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2014 Memphis Annual Conference


June 1-4, 2014 in Paducah, Ky.

“Discover — Equip — Connect — Send” was the theme for the 2014 Memphis Annual Conference that took place June 1-4 in Paducah, Ky.

The theme’s four verbs refer to discovering, equipping, connecting and sending leaders who shape congregations.

Bishop William T. “Bill” McAlilly presided over the 175th session that brought together United Methodists from throughout West Tennessee and Western Kentucky for business, teaching and worship events.

Paducah’s Carson Center was the location for most annual conference events while Broadway United Methodist Church hosted the Sunday evening memorial service, Tuesday evening ordination service and childcare services for 24 children that included a new three-day science camp.


Prayer was a central component of annual conference. Along with a 40-day prayer period before annual conference called “A 40-Day Walk with God,” the gathering included a prayer room, prayer vigil and system for receiving prayer requests all during the event. The prayer room also was the location for early morning Holy Communion on two days.

Streaming and social media/h4>

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

Using hashtag #greaterthingsformac, social media provided a way for conference attendees to participate in online discussion before, during and after the event.

Conference mission statement

Voters officially adopted a new mission statement for the Memphis Conference, developed by the Nashville Area Strategic Mapping Team created by Bishop McAlilly in 2013.

Going forward, the mission of the Memphis Conference is to “discover, equip, connect and send lay and clergy leaders who shape congregations that offer Jesus Christ to a hurting world, one neighborhood at a time.”

Also identified were a set of five values for the Memphis Conference: unrelenting love for all people, integrity, excellence, faithfulness & fruitfulness, and innovation.

Worship services

Seven worship services took place during annual conference, coordinated by Nancy Page, worship coordinator. Page is on staff at Trinity United Methodist Church in Paducah, Ky.

The first was a youth-led service on Sunday afternoon with the youth praise band from Collierville United Methodist Church in Collierville, Tenn. Bishop McAlilly gave a devotion during which he stressed his ongoing intent to “reclaim a culture of call.”

Speaking to youth, as well as adult laity and clergy, McAlilly said, “God is calling every one of us.”

Memphis Conference clergy and spouses who passed away in the previous year (before May 1) were remembered in a Sunday evening memorial service. The Rev. Ben Boone delivered the sermon, “Inhabiting God’s Mysteries.” He said to “enjoy the mystery” of “God’s transforming power and love” and know “the power of death has been defeated.”

Giving thanks for the deceased, Boone said, “I hope you will remember how they loved us and we loved them.”

After separate clergy and laity sessions on Monday morning, the annual conference opened with a healing worship service on Monday morning that included a message from Bishop McAlilly that addressed many aspects of fear and how it is crippling individual congregations and The United Methodist Church.

“Fear wells up in the form of anxiety,” said McAlilly. “Christ, have mercy when we’re afraid.”

Delegates and attendees applauded when McAlilly said, “We’re going to need to give the church back to Jesus Christ,” a reference to too many churches functioning more like what he called clubs than churches engaged in mission and ministry.

He said now is not the time to hunker down and live in fear and advised, “We have to get off our blessed assurance and move into the world.”

“I am not afraid of what’s going to happen to The United Methodist Church,” said McAlilly.

Monday’s retirement service celebrated the Memphis Conference’s retiring clergy that numbered 15.

“God Knows Me” was the title of the sermon by United Methodist Bishop Unda Yemba Gabriel of the East Congo Episcopal Area (Africa) during a Monday evening service that included music by the Concert Choir of Martin Methodist College in Pulaski, Tenn.

Bishop Unda preached in Otetela, a language of the Democratic Republic of Congo, with translation to English provided by the Rev. Bill Lovell of Nashville, Tenn.

“We don’t really fathom the miracle that God knows us by name,” said Bishop Unda, who stressed that even the best theological and philosophical education does not compare to the “understanding that God knows me.”

Bishop Unda took time to thank Bishop McAlilly and the Memphis Conference for their efforts, along with the Tennessee Conference, to raise money in 2013 for the construction of his episcopal office and residence in the Congo. Elsewhere on the agenda, Bishop Unda gave a report and show photos of the project.

The Rev. Kim Cape, top executive of the United Methodist Board of Higher Education and Ministry, was the preacher for the Tuesday evening service of ordination of elders with commissioning and licensing of local pastors.

“What Would Wesley Do?” was the title of Cape’s sermon, during which she told the newly-credentialed clergy, “You will shepherd many people through important times of their lives – their highest joys and deepest sorrows.”

