The Tennessee Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church met for the 50th time on June 11-13 at Brentwood UMC. Ron Merville and I represented Blakemore at the gathering. Separate clergy and laity sessions opened the conference. At the clergy session, we dealt with matters pertaining to conference membership, such as approving individuals for licensing, commissioning, ordination, leave of absence, and retirement. At the opening worship service that evening, Bishop Bill McAlilly reminded us of our theme: “Sent to Serve God and Neighbor.”
Monday morning began with worship in which Rev. Carol Cavin-Dillon preached an inspiring and convicting sermon about the parable of the Good Samaritan. She reminded us that it is normal to avoid messes and uncomfortable circumstances like the priest and Levite did, but we are called to be “weird” like the Samaritan and move toward suffering. The rest of the morning was filled with the standard business items of annual conference, such as reports about resolutions, standing rules, our financial situation and budget, clergy pensions, and the health plan.
After lunch, we returned for two worship services. The first was the Memorial Service. Tom Nankervis was among those remembered. The second was the Retirement Service. Michael O’Bannon and Michael Williams, both former pastors of Blakemore, were among those celebrating their retirements. Michael O’Bannon listed four things he’d learned as a pastor, including not to eat chili on Saturday night. Michael Williams was, of course, humorous and gracious in his speech and paid a special tribute to Rev. Bob Lewis. We closed out the afternoon by hearing several reports about some of our connectional ministries, such as Warmth in Winter, Cedar Crest, Beersheba Springs, Wesley Foundations, Martin Methodist College, and Miriam’s Promise.
Scott Chrostek, the pastor of the Church of the Resurrection’s campus in downtown Kansas City, was our speaker and teacher for Tuesday morning. He shared about his experience of planting a church in a downtown urban setting and urged all of us to move beyond the walls of the church to share God’s love out in the community. Most of the rest of the day was spent dealing with conference business. We adopted a $14.4 million budget for 2018, reorganized our standing rules, passed some resolutions, voted on constitutional amendments from the 2016 General Conference, officially reorganized the conference into five districts, voted to close nine churches (including 61st Avenue UMC) and allow two others to merge, decided not to elect new delegates for the called General Conference in 2019, elected folks to serve on various committees in the conference, and decided that we will meet at Brentwood UMC again in 2018.
Conference ended on Tuesday evening with the Service of Licensing, Commissioning, and Ordination. We commissioned one missionary, licensed 23 first-time local pastors, commissioned four provisional deacons and seven provisional elders, and ordained six elders and one deacon in full connection. The one deacon was Gracie Dugan, who used to be Blakemore’s Minister to Children and Families. That, along with getting to stand with and lay hands on Chris Allen, whom I have mentored for several years through the candidacy process, as he was ordained were the highlights of Annual Conference for me. Powerful reminders of God’s call on all our lives and how we live out that call in connection and community together.
~ Rev. John Hill