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2009 Memphis Annual Conference

Memphis Annual Conference
May 31-June 2, 2009, Memphis, Tenn.

Bring Jesus to the people, that's what worship is about!" proclaimed Sally Morgenthaler, a nationally renowned leader in the worship world and the keynote speaker at the 2009 Memphis Annual Conference.

Noting that there's a disconnect between what happens in church and what Christians do 'out there' in the world, Morgenthaler encouraged the approximately 1,500 United Methodists present for the opening Sunday evening worship service to go home to their local churches and bring the outside world in. "That's what changes worship...Worship and mission are inextricably linked!" she declared.

During his Episcopal Address, Bishop Dick Wills spent time interviewing two pastors who have seen tremendous growth in their churches. Less than a year ago, James Paris Jr., a layman, took on the leadership of New Hope United Methodist Church. Since then, attendance has soared from an average of four to 64. The Rev. Jerome Scales Sr., pastor of Burdette Chapel in Memphis, has seen attendance go from 100 to over 300.

Bishop Wills said, "Both these men were sent to places where it would be so easy to give up. But they trusted in God, involved the laity and formed a bond to be in ministry to their community." Wills said his prayer is that "we will hang in there, go 30 more minutes, and one day, all United Methodists will look at the Memphis Conference as a way to grow a church."

Passionate Worship, the theme of the conference, was embodied in three worship experiences on Sunday and Monday.

In addition, conference members considered, and voted on the 32 proposed Constitutional Amendments (none received the required two/thirds affirmative vote), perfected the 2010 budget of $9,527,104.00, moved to add an Associate Director for Young People to the Connectional Ministries staff, celebrated the merger of Broadway and Northside United Methodist churches in Paducah, Ky. and the merger of Whitehaven with First United Methodist in Memphis.

One church, Water Valley United Methodist Church in Kentucky, was closed, while Edith United Methodist Church celebrated its 125th birthday; Pleasant Hill and St. John's reached the 150-year milestone; and South Pleasant Grove attained 175 years.

The annual conference offering of $15,214.34 was designated for children in crisis in Matamoros, Mexico. The money will go towards the purchase of school uniforms and supplies, the construction of church buildings, and medical outreach. A team led by the Rev. Joe Geary, Paris district superintendent, is making an exploratory trip to the Eastern Mexico Conference to deliver the funds, which will be disbursed through the United Methodist churches in that region.

"Don't give up hope!" That was the message brought by Jerry Israel, interim president of Lambuth University, which has been experiencing great financial difficulty. He reported that the school's greatest hope for the future is a balanced budget for 2010; the greatest fear that the bad financial news will result in students deciding to move to another institution. "So far, they have not," said Israel. He also introduced Lambuth's new Capital Acquisition Plan that could result in Lambuth being eligible for a loan of $6 million by July 30.

The Rev. Gene Rollins, pastor of Union United Methodist Church, received the Harry Denman Evangelism Award for clergy. Lue and Matt Feiler, from Fountain Avenue United Methodist Church in Paducah, Ky., were honored with the Denman Award for laity.

Morgan Hancock, a 16-year-old member of Grace United Methodist Church, gave the first ever Young People's Address were she witnessed about the death of her father and how it tested her faith.

Courage to Bear Witness, a collection of essays in honor of Gene Davenport, professor emeritus of religion at Lambuth University, was unveiled at a June 1 book signing. The book includes essays by such renowned writers as Tex Sample, Kenneth Carder and Stanley Hauerwas. "How ironicand fittingthat Gene Davenport, a man who has made a career out of hiding his light under a bushel, should now be publicly heralded by more than a dozen of his illustrious peers, some of whom found their own courage and inspiration in his words, spoken and written," wrote John Egerton, author of Speak Now Against the Day.

Four clergy were commissioned, four ordained, and 12 retired.

Average worship attendance is 32,711, down 1,093. Church school attendance is 17,032, down 5515. Membership stands at 85,449, down 1,761.

-Cathy Farmer