Nashville Area. The Director serves as part of the Extended Cabinet of the Nashville Area and is the liaison between the Cabinet and the Nashville Area Boards of Ordained Ministry.
The Director also relates to the following groups/committees: Boards of Laity, District Committees on Ministry, Connectional Ministry Teams, Youth and Young Adult Ministries, Offices of Administrative Services, Orders of Elders, Orders of Deacons, and Fellowships of Local Pastors and Associate Members in the Nashville Area.
There are many things to love about The United Methodist Church. One aspect, in particular, is the work done through our campus ministries. For example, at Tennessee Tech University in Cookeville Tennessee, the Wesley Foundation under the direction of Reverend Addison Shock and his wife Logan Shock, creates an environment where students find a place to belong and discover their beliefs.
They also are creating a church family in such a way that when two students travel internationally halfway around the world, they find each other. Pictured are Luke Hornby and Paul Tribble who traveled to see each other while in Europe. Tennessee Tech Wesley Foundation unites people around the world embodying Romans 12:5, “so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another.”
We are blessed by the work of all of our campus ministries in the Tennessee and Memphis Conferences. You can learn more about them and what they are doing this fall through ministry links on our conference websites:
I am pleased to share news from the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry. Please join me with prayers of support as the agency develops and implements a new strategy for expanding its role in leadership development and formation. I encourage you to follow and participate in this work (outlined below), whether you are lay or clergy.
GBHEM Board of Directors Lay the Groundwork for Formational and Educational Leadership Center
NASHVILLE, Tenn., August 14, 2018 – The General Board of Higher Education and Ministry (GBHEM) Board of Directors has unanimously affirmed a new strategy to establish the agency as the resource center for leadership, education and formation to support future and current church leaders of the United Methodist Connection.
The strategy, approved at the board’s summer meeting last week in Nashville, was developed following a detailed evaluation of GBHEM’s impact across the global church, which included identifying the resources and competencies needed in leaders of today and tomorrow.
“What we are doing here at Higher Education and Ministry is building capacity for United Methodist lay and clergy leaders to discover, claim and flourish in Christ’s calling in their lives, by creating connections and providing resources to aid in recruitment, education, professional development and spiritual formation,” said the Rev. Dr. Kim Cape, general secretary at GBHEM. “I think that the church is asking us for both lay and clergy leadership development to navigate the changes that we are facing, both as a denomination, and in this country and the world.”
“Church leaders must be equipped to deal with diversity and the rapid pace of change, and be people of courage, vision and character,” Cape added. “It is our role to shape people to lead the community of faith. Those needs and those skills, knowledge, abilities and personality traits have evolved over time. We have an opportunity to move in the direction that I believe God’s calling us to move.”
The affirmation of the board, chaired by Bishop William McAlilly of the Nashville Episcopal Area, is its commitment to make the new strategy become a reality. The plan calls for the agency to:
- Expand its role in leadership development and formation, with the expectation that these efforts will strengthen ministry in all places leaders are called to serve, especially in United Methodist-related institutions
- Generate innovative programs, research and evaluation instruments aimed at bolstering and fortifying leadership skills, while ensuring that GBHEM fulfills its mandated charges
- Collaborate with other agencies and groups to expand the availability of varied, relevant and promising models and processes
- Support those functioning in leadership roles across the denomination, ranging from clergy, ministry professionals and parish laity to institutional and educational leaders, chaplains and pastoral counselors, recognizing that these varied groups confront unique challenges within the scope of their positions
In her General Secretary Address, Cape highlighted the plan which positions GBHEM to address the ongoing needs of the denomination to cultivate effective leaders and to forecast leadership requirements for the future of the church.
“This vision comes even as the church confronts important challenges,” Cape said. “Regardless of the outcome of legislative decisions regarding the future structure of the church, the need for the denomination to have effective leaders to serve at all levels of the church worldwide, including local churches, districts, the episcopacy, colleges and universities, community service organizations and other organizations and institutions, such as the military, jails, hospitals and counseling centers, will not diminish. We believe this plan provides a vital, comprehensive vision, one not covered elsewhere in the church.”
