2017 Annual Conference Laity Luncheon

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By Cindy Solomon

Conference lay leader, Holly Neal, organized Tuesday’s luncheon where laity were treated to delicious box lunches made by Thistle Farms staff while learning more about the Tennessee Conference’s restructuring and the Mama Lynn Center for Congolese Women.

Bishop Bill McAlilly addressed laity on the changes and challenges facing the Tennessee Conference’s decision to reduce the number of districts from seven to five. “There is a spirit that is alive in the Tennessee Conference,” McAlilly said. “We are looking to do things differently. You don’t make disciples at General, Jurisdictional, or Annual Conferences. You make them at the local church level; you are at ground zero when it comes to reaching people.”

To do this, McAlilly anticipates deploying staff from the conference level to serve as resource persons to help congregations with concerns or issues. “The old model was hub and spoke,” McAlilly said. “Everything was in a building. Jesus didn’t have a building, he went out among the people.”

“We are trying to move people into districts and reduce apportionments. It means we have to figure out how we organize United Methodist Women and lay leaders if we have one district. We’re building a bridge and walking on it at the same time. We’re in an adaptive world and we have to be nimble in our leadership.”

McAlilly also reflected on the tension of the opposites. “We have folks who are pushing The Book of Discipline with changes to sexuality language and others who are pushing not to change. We know as a global church we have differences of opinions. The United Methodist Church in America mirrors the political landscape of the country. We have strength and vitality in the middle to smaller-size churches and we need to honor and respect that.” While there are United Methodists who have a more evangelical or liberal slant, McAlilly feels many are between those wide edges.

McAlilly highlighted a four-week small-group study, Unity of the Church and Human Sexuality Toward a Faithful United Methodist Witness. Available from Cokesbury, this resource addresses how the church can be a witness and provide for a diversified human community. Based on research by Dr. Charles M. Wood, the resource presents United Methodists with an opportunity to think about what has become a cultural and ecclesial flashpoint—human sexuality—and comes out of the conviction that the church is thirsty for theological conversation.

McAlilly reminded people of the Tennessee Conference’s mission: …to discover, equip, connect and send lay and clergy leaders who shape congregations that offer Jesus Christ to a hurting world, one neighborhood at a time. “We need to strengthen our ministry with young people and have strong lay and clergy leadership,” McAlilly said. “We need to raise up more spiritual leaders who make disciples, who [in turn] make disciples, who [in turn] make disciples. The mission is in your front yard, side yard, and around the corner. Our call is to live out an ethic of love. Jesus’ ethic was an ethic of love. If we can’t get that right, we have lost a sense of who we are.”

In closing, McAlilly said he hopes to make more road trips to spend time with laity in the conference and asked for our prayers.

Preceding McAlilly’s presentation, the Rev. Neelley Hicks, TNUMC deacon and founder and executive director of Harper Hill Global, highlighted the progress and future work of the Mama Lynn Center. When complete, the center—named after Lynn McAlilly—will provide transitional housing, counseling, and classes for women who are sexual violence victims. 

Each day, 1,152 East Congo women are raped. Used as a weapon of war, the rapes stigmatize women and they are shunned by their families and community. “For these women,” Hicks said, “it’s no longer life as usual.”

However, there is hope. Congolese United Methodist women are finding these excommunicated women and bringing them back into the church while helping them recover and rebuild their lives. The initiative called Congo Women Arise is a partnership of the East Congo Conference with the Tennessee, Memphis, and Cal-Pac conferences. The Tennessee Conference is raising a third of the funds needed for the Mama Lynn Center. During the laity lunch, $1,204 was collected for the initiative.

Cindy Solomon is a lay person from Franklin First UMC.

Photos: Holly Neal