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Blue Ridge Conference Holds 134th Session

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The 134th Session of the Blue Ridge Annual Conference was held May 22-25, 2024, at the beautiful and scenic Walls/Battle Conference and Retreat Center in Black Mountain, North Carolina.  The Quadrennial theme was “The Freedom Church-A movement Empowered by the Holy Spirit.”  Bishop Darryl B. Starnes presided.  The Missionary Supervisor was Sister Camille Starnes.  Presiding Elders were Dr. Herbert Grant and Dr. J. Ruth Davis.

Wednesday morning, the Communion message was delivered by the Reverend Keith L. Lipsey, pastor of New Bethel A.M.E. Zion Church, Forest City, North Carolina.  Rev. Lipsey delivered a most powerful and thought-provoking message on “The Significance of the Blood” (Exodus24:1), reminding of the body broken and the bloodshed.

Wednesday afternoon, Bishop Starnes delivered his Episcopal Address.  He spoke on “Securing our Future by thriving as a healthy congregation.”  As a reference, he used the book by Christian A. Schwarz. The Bishop said, “Just as plants grow, so do congregations.” He listed the eight essential qualities defined by Schwarz as test questions.  1. Is ministry focused on equipping others to serve? 2. Are tasks in the church distributed according to the criteria of the gifts of individual Christians?  3. Is the spiritual life of members characterized by prayer, enthusiasm, and boldness? 4. Are the forms, regulations, and instructions of the church designed according to the criteria designed to be most useful for here and now? 5. Is visiting the worship service an inspirational experience for church members? 6. Are small groups dedicated to answering the true question and meeting the real needs of their members in a holistic way? 7. Are the forms and contents of Evangelism activities relating to the needs of those you are trying to win?  8. Are relationships between the members of the church based on a high degree of love and affection? Bishop Starnes concluded by saying, ‘Sometimes we focus on how to grow the church. Our focus should not be on GROWTH but on the HEALTH of the church.  If we focus on health, we can grow our churches.  The bishop closed a powerful address by quoting the words for Hymn 227, “God of Grace and God of Glory which he defined as a “series of prayers.”

Wednesday evening, the annual sermon was delivered by Rev. Sherman Dunmore, Sr. Rev. Dunmore delivered a challenging message on “The Four Sides of a Man.” (Rev. 4:6-7).

Thursday morning a Sexual Misconduct Prevention Workshop was held. The presenter was Reverend Wanda Merriweather of the Western North Carolina Conference.  Rev. Meriweather defined Sexual Misconduct according to the Discipline and enlightened the delegation on the need for background checks, child protection issues, etc.

Thursday afternoon, the Lay Council Scholarship Luncheon was held.  The guest speaker was The Reverend Dr. Lester McCorn, President of Clinton College, Rock Hill, South Carolina. Dr. McCorn delivered a most challenging and thought-provoking message on “One Nation Under a Groove” (1st. Peter 2:9).  He spoke of music called “Funk.”  He said, “We need to get our groove back.  We are a peculiar people.  There is a difference between beat and groove.  Beat is temporary. You are a chosen people, chosen in darkness, chosen to change the world.  You’re in this war for a reason. It’s not time to sit on the sidelines. We are a royal priesthood-servants of change.  We are a holy nation set aside for service.  There is something distinct about us.  Be proud of our peculiarities.  God gives you another view.  God takes you on another path.  We are not delinquent that’s why we can lift every voice and sing.  Nothing can stop us.” Bishop Starnes defined it as a “mighty message, deep and profound’.

Thursday evening was Education Night.  The message was delivered by Rev. Luke Curry, Sr., pastor of Young’s Memorial A.M.E. Zion Church, New Market, TN.  Rev. Curry delivered a dynamic message on “Sound the Horn” (2nd Cor. 7:11-16).

Friday was Missionary Day. Missionary Supervisor Sister Camille T. Starnes presided. The Prayer Meditation was delivered by Rev. Rosie Cuberson, pastor of New Zion A.M.E. Zion Church, Newport, TN. A liturgical dance entitled “Walk into Your Season” was performed by Ms. Alia Caddy, a youth from Hopkins Chapel, Asheville, NC.  The Missionary Address was delivered by Sister Camille Starnes.  Sister Starnes gave a powerful and exhilarating message on the theme of “Selfcare and Wellness.”  She used the topic “Taste and See” (Psalms 33.34:8).  Sister Stanes spoke of eating better, spiritual, physical, and mental health. She demonstrated this by showing a pruning tree she had designed.  She opened her address by stating, “Piedmont, it’s pruning time.  Sister Starnes defined it as a “time for allowing the Divine Gardner to mold and shape our lives.”  She said, “The spiritual significance of pruning is a reward.  It allows God to help us get rid of things that weigh us down. Sister Starnes listed three things we must throw behind us.  1.  Let go of distractions-unhealthy desires, negative thinking, and personal actions.  2. Phobias-fear of change 3. Leave personal feelings behind so that our lives will become better and not bitter. She defined them as being “toxic.” Prior to her message, Sister Starnes had distributed felt leaves to everyone to write down things that were weighing them down.  As she closed, all were thrown away. She concluded a moving and emotional message by challenging the delegation to “let the chains fall off your hands and feet and run for Jesus.  She closed with the song; I am Free. This was defined as the ”high moment of the conference."

Friday Afternoon, the Home Missions Luncheon was held. Rev. Gregory Washington Gerald presided. Ms. Lisa Tucker of Harris Chapel was crowned the 2024 Blue Ridge Conference Queen.

Friday evening began with the Candlelight and stoling ceremonies.  This was the largest number stoled in many years. The Missionary Message was delivered by Presiding Elder, Rev. Dr. J. Ruth Davis (Hendersonville District). Rev. Davis delivered a powerful message on “Encourage Yourself” (Psalms 3:1-4: 1st Sam30:6).  The Missionary Banner was captured by the Hendersonville District.

Saturday was Youth Day. Ms. Danielle McAdams presided over the Youth Service. The devotional service was conducted by the children and youth. An outstanding (Slide presentation) report was given by youth council president Joshua Williams.  The sermon was delivered by Rev. Teresa Stewart, pastor of Thomas Chapel A.M.E. Zion Church.

Saturday afternoon, the closing message and charge by Bishop Starnes.  The Bishop delivered a challenging message on “Becoming Resilient Disciples of the Risen Lord” (2nd, Cor.4;8-18). He began by defining Resilient as being “the ability to rebound or bounce back." He gave three insights into how we become resilient disciples: 1. Enduring the tough times-troubles on every hand, perplexities, persecution, tribulations, suffering. 2. Being faithful to the Lord anyhow-live for the Lord anyhow-serve the Lord anyhow-reach the gospel of Jesus anyhow 3. Embrace a never-give-up attitude; the Bishop concluded his challenging message by saying, “We secure our future by thriving as a dynamic movement; our future is what we are becoming; we must become Godly ministers in an ungodly world. We must become resilient disciples of the risen Lord. We must endure tough times.”

The 134th Session closed with the report of the courtesy committee and the reading of appointments.

The conference could be defined as spirit-filled, interesting, exciting, and informative. Each day began with a series of prayers led by the conference prayer coordinators. Bishop Starnes kept the days lively and entertaining with his keen wit and sense of humor.

Blue Ridge Annual Conference, 134th Session

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