This is the capstone course in the Institute for Discipleship’s Certificate in Congregational Leadership. Anxious times and anxious institutions require non-anxious leaders. Effective leadership depends on being able to separate your personal anxieties from the issues that affect your church or organization. Based on the book Anxious Church, Anxious People: How to Lead Change in an Age of Anxiety, this course will provide you with a basic understanding of how to begin the journey toward becoming an effective, non-anxious leader. Learn why understanding your own family of origin is the key to effective leadership, what you can do to grow in this capacity, and the most important characteristic of effective leaders. Register here.
posted on July 06
"Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change."
- James 1:17
Grace, Connection, Holiness:
Reflections on WNC Annual Conference 2023
(Contributor: Reverend Avery White)
“We are called to connection,” Bishop Ken Carter reminded the Western North Carolina Conference on Saturday night as we gathered for the Ordering of Ministry Service. Grace, Connection, and Holiness was not only the theme of our Annual Conference gathering this year, but also undergirds all that we are and do as disciples of Jesus Christ and as United Methodists. Throughout this year’s Annual Conference gathering, there was a deep sense of our connection, and a sense that, as Charles Wesley would say, “We are yet alive.”
For four days at Lake Junaluska, we honored this connection in both formal and informal ways. Through song, scripture, and sacrament, thousands of disciples joined in worship, both in person and via livestream. In less structured time, delegates found connection through renewing of friendships and the beginning of new ones, through sharing meals by the lakeshore, and through Connect @AC, where we tuned our ears to music, our spirits to laughter, and learned how to embark upon a D&D quest.
In addition to offering unity and strength, our connection holds us accountable to one another. Such work at Conference included the election of lay delegates to General Conference, approving the work of committees on finance, pension and health benefits, and nominations, all of which supports our mission to Follow Jesus, Make Disciples, and Transform the World.
In this time of holy conferencing, leaders were intentional to name the depths of grief, hardship, and trauma brought about these last few years, and to look hopefully ahead to where God is leading. Together, we recognized the WNCC Lighthouse Churches and commissioned the clergy who will be appointed to emerging communities this year. Each of these are serving as expressions of unconditional love, offering healing and haven, and ensuring a United Methodist presence in areas that have been significantly affected by disaffiliations. Over and over again, the gathered body was reminded that, we cannot love God if we cannot love our neighbor. Rev. Dr. Martyn Atkins encouraged us in his Bible Study saying, “The world needs more free samples of Jesus Christ.”
With great love and thanksgiving, our Conference honored those who have faithfully gone before and now pass the mantle, including fifty-three retirees and sixty-three clergy and spouses who have joined the Church Triumphant. With hope and affirmation, we celebrated and consecrated those who are now taking up the mantle, including: one deaconess, ten newly licensed local pastors, ten provisional members, and nine clergy in full connection.
As the scripture reader for worship on Saturday night, I carried with me the small red “third grade bible” that was presented to me by the United Methodist congregation in Charlotte that first planted seeds of faith within me. It was those clergy and leaders who first modeled for me what grace and holiness look like, and who took seriously the call to “teach the children in every place.” That bible continues to serve as a reminder of the gift that is our connection, and the significance of our calling. As worship was concluding, Bishop Carter encouraged those present to hear again God’s call, and offered space for prayer, affirmation, and discernment. Several clergy persons articulated that, although they have attended many of these services through the years, they heard this one in a new and fresh way.
On Sunday, the clergy and laity of Western North Carolina were once again sent out to go deeper in our path of holiness and in loving our neighbors. We give thanks for the connection, for its history and its future. “Glory and thanks to Jesus give, for his almighty grace.”
 Wesley, Charles. “And Are We Yet Alive.” United Methodist Hymnal. Nashville: United Methodist Publishing House,1989. P. 553.
One thing you probably don’t know about me is that I LOVE grocery stores. I get a little rush of adrenaline when Jennifer calls out, “Can you pick something up for dinner.” Sometimes when I am feeling stressed, I drive to the nearest Ingles or Publix and just walk the aisles. I can’t quite explain it, but it always makes me feel better. Maybe it’s in my blood. Way before I was born there used to be a little Ralls Grocery Store in Greensboro operated by my grandfather.
One of my favorite features of a good grocery store are the free samples. Whenever I am offered a square of some exotic cheese pierced by a toothpick or a taste of something new from a tiny plastic spoon, I always accept!
I thought of this during our recent WNCC Annual Conference when Rev. Martin Atkins was presenting his bible study on the Great Commission. He made this provocative statement: “What the world needs is not more salespeople for the Church but more free samples of Jesus.” In other words, our job (as those who have received the Great Commission) is not to try to recruit people to the Church but simply to share Jesus with those who cross our paths. Many people who do not participate in a faith community have already made up their minds about Church, but those same people are still open to learning about Jesus.
Rev. Atkins knows about reaching new people for Christ in a deeply secularized culture. As Conference President, he leads the Methodist Church in Great Britain where the cultural forces opposing religious faith are even stronger than they are here. In the midst of this challenging situation, Rev. Atkins and others started what they called “Fresh Expressions.” In his book, Fresh Expressions: A New Kind of Methodist Church for People Not in Church, Bishop Carter and Audrey Warren offer this helpful definition:
“A Fresh Expression is a form of church for our changing culture,
established primarily for the benefit of people who are not yet members
of any church…. It will have the potential to become a mature expression
of church shaped by the gospel … for its cultural context” (p.11)
The response to Fresh Expressions in Great Britain has been remarkable. Currently, 1/3 of all British Methodists came to faith in Jesus Christ through a Fresh Expression.
