Two topics of consideration will be presented to local congregations in the Tennessee Conference. The first is specific to churches in the Tennessee and Memphis annual conferences in June, and the second is to be considered over the next year in all the churches and conferences of the denomination. They are as follows:
1. The formation of a new conference from the current Tennessee and Memphis Conferences. Bishop McAlilly currently serves as bishop for both conferences in what is known as the Nashville Episcopal Area. This would unify two of the smallest conferences by membership in the Southeastern Jurisdiction and make one that is closer in size to other conferences. The vote at this year’s conference is colloquially being considered the “intent to marry” vote. In successive years, we will vote to “be engaged,” and to finally “marry.”
The largest advantage of this change is shared mission and strategy between churches in two-thirds of Tennessee and part of Kentucky. We share a bishop and many professional contacts, so it would further solidify relationships that currently exist. There will be growing pains as we consolidate our finances and how we understand clergy benefits.
2. The second topic to be considered is the upcoming Special General Conference to be held in St. Louis in 2019, where the Commission on the Way Forward will present their recommendations, “…to do a complete examination and possible revision of every paragraph of the Book of Discipline concerning human sexuality and explore options that help to maintain and strengthen the unity of the church.” This commission was called by the Council of Bishops with the authority of the General Conference delegates in 2016.
At this moment in time, there is nothing slated to be voted on in regards to the Commission by annual conferences in 2018. The listening sessions we are planning in April and possibly throughout the next year will allow the leaders of the church to discern how to request our lay delegate to vote when the time comes. Currently, the expectation regarding voting is on how the church polity will change to allow churches of various beliefs to operate as they choose while still being a part of the whole UMC denomination. We will give greater detail regarding these models at the listening sessions.