Recap of the 2021 Tennessee Annual Conference

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The 54th and final Tennessee Annual Conference opened on June 10, 2021. This annual conference was held online for the second year due to COVID-19 restrictions for large gatherings.

Throughout the conference, videos were shown that presented different periods in the history of the Tennessee Conference.

The theme of the conference was “By Faith” and the guiding scripture was Hebrews 12:1.  Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.  

Bishop Bill McAlilly officially opened the conference at 1 p.m. Director of Connectional Ministries Rev. Melinda Britt introduced the annual conference offering to help fund scholarships for TNUMC Camp and Retreat Ministries.

Opening Worship – Lay Aside

Opening Worship began with a call to worship offered by the Sanctuary Ringers from Cookeville First UMC, then Mrs. Maxine Weems and the Choir from Clark UMC, McMinnville, sang “Down by the Riverside.” An opening prayer was offered by Rev. Gerard Harlan. The scripture reading was presented by a diverse group of conference clergy and lay members. Bishop McAlilly offered the opening sermon.

Additional participants in this opening worship service included the Young Adult Dance Ensemble from Gordon Memorial UMC, the combined choirs and worship band from Christ UMC, Franklin, and the praise band from Fairfield Glade UMC.

Thursday Business Session 

Tennessee Conference Secretary, Rev. Monica Mowdy joined Bishop McAlilly for notes of welcome and conference organization. Following a call to order and a brief video reviewing virtual voting and procedures for getting recognized, a roll call of 643 clergy and 643 lay voting members was taken and opening motions were made that included setting the bar as the online Zoom webinar. The bar for voting was set for lay and clergy members to participate via Zoom webinar with the production assistance of a team from GNTV working out of the Tennessee Conference center in Nashville.

Votes were then taken on opening motions and the Consent Agenda was affirmed.

Resolutions

Rev. Jeremy Squires presented two resolutions from the Resolutions Committee report. They met the test of constitutionality and concurrence. The following resolutions were presented individually and were approved by the 2021 annual conference. 

The Honorable Connie Clark, Rev. Dr. Mark LaBranche, and Dr. Roy Nicks presented a resolution regarding the conference’s relationship with Martin Methodist College (MMC). It met the test of constitutionality and concurrence. Several questions were asked and answered. 

Questions asked and answered included:
Have any other institutions been approached about this merger? MMC has not had conversations with other colleges. Input was given by other colleges and individuals. There is a 14-county area that has no other 4-year college except for MMC. Closest UT institution is 70 miles away. Alabama is drawing away students from areas covered by MMC. Middle Tennessee State University (MTSU) initially resisted action and wanted MMC to be an extension of MTSU. That was not entertained.

What is the name of the new partnership? The University of Tennessee Southern was selected after surveying many people. It represents the region.

What about the location of a Wesley Foundation? Pulaski First UMC will house it temporarily. The college recognizes its responsibility to find a location once a director has been hired.

What about scholarships given by individual UM churches to MMC? A letter was sent to every individual and church that offers a scholarship. Endowment is staying with the college. It will be administered by a board and will be used for United Methodist students.

Will there still be a religion program? Yes, there will still be a religion department and pre-ministry degree. Any new programs have to get approval. They are taking everything with them as it relates to programming.

The resolution was affirmed after all questions were answered. 

  • The historical video, “Camp Meetings, Sunday Schools, & Missions,” was shown. 

A point of personal privilege was brought by Rev. Zach Moffatt. He invited conference members to attend a celebration on June 15 at 10 a.m. to celebrate the connection between the Tennessee Conference and Martin Methodist College.

The resolution and Plan of Union for the New Conference were presented and followed with a Q&A session led by Rev. Dr. Rob Martin. The resolution met the test of constitutionality and concurrence. This was the final step needed to move forward to the Southeastern Jurisdiction for approval of the new Tennessee-Western Kentucky Conference.

A vote was taken and the resolution and Plan of Union were approved with 484 Yes votes (90.8%).

  • The historical video, “Rise of the Methodist Episcopal Church South,” was shown. This included stories about a very racially divisive period in our history. 

Following the video, A Call to Lamentation and Action was offered by Bishop McAlilly.

Council on Finance and Administration Action Items

David Hayes, Larry Davis, and John Pearce presented the CFA report and action items. All action items were passed. Slides and budget narrative are available online under Reports for 2021 Annual Conference.

  • The historical video, “War, Chaplains, & Occupation,” was shown. 