In the Blue Ridge District, we are attempting to learn from our sisters and brothers in the British Methodist Church. A Fresh Expression Team is being organized to help us explore how to engage in this evangelistic work in the nine counties of our district. Rev. Travis Smith (pastor of Acton (Asheville) has graciously offered to lead us.
If you would like to learn more about Fresh Expressions, please feel free to call me (828-450-0597). I will be happy to share with you what I am learning and place you in touch with Travis for deeper conversation.
I am excited about what Fresh Expressions may one day mean in the lives of many of our neighbors who have given up on Church but are still open to the presence of Jesus Christ in their lives. All they need to get started in a life of faith is something each of us can offer — a free sample.
Blue Ridge District Office is Closed July 3rd & July 4th
A Brief History of Independence Day
We think of July 4, 1776, as a day that represents the Declaration of Independence, America’s revolutionary Charter of Freedom, and the document upon which the nation’s founding principles were established. But July 4 wasn’t the day that independence was declared. Nor the day that the Declaration was officially signed.
So what did happen on July 4, 1776?
What this holiday commemorates is the adoption of the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776, by delegates from the 13 colonies. On the 4th, the Continental Congress approved the final wording of the Declaration of Independence. This is the day we celebrate the birth of the United States of America.
Welcome New Pastors to the Blue Ridge District!
Mary Brown Central (Asheville)
Caroline Camp Central (Asheville) Youth Associate
Mary Cash Fruitland (Hendersonville)
MacKenzie Gary Gilboa, Gilkey and Thermal City (Rutherfordton)
Jill Rhinehart Groce (Asheville)
Debbie Toney Lebanon (Mill Spring), New Hope (Rutherfordton)
Reflections with the 2023 Clergy Session
of the Western North Carolina Conference
of the United Methodist Church
” Next, I want to say that we are on a journey from one place to another. We are experiencing change, from what has been to what will be. It is, Susan Beaumont writes, a “liminal space”. Some of where we have been a space to which we do not want to return. It was a space for racism and exclusion. And in the last year we have been through a lot. Some would use the language of trauma. Fightings without and fears within. We have lost some of our churches and some of our clergy in the called virtual annual conference this spring. We have lost some of our members, some of our friends, and some of our buildings.
I want to encourage us to detach from all of that. It is a process, but it will be healthy not to stay attached to loss, enmeshed in grievances, obsessed with the fight. It is time to pivot. Call it metanoia. Let go. Turn toward a new life. We will be a bit smaller, but more focused. Some of what we have lost is a kind of purging. To complete the hard work, we have done is for the sake of people we have singled out for exclusion, and for generations of people we are not reaching. We are not going back.
What do you need to detach from? An anger. A resentment. A bitterness. In the language of Hebrews 12, can we lay it aside? In the language of Galatians 5, can we live in the freedom of God? “
Source: WNC Conference Website
Change IS necessary for Growth
Preparation to Proclamation
Preaching is hard; faithful preaching is even harder. Unwilling to rely on extemporaneous speech from the pulpit, the disciplined preacher knows the Spirit's swaying on Sunday morning requires far more than cramming Saturday night. For the homilist who refuses to shortcut speaking on behalf of the sacred, who remains restless about their craft, who trusts the daily striving between exegesis and elocution, this cohort is intended for you.
Brian Combs and Rob Blackburn will lead a WNCC Preaching Cohort from July through December at Central UMC in Asheville.
This is an offering of the WNCC Leadership Development Team and the cost is underwritten due to the generosity of WNCC churches through apportionment giving.
Learn more and register here.
Rwanda Vision Trip
This October, join the WNCC for a 9-day trip to see how the Zoe model is empowering orphans and vulnerable children to move beyond charity. The Zoe Empowers Rwanda headquarters is located in Huye, a city about two hours from the Capital of Kigali. Read complete details and register here.
Only 3 Seasons Left for RISE! Anti-Racism Trainings
Antiracism Ethics Training is the Clergy Ethics Training for the quadrennium through June 2024, and is mandatory for all clergy in the Western North Carolina Conference. Clergy are strongly encouraged to bring one Laity Member.
Each session has a limited number of seats, please plan accordingly to ensure you are able to participate before June 2024. Every season will have 8 district-hosted options for in-person (2-day workshops) and 1 option for virtual (12-day span workshop). This means there are only 2 virtual options left in the quadrennium and a few in-person local to you.
Last Spring 2023 In-Person Date:
- June 9-10 - Covenant Community UMC, Asheville (Blue Ridge)
Fall 2023 In-Person Dates:
- August 18-19 - Covenant Community UMC, Asheville (Blue Ridge)
- August 25-26 - West Jefferson UMC, West Jefferson (Appalachian District)
- September 11-12 - Black Mountain UMC, Black Mountain (Blue Ridge)
- October 2-3 - St. Paul UMC, Winston Salem (Yadkin Valley)
- October 16-17- Covenant UMC, High Point (Northern Piedmont)
- October 26-27 - Matthews UMC, Matthews (Metro)
- November 2-3 - Location TBD (Yadkin Valley)
- November 13-14 - St. Luke's UMC, Hickory (Catawba Valley)
Fall 2023 Virtual Workshop Option:
- October 15-30
Zoom Sessions on October 15, 20, & 30
Visit registration here.
Remaining UMC Resources
The Western North Carolina Conference has shared a collection of resources aimed at helping navigate talks of disaffiliation, remaining UMC if your church disaffiliates, and supporting those proud to #BeUMC.
"I know the plans I have in mind for you, declares the Lord; they are plans for peace, not disaster, to give you a future filled with hope."
– Jeremiah 29:11 CEB
View the Remaining UMC resource page here.
Online Course: The Non-Anxious Leader: Family Systems Basics