published Saturday, January 21st, 2012

Cooper: Candidate Graves on new journey

A man who pastored Chattanooga churches for 16 years has recently found himself in the same situation as Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum -- campaigning for high office.

The Rev. David Graves, superintendent of the United Methodist Church's Kingsport District, is the nominee of the denomination's Holston Conference for one of five available positions as bishop at July's Southeastern Jurisdictional Conference.

If he is elected, he would be assigned to lead one of the 15 conferences within the Southeastern Jurisdiction.

"[Campaigning] is difficult when the political arena right now is pretty stressful," said Graves, who was minister of youth and recreation at Hixson UMC 1989-1994, pastored Ooltewah United Methodist Church 1998-2009 and was active in the Chattanooga-LaFayette Emmaus Community. "The bishop thing is like running a campaign, and I don't like that."

So, instead, the Knoxville native has chosen to look at the process as a journey.

"I'm blessed by [Holston] nominating me as a person to be looked at," he said. Whatever happens, "this journey has

helped me to be a better leader."

Graves, 53, said his bishop, the Rev. James Swanson, told him the process would be difficult in that he would have to promote himself.

"It's totally out of my character," he said. "I'd rather brag about the pastor, the churches, the work in the district. So it is challenging. What I'm trying to do is have other people talk about me and just to be myself."

There's a lot to tell, especially his accomplishments since becoming superintendent of the Kingsport District in 2009.

For the first time in 35 years, he said, district churches together posted an increase in worship attendance, Sunday school attendance and professions of faith. In addition, every district church paid its "assessed" amount in conference, district and direct invoicing dues.

Graves said an intercessory prayer team also was created, resource books and people provided, and a general sense of doing things together fostered.

In one instance, he said, six small membership churches came together to hire a part-time youth coordinator. This month, the churches are sending a number of teens to the conference's winter youth rally, Resurrection, in Gatlinburg, Tenn.

"Those folks are so excited about what they're doing together," Graves said. "Each church has strengths, and we try to bring those together. They have new life, new vitality and a wonderful spirit."

Those types of stories, he said, "I'm willing to tell whoever will listen."

In fact, Graves has scheduled time to do just that at several meet-and-greet events, a first for a bishop candidate in the Holston Conference.

One of those will be Sunday from 3 to 5 p.m. at Hixson United Methodist Church, 5301 Old Hixson Pike. He'll speak at 3:30 p.m., one of his team members will offer those present an opportunity to provide financial assistance, and he will take questions.

Candidates for bishop are limited in what they can do, Graves said. Only two mailings can be sent to delegates who will vote to elect the bishops, and candidates cannot visit other annual conference gatherings.

As such, he and others are putting together a website (davidgraves4bishop.com) in which other people can learn about him. There is also a YouTube video.

"I just want to educate people," Graves said, on questions such as "how do you become a bishop, how does [it] work, who votes. And I want to build on the connections. I want to help people come alongside me on the journey."

Graves, a married father of two grown children, said he believes he's got "a really good chance" to be elected.

The next bishop, he said, should be "someone that's going to live out our Wesleyan theology, someone who has demonstrated growth in the local church and on the district level, someone who can make hard decisions, someone who can be steady, effective, a good listener, bring hope, and help churches be vital and pastors be effective."

about Clint Cooper...

Clint Cooper is the faith editor and a staff writer for the Times Free Press Life section. He also has been an assistant sports editor and Metro staff writer for the newspaper. Prior to the merger between the Chattanooga Free Press and Chattanooga Times in 1999, he was sports news editor for the Chattanooga Free Press, where he was in charge of the day-to-day content of the section and the section’s design. Before becoming sports ...

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