Both sides of the river

The first-ever Tennessee-Western Kentucky UMC Annual Conference begins

John I. Carney
5 min readJun 16, 2022

Liturgical dance can be polarizing, but this was quite beautiful.

Well, the first day of Annual Conference was a success, I think.

I got to Brentwood United Methodist Church early, and helped welcome people to a Stones River breakout session. The district breakout sessions, and the large group session that immediately followed them, were on the topic of transitions.

Until this year, there was a Tennessee Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church, made up, basically, of Middle Tennessee, and a Memphis Annual Conference, made up of West Tennessee and a portion of southwestern Kentucky. In the United Methodist Church, an “annual conference” refers both to an administrative region headed up by a bishop and to that region’s annual meeting, where pastoral assignments are finalized and other various business takes place. On January 1 of this year, the two legacy conferences were merged into the Tennessee-Western Kentucky Annual Conference.

Merging the two conferences has been in the works for years (they have shared a bishop for some time), but it’s a big deal requiring some changes in how we do things. Before the pandemic, an annual conference was exclusively an in-person event. For the past two years, annual conferences have been held online. This year, we have a hybrid — a concession to the fact that our larger geographic footprint makes it harder for people to attend in person. This year, we are holding the conference at Brentwood United Methodist Church, in Williamson County, south of Nashville. A lot of Middle Tennessee residents are attending in person, while some (but not all) West Tennessee and Kentucky residents chose to attend by Zoom. Next year, the conference will be in Memphis, and the shoe will be on the other foot.

Prior to the pandemic, I had never been a voting delegate to annual conference. I had attended an evening worship session once or twice, and in fact in 2008 I was the first lay speaker ever to preach at the Tennessee Annual Conference. But I’d never been a part of the business sessions. The conference is made up of both clergy and laity; pastors are voting delegates, and each church also sends a voting lay delegate.

John I. Carney

Author of “Dislike: Faith and Dialogue in the Age of Social Media,” available at