Last week, Bill Howard, Nathan Baker, and I found ourselves at the Brentwood United Methodist Church to attend the 2019 gathering of the Tennessee Annual Conference. Meeting on Wednesday through Friday, Annual Conference is always a busy time of recognition of what is doing among United Methodists in Middle Tennessee, as well as making plans for the future. It’s always an especially busy time for me as I have leadership responsibilities at the conference, and I know that by the end of the final session on Friday afternoon, I was plum tuckered out!
Bill Howard, our Lay Member to Annual Conference, and Nathan Baker, our alternate member (who filled in for Bill on Friday) would be happy to share their thoughts about what happened at the conference, but I wanted to give an overview of what I think were the major takeaways from this year’s gather.
Perhaps the most significant issue for us in the coming years is that next year will be the last meeting of the Tennessee Annual Conference as both the Tennessee and Memphis Conferences passed a resolution asking the Southeast Jurisdictional Conference to allow our two conferences to come together as one to form a brand new conference. As you might imagine, there was quite a bit of conversation about this proposal, but in the end, the measure was supported by almost 70% of those voting. While there are still details to be worked out, what we know is that we will meet one last time as a Tennessee Annual Conference next year. The Southeast Jurisdictional Conference will vote on the proposal in the summer of 2020, and the new conference will begin in January of 2021.
One reason this is significant for our church is that the movement toward the new conference includes a new approach to providing financial support for the annual conference and the general church. Currently, the Annual Conference approves a budget and then “apportions” the total cost of the budget to churches based on the church’s spending in the previous year. For churches like City Road Chapel that have relatively high facility expenses, this can be a struggle. Starting in 2021 churches will not be apportioned their cost of the budget, but rather will “tithe” 10 percent of the dollars actually given to the church. By my rough calculations, this will cut the amount we pay each year significantly.
Connected to that, but starting in 2020, is to remove to take the expenses for clergy health insurance and pensions from the apportionments and instead bill each church directly for the actual expense of providing insurance and pensions to their appointed pastor. Currently, based on our high level of building-related spending, City Road Chapel is apportioned to pay for the health insurance of 2.5 pastors even though we only have one eligible for health insurance. Starting in 2020 we will only be paying for the pastors we actually have, and this will likewise lead to significant savings to our church.
As a member of the Council on Finance and Administration for the conference, I want to share that we have been working on this plan for the past three years, recognizing the burdens that local churches are facing. We’ve worked hard to cut budgets at the Annual Conference level, and believe that this plan is fair to all. While there WILL be churches that see increases in their expenses due to this legislation, the majority of UM congregations will see savings, and we have committed ourselves to work to help those congregations who find this a burden.
One of the heights of the annual conference is the ordination and commissioning service in which persons are ordained as elders and deacons, or commissioned for probationary service in preparation for ordination. This year 28 men and women were ordained or commissioned to serve the church. This is something to be celebrated given the uncertainty in the United Methodist Church at this time. If you ever have a chance to attend one of these services I would encourage you to do so as they are very special times of worship.
In terms of other business, the conference elected our delegates to the 2020 General and Jurisdictional Conferences. Electing these delegations took most of the day on Thursdays, but I was pleased to see a delegation that was inclusive and included both experienced and new voices. The 2020 General Conference will be in May in Minneapolis, MN and the 2020 Jurisdiction Conference will be in the summer at Lake Junaluska, NC.
As is normal, the conference received a number of reports regarding God’s work through the ministries of the Tennessee Annual Conference. The conference also debated and approved a resolution on inclusion which I will write about in another post.
All in all, it was a very significant annual conference signaling that many changes are ahead of us. I truly believe that these are changes for the good that will help strengthen our work in Madison. I want to thank Bill and Nathan for their faithfulness in representing you! May God bless the work that was done at this year’s Annual Conference!