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2015 Holston Conference


Leaders of 887 United Methodist churches of the Holston Annual Conference met June 7-11, 2015, at Lake Junaluska Conference and Retreat Center. The theme of the conference was “Engage.”

Bishop Mary Virginia “Dindy” Taylor presided over the meeting of 1,971 clergy and lay members from 12 districts in east Tennessee, southwest Virginia, and north Georgia.

During the five-day meeting, members elected their delegation to General Conference and Southeastern Jurisdictional Conference in 2016. They took an offering of $150,366 for children in poverty within Holston communities and an additional $54,692 offering for “Change for Children,” supporting ministries in both Holston and Africa.

For the 15th year, Holston churches collected food, school, health, sewing, cleaning and other supplies for Africa. Valued at $225,680, the goods were blessed by Taylor before being transported to the South Carolina coast and shipped to missions led by Maria Humbane of Zimbabwe’s Ishe Anesu and to Helen Roberts-Evans for United Methodist schools in Liberia.

Eighty volunteers joined in a Stop Hunger Now event, packaging 10,152 meals for needy communities all over the world. An additional 80 volunteers bagged 13,800 pounds of potatoes through the Society of St. Andrew, providing 40,000 servings for church groups to deliver to hungry families in their own communities.

Guest speakers

Tammy Pawloski motivated Holston members for a year-long mission emphasis on children in poverty by sharing how learning, reading, and interaction at young ages boosts a child’s potential, while stress and low resources stifle development. “Poverty matters, but you matter more,” said Pawloski, professor of education and director of the Center of Excellence to Prepare Teachers of Children of Poverty at Francis Marion University in Florence, S.C.

Tom Bandy shared resources allowing congregations to know their neighbors through demographics and to provide information for possible district and conference restructuring. Based in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, Bandy is a consultant for faith-based nonprofit organizations and author of the book, “See, Know, and Serve the People Within Your Reach.”

The Rev. Gary Grogg preached at the Memorial Service for families and friends of 25 deceased clergy, 24 clergy spouses, and one episcopal spouse (Eva Eutsler, wife of Bishop Kern Eutsler). He spoke of his wife Ann, who died in July 2013. “Part of the certainty of faith is knowing we don’t have ready answers to life’s tragedies or difficult situations. At least, not yet,” said Grogg, a retired pastor living in Rossville, Georgia.

The Rev. Stephen DeFur, senior pastor at Cokesbury United Methodist Church in Knoxville, Tennessee, led three morning Bible studies on the church’s purpose and mission. “I want to experience this right now … to win as many people as we can to Jesus Christ. That’s it. It’s really not that complicated,” he said.

The Rev. Susana Lopez, pastor at El Ministerio del Espiritu Santo in Sevierville, Tennessee, shared her testimony as a child in poverty. When a teacher noticed she only had two outfits, Mount Zion United Methodist Church in Comers Rock, Virgina, reached out to her family with love and assistance. “This church did more for this family than they could ever imagine,” Lopez said. “They were engaged in their community.”

Resolutions and petitions

The conference voted:

  • To “table indefinitely” a General Conference petition to delete language in the Book of Discipline regarding homosexuality. The 531-to-227 vote followed an emotional 50-minute discussion including eight people at the microphones who spoke for or against the motion and the issue.
  • Voted in favor of a resolution to “reduce the abuse of clergy by laypersons,” to be implemented through a task force formed to create a plan.
  • Voted in favor of a resolution for “consideration of child care,” requiring discussion, planning and publicity of child care in conference and district events, in an effort to be more inclusive of families and children.
  • Voted against a resolution to reduce local-church giving to the conference budget from the current rate of 10 percent to a maximum of 7.5 percent.


  • Clergy delegates for General Conference:  The Revs. David Graves (leader), Kim Goddard, Sandra Johnson, Carol Wilson, Wil Cantrell and Randy Frye.
  • Clergy delegates for Jurisdictional Conference:  The Revs. Mark Flynn, Paul Seay, Dennie Humphreys, Eddie Fox, Jerald Russell, and Lauri Jo Cranford. Alternates: The Revs. Kristen Burkhart and Catherine Nance.
  • Lay delegates for General Conference: Del Holley, Emily Ballard, Becky Hall, John Tate, Robert Lockaby and Karen Wright.
  • Lay delegates for Jurisdictional Conference: Joyce Moore, John Eldridge, Charlotte McKee, Carolyn Kidd, Anne Travis and Sam England. Alternates: John Powers, Justin Haynes.

