The East Tennessee Christian Convention was first held in 1829, making it the world’s oldest convention for Christian Churches, a group of congregations formed within the Restoration Movement in the early 19th century.
Nearly two centuries ago, members of congregations throughout Southern Appalachia would travel hundreds of miles to attend the conference, Westside Christian Church Minister Greg Key said.
“When it first started, it would last for a week, and people would come from as far as Greeneville, Morristown, North Carolina and parts of Virginia in buggies, but no one comes in buggies anymore,” Key laughed.
The annual convention, set for 6:30 p.m. Sunday, will be held at Boones Creek Christian Church, where members from dozens of Christian Churches across the region will meet.
Though Key said attendance numbers are not what they used to be, the convention serves the same purpose — a chance for ministries across the region to network and work on common goals.
“One of the things we do is get updates on ministries in the area. So we’ll have updates from our church camps, the campus ministries at ETSU, updates from East Tennessee Christian Home and Academy,” Key said. “These are ministries many churches in the area support. In past years, we would also get updates from different congregations as well.”
Every year, the convention brings together choirs from each Christian Church congregation, but much of the focus of the convention is to discuss the history of the Restoration Movement and some of its early founders from the 19th century, such as Walter Scott, who traveled the country to preach about his “five points:” faith, repentance, baptism, remission of sins and the gift of the Holy Spirit.
“Scott was one of the key leaders in the formation of the Restoration Movement, which became the Christian Church,” Key said. “One of the things he’d do when he traveled around the country was meet and teach children a ‘five finger exercise’ on how to be saved.”
First Christian Church Minister Ethan Magness said he is looking forward to speaking at the event. The theme of his discussion will be “Surprise the World,” inspired by Michael Frost’s book of the same title.
“The premise is that the church often gets kind of stuck in how we relate to the world and we become unsurprising — unsurprisingly judgmental and cold to the world. The idea is that the church could be surprisingly loving, compassionate and kind, which could help people be more receptive to Jesus,” Magness said. “I think we always have the opportunity to be more loving than we are being. Love is the kind of thing that always needs to increase, and we’re constantly in a state of reforming to ask how we can move forward to express love rather than exclusion.”
As a progressive minister, he said the convention often serves as a way for church leaders to discuss how to move forward. Though the convention is usually geared toward the Christian Churches group, he said other congregations are welcome to attend.
“I think one of my favorite things about the church is that we recognize that all other churches are our allies, and we have a common, and not a competing mission, in ministry,” he said. “Conferences like this are the best way to express that, because we have this tangible thing where we come together and communicate and celebrate our shared mission.”
The conference will be followed by a breakfast at Milligan College’s cafeteria on Monday at 8:30 a.m., where the public is welcome to come meet local church leaders and ministers.
For more information on the convention, visit www.easttncc.com.