Clergy conferences and birthday parties: Both events record high attendances
By Annette Bender
Two October conference-wide events netted high attendance counts for the organizers. The Regional Clergy Conferences, held Oct. 19 at State Street United Methodist Church in Bristol and Oct. 21 at Cokesbury UMC in Knoxville District, recorded a total attendance of 439. The Holston Conference Foundation 's 25th Anniversary Celebration at Cokesbury Center on Oct. 16 hosted 150.
This year's Regional Clergy Conferences, entitled "Water Washed, Bread Fed, Spirit Led:The Sacraments as a Basis of Our Unity," had an 18 percent higher attendance than last year: 439 compared with 373. The Rev. Doug Smith, steward of clergy concerns, attributed the increase to clergy members' interest in hearing Bishop James Swanson as well as publicity.
"I also think the topic and speaker, Gayle Felton, attracted a lot of people," Smith said. Felton is the writer of the final version of "By Water and the Spirit: A United Methodist Understanding of Baptism," adopted by the 1996 General Conference as the church's official interpretive statement. She also wrote "This Holy Mystery: A United Methodist Understanding of Holy Communion," adopted by the 2004 General Conference as the church's official interpretive statement. Bishop Swanson preached the message, "'We' Is Always Stronger Than 'I'," telling the story of Daniel and the fiery furnace. Smith commended the hosting staffs of State Street UMC and Cokesbury UMC. State Street presented a traditional worship, while Cokesbury presented a contempory service.
"It was just a very positive experience, not just for the worship and presentations, but also the fellowship that I sensed between pastors," Smith said.
Of the 439 participants, 185 attended the State Street conference, 254 attended the Cokesbury conference.
The Holston Conference Foundation celebrated its 25th birthday by naming a fund for starting new churches after its first director, and by creating a new endowment for mission and ministries. At a birthday dinner led by Executive Director Roger Redding, the Foundation honored the late Rev. Ben St. Clair and his wife, Bess St. Clair, by renaming the Fund for Starting New Churches, which the late St. Clair helped create.
"From now on, this endowment will be called the Benjamin B. St. Clair Fund for Starting New Churches," Redding said, citing the former director's "deep commitment, service, and cutting edge enthusiasm for the Foundation." St. Clair died in 1999. Redding also announced a new endowment, unanimously passed by the Foundation's Board of Directors, that will create earnings for the residing bishop to use for missions and ministry as he or she determines. The H. Ellis Finger Jr. Bishop's Fund honors the former Holston bishop for "fathering" the Foundation in 1979. Bishop Finger retired in 1984 and currently resides in North Carolina.
Following the announcement of the new endowment, Bishop James Swanson addressed the crowd. Earlier in the evening, the Rev. Steve Sallee presented the invocation. Music was provided by Cokesbury UMC's Michael Rodgers and Robbie Arledge.
The Foundation currently has more than $43 million in assets invested, an all-time high. Most funds in the Foundation's 447 accounts belong to local churches and agencies. The Foundation also holds 136 endowments, trusts and planned gifts established by people to benefit specific areas of ministry, such as Holston Home for Children, camping, college scholarships, and missions.
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