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2011 Memphis Annual Conference

Memphis Annual Conference
June 5-8, Paducah, Ky.

"Risk-taking Mission and Service" was the theme as delegates and attendees representing 427 churches in west Tennessee and western Kentucky gathered for worship, preaching, music, business, annual reporting, elections and awards.

Conference youth embraced the theme a day early when they gathered for PUMP, the Paducah Urban Mission Plunge that featured community service.

Most conference events took place at the Luther F. Carson Four Rivers Center for the Performing Arts.

Clergy and laity were stirred by the preaching and teaching of the Rev. Jorge Acevedo at the opening worship service and during a two-part Bible study. Acevedo is lead pastor at Grace Church, a United Methodist congregation in southwest Florida.

He called on clergy and laity to be "kingdom raisers," rather than "heaven gazers." Kingdom raisers "speak for the lost," said Acevedo, and pursue "God-size plans."

Presiding over the annual conference was Bishop Richard J. "Dick" Wills, Jr., who announced in January he will retire Sept. 1 for health reasons. He was assigned to the Nashville Area, which includes Memphis and Tennessee conferences, in 2004.

During his State of the Church address, Wills repeated his May announcement that the Council of Bishops has approved Bishop Benjamin Chamness as the 2011-12 interim bishop in residence of the Nashville Area.The retired Chamness will serve from Sept. 1, 2011, through Aug. 31, 2012.

"I have come to love the people of the Memphis Conference," said Wills, who expressed pride in the "incredible" ministries of churches that venture outside their doors and comfort zones.

Churches that focus on their own members will die, he said, adding, "If you are not a follower of Jesus, stay inside the church."

A report of the district superintendents, delivered by the Rev. Joe Geary of the Paris District, reviewed key events of the year. He called on congregations to "move away from a 'come to' culture and embrace a 'go to' way of life."

Two offerings were received: one in recognition of Bishop Wills and his wife, Eileen. That offering will be divided equally among four children's ministries of the conference. The other offering supports a pacto (covenant) with the Eastern Mexico Conference of The Methodist Church of Mexico that was formally signed by representatives of both conferences during the annual conference.

The relationship between the two conferences began in 2009 and continues with the pacto that supports and celebrates cross-border and cross-cultural ministries.

After the signing, Bishop Raul Garcia de Ochoa of the Eastern Mexico Conference led a spirit-filled service that featured music of Kairos, a praise band from Maranatha Iglesia Metodista Unida in Memphis.

As Garcia preached in Spanish, his words were translated into English.

Joyce Haggard and the Rev. Patrick D. Whaley received the Harry Denman Evangelism Awards for laity and clergy, respectively. Haggard coordinates evangelism at Collierville (Tenn.) United Methodist Church, where she has organized a systematic way of welcoming and nurturing visitors. Whaley is the founder and president of SASHA Ministry Shepherding A Servant's Heart, Amen. He travels in the former Soviet Union mentoring Christian clergy and laity.

Jeremy Holland, 12, of Gadsden (Tenn.) United Methodist Church, delivered the conference's young people's message. His message was chosen by the conference board of lay ministry from among many submitted. Holland's thoughts on how and why to reach young people received a standing ovation.

Mike Keeney, chairman of the board of trustees of Lambuth University, communicated appreciation to the conference for its many years of support of the 168-year-old United Methodist school in Jackson, Tenn. The board voted in April to cease academic operation June 30, 2011, due to financial and accreditation struggles.

Delegates passed a motion that apportionment monies received for Lambuth after June 30 be designated to the Division of Higher Education to establish a campus ministry on the Lambuth campus when another institution of higher education is established there.

Four resolutions were passed:

  • Encouraging churches to be in covenant with the Conference Creation Care Team;
  • Supporting a relationship for teaching Disciple Bible study in Tennessee prisons;
  • Endorsing a disability-awareness theme for at least one annual conference during 2013-16; and
  • Endorsing language changes to the Book of Discipline related to "incapacity leave."

Lay delegates elected to General Conference include Selena Henson, Collierville, Tenn., and Sandra Burnett, Paducah, Ky.Clergy delegates elected to General Conference are the Rev. Randy Cooper, head of the delegation, Martin, Tenn., and the Rev. Sandra L. Leatherwood, Memphis, Tenn.

Lay delegates elected to Jurisdictional Conference include David R. Reed, Martin, Tenn., and Dr. Solomon Christian, Memphis, TN. Clergy delegates elected to Jurisdictional Conference are the Rev. Sky McCracken, Paducah, Ky., and the Rev. Roger Hopson, Lebanon, Tenn.

Lay alternates include Beth Brown, Union City, Tenn.; Mary A. Mooney, Millington, Tenn.; and Madison Lane, McKenzie, Tenn. Clergy alternates are the Rev. David P. Comperry, Memphis, Tenn.; the Rev. Gary D. Lawson Jr., Eva, Tenn.; and the Rev. Michael Blake, Martin, Tenn.

Three provisional members were commissioned. Two deacons and two elders with an average age of 38 years were ordained. Nine pastors retired.

Membership at the end of 2010 was 83,249, down 1,266 (1.5 percent) from the previous year. Average worship attendance was 30,201, down 1,859 (5.8 percent) from the previous year. Average church attendance was 16,279, down 538 (3 percent) from the previous year.

--Lane Gardner Camp, communications director, Memphis Annual Conference