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2014 Holston Annual Conference

June 8-11, 2014, at Lake Junaluska Conference and Retreat Center, Lake Junaluska, N.C.

The theme was “Always,” and members of the Holston Annual Conference will always remember 2014 as the year a storm knocked out electricity in the midst of an evening Missions Celebration.

The unplugged, spontaneous worship that emerged in the dark convinced Bishop Mary Virginia Taylor that “God showed up” for the celebration. Meanwhile, the mission victories that emerged throughout the week led Facebook users to quip, “Holston loses electricity, but doesn’t lose power.”

The complete theme — “Always: Yesterday, Today, Forever” — was based on Hebrews 13. About 2,000 members representing 887 churches in east Tennessee, southwest Virginia, and north Georgia came to Lake Junaluska, N.C., June 8-11, to join in worship and fellowship, remember the past and plan the future.

The June 10 Missions Celebration had been planned for months and was to include multiple speakers, musicians and multimedia. Instead, speakers shouted their messages into a dim Stuart Auditorium, while worshipers lifted their cell phones as candles. Praise music was a cappella or accompanied with piano or acoustic guitar.

“It’s important to recognize when God shows up,” said Taylor, presiding bishop, “and I have seen many ways in which God has shown up this night.”

The Missions Celebration concluded with an offering for education in South Sudan totaling $125,572. Also during the week, members gave an offering to Change for Children for $56,137, which will be divided for children’s ministry in Africa and Holston Conference.

Members took an afternoon to package 10,152 meals and give $3,725 to feed the hungry through Stop Hunger Now. 

Holston members also broke their own records for the annual Hands-on Mission Project, blessing four trucks stuffed with food, school, health and other supplies for Africa. Valued at $194,188, the goods were collected by Holston churches during May and will be shipped to missions led by Maria Humbane of Zimbabwe’s Ishe Anesu and to Helen Roberts-Evans for United Methodist schools in Liberia.

Unity statement

Members paused to hear a statement on unity when Bishop Taylor granted a request for “point of personal privilege” to the Rev. Daniel Ogle, associate pastor at Fountain City United Methodist Church in Knoxville, Tenn.

“… As disciples of Jesus Christ, we are united in our opposition to schism in The United Methodist Church,” Ogle said. “We do not yet believe that dividing the church into like-minded denominations is the best solution to solve the issues facing us.”

Many in the audience stood and applauded to show support for Ogle’s statement, circulated on June 5 through social media and signed by 400 clergy and lay members. The call for unity was a response to a May 22 call for an amicable split of the denomination, supported by 80 United Methodist pastors and theologians stating that differences over homosexuality and other issues are irreconcilable.

After Ogle’s statement, Taylor said that “deep, heartfelt convictions” had led some United Methodists to recommend division. However, the Council of Bishops had also begun to talk about their collective and individual commitment to unity, she said.

Taylor called for prayer and reminded members that “God is in the midst and walking with us to help us resolve our issues and problems.”

In other actions, members:

• Approved a resolution to designate three properties as historical sites: Captain Thomas Amis House near Rogersville, Tenn., and Ebenezer United Methodist Church/Cemetery and Henry Earnest Fort/House in Greene County, Tenn.

• Approved resolutions for abandonment of South Coeburn United Methodist Church, Big Stone Gap District; discontinuance of Olive Branch United Methodist Church, Wytheville District; and discontinuance of Riverstone United Methodist Church, Cleveland District.

• Received news that Holston had raised a total $1.25 million for Imagine No Malaria from June 2012 through December 2013.

• Licensed 26 local pastors.

• Ordained 15 elders and one deacon; commissioned 10 elders and one deacon; and received two associates.

• Honored 30 retiring clergy.

• Remembered 22 deceased clergy and 23 clergy spouses.

• Presented the Harry Denman Evangelism Award to the Rev. Charles Kilbourne (clergy), Libby Dearing (lay member), and Dakota Silvers (youth).

• Presented the Francis Asbury Award for higher education to Keitha Cross.

• Approved a 2015 budget of $10.46 million, a 2 percent increase over the 2014 budget.

• Recognized the 125th anniversary of deaconesses in the United Methodist Church with a report from Becky Louter, executive director of the United Methodist Women’s office for Deaconesses, Home Missionaries and Missioners.

• Received a Board of Global Ministries award for “highest church participation for mission giving in the United Methodist Church,” with 82 percent of Holston churches donating money through The Advance in 2013.

• Received a second Board of Global Ministries award for the highest increase of churches giving through The Advance between 2012 and 2013, from 55 percent to 82 percent (27 percent increase).

• Announced the creation of a full-time staff position and the selection of the Rev. Mike Sluder as associate director of connectional ministries for missions.

• Rejoiced at the testimony of Mandella Wani Michael, South Sudan native and co-worker with the Rev. Fred Dearing, Holston native and district superintendent in Yei, South Sudan. 

• Heard a report from David Smith, age 69, Holston’s second-ever Appalachian Trail chaplain, who left the trail in Pennsylvania to represent his home church at Annual Conference. A member of Cokesbury United Methodist in Knoxville, Tenn., Smith departed Springer Mountain, Ga., on March 6 and aims to reach Mount Katahdin, Maine, by September.

Membership stands at 164,481, down 1,077 from the previous year. Worship attendance stands at 66,447, down 2,148 from the previous year. Church school attendance stands at 31,523, down 1,148. Professions of faith stand at 2,019, down 160. Baptisms stand at 1,616, down 228.

Annette Spence, editor, The Call