In other actions, the conference:

  • Accepted Bishop Taylor’s challenge for each member to give at least $10 and10 hours of service in the coming year to support children in poverty within Holston communities.
  • Commissioned Bert “Wildcat” Emmerson as Holston’s third Appalachian Trail chaplain. Emmerson, a member at First United Methodist Church of Maryville, Tennessee, departed June 15 for a 2,200-mile ministry journey from Maine to Georgia.
  • Celebrated a $75,000 matching grant, received over three years from the National Consultation on Hispanic/Latino Ministry, to be used for leadership development, youth ministry, justice and advocacy.
  • Celebrated church members’ creation of 10,700 “pocket prayer shawls” to symbolize and encourage prayer for the Annual Conference as well for future mission teams, ministries, and General Conference.
  • Presented the Francis Asbury Award for higher education to the Rev. Sam Roberts, a teacher at Tennessee Wesleyan College since 1986.
  • Presented the Denman Evangelism Award to David Goodman (youth), Trinity United Methodist Church, Big Stone Gap District; Marcy Hall (lay member), East Ridge Trinity United Methodist Church, Chattanooga District; and the Rev. Kristen Burkhart, Mt. Zion Trinity United Methodist Church, Morristown District.
  • Recognized 26 retiring clergy and their collective 664.5 years of service. The Rev. Stella Roberts of the retiring class “passed the mantle” to the Rev. Ashley Helton of the incoming full-member class.
  • Recognized 11 ordinand elders, 13 provisional elders, two ordinand deacons, one provisional deacon, three associate members, and 22 local pastors.
  • Welcomed new directors for two of Holston’s four camps: Tony Lea at Wesley Woods and the Rev. Jeff Wadley at Buffalo Mountain. Wadley reported that Holston is buying 80 acres and building a new camp in Kingsport, Tenn., three years after a flood destroyed Buffalo Mountain Camp in Jonesborough, Tenn.
  • learned about “Defining Moments,” a program developed by Emory & Henry College to nurture young people discerning a call to ministry (
  • approved a $9.7 million budget for 2016, reflecting a 10 percent cut in the requested budget to offset shortfalls and unrealized income.
  • approved a 2 percent increase to clergy minimum salary requirements (from $29,651 for full-time local pastors to $40,184 for full members with M.Div. degrees) and a $195,300 budget for 2016 equitable compensation.
  • approved the discontinuance of Petros United Methodist Church in Oak Ridge District and also learned that Morley Memorial UMC will merge with Ingles Chapel UMC on the Ewing Circuit in Big Stone Gap District.
  • received a Board of Trustees report that Hiwassee College has received a $1.4 million “revolving line of credit,” with a 1 percent interest rate on the loan and interest to be paid in full by Dec. 31, 2019.
  • received congratulations for giving $7.147 million to the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) over the past decade.
  • received congratulations from the General Commission on Finance and Administration for paying 100 percent of general church apportionment during 2011-2014.

Vitality markers

Membership stands at 164,076, down 405 from the previous year. Worship attendance stands at 65,981, down 466. Church school attendance stands at 30,040, down 1,483. Professions of faith stand at 2,004, down 15. Baptisms stand at 1,636, up 20.

Reaffirmations of faith stand at 106, down 30 from the previous year. Adults in small groups stand at 37,021, down 461. Young adults in small groups stand at 4,895, down 120. Worshippers engaged in mission stand at 39,052, up 9,949. Amount given to mission stands at $19,453,670, down $258,123.

Four areas of focus

New Places for New People

  • Implementation of a Hispanic ministry grant reflecting partnership with National Hispanic Plan that will provide for leadership development of lay and clergy
  • Cokesbury United Methodist Church initiatives with other conference congregations for revitalization and recovery ministries
  • District and local church partnerships with South Sudan
  • Shades of Grace, a new church start aimed at the homeless population in Kingsport, Tennessee.

Developing Principled Christian Leaders

  • Implementation of Hispanic ministry grant reflecting partnership with National Hispanic Plan that will provide for leadership development of lay and clergy
  • Defining Moments program through the Young Clergy Initiative for young persons exploring ministry
  • “Culture of the Call” grant through the Lilly Foundation for the University of Tennessee Knoxville Wesley Foundation

Addressing the Issues of Poverty

  • Year-long emphasis on children in poverty within the Holston Conference supported by grants from conference mission offering and commitment of 10 hours of service on behalf of these children. Goal of $10 and 10 hours per average worship attendance
  • Change for Children grant program supporting children in Africa and in Holston Conference

Improving Global Health

  • Change for Children grant program for Africa
  • Annual collection of Hands-on Missions Project (school kits, health kits, food buckets, home buckets, sewing kits) for Liberia and Zimbabwe. Also water filters for Zimbabwe and medical supplies for Zimbabwe and Liberia

—Annette Spence, editor of The Call.