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2015 Memphis Conference

“Offering Christ to a Hurting World” was the theme for the 2015 Memphis Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church that took place May 31-June 3 in Jackson, Tennessee, with Bishop William T. “Bill” McAlilly presiding.

Jackson’s Civic Center was the location for most events while Jackson First United Methodist Church hosted the Sunday evening memorial service, Monday evening ordination service, childcare and meal events.

Reminding conference members and guests on the last day about the overall purpose of annual conference, McAlilly said, “I want Christ to use you to change the world.”

175th anniversary

2015 marked the conference’s 175th anniversary (176th session) and was celebrated with a series of “historical moments” on the agenda. The Memphis Conference, which dates to 1840, covers West Tennessee and Western Kentucky.

Worship services

Seven worship services took place among the business and teaching sessions.

Youth from across the Memphis Conference ended their May 29-31 “Youth Annual Conference,” also in Jackson, by leading the annual conference’s opening service on Sunday afternoon. “IGNITE!” was the theme of the youth gathering, a message repeated in the opening service with words, music and dance.

Lauren Riley, a member of McKenzie First United Methodist Church in McKenzie, Tennessee, and children and youth director of Greenfield United Methodist Church in Greenfield, Tennessee, reminded conference members and visitors, “We are to wash feet and not have ours washed.”

Memphis Conference clergy and spouses who passed away in the previous year and numbered 18 were remembered in a Sunday evening memorial service. The Rev. Larry J. Daniel, retiring pastor of Lexington First United Methodist Church in Lexington, Tennessee, delivered the sermon, “Why I Believe in Resurrection.”

Pointing out that Christians rejoice at transformation, not extinction, Daniel said, “God is more powerful than death.” A clergy choir sang during this service.

After separate clergy and laity sessions on Monday morning, Bishop McAlilly led the Monday morning service with his “Wake Up to Love” message. He probed the notion that too often “our first love of Jesus” is being replaced with “church stuff” and that “loyalty to the institution” prevents us from tending to our own souls and serving others.

McAlilly reminded those gathered that the world watches closely how Christians love.

Monday’s retirement service celebrated the Memphis Conference’s retiring clergy that numbered 17.

Bishop Larry M. Goodpaster, resident bishop of the Western North Carolina Conference, was the preacher for the Monday evening service of commissioning and ordination of elders with licensing of local pastors.

“Now I See” was the title of Goodpaster’s sermon. He asked newly credentialed clergy, “How will you help people see Jesus?”

“Do not try to do it alone” and “Lose yourself through wonder, love and praise,” he advised.

“Follow Jesus,” Goodpaster said, by serving the poor, eating with sinners, associating with those who are pushed around, sharing the good news of hope and healing, and creating a culture that mirrors the character and life of Jesus.

During the service, four were ordained as elders, four were commissioned as elders, and one was commissioned for provisional membership with orders from another tradition. Ten were licensed as local pastors.

“An Analysis of Paralysis” was the message from the Rev. Cynthia D. Davis, Metro McKendree District superintendent, during the Tuesday afternoon service. The multicultural service reflected different races, languages and musical styles.

While it can be easy to become paralyzed when burdened, she said Jesus speaks to “our circumstances” and “death is not the end.”

The closing service of sending on Wednesday afternoon included the setting of 2015 appointments and a homily by Bishop McAlilly, “By Faith We Travel.”

Among other parting words, McAlilly told clergy and laity, “I send you out as “truth tellers and witnesses” for Jesus Christ.

Teaching sessions

Teaching sessions conducted by Bishop McAlilly during annual conference dealt with Chapter 4 of the Gospel of John about “the woman at the well.” The themes of the three sessions were “An Unexpected Perspective,” “Well People” and “Why Her? Why Me?”

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

Offerings for Imagine No Malaria and The Jerusalem Fund

Offerings during annual conference benefitted two initiatives: Imagine No Malaria, a campaign of the global United Methodist Church to end malaria through education, communication and treatment, and The Jerusalem Fund, a confidential ministry that provides assistance to Memphis Conference clergy facing short-term financial hardships.

Attendees celebrated the year-long effort that raised $226,457.34 for Imagine No Malaria by wearing red on the last day of annual conference.

Delegate elections

Elections took place to choose lay and clergy delegates to represent the Memphis Conference at General (worldwide) Conference and Jurisdictional (Southeastern U.S.) Conference in 2016.