The Rev. Stephen Handy, senior pastor of McKendree United Methodist Church in Nashville, led the worship service at the board meeting and offered words of wisdom concerning the affirmation of the agency’s new strategy.
In addition to the Great Commission, Handy reminded the GBHEM board and staff, there is also the Great Commandment: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.” In that, he said, the agency will find its next steps.
“If you don’t love God first, then whatever you put on paper won’t matter,” Handy told the board and staff.
Also, at the meeting, the Rev. Dr. Susan Henry-Crowe, general secretary of the General Board of Church and Society, delivered the 2018 Willson Lecture entitled, “Between Private Sphere and Public Square,” to board members and guests.
Henry-Crowe, who has served as the social justice agency’s top executive since 2014, held up the Social Principles of the United Methodist Church as the latest examples of the rich tradition of “bold statements of conscience guiding the church and interfacing with society – taking stands for justice.”
“The genius of the Social Principles is that they address the issues where suffering, injustice and inequality exist,” Henry-Crowe said. “The Social Principles give the church an opportunity to speak and live out its faith in communities, societies and cultures all around the world. And they provide a way for religious voices to be heard in the halls of power.
“Bishops, the general agencies, annual conferences, pastors and churches find guidance and confidence in speaking on now the 76 statements, adopted by the General Conference as written by United Methodists from across the globe who face myriad injustices and inequities,” she said.
The Willson Lecture series is provided by an endowment from James M. and Mavis Willson of Floydada, Texas. The lectureship is designed to contribute to the spiritual and intellectual enrichment of people from the boards and agencies of The United Methodist Church. The lectures also present the scholarly contributions of leaders in higher education and educational philanthropy to the Nashville community.
To learn more about GBHEM and the board of directors, visit GBHEM.org.
About GBHEM: As the leadership development agency of The United Methodist Church, the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry’s mission is to build capacity for United Methodist lay and clergy leaders to discover, claim and flourish in Christ’s calling in their lives, by creating connections and providing resources to aid in recruitment, education, professional development and spiritual formation. Every elder, deacon and licensed local pastor benefits from our training and candidacy programs. Many young adults find help in clarifying their vocation and God’s call on their lives through our leadership and discernment programs. Follow us on Twitter and Facebook: @GBHEM.
Travel with Bishop Bill McAlilly and the Memphis and Tennessee Annual Conferences
Holy Land Tour (January 2019) and Oberammergau Passion Play (June 2020)
I’m happy to offer two spiritual pilgrimage opportunities to you.
In January 2019, we are offering a trip to the Holy Land. Some have called the land the “fifth gospel.” Visiting this fifth gospel will put Scripture into context and open it to you in ways you cannot imagine as we visit the sites where Jesus walked, taught, and prayed.
In June 2020, we are offering a trip to the Oberammergau Passion Play in Oberammergau, Germany. This passion play, which is performed every ten years, tells the story of the Passion of Christ, beginning with His entry into the ancient city of Jerusalem, followed by His trial, crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension. This tour includes sites in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland.
Both of these pilgrimages will be will be true faith experiences, and I would consider it a privilege to share this journey with you.
Bishop Bill McAlilly
Holy Land Tour | January 21-30, 2019 | “Bible Land Exploration”
The ten-day pilgrimage to the Holy Land includes:
- Caesarea by the Sea, Mount Carmel, Megiddo, Nazareth
- Sea of Galilee, Capernaum, the Mount of Beatitudes
- Tel Dan, Caesarea Philippi, Golan Heights, Bethsaida, Jordan River
- Jericho, Qumran, Masada, the Dead Sea
- Bethlehem, Yad Vashem, Israel Museum
- Jerusalem and the Old City
Optional Post-Tour Additions:
- Wonders of Petra & Dead Sea
- Jerusalem Extended Stay
Prices start at: $3398 from Nashville or Memphis and include:
- Breakfast and Dinner Daily
- Deluxe A/C Motor Coaches
- Entrance and Program Fees
- First Class Hotels
- Taxes, Fees, Gratuities
- Guided Tours
- Round trip International Airfare
- Study Guide
For More Information or to Register:
Click on “Know Your Tour Info” and enter the following:
Tour = HL19
Date = 012119
Code = S
- 2019 Holy Land Brochure http://www.eo.travelwithus.com/files/uploads/HL19_S_012119_Tennesee_MemphisConference.pdf
2020 Oberammergau Passion Play & Best of Switzerland | June 17-26, 2020
The ten-day tour includes:
- Munich, Germany
- Innsbruck, Austria
- Ettal, Oberammergau, and Passion Play
- Travel to Switzerland—Bern
- Gruyere and Lausanne
- Zermatt and the Matterhorn
- Interlaken and Zurich
Prices start at: $4896 from Nashville and $4996 from Memphis and include:
- Basic Tour & Guided Sightseeing
- Roundtrip International Airfare
- Daily Buffet Breakfast & Dinner
- Deluxe Motorcoaches
- Passion Play Ticket for full 6 hour performance
- First Class Hotels & much more!