Cape encouraged lifelong learning by saying “study and education are part of our Methodist DNA” and “there is no social ill education cannot address.”

In addition to constant prayer and study, Cape stressed the importance of staying connected to peers and always working on one’s preaching.

To the laity in attendance, she said, “It’s your job to help your pastor succeed.”

Commissioned as deacon was Shannon Dee Rogers Pryor. Commissioned as elders were John Keith Long and John Travis Penney. Ordained as elders were Mary Elizabeth Bernheisel, Jason Wallace Jones, Martha Dell King and Randy Elwood Stacy.

The closing service of covenant on Wednesday afternoon included a homily by Bishop McAlilly and the setting of appointments for 2014. Among other parting words, he said, “We are in a season of rethinking the church,” and “the church is vital when we are in mission.”

Teaching sessions

Four 40-minute teaching sessions took place on Tuesday and Wednesday. With the theme “72+U — Our Opportunity is Now,” each session focused on one of the four conference theme verbs: discover, equip, connect and send.

Bishop McAlilly taught the first session, asking “Are you willing to be one of the 72?” He drew on Luke 10:1-11, the story of Jesus calling 72 disciples, commissioning them and sending them ahead to every town in place of him.

McAlilly asked: “What are the distractions that are keeping us from our task?” The task he described as “being in mission to our neighborhoods and communities.”

“My dream for the people called Methodist,” said McAlilly, “is to set aside our fears, petty politics, cynicism and step into the future unafraid. …Every congregation is a mission outpost. Every pastor is a missionary. Every layperson is part of that mission advance.”

Other teachers were the Rev. Andrew C. Thompson, assistant professor of Historical Theology & Wesleyan Studies at Memphis Theological Seminary in Memphis, Tenn.; and Rev. Tom Hazelwood, director of Connectional Ministries for the Memphis Conference.

Before each 72+U teaching session, attendees heard from the Rev. Marilyn E. Thornton, storyteller and violinist, who helped interpret the four verbs. She serves as campus minister for the Wesley Foundation at Fisk University in Nashville, Tenn.

Small group activities and discussions followed each teaching session. These were facilitated by the Revs. Mary Beth Bernheisel, Deb Suddarth, Deborah Smith and James Luvene, all of the Memphis Conference.

Before the teaching sessions started, Sue Engle, Intentional Discipleship Action Team leader for the Memphis Conference, helped voters and attendees understand the power of learning by doing and talking that would result from the 72+U small group activities and discussions.

The materials used in the teaching sessions are being made available to all churches to access and use in the coming year.

Offerings for Imagine No Malaria
Imagine No Malaria, the United Methodist campaign to end malaria through education, communication and treatment, was the recipient of all offerings during Annual Conference with some monies still being received in the days following the event.

On June 10, Clare Wilson, assistant treasurer for the Memphis Conference, reported total offerings of $31,929, not including proceeds from two youth fundraisers: Imagine No Malaria t-shirt sales ($3,300) and Goals for the Goal basketball free-throw project (proceeds unknown at press time).

As announced by Bishop McAlilly the 2014 Annual Conference offering is the “first fruit” of a goal to raise $1 million for Imagine No Malaria by June 2015 from the Nashville Episcopal Area that includes the Memphis and Tennessee Conferences.

Youth activities

In addition to leading the Sunday afternoon worship service and a Sunday evening pizza party, Memphis Conference youth supported Imagine No Malaria with a basketball free-throw fundraiser during Annual Conference.

“Goals for the Goal: Imagine No Malaria” collected $1 per basketball free-throw. For every free-throw made, the youth received another $1 in matching funds.

Lauren Riley from McKenzie First United Methodist Church in McKenzie, Tenn., delivered the Young Person's address, sponsored by the Memphis Conference Board of Laity. She answered the question, “How would you invest in young people and what would the benefits be?”

Relief-supply kits for UMCOR

Relief-supply kits for the United Methodist Committee on Relief were collected in a trailer in the parking lot at the Carson Center during annual conference.

Laity Luncheon: ‘Partner Today’

Lynn McAlilly, married to Bishop McAlilly, was the speaker for Monday’s laity luncheon at Walker Hall in Paducah.

An elementary public school teacher for 20 years, she challenged Memphis Conference churches and small groups to form partnerships with local schools, classrooms and teachers “not as a way to share Christ; not as a way to preach Christ; but as a way to BE Christ.”

“Partner Today” is the name of the initiative introduced by Mrs. McAlilly to the laity and later with a video she showed to conference delegates.

