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2009 Tennessee Annual Conference

Tennessee Annual Conference
June 14-16, 2009, Brentwood, Tenn.

The theme for the 2009 session of the Tennessee Annual Conference was "Passionate Worship" and a three-part intensive workshop was led by Sally Morgenthaler, recognized as an innovator in Christian practices worldwide, and since 1992 has been pioneering new worship forms, characterized by both cultural relevance and worship faithfulness.

During his state of the church address, Bishop Richard J. Wills said this was a difficult year due to financial downturns in our area . . . and at the same time, we have had to deal with storms, tornadoes, and other disasters. Church membership is a picture of the past-we have been growing. Worship attendance is a photograph of the present-our worship attendance slightly up is up but the long-term trend is more stagnant. Baptisms are a photograph of the future-and local churches need to talk about this. The conference has seen increases in Christian formation among children and youth, he said.

"God has called us to claim EVERY child for God's Kingdom," he said. "Times are tough. We could rest on our laurels-but that will ultimately lead to decline. Local churches and individuals need to step forward a little more." The bishop recalled a layperson who took a group to Montana to experience the beauty of the mountains. The layperson included Wills, his wife, and children in the group heading west. While in Montana, he recalls his family accepting an invitation to climb to the top of a nearby mountain. After a short while, Wills was completely exhausted and urged the group to go forward without him. The guide indicated that the summit was only 30 minutes away and that he would be able to handle it. Thirty minutes later, they were still not at the summit-again he was urged to continue toward the top although he was so tired he felt death was imminent. So . . . he moved forward slowly for another 30 minutes, and then another 30 minutes. The climb, which started in the morning, finally ended at mid-afternoon with the most spectacularly beautiful view Wills had ever encountered. Using the metaphor of his experience in climbing to the top of a mountain, and our need to press forward as a church in very hard times, Wills asked the conference, "Can YOU do 30 more minutes?"

During the conference session, Jim Allen, the conference treasurer and statistician, provided a local church report, which indicated that in the Tennessee Annual Conference:

  • There are twice as many United Methodists in our 42 conference counties as in the remainder of the United States [5 percent versus 2.5 percent]
  • Over the past 8 years the conference has grown about ½ percent per year; the state has grown 2 ½ percent per year.
  • There were 13,091 children and 7,223 youth within the conference in 2000. By the end of 2008, the numbers increased to 18,767 children and 10,493 youth.
  • The budget for 2010 is $13,890,282 which is down 3.14 percent from the 2009 budget,
  • Among active clergy in 2008: 49 percent were elders, 45 percent were local preachers, 4 percent were deacons, and 3 percent were associate members.

During the session, conference members received special offerings totaling $36,717.31 for ministries. The offerings included $32,379.91 for children of Matamoras and Tennessee; $3,246 for the Bishop's Emergency Fund and $1091.40 for Youth Lay Speaking ministries:

Of the 32 possible amendments to the Constitution of the United Methodist Church, only five are approved by the Tennessee Conference. In the cluster of Amendments referred to as Group 1 (Amendments 4, 10, 23, and 26), all failed with a negative vote of approximately 72 percent. This grouping of amendments was related to acknowledging the worldwide nature of the United Methodist Church-where the fastest growing conferences are in Africa

In the cluster of Amendments referred to as Group 2 (Amendments 3,5,7,11, 12,13,14,16,18,20,21,24,25,27,28,29,30,31,32), all amendments failed with a negative vote of approximately 72 percent. These amendments were related to making the United Methodist Church more world-centered than focused on the special concerns of the American United Methodist Church.

Group 3 included only one amendment (amendment 1) and dealt with the inclusive nature of the United Methodist Church. It failed with negative vote of about 54 percent and Group 4 again included only one amendment (amendment19). This amendment, dealt with the election of clergy delegates to General Conference was approved by slightly over 78 percent of the delegates present and voting.

Group 5 included seven amendments (amendments 2, 6, 8, 9, 15, 17, and 22). Amendment 2 failed with a no vote of 65 percent. Amendment 6 failed with a no vote of 64 ½ percent Amendment 15 failed with a no vote of 51 percent.

Amendment 8, passed with a yes vote of 70 percent; Amendment 9 passed with a yes vote of 67 percent; Amendment 17 passed with a yes vote of almost 60 percent; and Amendment 22 passed with a yes vote of nearly 72 percent,

In other actions, two New Tennessee Conference Advance Specials were approved and a third approved dependent on completing application procedures. Justice for Our Neighbors (JFoN), which provides legal services for immigrants, and the 61st Avenue United Methodist Church After School Program were both approved as Tennessee Conference Advance Special and Feed America First was approved with a contingency.

Conference members dealt with resolutions ranging from displaying the American and Christian flag and reciting the "Pledge of Allegiance," during annual conference to discontinuing and renaming churches. The flag resolution conflicted with Discipline protocols for the opening of conference. The conference also discontinued Fredonia United Methodist Church in the Murfreesboro District was Humphreys Street United Methodist Church in the Nashville District. The conference voted to move the Evans Chapel UMC from the Evans Chapel-Pope's Chapel Charge in the Pulaski District to the Mt. Hope-Mt. Carmel Charge to become the Mt. Hope-Mt. Carmel-Evans Chapel Charge. Pope's Chapel United Methodist Church will become a station church.

The Committee on Disability Concerns awarded an accessibility grant to Hopewell United Methodist Church to update restroom facilities and provide an accessible entrance into the church's Fellowship Hall.

Conference members voted that the bishop would appoint a task force to develop a comprehensive sexual ethics plan on all issues related to sexual ethics in the conference. A task force was also formed to study and evaluate conference camping particularly the viability of camping at Cedar Crest Camp, a camp whose decline in campers had been blamed on sexual abuse at the camp during 2001-2002--and come up with solutions.

The conference approved the establishment of a Conference Disaster Hotline--615-695-2765-- where messages can be left for the conference disaster coordinator.

During the conference session, members were made aware of the precarious financial situation of the Bethlehem Centers of Nashville as funding sources have dried up because of the economy. The conference United Methodist Women has requested financial gifts from all United Methodist Women's units and circles as well as from local churches and the bishop encouraged special gifts. Part of the Bethlehem Centers of Nashville ministry is The Shopping Bag. This unique secondhand store sells gently used clothing items and accessories for men, women, and children, celebrated a grand re-opening on June 18.

The conference also celebrated the 25th anniversary of Miriam's Promise and viewed a special 25th Anniversary Video Report. Conference members were encouraged to purchase $25 gift cards from retail stores such as Kroger, Target, Wal-Mart and to give the cards to Miriam's Promise so they can be presented to clients who may have urgent need for "the basics."

Conference members also heard that the Nashville Area Foundation facing problems, but its outlook is positive. Individuals and local churches are urged to consider investing in this fund, since investments have declined by 24 percent. The foundation is one of four nationally exceeding expectations and currently ranks in the top 15 percent of Foundations in the country.

The conference ordained five as elders, and commissioned 12. One was approved as an associate member and one received a certificate of associate membership. The lives and ministries of 20 were remembered and 13 were retired from active service.

Conference membership at the end of 2008 was 118,992--increases in membership during 15 of the last 20 years. Average worship attendance for 2007 was 48,533 and it was up 1,347 (2.8 percent) in 2008 for a total of 49,880

-Tom Nankervis