Compelled to be weird

Tennessee-Western Kentucky United Methodist Annual Conference, Day 1

John I. Carney
5 min readJun 20, 2023


Bishop Gregory Palmer of the West Ohio Conference of the United Methodist Church speaks to the Tennessee-Western Kentucky Annual Conference. The picture shows both Palmer directly and a projection of Palmer on a large video screen.
Bishop Gregory Palmer of the West Ohio Annual Conference speaks during morning worship on Monday at the Tennessee-Western Kentucky Annual Conference.

“[T]he love of God,” said Dr. Ashley Boggan, “compels us to be weird.”

The United Methodist Church is divided into administrative units called Annual Conferences. The term “annual conference” refers to the geographic region, its administration, and, of course, an annual event.

Each Annual Conference is broken up into districts, and I’m the lay leader for the Stones River District of the Tennessee-Western Kentucky Annual Conference (Middle Tennessee, West Tennessee, and a chunk of southwestern Kentucky), which means I’m a voting delegate for the event.

When the Tennessee-Western Kentucky (or TWK) annual conference was formed in 2022, by the merger of two other conferences, it was understood that the annual meeting would alternate between the Nashville area and the Memphis area. Last year, the conference was in Brentwood, south of Nashville, at one of the largest church facilities in the conference; this year, it’s in downtown Memphis, at a convention center.

I posted a couple of weeks ago about my denomination’s recent struggles and my hope that this event would be inspiring and energizing.

It has been, so far.

The conference proper began Monday morning, but for those who were in Memphis early there was a special, after-hours guided tour of the National Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Motel. It was a powerful, affecting experience. The museum tells the story of the black experience from the Civil War through Reconstruction and Jim Crow, and then lays out the history of the civil rights movement — Rosa Parks, lunch counter protests, Brown v. Board of Education, the March on Washington, and much more. It ends up at rooms 306 and 307 from the motel, which have been lovingly restored with original furnishings to the way they looked on the day when Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated, on the second floor walkway right outside those rooms.

An exterior view of the Lorraine Motel, home to the National Civil Rights Museum. A red and white wreath marks the spot on the second floor walkway where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was shot. Two period cars, both white, are parked below.
The wreath marks the approximate location where Dr. King was shot.

Monday morning, the conference proper began with a worship service. It is traditional…



John I. Carney

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