Calling neighborhood public schools “our mission field,” Mrs. McAlilly urged Memphis Conference United Methodists to understand the link between poverty and illiteracy and that the key to a better life is education.

Mrs. McAlilly said research shows third-grade reading levels correlate to poverty, teen pregnancy, drug use, incarceration and high school dropout rates.

“If you want to help the next generation break the cycle of poverty, the key is literacy,” said Mrs. McAlilly. “The children need us.” is the website that has been set up with more information about how to partner with schools in the Memphis Conference.

2 Benjamins

The 2Benjamins project was introduced to the annual conference by the Rev. Steve Stone on behalf of the Memphis Conference New Church Development Committee. Stone, pastor of Heartsong United Methodist Church in Cordova, Tenn., is leading the committee.

With a goal to establish 25 new churches in the Memphis Conference in the next five years, Stone explained how individuals and churches may partner in the effort.

Partners commit to give no more than $1,000 during one calendar year. At each of no more than five calls per year, they will invest $200 or two Benjamins.(A $100 bill is sometimes called a “Benjamin” after Benjamin Franklin who is pictured on the note.)

“Benjamin” also was the youngest tribe in Israel and for the project’s purposes represents every new community of faith in the Memphis Conference. is the website that has been set up with more information about how to help start new churches in the Memphis Conference.

Denman Evangelism Award

Hallie Butler, a high school senior at Martin First United Methodist Church in Martin, Tenn., was named the winner of the 2014 Memphis Conference Harry Denman Evangelism Award for youth. There were no nominations in the clergy and laity categories.

Sponsored by the Foundation for Evangelism, the Denman Award honors those who have made outstanding efforts in Wesleyan evangelism by helping to bring others into a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.

“Hallie shines the most when she is serving others,” said Rebecca Alexander, director of youth ministries at Martin First United Methodist Church, who submitted the nomination. “(She) represents Jesus Christ in the most biblical of ways.”

Other awards

Three other awards presented during annual conference were:

  • Silver Torch Award from the Commission on United Methodist Men for exemplary service to Scouting and/or youth ministry beyond the annual conference to Bill and Carol Latimer of Union City First United Methodist Church in Union City, Tenn.

  • $10,000 college scholarship as part of the United Methodist Leadership Scholars program from the United Methodist Higher Education Foundation to Isabelle C. Dillard of St. John’s United Methodist Church in Memphis.

  • Award of appreciation from the Board of Trustees of Reelfoot Rural Ministries to the Rev. Michael Blake who served the Memphis Conference agency as executive director for nine-and-a-half years. He retired in Dec. 2013.

Approval of four districts

The annual conference voted to have four districts in the Memphis Conference by the beginning of the next quadrennium that begins in 2016. Currently the Memphis Conference has seven districts.

In 2013, conference members voted to reduce the number of districts from seven to five and create a task force to study possible district lines. That task force came back with a four-district recommendation.

Funding for new church development

Delegates voted for a new standing rule to support new church development.

The rule says that “after the payment of any current year apportionments, proceeds from any church property sales shall be designated as follows:

  • 75 percent for planting new communities of faith in the Memphis Conference, allocated at the discretion of the new church development team, and

  • 25 percent for planting new communities of faith or the revitalization of existing churches in the district.”

The rule further states this designation “shall be included in resolutions for closures of congregations, unless otherwise restricted by property deeds” and may not be followed if “the bishop and cabinet, in consultation with the new church development team, determine that exceptional circumstances exist.”

Creation of annual conference planning task force

Conference members voted to empower the bishop and cabinet to create a “task force to explore more creative ways to plan, organize and implement annual conference in the future to make it align with our mission, values and areas of focus.”

Creation of Study Committee to Review Standing Rules

Conference members voted to appoint a study committee to be created by the bishop to “review the standing rules of the conference to examine whether they are adaptive to the current and emerging ministry context of the conference.” The committee will report at the 2015 Memphis Annual Conference.

Exhibits and displays

Forty organizations with ties to The United Methodist Church had displays and exhibits throughout the Carson Center.


Based on a recommendation from the Memphis Conference Council on Finance and Administration presented by its president, Bethany Huffman, voters approved a $8.925 million budget for mission and ministry for 2015, a decrease of $141 thousand (1.55 percent) from 2014.


Membership at the end of 2013 was 81,344, down 1 percent from the previous year. Average weekly worship attendance was 29,083, down three percent from the previous year. Average weekly church school attendance was 15,415, up two percent from the previous year.

More information

Visit the Memphis Conference website at for more information, including photos and archived video.

— Lane Gardner Camp, director of communications, Memphis Conference