Recognitions

A video introducing 2021 Harry Denman Evangelism award recipients was shown. The recipients honored were Reverend Delwyn Fryer, Reverend Travis Garner, and Rev. Rodney Ritchie. These clergy represent pastoral leadership within three relationships to our conference: retired elder, active elder, and local pastor. 

Bishop McAlilly recognized and prayed for missionaries, home missioners, and deaconesses.

The Board of Laity Report was done as a video narrated by Janice McCallen and George Brown. The ministry of our laity in both the Tennessee and Memphis conferences was shared, including an update on online Lay Servant Ministries classes. The video presentation showed how the laity were creative and resilient throughout the pandemic.

Bishop McAlilly concluded the afternoon session with an inspiring message, “Expecting Greater Things 2.0,” in which he shared familiar scripture passages: Hebrews 11:1, Ephesians 2:4-5, and John 14: 8-14. God’s story allows us to find our way when the landscape is shifting. God has gifted us by calling us toward a life of transformation. At the end of the day, this is our calling: keep the story alive, keep the mystery alive. Bishop McAlilly reminded us to place mercy at the heart of our evangelism and that we are people of the resurrection. As God continues to mold us, three things continue to bubble up: resilience, reconciliation, and resurrection. We are people of hope. Hope and mercy are what we need for ourselves and others.

A closing prayer was given by Bishop McAlilly.

Friday, June 11

Bishop McAlilly began Friday’s session with acknowledgments of the people and work behind the planning of this annual conference.

A Service of Remembering – Cloud of Witnesses

The 2021 Memorial Service continued the themes from Hebrews 12. Bishop Joe Pennel offered the sermon, “Cloud of Witnesses.” The service included diverse voices from across the Tennessee and Memphis conferences including: Dakota Hill, Dyersburg First UMC; Catherine Phelps, Covington First UMC; Sara Corum, Trinity UMC; Angela Halkias, Goshen UMC; Sammy Tillman, Brownsville First UMC; as well as the Affirmation of Faith in Spanish offered by Sergio Jimenez, Aldersgate/La Puerta UMC.

 A 2021 Memorial Book featuring memoirs about each recognized person is available online.

  • The historical video, “Reconstruction, Education & Social Work,” was shown.  

Cabinet Resolutions

Dean of the Cabinet, Rev. Scott Aleridge, presented cabinet resolutions for charge line changes, church closures, and church disaffiliations. Each of the following ballots was approved. 

Caney Fork River District Ballot

  1.     Charge Line Changes for Caney Fork River District
  2.     Closure of Bethlehem UMC

Cumberland River District Ballot

  1.     Charge Line Changes for Cumberland River District
  2.     Closure of Dodson Chapel UMC
  3.     Disaffiliation of Sadler’s Chapel UMC       

Harpeth River District Ballot

  1.     Charge Line Changes for Harpeth River District        

Red River District Ballot

  1.     Merger of Eno UMC & Oak Grove UMC and Charge Line Changes for Red River District
  2.     Discontinuance of Water Valley UMC and Closure of Mallory’s UMC
  3.     Disaffiliation of Salem UMC
  4.     Disaffiliation of Simpkins Chapel UMC

Stones River District Ballot

  1.     Charge Line Changes for Stones River District
  2.     Disaffiliation of Cainsville UMC
  3.     Disaffiliation of Fountain Grove UMC
  4.     Disaffiliation of Lascassas UMC
  5.     Disaffiliation of Mt. Carmel UMC

Bishop McAlilly prayed for all congregations, their members and pastors, particularly Dodson Chapel UMC, Bethlehem UMC, and those that are choosing to leave the denomination.

Rev. Paul Purdue requested a personal point of privilege to affirm the spirit of lament of the conference’s sins of racism and slavery, particularly toward Native Americans.

  • The historical video, “Laity, Lifestyle Ministry, & Social Justice,” was shown.

Board of Ordained Ministry Report

Rev. Dr. Bryan Brooks presented the report for the Board of Ordained Ministry including the names of those approved to be licensed, commissioned, and ordained at worship services on June 19. 

