(from Rev. Jonathan Jonas)
1st Church’s Representation
Our elected lay members this year were Lay Leader Julie George, Charlie Barton, Robert Lawson, and Pat Scruggs. However, as annual conference approached, neither Charlie nor Pat were able to attend, but we are so grateful that Kathryn King was willing to serve as an alternate.
Our clergy members of the annual conference were Jonathan Jonas, Sarah Slack, Matt Hall, and Nathan Irwin, and 1st Church members Russell George, Phil Large, Tim Lomperis, Brad Lunde, and Meredith Simpson represented the Smoky Mountain District as at-large members.
The theme of this year’s annual conference was “Pray Together,” and we began Monday and Tuesday with Bible study sessions led by the Rev. Dr. Tom Albin. We are so proud that our associate pastor, the Rev. Sarah Slack prepared inspiring worship settings for each session and service. Just as we have joined our neighbors across the Holston Conference in reading through the Bible, we anticipate opportunities in the year ahead to pray together, both as a congregation and conference.
Unity and Division
The Judicial Council of the United Methodist Church had previously ruled that no annual conference can decide to disaffiliate from the denomination until/unless the General Conference defines such a process. So, there was no such debate or decision at this year’s Holston Conference. There were eighteen petitions and resolutions submitted, which the committee on petitions and resolutions had consolidated into fourteen because of similar submissions. Several of these related to the upcoming General Conference.
Though we had set aside two hours to consider these submissions, the discussion was so involved that we only acted upon two, and the rest will be referred to conference boards and agencies, according to the conference’s standing rules.
Our bishop ruled out of order a motion from the floor that the Holston Conference ask the Judicial Council to rule whether the postponement of the General Conference was constitutional. The conference did not support the motion maker’s appeal of the bishop’s ruling. Another motion from the floor requested that the Holston Conference treasurer make available each congregation’s current share of the conference’s unfunded pension liability, since any disaffiliating congregation would be responsible for this cost before disaffiliating. The conference supported this motion, and the treasurer has since made available the information requested by the motion.
The conference council on finance and administration has typically pro-rated allocations to each program ministry team according to expected income. This year’s $8.89 million conference budget funds program ministries fully and reduces administrative costs. The council did not increase compensation for district superintendents and has formed a task force for a comprehensive review of conference staffing, facilities, and related costs. The conference’s personnel resource committee and board of trustees are cooperating with the council in this yearlong effort.
One of the most gripping presentations came from our Dismantling Racism Task Force. One concrete step the Holston Conference resolved to take toward dismantling racism is to seek to nominate persons of color to fill 20% of conference board and committee membership.
Appalachian Trail Ministry
Our associate pastor Matt Hall is the chairperson of the conference’s Appalachian Trail Chaplain Task Force, and he led the presentation and commissioning of this year’s trail chaplain, Rachel Ahrens Price, who is known on the trail as “Dragonfly.” We are so humbled and grateful that both Matt “Trigger” Hall and Bert “Wildcat” Emmerson have represented 1st Church and the Holston Conference as Appalachian Trail Chaplains in 2017 and 2015, respectively.
After the disruptions of annual conference routines in 2020 and 2021 because of the COVID pandemic, it was wonderful to fill Lake Junaluska’s Stuart Auditorium with the sound of voices raised in worship and adoration. We celebrated milestones in ministry through a service of ordination and commissioning, a service and celebration of retirement, and a memorial service. We were delighted to welcome back our former bishop, James Swanson as guest preacher for our Tuesday evening service.
We also attended to much of the “regular” business of the annual conference by:
- electing officers, leaders, and committee members,
- receiving reports from the conference’s boards, agencies, and committees, celebrating our campus ministries,
- sharing mission offerings and hands-on mission kits,
- hearing state-of-the-conference addresses from our bishop and lay leader, and setting the dates and location for next year’s annual conference.