What's in a vision?
Statement will be presented at AC

God envisions
bold, passionate, and joyful communities of faith where the spiritual hunger to worship God and to serve Christ
sets disciples on fire
with Spirit-filled, risk-taking love for all God's children
until Holston Conference reflects the saving grace
and redeeming justice of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Those 49 words were culled from thousands of responses provided by participants at last year's Annual Conference. It is the product of hours of prayer and study by a six-member vision writing team.

The vision statement, which has been months in the making, will be presented to the Holston Annual Conference in Lake Junaluska on Tuesday, June 13. If it is accepted by the conference, all members will celebrate the statement with worship and a covenant to "live out the statement," according to the Rev. Crystal Salyers, member of the Vision Writing Team and associate pastor at Colonial Heights UMC, Kingsport District.

How do we do that, exactly? Soon after (and if) the Annual Conference votes to accept the statement, Bishop James Swanson will take it to the Connectional Table, according to Anne Travis, director of connectional ministries and a member of the Vision Writing Team. The Connectional Table is a large group of clergy and lay members representing all of Holston's ministries.

Empowered by Swanson, the Connectional Table will then "develop an action plan for the conference to live out the statement in the coming years," Travis said.

Holston leaders are taking the vision statement seriously because great care was taken to get input from every participant of the 2005 Annual Conference. Great care was also taken to pray often throughout last summer's visioning process and in meetings of the Vision Writing Team.

"There were 80 pages of bulleted responses, and we all poured over them," said the Rev. Nicole Hill, member of the Vision Writing Team and associate pastor of Abingdon UMC, Abingdon District.

"It was amazing that when we came back together, the concepts that came up again and again for each of us were very unanimous. So we felt like it was a Spirit-led endeavor," Hill said.

At last year's Annual Conference, participants responded to two questions:

(1) From God's vantage point, what would we look like if we fully embraced these two texts [The Great Commandment, Matthew 22:36-40, and The Great Commission, Matthew 28:18-20]?

(2) In what areas is God crying out for us to respond with urgency, risk-taking faith, and long-term obedience?

Among the responses of nearly 2,000 participants, Hill said the team detected "an overwhelming sentiment that there is too much institutionalism."

"People said that they would rather be out there and be active in ministry, rather than filling out forms," she said.

Other yearnings expressed in the responses were "a real hunger for authentic and substantive worship" and a desire to "move from an apathetic stance in ministry to more fire and passion," Hill said.

"There was also a cry for evangelism - not just by bringing in more people, but strengthening those who are already there."

These responses are why some members of the writing team say that "bold, passionate, and joyful" are key words in the proposed vision statement.

"We heard these words over and over," Salyers said. "Our people yearn to be bold, passionate, and joyful in serving God."

The statement's writers stressed that the vision is for Holston Annual Conference, not for individual churches. However, local churches and agencies may refer to the statement to discern how their individual visions may interact with the conference-wide vision.

"A lot of churches have their own vision statements. The conference statement won't replace those, but it will be a guide for them," Salyers said.

"The vision statement is broad because it is for the entire conference," Hill added. "There will be many ministries and concepts that fit under this. Each church has its own identity, but we hope this statement will be a valuable tool to local churches as they plan their ministries."

A key question that local congregations may ask, says Hill, is, "What would it look like for our church to be bold, passionate, and joyful, while using our own gifts and graces?"

For those churches without vision statements, the same process followed by the Annual Conference is available for developing a local church vision, Travis pointed out. (Call the Connectional Ministries office toll-free at 866-690-4080 for more information.)

Holston leaders hope that church members will embrace the vision for many years to come, because they were intentional about seeking the Holy Spirit during the process. "If we really believe that this is God's vision for the Annual Conference, then it should last," Travis said.

Other members of the Vision Writing Team included the Rev. Mark Flynn, senior pastor at Kern Memorial UMC, Oak Ridge District; Larry Martin of the Maryville District; and Wendell Morgan of the Chattanooga District.

To learn more about the vision, visit http://visionbriefing.holston.org/ and see pages 179-183 of the "Book of Reports," which has been mailed to all Annual Conference members.

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