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2012 Memphis Annual Conference

Memphis Annual Conference
June 3-6, 2012, Jackson, Tenn.

"Extravagant Generosity" was the theme for the 2012 Memphis Annual Conference, held June 3-6 in Jackson, Tenn. Interim Bishop Benjamin R. Chamness presided.

Delegates and attendees representing approximately 425 churches in West Tennessee and western Kentucky gathered for worship, preaching, music, business, annual reporting, Bible study, workshops and awards.

Other than morning prayer walks, all Annual Conference events took place at the Carl Perkins Civic Center and Jackson First UMC, both located within walking distance of each other in downtown Jackson.

Early morning devotions, communion and prayer walks took place on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. The walks were led by three Jackson churches with one to the Madison County Criminal Justice Complex to pray for the incarcerated, another to Jackson City Hall and the Madison County Courthouse to pray for the safety of the city and county, and a third to the local fire and police stations to pray for those who protect others.

Before Sunday night's opening worship, delegates attended separate sessions for laity and clergy and then came together for a Memorial Service to remember 25 saints of the church. Dr. Deborah Smith of Centenary UMC in Memphis brought the message: "Living and Dying in Faith."

Gloria Holt, former Lay Leader of the North Alabama Conference, was the speaker for the Sunday evening Laity Banquet.

Rev. Shane Stanford of Christ UMC in Memphis brought the opening worship message: "Running to the Fire."

A three-part Bible Study with table discussions was conducted over three days by Dr. Douglas Meeks, Cal Turner Chancellor Professor of Theology and Wesleyan Studies at Vanderbilt Divinity School in Nashville, Tenn. Topics were "The Extravagance of God's Grace/Love," "Stewards of the Manifold Grace/Love of God" and "Extending God's Grace/Love Across Time."

Young people were visible throughout Annual Conference. In addition to participating in music and worship, they opened each business session with a prayer and Josh Gonzalez, an 18-year-old member of Curve UMC in Gates, Tenn., delivered the annual Young People's Message.

Rev. Randy Cooper of Martin First UMC was endorsed by the conference as a candidate for bishop in the Southeastern Jurisdiction. He previously had been endorsed by the conference's 2012 delegation to General and Jurisdictional Conferences. Episcopal elections take place in July.

Numerous reports from boards, commissions, committees, agencies, foundations and ministry groups were heard over the course of the conference. Of interest to many was a progress report from the Committee on Uniting the Memphis and Tennessee Conferences, presented by Gary S. Shorb, president and CEO of Methodist Healthcare.

Shorb is co-chair of the committee created by Bishop Chamness in February in response to encouragement from the Southeastern Jurisdictional College of Bishops, in consultation with the Southeastern Jurisdictional Episcopacy Committee, for the Memphis and Tennessee conferences to begin moving toward uniting.

Shorb reported that the committee is at work "developing the case for uniting" and "identifying barriers." He said all work would be done "with transparency and inclusiveness."

The Annual Conference adopted a lengthy report from the District Superintendents, presented by Dr. Joe Geary, Dean of the Cabinet and Paris District Superintendent.

"We are leading and serving our congregations in the midst of a time of transition. It is uncomfortable, even painful to live in a season of discontinuity. Whenever we are in transit, we need to be reminded that God is with us and yes, even ahead of us, preparing the way," said Geary.

An understanding of connectionalism in its many forms, not just apportionments, was the subject of the State of the Church report from Bishop Chamness. He named 12 ways connectionalism manifests itself and lamented "local churches that act more like congregationalists" because they "do not understand the connectionalism" of The United Methodist Church.

"It is an ongoing process to help new generations of United Methodists be supportive of the Episcopal form of government and the connectional nature of The United Methodist Church," said Chamness, who also spoke at the Monday evening ordination service. His messaged was titled, "Hold to the Traditions."

Delegates heard a report on the 2012 General Conference, part of which was a video produced by United Methodist Communications and narrated by Bishop Chamness.

Rev. Eulas Greer (posthumously), Lisa Clements of Northside UMC in Jackson, Tenn., and Carlie Vowell of Martin First UMC in Martin, Tenn., received the Harry Denman Evangelism Awards for clergy, laity and youth, respectively. The youth award was a first for the conference and Greer was the conference's first posthumous recipient of the Denman award.

The report of the Conference Division of Higher Education included an update on the conference's newest campus ministry at the University of Memphis Lambuth Campus in Jackson, Tenn.

Delegates and visitors to Annual Conference were able to attend one of 14 concurrent one-hour workshops on Tuesday afternoon on a variety of topics. The Tuesday evening worship service included celebration of a "reverse offering." Representatives of churches that received unexpected financial gifts to be in ministry reported on their use of the funds.

Rev. Melvin Amerson, Stewardship Ministry Consultant with the Texas Methodist Foundation in Austin, Texas, brought the Tuesday evening worship message: "My Eyes, My Heart, My Hands."

Offerings during Annual Conference benefitted The Central Conference Pension Initiative and The Jerusalem Fund. The Jerusalem Fund is a confidential ministry to assist Memphis Conference clergy experiencing short-term financial hardship.

The conference approved a 2013 budget of $9,130,627. This is a decrease of $242,536 from the 2012 budget.

The "sending forth" service on Wednesday included the confirming of 2012-13 appointments by Bishop Chamness and a message from Rev. Joy Weathersbee, outgoing Jackson District Superintendent: "Filled Up to be Poured Out."

During Annual Conference, six provisional members were commissioned. One was ordained and one's orders were received from another denomination. Thirteen pastors retired.

Membership at the end of 2011 was 82,219, down 1,030 (1.2%) from the previous year. Average worship attendance was 30,314, up 113 (0.37%) from the previous year. Average church school attendance was 15,873, down 406 (3.0%) from the previous year.

*Lane Gardner Camp, communications director, Memphis Conference