(Many thanks to Linda Young for putting together the following reflections on her time as one of our delegates to the Holston Annual Conference from June 4-7.)

The atmosphere at the Annual Conference was much calmer than last year. Delegates from the 578 churches of Holston were happy, prayerful, and positive about the future of the United Methodist Church. There was a definite feeling that we were there to work together. Only six weeks earlier, 264 congregations had disaffiliated from our Annual Conference.

The theme for this year’s conference was “Worship Together.” In her “State of the Church” Report, Bishop Debra Wallace-Padgett pointed to a number of positive developments. Instead of focusing on buildings, finances, and statistics, Wallace-Padgett said that the Holston Conference is focused on discipleship, “passionate, spiritual disciples and passionate, spiritual leaders.” She cited ways Holston leaders have been working to help the remaining 117,378 church members and 742 clergy make new disciples and pursue their personal discipleship journeys. Those steps include:

  • The Extended Cabinet and other teams are working with the Spiritual Leadership Inc. coaching group.
  • The Invitation Team has committed to building unity among “theologically diverse” members.
  • A director of multicultural ministries position has been created and staffed.
  • The congregational development team is providing training and resources to create “Fresh Expressions” of United Methodism.

Wallace-Padgett reported that the coming year will be transitional as the Cabinet drops from nine to seven District Superintendents and the Strategy Team works on realigning the budget and districts. In a report from the Cabinet, the Rev. Kim Goddard echoed the Bishop’s emphasis on discipleship. “We’ve switched gears,” she said. “The conversation in Cabinet meetings and the work in the districts has shifted to a new ‘D’ word. Not disaffiliation. That word is discipleship.”

In other actions, the conference:

  • Joined in worship together, with preaching by Bishop Gregory V. Palmer, resident Bishop of the West Ohio Conference. Other preachers included the Rev. Walter Cross, the Rev. Reed Shell, and the Rev. Sarah Slack, all of Holston. Palmer also led a Tuesday teaching session on the sacraments.
  • Celebrated an offering of $36,616 for the Ishe Anesu Project in Zimbabwe and $26,401 for Change for Children (grants for local and international children’s ministries).
  • Celebrated the collection of 4,778 kits — full of food, school, health, and home supplies valued at $114,000 – bound for United Methodist missions in Zimbabwe and Liberia.
  • Approved a 2024 budget of $8.18 million, a decrease from the approved 2023 budget of $8.89 million. Despite ongoing spending reductions, a budget shortfall is anticipated in 2023, said Carolyn Kidd, Council on Finance and Administration president.
  • Approved a campaign to raise $1.5 million to develop new church leaders, culminating in the June 2024 missions offering. The “New Voices” funds will invest in Holston’s five camps, five Wesley Foundations, and two colleges ($125,000 each).
  • Heard about a congregational development goal to start 25 new “holy experiments” or “fresh expressions” by June 2024.
  • Licensed four local pastors, commissioned five elders and two deacons, ordained three elders, and recognized the orders of one deacon and one elder from other denominations.
  • Recognized 26 retiring clergy.
  • Memorialized 24 clergy and 19 clergy spouses who died in the past year, including Genie Vance Kilday, wife of Rev. Bill Kilday Jr. and mother of Kathy Gillenwaters.
  • Approved the closing of eight churches: Carter’s Station in Greeneville, Tennessee; Clear Springs in Limestone, Tennessee; Community in Kingsport, Tennessee; Jellico in Jellico, Tennessee; Out of the Box in Hillsville, Virginia; St. Charles in St. Charles, Virginia; Swan Pond in Harriman, Tennessee; and Sycamore Tree in Maryville, Tennessee.
  • Presented Harry Denman Evangelism Awards to Rev. Jason Gattis, Smoky Mountain District superintendent; Jane Currin, Concord United Methodist Church mission director; and Kate Ford, youth member at Cokesbury United Methodist Church.
  • Presented the Francis Asbury Award for higher education to Rev. Beth Tipton, director of the Wesley Foundation at the University of Virginia College at Wise.
  • Launched a yearlong celebration of the Holston Conference’s bicentennial.
  • Celebrated Holston’s sponsorship of Spanish-speaking church members to participate in the “Hispanic Christian Academy,” an online United Theological Seminary program, preparing students for eligibility to study for master’s degrees in divinity.
  • Learned about visions for multicultural ministries from Rev. Leah Burns, recently appointed as the first associate director of connectional ministries for multicultural ministries.
  • Learned about “Cultivate Faith” resources that help children’s ministries shift from programs to helping parents nurture spiritual development in their families.
  • Approved the Extended Cabinet’s resolution to work with other annual conferences for General Conference legislation to provide a “gracious, fair and nonpunitive separation process” for local churches.
  • Approved a UMC Next Holston resolution in support of a U.S. regional conference. The vote was 443 to 102.
  • Postponed “indefinitely” a UMC Next Holston resolution calling on clergy and lay members intending to disaffiliate from the denomination to recuse themselves from church leadership roles. The vote was 313 to 235.
  • Approved a resolution, submitted by Danny Tullier, aspiring to a future in the denomination “where LGBTQIA+ people will be protected, affirmed, and empowered in the life and ministry of the church.” The vote was 339 to 223.
  • Referred a resolution, submitted by Rev. Larry Dial, calling for Holston’s nine districts to be renamed by cities within their boundaries to the Strategy Team.

Based on end-of-2022 reports, the Annual Conference’s membership stands at 151,946, down 2,969 from the previous year. Worship attendance stands at 35,083, up 4,024. Church school attendance stands at 14,973, up 406. Professions or reaffirmations of faith stand at 383, up 49. Adults and young adults in small groups stand at 25,554, down 635. Worshippers engaged in mission stand at 25,474, up 1,236.