For More Information or to Register:
Click on “Know Your Tour Info” and enter the following:
Tour = SW20
Date = 061720
Code = T
- 2019 Holy Land Brochure http://www.eo.travelwithus.com/files/uploads/SW20_T_061720-TennandMemphisConference.pdf
For brochures, Tour Host information, and general information, you may contact the Project Coordinators:
One of the many facets of mission is International Disaster Response (IDR). Through the United Methodist Committee on Relief, the church is one of the first in when disaster strikes and one of the last to leave.
This is true in West Mosul, Iraq, where people have been displaced, lost their homes and are facing the daily realities of living in a war zone.
One mother* shared she had lost her husband during the armed groups’ attacks of Mosul City. She now is trying to keep herself, three children and elderly father alive. She had to walk for days to get to where they currently live, and resources were difficult to locate. This mother in Mosul has received food assistance through the direct financial support provided by UMCOR to the International Blue Crescent.
She exclaimed it was the first time someone had provided support to help feed her children. This is mission work: supporting people in crisis, ensuring a mother can cook a proper meal for her family for the first time in six months. Through tears, she added, “I have felt guilty to eat instead of giving that to my children, but now, with proper food aid, I can leave that feeling, at least for the moment.”
Imagine a world where everyone shares this kind of love and support with others. This is possible through UMCOR, which serves as the primary channel for United Methodist assistance within the United States and abroad.
*Names have been omitted for privacy
From Global Ministries – Engage Issue No. 23 | Mission is International Disaster Response
Tawanda Chandiwana, Global Mission Fellow, has been released from detention and has boarded his flight home to Zimbabwe! Please continue to pray for his safe journey and passage.
General Secretary Thomas Kemper shared this video from the airport.
Miracle Osman is still in the Philippines, and GBGM is working to ensure her safe departure as well. Please keep her in your prayers.
“Do not oppress a foreigner; you yourselves know how it feels to be foreigners, because you were foreigners in Egypt.” (Exodus 23:9)
The separation of children and families at our nation’s border has deeply troubled many of us in recent weeks.
While the recent executive order may allow immigrating families to remain united, the detention of families and children will continue for an unspecified term. This process does not reflect the dignity with which we believe all humans should be treated.
Many faith leaders have spoken against this inhumane treatment of innocent immigrant children, including our Council of Bishops. (http://www.umc.org/who-we-are/faith-leaders-statement-on-family-separation)
Along with Holy Scripture, our Social Principles provide a clear response for us. The United Methodist Church “recognizes, embraces, and affirms all persons, regardless of country of origin, as members of the family of God. We urge society to recognize the gifts, contributions, and struggles of those who are immigrants and to advocate for justice for all.”
Rooted in the faith traditions of the United Methodist Church, Tennessee Justice for Our Neighbors has been protecting child refugees since 2015, when it began representing unaccompanied minors in Middle Tennessee. Separated from their families due to gang violence, these children are from Central and South America. For thousands of these children who now reside safely in Tennessee, returning to their home country is not an option. The violence is now so extreme that families arrived at the border despite separation warnings and the parents criminally prosecuted.
Tennessee Justice for Our Neighbors is responding to the most recent crisis with both compassion and expertise by sending a staff attorney and two volunteers to the border to represent families in crisis later this summer. We are proud that Tennessee Justice for Our Neighbors is on the front lines of caring for our neighbors on behalf of the United Methodist Church during these important days.