Lay Delegates to General Conference

  • David R. Reed, Martin First United Methodist Church, Martin, Tennessee — first lay delegate
  • Elyse Bell, Paris First United Methodist Church, Paris, Tennessee — second lay delegate

Clergy Delegates to General Conference

  • Sky McCracken, Purchase District superintendent — first clergy delegate
  • Eddie Bromley, Milan First United Methodist Church, Milan, Tennessee — second clergy delegate

 Lay Delegates to Southeastern Jurisdictional Conference

  • Sandra Burnett, Lone Oak United Methodist Church, Paducah, Kentucky  — first lay delegate (also first lay alternate to General Conference)
  • Isabelle Dillard, St. John’s United Methodist Church, Memphis, Tennessee — second lay delegate (also second lay alternate to General Conference)
  • Delores Smith, Milan First United Methodist Church, Milan, Tennessee — alternate lay delegate
  • Deborah Watlington, Lambuth Memorial United Methodist Church, Jackson, Tennessee — alternate lay delegate

 Clergy Delegates to Southeastern Jurisdictional Conference

  • Autura Eason-Williams, Capleville United Methodist Church, Memphis, Tennessee — first clergy delegate (also first clergy alternate to General Conference)
  • Jonathan L. Jeffords, St. John’s United Methodist Church, Memphis Tennessee — second clergy delegate (also second clergy alternate to General Conference)
  • Cynthia D. Davis, Metro McKendree District superintendent — alternate clergy delegate
  • Steven Louis Douglas, East Trinity-Beech Bluff-Mount Pleasant Parish, Jackson, Tennessee — alternate clergy delegate

Episcopal candidate

Delegates endorsed the candidacy of the Rev. Sky McCracken for the episcopacy. He currently serves as dean of the Memphis Conference cabinet and superintendent of the Purchase District in Western Kentucky.

Youth activities

In addition to the Youth Annual Conference that took place just prior to annual conference, youth were active participants in several worship services.

Erin Bell from Martin First United Methodist Church in Martin, Tennessee, delivered the “Young People’s Address,” sponsored by the Memphis Conference Board of Laity. She answered the question, "What do we need to do to offer Christ to a hurting world?”

Black College Fund Ambassador Johnny Benjamin Scott III of Huston-Tillotson University in Austin, Texas, delivered a message titled, “Excellence without Excuses” and thanked the Memphis Conference for its support of the Black College Fund of the United Methodist General Board of Higher Education and Ministry.

Partner Today and Project Transformation

Lynn McAlilly, married to Bishop McAlilly, shared her passion for children, education, literacy and ending poverty — issues that are all intertwined — with a presentation about two initiatives: “Partner Today” that she started in 2014 and “Project Transformation.”

An elementary public school teacher for 20 years, she continues to challenge Memphis Conference churches and small groups to form partnerships with local schools, classrooms and teachers.

“Education and literacy are at the core of the best interest of children,” said Mrs. McAlilly, who reminded churches they must minister to their communities and not just their churches.

PartnerToday.org and projecttransformation.org are websites with more information.

Redistricting

McCracken reported on the redistricting of the Memphis Conference that was approved in 2014 — to go from seven to four districts by the beginning of the next quadrennium that begins in 2016.

In April of 2015 the conference reduced to five districts with new names:

  • Purchase District: 8 counties in Western Kentucky
  • Mississippi River District: 8 counties in Northwest Tennessee
  • Tennessee River District: 10 counties just west of the Tennessee River in Western Tennessee
  • Metro-Asbury District AND Metro-McKendree District: 3 counties in Southwest Tennessee. These will continue as two districts until 2016 when they will come together as one district.

The April changes were implemented, McCracken explained, to allow time to ease into the new district structure and begin to address any unintended consequences before June 2016.

Resolutions

The annual conference adopted four resolutions:

  • One calling for district dialogue on the inclusion of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender people in the life of the church
  • One calling for church participation in public school reading programs
  • One addressing the production of the Memphis Conference Journal
  • One addressing a review of the conference’s standing rules to simplify, update, organize and align them with the conference’s mission statement, core values and focus areas

Budget

The annual conference approved a budget of $8,655,761 for mission and ministry in 2016. This is a $269,161 (3.02 percent) decrease from 2015. Bethany K. Huffman, president of the Memphis Conference Council on Finance and Administration said the council continues to work toward a budget that is aligned with the conference’s mission.

