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2010 Memphis Annual Conference

June 6-8, 2010, Collierville, Tenn.

"Tending God's Garden" was the theme for the 2010 Memphis Annual Conference held June 6-8 in Collierville, Tenn. It demonstrated the commitment of United Methodist Churches in West Tennessee and Western Kentucky to not just plant seeds for God's Kingdom, but enthusiastically nurture seeds for discipleship.

Nearly 1,000 delegates from 462 churches, representing more than 84,000 United Methodists,led by Bishop Richard J. Wills, Jr., gathered to conduct business, learn about the connection and worship on the campus of Collierville United Methodist Church.

The Rev. Leonard Sweet, guest speaker, addressed attendees in three sessions. He talked about what a Gutenberg Church must do to reach a "TGIF world." (T stands for Twitter; G for Google; I for IPhone and F for Facebook). The author, preacher, scholar and ordained United Methodist clergyman reminded attendees they must grow faith in the world they have, not the world they wish to have.

To tend the garden, he said, means recognizing that the TGIF culture is one of images, not words. Just as Jesus learned the language of his culture, United Methodists must learn and communicate the language of the TGIF world, he said.

Wills, in his "State of the Church" message, lamented declining membership and attendance, but referred to the conference's recent numbers as being "one of the smallest declines we've had." He added, "I think we may be ending our decline."

Wills talked about the May 2010 storms that affected portions of West Tennessee and Western Kentucky. He announced he will designate a Sunday in August for a special offering for disaster relief.

A report of the district superintendents, delivered by the Rev. Rick C. Dye, superintendent of the Paducah District, praised new and ongoing ministries, but also reviewed issues facing the conference, including a shortage of qualified clergy, the need to merge and close churches, and ongoing budget concerns. The cabinet believes merger with the Tennessee Conference "must be pursued," said Dye.

The Rev. Roberto Gomez Reyes, superintendent of the Timothy District of the Methodist Church of Mexico, gave a report about volunteers from the Memphis Conference who have traveled to his district to help build churches and orphanages and minister to children.

The Rev. Joe Geary, Paris District Superintendent, and Elyse Bell, Paris District Lay Resource Leader, reported on the status of a pending "Pacto" (Covenant) between the Memphis and Eastern Mexico Conferences.

Worship offerings of just over $8,800.00 were designated for the Central Conference Pension Initiative.

Cathy Farmer received the Harry Denman Evangelism Award for laity. For 26 years she has shared the good news of the Christian gospel in her role as the Director of Communications for the Memphis Conference. She is retiring in June.

Darrah Clark, a 13-year-old member of South Pleasant Grove United Methodist Church in Hazel, Ky., delivered the conference's Young People's Message. With modern references that echoed the message of Sweet, Clark said, "We need to know how the lessons of a very old book can help guide us and the choices we make."

The Conference Finance and Administration presentation generated vigorous debate with motions being passed on three separate matters related to the 2011 budget.

Delegates voted to reinstate an apportioned line item $405,000 for Lambuth University conditional upon four items, the most crucial being that the United Methodist-affiliated university, located in Jackson, Tenn., remain nonprofit. If the four conditions are not met, the Lambuth apportionment will be given to the Conference's Division of Higher Education and Campus Ministry to form a scholarship fund.

Bill Seymour, university president, discussed the shortfalls in Lambuth's funding and solutions that have been entertained, including selling the school to a for-profit entity. It was this possible course of action for Lambuth that appeared viable at the time CFA was preparing its recommended budget for 2011 that motivated the removal of Lambuth funding.

"If all goes as expected in the next week to 10 days," reported Seymour, Lambuth expects to work out an agreement to remain a nonprofit institution related to the United Methodist Church.

Also approved was a motion to remove $50,000 recommended by CFA for a Nashville Area Foundation development officer until an approved plan is in place and communicated to all participating agencies.

The third approved motion was that all reports related to apportionments list all 22 approved apportioned funds, as opposed to grouping and listing them only by five categories.

Delegates adopted a resolution that the Conference and Wesley Senior Ministries, Inc., Wesley Senior Ministries Foundation of Memphis, Inc. and Wesley Housing Corporation of Memphis, Inc. enter into a Covenant of Mutual Relationship. The relationship is one of mission and ministry, not ownership, operation or control.

Four provisional members were commissioned. Two deacons and nine elders were ordained. Elder orders for one were recognized. Six pastors retired.

Membership at the end of 2009 was 84,515, down 687 from the previous year. Average worship attendance was 32,060, down 651 from the previous year. Average church school attendance was 16,817, down 223 from the previous year.

--Lane Gardner Camp, Communications Director, Connectional Ministries Office, Memphis Conference