During both the Memphis (meeting in Paducah, Kentucky) and Tennessee (meeting in Brentwood) Annual Conferences, the theme for our time together was #SeeAllThePeople. We are to respond when we witness suffering.
We celebrate the many ministries across our Nashville Episcopal Area that help us #SeeAllThePeople, especially children. As you read these words, United Methodists across our area are serving children through Project Transformation Tennessee. Our camping and retreat centers minister all summer with joy and excitement. Hannah’s Hope and Miriam’s Promise work to help families with adoptions. West Kentucky United Methodist Family Services assists families in welcoming children through foster care. These ministries and more are answering God’s call to serve children and families, regardless of national origins.
During the final day of Tennessee Annual Conference, we prayed for the families and children separated at the border. The immigration task force of the Tennessee Conference is organizing to help lead our local response as United Methodists, and the Connectional Ministries Team of the Memphis Conference worked with the Rio Texas Conference to develop a list of practical ways you can reach out and make a difference. Attached, please find the list of resources. We believe in the importance of both prayer and action.
“Jesus said, ‘Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.'” (Matthew 19:14)
Morgan Stafford – Cross-Cultural Strategist & Ministry Intern, Nashville Episcopal Area
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
One the highlights of my entire life has been attending the Annual Conference Session. For longer than I can remember, I have been attending. As a child, I have fond memories of attending the North Mississippi Annual Conference Session. In those days, we moved conference around the north half of the state and my preacher kid friends would be there and we grew close to one another until we were old enough to become youth delegates.
Attending every session throughout my high school career as a delegate taught me the inner workings of the conference. My Senior year in high school, I was the Conference Youth President and I remember well speaking to the conference with a packed room of lay and clergy delegates with youth lining the walls of the auditorium. It was a highlight of my life as a young person serving the United Methodist Church.
Today, the Memphis Conference will convene in Paducah and on June 13, the Tennessee Conference will convene in Brentwood. If you have been following our conference communications, you know that our theme this year is “See All the People.” We are fortunate to have Revered Dr. Junius Dotson as our keynote speaker. You will be richly blessed.
In addition, we will be considering a first vote to create a new conference bringing the Tennessee and Memphis Conferences together. The question that continues to emerge is this – What is the compelling WHY?
My compelling why is that I have learned over the last nearly six years that we have more creative minds working together for the sake of the kingdom and the mission of the Nashville Episcopal Area. For those who are still seeking understanding, consider the following:
- Your appointive cabinet has found across these years that our collaborative style of leadership creates better opportunities for leadership, lay and clergy.
- Continued alignment across the area allows for maximizing resources focused on making disciples of Jesus Christ so that the world might be changed. Our desire is to strengthen local churches to do this work well.
- Finally, we will create more innovation for disciple-making because there are more creative voices available to be at the table. We believe we do this best with all of our energy focused together toward the outcome of making disciples so that the world might be changed!
To be clear, the vote at this annual conference will simply be the first step in the process. You might call it a vote to become “engaged.” In 2019, a plan for a new conference will be presented for a second vote. Finally, it will not be until the Southeastern Jurisdictional Conference meets in July of 2020 that a final approval will be sought. As you can see, we have many bridges to cross before we are one conference.
As your bishop, I believe that now is the time to take this step. We are better together. We will be stronger to face whatever winds may blow across the Nashville Episcopal Area in the future.
I urge you to think, not what is best for me, but what is best for the kingdom. If we can not join hand in hand with our neighbors across the river, how shall we ever go into all the world and make disciples of Jesus Christ?
Yesterday, I had an amazing experience with our Memphis Conference youth and college aged students gathered for the Youth Annual Gathering. I was inspired by their faithfulness and desire to serve the church as lay and clergy. In the midst of a time that is uncertain, let us listen to the voices of our young people as they seek to be faithful followers of Jesus Christ.
We believe we do this best with all of our energy focused together toward the outcome of making disciples.
I look forward to seeing YOU as we are equipped to see all the people!
