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2013 Memphis Annual Conference

June 2-5, Collierville, Tenn.

United Methodists from throughout West Tennessee and Western Kentucky gathered June 2-5 in Collierville, Tenn., for worship, holy conferencing and decision-making.

Lay and clergy delegates from 426 churches, along with visitors and guests, attended the 2013 Memphis Annual Conference at Collierville United Methodist Church.

"Being Disciples Expecting Greater Things" was the theme for the 174th session of the Memphis Annual Conference, as announced by Bishop William T. (Bill) McAlilly, who presided.

This was McAlilly's first Memphis Annual Conference. He began his current assignment in September 2012 after being elected to the episcopacy in July 2012 at the Southeastern Jurisdictional Conference of the United Methodist Church and assigned to the Nashville Episcopal Area.

Joining McAlilly at the dais throughout Annual Conference was Bishop William Morris, retired, who served the Nashville Episcopal Area from 2000 to 2004.

In the 40 days leading up to Annual Conference, the Memphis Conference participated in "A 40-Day Walk With God." Bishop McAlilly issued the invitation for the period of prayer and provided prayer resources.

This year marked the first time the Memphis Annual Conference was streamed, allowing non-attendees to watch live from their homes, churches and offices.

Water representing each district in the Nashville Episcopal Area was poured into a fountain during the Annual Conference's opening worship on Sunday evening. The blended water was used again on Wednesday during the Reaffirmation of Baptism portion of the closing Sending Forth Service.

Five worship services took place during Annual Conference, including a Memorial Service that remembered clergy/spouses who passed away in the preceding year.

Bishop Hope Morgan Ward of the North Carolina Conference brought her message, "Overshadowed," to the Tuesday evening service. "The gospel of Jesus turns us outward into the world," she said.

McAlilly opened Annual Conference with his sermon, "The Word Became Flesh and Moved Into the Neighborhood." He asked, "How is it in your neighborhood?" and "Do we behave and live like we believe?"

He drew applause when he emphasized right practice over right belief. "It's time we let the world see United Methodists are people of grace and love. We can't stay huddled up in our Upper Room any longer."

A highlight of Annual Conference was the showing of 10 pre-recorded stories of personal transformation, all from the Nashville Episcopal Area. Called GodStories, the three- to four-minute videos were played randomly during non-worship portions of the agenda

Following a report from Bishop McAlilly's Nashville Area Strategic Mapping Team about the "unsustainability" of the United Methodist denomination and Memphis Conference, Dr. Gil Rendle taught about the realities of today's mission field. Rendle is co-author of the 2012 book "Back to Zero: The Search to Rediscover the Methodist Movement" and senior consultant with the Texas Methodist Foundation and the Alban Institute, taught about the realities of today's mission field.

He said the "dominant door" for entry to church today is not Sunday School or worship as it was in the past, but mission opportunities.

Rendle said to consider the current crisis "a gift from God." He said, "The United Methodist Church is being reformed in the wilderness. It takes the wilderness to renew us."

Two questions for the wilderness, he said, are "1. What will we now be with God? 2. How will we now be with one another?"

The conversation, he said, should not be about the need for more money and more members.

"Our output is to be changed people," he said, pointing out that "discipleship is about dissatisfying people," not keeping people happy so they won't go away.

Dr. Derrick-Lewis Noble, pastor of Crenshaw United Methodist Church in Los Angeles, led a Bible study on Tuesday titled "Mad Enough to Cuss." He shared Biblical strategies for handling anger.

"If you squeeze a Christian, you ought to get some Christ," said Noble.

Concurrent workshops took place on Tuesday afternoon. Topics included disaster-readiness, communications technology for mission work, using demographic data for mission work, and a discussion with Dr. Noble about his Bible study.

A one-mile "Witness Walk" took place Monday morning at a nearby park. Bishop McAlilly and his wife, Lynn, joined walkers of all ages wearing specially-designed Witness Walk T-shirts.

Themed "Disciples Walking Together," this first-time event was described by organizer Anne Emmerth as "not a race," but a celebration of healthy bodies and spirits.

Youth from across the conference gathered one afternoon for a food-packaging project in partnership with Kids Against Hunger, a humanitarian food-aid organization. The youth packed 25,000 meals, 16,000 of which are being sent to the Eastern Mexico Conference of the Methodist Church of Mexico as part of the Memphis Conference's pacto (agreement) with that conference; and the other 9,000 are going to area food banks, reported Alex Story, president of the Memphis Conference Youth Council.

Story said the food-packaging event is the type of hands-on ministry that gets youth interested in church.

Offerings received during Annual Conference will be divided equally between relief efforts for hunger in the Memphis Conference and the construction of a residence for the bishop of the East Congo Episcopal Area of the United Methodist Church.

Singer, songwriter and storyteller Celia Whitler of Nashville spoke and performed at the sold-out Laity Luncheon Celebration.

Ryan Presley Pattat (youth), Mike Gentry (laity) and Rev. James Davis and Rev. TroyAnn Poloupolous (clergy) were announced as the recipients of the 2013 Harry Denman Evangelism Awards from the Memphis Conference.

Two congregations were lifted up during Annual Conference: Maranata United Methodist Church and Grace Place United Methodist Church, both in Memphis. Maranata Iglesia Metodista Unida is a Hispanic church congregation gifted with the resources of the discontinued Jackson Avenue United Methodist Church. Grace Place United Methodist Church is the conference's newest church based inside a women's correctional facility. It is the first prison-based United Methodist Church in the Southeastern Jurisdiction of the United Methodist Church and only the second in the country.

Alli Fuqua, a rising high school senior from Benton First UMC, delivered the Young Person's address. She shared her personal story of obstacles and how she has learned to turn those obstacles into opportunities to grow her faith in God.

The Annual Conference voted to create a task force to study the conference's current district lines and recommend where those lines might change if the number of districts is reduced from seven to five. The task force will report at the 2014 Memphis Annual Conference.

The Annual Conference approved a change in the moving date for pastors, beginning in 2014. The moving date will be set on or before April 1 by the bishop and cabinet.

All four of the constitutional amendments from the 2012 General Conference were unanimously approved.

Also adopted was a resolution for childcare to be provided throughout future Annual Conferences and not just during worship sessions.

During Annual Conference, six provisional members were commissioned, three were ordained and one's orders were received from another denomination. A total of 15 pastors retired.

More than 50 organizations had displays, exhibits and health screenings at the church that generated much traffic over the four days of Annual Conference.

Membership at the end of 2012 was 82,247, down less than one percent from the previous year. Average worship attendance was 30,116, down one percent from the previous year. Average church school attendance was 15,052, down less than five percent from the previous year.

- Lane Camp, Director of Communications