Each year, pastors and lay persons from all around the Tennessee Conference (the Middle Tennessee area) gather for three days in Brentwood, TN to discuss matters of business, spirituality, and make connections to better work together. This is Pastor Eric's report back to the church as to what all transpired; however, if you desire more information, please visit the conference website here or you can even watch video from the sessions on the YouTube channel here.
Probably the most significant agenda item was a resolution to combine our conference with our neighboring conference, the Memphis Conference, which covers all of West Tennessee and a small part of West Kentucky. The rationale for merging the two conferences is to be able to better appoint pastors to churches with mission mindedness; to share resources and expertise more freely; and to save money on overhead costs. The resolution passed with a high margin, and if the current schedule is realized, then the first Annual Conference where we will all meet together will be held in 2021.
One of the biggest issues in the United Methodist Church today is the pending General Conference 2019, which was called especially to determine how the connection will move forward with respect to the LGBT community. Currently, the Book of Discipline both affirms the sacred worth of all human beings despite sexuality, and prohibits practicing, openly non-heterosexuals from serving as clergy in churches, or from conducting such weddings. This is a hotly debated issue, and we will learn more in February 2019. Until then, the bishop and our conference's delegation to the General Conference have urged us to continue to be prayerful, to have peace in Christ, and to love one another despite very divided opinions.
This was the first year in which there were intentional gatherings of clergy and laity for each district within our conference. (Our district is the Stones River District, which extends from Antioch down to Winchester, over to I-65 and up through Chapel Hill.) At these gatherings Bell Buckle UMC's delegation worked with others in Bedford County to complete "community asset mapping" in which we discovered a few opportunities to work together to serve and witness in our community. At our table we determined that the Shelbyville hospital was the most likely fruitful place where different churches could come together to work in a missional way in Bedford County.
Finally, I would like to share a very brief glimpse of administrative issues. First, the conference's finances are very good overall. The rising cost of healthcare is going to be our biggest challenge into the 2020s. Our overall church population is more or less steady, in both terms of membership and average weekly attendance. Our clergy are aging faster than they are being replaced; in the future, most pastors will not have seminary education, but will receive training through the "Course of Study" program, which occurs over a 10-year period. Finally, while the Annual Conference has moved to be paperless, heavy on mobile phones, and has leveraged technology considerably, it appears that most of our local churches have not yet done so, leading to a substantial technology gap, especially between urban and rural churches.