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”)
I had intended to write a follow-up blog to my post yesterday regarding the Council of Bishops report on the Commission on the Way Forward. Due to the release yesterday of the report of the Annual Conferences voting on Constitutional Amendments, I will postpone that blog post until later in the week to speak into a very critical matter in the life of the United Methodist Church.
Carol Napier is a mother of two daughters. Steve, her husband, was in my first youth group when I was a student at Millsaps College. They are lifelong United Methodists. I had the privilege of performing their wedding ceremony. Currently, Steve is a Deacon in the North Georgia Conference and Carol is a lawyer with a government agency in Georgia.
Carol was one of those who offered the resolution to General Conference 2016 calling for language that both men and women are made in the image of God and that we as a church seek to eliminate any discrimination against women and girls. That we would fail to affirm and support our siblings in Christ based on their gender in this day and age is hard for me to fathom.
The Memphis and Tennessee Conferences in the Nashville Episcopal Area have been faithful in establishing the “Mama Lynn Center” in Kindu, East Congo to minister to women who are battered and abused by the ravages of war. They have been raped and beaten and are now viewed as scarred women. Your gifts and offerings make it possible to restore their dignity and give hope to help them find a way to provide for their families.
As a father of a daughter and a grandfather of two granddaughters, a brother to a sister, I need help to understand why we fail in the 21st century to affirm and embrace as a denomination, all women and girls.
It further saddens me that we continue to have congregations across the area who are unwilling to receive a woman to serve as their Senior Pastor.
I feel it is important for me to share my disappointment that two of the amendments did not receive the necessary 2/3 aggregate vote of all the annual conferences in The United Methodist Church (click here for statistics on the vote). Both are related to the rights of girls, women, and other groups deserving of full access for a meaningful life. Each amendment worked to provide a richer tapestry of community.
I am deeply saddened that in the Memphis Conference, the vote on amendment 2 fell short of reaching a 2/3 vote with 64.45% in favor. Additionally, in the Tennessee Conference, the vote for amendment 1 was 65.55% just a bit less than needed to achieve a 2/3 majority. It’s puzzling to me that amendment 1 passed in the Memphis Conference and amendment 2 passed in the Tennessee Conference. What this tells me is that we have work to do related to equality.
I stand in support of the statement from the women bishops of the United Methodist Church which included a renewed commitment to ensure that all people, no matter their gender or other qualities, are treated with respect, compassion and grace.
The Memphis and Tennessee Conferences are blessed with many outstanding women in leadership, both lay and clergy. We have a long history of many strong United Methodist Women units. In addition, women are currently serving or have served in the roles of Director of Connectional Ministry, Council on Finance and Administration Chair, Board of Ministry Chair, Conference Lay Leader, District Superintendent, Missionary, Large Church Senior Pastor, Chancellor, Assistant to the Bishop, Music Director/Minister, Executive Director of Connected Non-Profit, Youth Minister, General Conference and Jurisdictional Delegate, Certified Lay Minister, Deaconess, Chaplain, Staff Parish Chair, Trustees Chair, Campus Minister, Camping Ministry Director, and the list could go on.
The Council of Bishops has also offered a response saying, “we want to be clear that we are unequivocal in our commitment to the equality of women and their full inclusion in our Church.” You may read the full statement here.
As I think about the effect this vote is having on the women of the Nashville Episcopal Area as well as the entire United Methodist Church, I grieve. I grieve for the women who faithfully serve, lay and clergy, and how this must make them feel. Apparently, we have a long way to go.
I will again quote from Ephesians 4:1-6:
Paul writes, I beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, 2 with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, 3 making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. 4 There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6 one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.
I beg you to join me in Paul’s call to lead such a life that all persons will know the value of being created in the image of God and all are given a meaningful life – regardless of race, color, gender, national origin, ability, age, marital status, or economic condition.
As I have returned from the meeting of the Council of Bishops (COB), I want to thank you for your thoughtfulness, prayers, and concern. Your many expressions of connection were powerful to me and I give thanks to God for all.
In this blog post, I’d like to offer my perspective and hopefully some helpful information. You may also wish to read the statement released by the Council of Bishops. It is available here: http://www.umc.org/news-and-media/united-methodist-bishops-recommend-a-way-forward
First of all, this was the most prayerful, painful, and honest Council of Bishops meeting I have attended since November of 2012. If you followed the COB on social media, perhaps you saw pictures of bishops on their knees praying.