  • Licensed as Local Pastors: Lee Alexander, Kelly L. Breniser, Charla Ramey Burnette, Jeffrey M. Farris, Jackie Renee Gardner, Shaun Michael Hinds, Jonathan Hayes McHann, Sarah Elizabeth Millsap, Patrick Joseph Valentine II, and Randy Weatherington
  • Elected as Associate Members: Timothy Harris Dunavant and Sean Christopher Stanfield
  • Commissioned as Provisional Elders: Luke Benjamin Lea, Sharlet U. Panhalker, Donald Johnson Terry, and Samuel Conner Williams
  • Deacons in full connection: Regina Gail Girten and Amy Wingrove Martin
  • Ordained as Elders in Full Membership: William Ray Carey III, William Robert Clark, Krislyn Page Durham, Stacy Alise Davidheiser Gonzalez, Peter Dane van Eys, and Darren Randall Mayberry Wright

Brooks also recognized the conference’s Certified Lay Ministers (CLM), many who are faithfully serving local congregations as their spiritual leader or leading in varying ministries on the district and local church level. 

The 25th anniversary of the Order of Deacons in the Tennessee Conference was recognized. Brooks also thanked Board of Ordained Ministry members for their work over the last year and colleagues in the Office of Leadership Formation and Development. 

Retirements

Brooks introduced a video featuring this year’s retirees who reflected on their memories as elders and deacons, shared their advice to new ordinands, and recalled what they learned during the pandemic. Bishop McAlilly offered a prayer for the retirees. 

  • The historical video, “Invitation to Share Your Story in the Upcoming 1972-2022 Video,” was shown.  

Setting of Appointments

Bishop McAlilly introduced Tennessee Conference district superintendents: Scott Aleridge, Donna Parramore, Allen Black, Pat Freudenthal, and Chip Hunter as well as the current and in-coming west-side cabinet members: Deborah Smith, Autura Eason-Williams, Ben Boone, Nancy Johnston Varden, Cynthia Davis, and Dan Camp. Each district superintendent reported that each district’s appointments have been set. Bishop McAlilly prayed for pastors and their families in their appointments in the coming year. A link to the 2021 List of Appointments is available on the Tennessee Conference website’s annual conference webpage

Closing Worship – Run the Race

The closing worship service to send everyone forth featured music and readings by Covington First UMC Sanctuary Choir, Rev. Kristofer Roof, the chancel choir from Paris First UMC, and Mrs. Maxine Weems and the choir from Clark UMC, McMinnville.

Bishop McAlilly also recognized and prayed for the new Project Transformation interns during the service.

Bishop Bill McAlilly closed the 54th session of the Tennessee Annual Conference with a heartfelt sermon in which he reflected upon Hebrews 12:1-3. Bishop McAlilly, the son of a pastor, recalled personal stories of his childhood itinerancy. It was one of moving from a place of friendship and comfort into an unknown place. While he moved away from his friends, he made new ones and was introduced to people who would help guide him for many years, his cloud of witnesses. He asked “Who is in your cloud of witnesses?” and said to offer a prayer for them, thanking God for their faithfulness in your faith journey. 

He noted that we are still living through a pandemic. We think we see light at the end of the tunnel but it’s not completely clear yet. Our denomination is going through great challenges but God is in the midst of us. Our God has been faithful to us and has not abandoned us. God will watch over us in the days to come. By faith, God will not let us go. 

His prayer for us is that we will be faithful to that which God asks of us. “My brothers and sisters may we run this race with perseverance surrounded by those of us who have shown us the way. God is with us. May it be so now and in the days to come.”

The final session of the Tennessee Annual Conference adjourned at lunchtime on Friday, June 11, 2021.

Links to more information as well as recordings from the Annual Conference live stream are available at https://www.tnumc.org/ac2021/

Ordination Services – Saturday, June 19

Joint Ordination Services were held on June 19, 2021, at West End UMC in Nashville, TN. The services were live-streamed, however, a limited number of guests and participants were able to gather in person for the services since COVID-19 restrictions had eased up in recent weeks.

Candidates from both the Tennessee and Memphis conferences were licensed, commissioned, and ordained. Leaders from both conferences participated in both services. The sermon message, “I’ve Laid Down A Pattern For You,” was offered by Bishop William T. McAlilly at both services. Video of these services is available online. 

Service of Licensing and Commissioning | Bulletin

Election of Associate Members and Ordination of Deacons, Ordination of Elders | Bulletin

Some 2021 Conference Statistics

  • Seven churches disaffiliated. 
  • Four churches closed.
  • Membership stands at 106,229, down 3,275 from the previous year
  • Worship attendance stands at 30,322 in-person/52,884 online, down 10,829 in person, and up 47,832 online.
  • Church school attendance stands at 14,244, down 5481
  • Professions or reaffirmations of faith for 2020: 545, down 931 from 2019.
  • Adults and young adults in small groups for 2020: 21,590, down 7,118 from 2019.
  • Worshippers engaged in mission for 2020: 19,846, down 7,160 from 2019.