Language translation

For the first time, this annual conference provided language translation assistance to Spanish- and Korean-speaking voters with the assistance of equipment from the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries and volunteer interpreters. Sign language interpretation was provided as it has been for many years.

Denman Evangelism Awards

Three individuals were named recipients of the 2015 Memphis Conference Harry Denman Evangelism Awards:

  • Clergy: Mark Earheart of Dresden First United Methodist Church in Dresden, Tenn.
  • Laity: Sue Engle, Memphis Conference Intentional Discipleship Action Team leader and, since June 2014, pastor of Trinity United Methodist Church in Paducah, Ky.
  • Youth: Hailey Gilbert of Collierville United Methodist Church in Collierville, Tenn.

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.

Other awards

  • Cynthia Bond Hopson on staff at the United Methodist Board of Higher Education and Ministry as assistant general secretary for The Black College Fund and ethnic concerns, received the Francis Asbury Award for “outstanding service in supporting, strengthening and promoting the church’s higher education ministries.”
  • Kathryn Nation was honored as the recipient of a scholarship from Martin Methodist College in Pulaski, Tennessee.

Prayer

A room in the Civic Center was transformed into a “prayer room” – a place for delegates and visitors to go who needed a quiet place for prayer. Morning prayer services with communion took place in the prayer room on three mornings.

Banquets and Luncheons

Bishop McAlilly and Sue Engle were the speakers for a laity banquet. “1 of the 72 — Is God calling your congregation?” was the subject of their presentation about an initiative begun by Bishop McAlilly in 2014. Learn more at www.72plusyou.com. Retired clergy, clergy spouses and women clergy also had private meal events.

Exhibits and displays

More than 40 organizations with ties to the Memphis Conference and The United Methodist Church had displays and exhibits throughout the Civic Center.

Streaming and social media

2015 marked the third time the Memphis Annual Conference was streamed, allowing non-attendees to watch live from their homes, churches and offices.

Using hashtag #2015mac, social media provided a way for conference attendees to participate in online discussion before, during and after the event.

2016 Memphis Annual Conference

Delegates voted to meet June 19-22 at Northside United Methodist Church in Jackson, Tenn., for the 2016 Memphis Annual Conference.

Other business

Delegates and visitors also:

  • Welcomed the conference’s new treasurer, Larry Davis, and new director of connectional ministries, the Rev. Joe Geary.
  • Were introduced to Synolve Croft, new executive director of United Methodist Neighborhood Centers; Michael Ugwueke, new president and chief operating officer of Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare; the Rev. Marco Antonio Gonzalez Cortes of the Eastern Mexico Conference; and Brittany Martin of Paris First United Methodist Church, global justice volunteer (Philippines) with the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries
  • Prayed with and for clergy and laity representatives of four Memphis Conference churches affected by fires in the previous six months: Masons Chapel United Methodist Church in Hazel, Kentucky; Trinity United Methodist Church in Brownsville, Tennessee; Mount Pleasant United Methodist Church in Dresden, Tennessee; and Trinity United Methodist Church in Paris, Tennessee. Three of the four churches were completely destroyed by fire. Two were the result of arson.
  • Participated in tours of the Lambuth Heritage Rooms on the University of Memphis Lambuth Campus in Jackson. The rooms celebrate the educational history and religious life of United Methodist-affiliated Lambuth University before it closed in 2011 and became part of the University of Memphis.
  • Received reports from many different boards, agencies and affiliated organizations of the conference.

Statistics

Membership at the end of 2014 was 81,139, down less than one percent from the previous year. Average weekly worship attendance at the end of 2014 was 28,624, down 1 percent from the previous year. Average weekly church school attendance at the end of 2014 was 14,315, down 6 percent from the previous year. Professions of faith at the end of 2014 were 914, down 6 percent from the previous year. People participating in Christian formation groups at the end of 2014 were 29,533, down 6 percent from the previous year.

More information

More information, including video and photos, about the 2015 Memphis Annual Conference is available on the Memphis Conference website at www.memphis-umc.org or by emailing communications@memphis-umc.org.

Lane Gardner Camp, Director of Communications, Memphis Conference