Second, I want to lift up a core value of the COB as we do this work: convicted humility. (I Corinthians 12-14) I simply want to invite you into a prayerful posture of humility as you reflect both on my words and on the report of the Council of Bishops.
It is no secret that the COB holds a wide range of positions regarding human sexuality. Each member also operates out of sincerely held beliefs. Just as many of you hold differing views, bishops also are convinced of the moral views they espouse and seek to be faithful to what they see as the truth that God calls the church to uphold. While it is true that even the views of bishops on this matter are distinctly different, we see our differences as a strength and pray they will not divide us.
We also recognize and affirm that as United Methodists we hold in common many more fundamental theological commitments—commitments which bind us together despite our real differences. These also have implications for how we understand and express our disagreements and what we do about them.
Therefore, we seek to advocate a stance we have termed convicted humility. This is an attitude which combines honesty about the differing convictions which divide us, with humility about the way in which each of our views may stand in need of correction.
It also involves humble repentance for all the ways in which we have spoken and acted as those seeking to win a fight, rather than those called to discern the shape of faithfulness together. In another post, I will lift up our shared values that seek wisdom and holiness in our life together.
Third, at the heart of the work we have carried out has been the mission, vision, and scope of the task assigned to the Commission on the Way forward:
- Design a way for being in the church that maximizes the presence of the United Methodist witness in as many places as possible.
- Allow for as much contextual differentiation as possible.
- Create as much unity as possible.
With the above stated, the COB expressed clear support for the One Church Model. The Commission on the Way Forward advanced this model because it allows contextualization across a global church. It will allow local churches to adapt to their mission fields. It gives a spiritual home within our denomination to the LGBTQ community. And yet it also builds protections for the conscience of those who cannot perform same-gender marriages or ordain LGBTQ persons.
We also agreed that all three plans considered by the Commission and the bishops would be shared as a part of the report to General Conference. Along with this will be a historical narrative in order to provide a transparent look at the journey of the Council’s discernment process regarding all three plans.
Although not recommended by the COB, the Council did the feel the values of the Traditionalist Plan and The Connectional Conference Plan are present in the spiritual lives of United Methodists and therefore should be included in the report to General Conference. Tomorrow a brief outline of the three plans will be posted here on the blog as well.
It is clear that not everyone will agree with the recommendation of the COB. What must be remembered at this juncture is this: The COB’s discernment process was to honor the General Conference’s request for the Council to help the church find a way forward. With that being said, the General Conference is the body who will determine the future of our denomination. The General Conference is the legislative branch of our UMC. The desire of the Council of Bishops is to strategically help the General Conference do its work. We believe we have done that.
I call on all United Methodists across the Nashville Episcopal Area to read Ephesians 4 from The Message. This will be the text for the Service Ordering Ministry at Annual Conference in June.
To Be Mature
4 1-3 In light of all this, here’s what I want you to do. While I’m locked up here, a prisoner for the Master, I want you to get out there and walk—better yet, run!—on the road God called you to travel. I don’t want any of you sitting around on your hands. I don’t want anyone strolling off, down some path that goes nowhere. And mark that you do this with humility and discipline—not in fits and starts, but steadily, pouring yourselves out for each other in acts of love, alert at noticing differences and quick at mending fences.
4-6 You were all called to travel on the same road and in the same direction, so stay together, both outwardly and inwardly. You have one Master, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who rules over all, works through all, and is present in all. Everything you are and think and do is permeated with Oneness.
7But that doesn’t mean you should all look and speak and act the same. Out of the generosity of Christ, each of us is given his own gift.
On the Sunday after the special session of General Conference in February 2019, every United Methodist Church in the Nashville Episcopal Area will worship the risen Christ. Youth groups will gather, children will sing. Food pantries will be stocked. Mission teams will make plans to be in mission across the world. In many churches, there will be professions of faith and baptisms.
Let us travel the same road, in the same direction, together, focused on the mission to make disciples of Jesus Christ so that the world may be changed.
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)