2018 Report to United Methodist News Service

South Georgia Annual Conference
Jekyll Island Convention Center, Jekyll Island, GA
June 4-7, 2017
Bishop R. Lawson Bryan, presiding

Just outside the doors of the Jekyll Island Convention Center, the Atlantic Ocean stretched as far as the eye could see. Inside, the South Georgia Annual Conference gathered Sunday, June 3 through Tuesday, June 5 for its 152nd annual conference session under the theme “Alive Together in Worship.”

“Stretch,” Bishop Bryan said as he preached the opening worship service sermon and encouraged South Georgia United Methodists to respond to Jesus’ call to follow Him and love and serve others.

“Even John Wesley had to learn to stretch,” he said. “John Wesley stretched the church.”

Bishop Bryan recounted the stories of the women at Jesus’ tomb, the man with the withered hand, and the woman at the well to help illustrate a believer’s response to Jesus’ calling on their lives.

“The real issue is, do I want to let myself wither? Do I want to let myself die? Or do I want to be healed? Do I want to stretch?”

“Stretch out your hand,” Bishop Bryan said, noting those four words from Mark 3:5 summarize Jesus’ ministry. “At the end, Jesus stretched out his hands on the cross so that all the world might come within the embrace of His saving love."

During the service, nearly $30,000 for Abundant Health and the Special Relief Fund for South Georgia clergy was given in order to provide gifts of hope to enrich the health and lives of people in South Georgia, the United States, and around the world. Dr. Simbo Ige, Executive Director of Global Health for Global Ministries, was present to receive the check and share about the Abundant Health initiative.

Throughout the three-day conference, members stretched up in worship and stretched out to each other and to the world. Claire Bowen, church consultant and guest teacher, encouraged churches to work to develop a plan that creates a vision of greatness and vitality. Clergy and laity, sitting together in teams, worked together to develop a plan for vision and ministry as Bowen taught them how to put a "Plan on a Page" to bring new life and to their congregation. 

“A vision that stretches us inspires us to be God’s children making disciples of Christ for the transformation of the world,” said Bowen. “What inspires you to lead your church to be all that it can be? What vision would make you want to stretch your arms and shout ‘Yes, God, let’s do it!’”

In other action, members:

  • heard the Lay Leader's Address given by Gloria Morgan as she highlighted the ways laity are serving their neighbors in each district and spreading the love of Christ.
  • heard a moving message from Rev. Leigh Ann Raynor, retired South Georgia minister, in the Memorial Service as we remembered those who have gone before us. She reminded us of our calls to serve and to thank God for calling us all into ministry.
  • took a revote on a proposed amendment to the UMC constitution dealing with women’s equality after an error was made in the text as it was presented to annual conferences for voting last year.
  • heard a presentation on A Way Forward from Bishop Bryan, Conference Chancellor Warren Plowden, and Rev. Don Adams and Bill Hatcher, clergy and lay heads of the General Conference delegation.
  • were challenged by Bishop Bryan in his Episcopal Address to be Alive Together with a heart of peace. “Fast forward two or three years from now - as people are looking back on this time of the special General Conference and the discussion on the Way Forward - what will you have done and what will you have said that causes your name to come up as a person of peace?” said Bishop Bryan.  
  • passed a resolution that calls on the South Georgia Conference to “affirm the present standards of our Discipline” and also asks that the Secretary of the Annual Conference, within 60 days, share a copy of the resolution and the vote count (431 yes, 179 no) with the head of the General Conference delegation of each annual conference along with a request for the resolution to be shared with the delegations.
  • approved an arrearage policy to help stem the tide of clergy benefit debt.
  • approved a $10,062,826 million budget for mission and ministry for 2019, which is a nearly 6 percent decrease from the 2018 budget. Most of the decrease is due to a reduction in the Pre-82 pension apportionment.

Four persons were commissioned as provisional elders, and two persons commissioned as provisional deacons. Two persons were ordained into the Order of Deacon.

Eighteen pastors retired, and four were recognized for achieving their 50th anniversary in ministry. Thirty-one clergy and clergy spouses who died in the past year were remembered during the memorial service.

Annual Conference 2018 ended with a Service of Sending Forth as Bishop Bryan encouraged each person to ask themselves, “Where am I stretching?”

“We hold our communities in our hands,” Bishop Bryan said. “Hope is a wonderful thing. Where are you bringing hope in your community? Stretch out in ministry to the world. Stretch out your hands to the world.”

Membership stands at 110,926, down 2,520 from the previous year. Worship attendance stands at 45,862, down 2,165. Church school attendance stands at 19,839, up 877 from 2017.

The 2019 Annual Conference session will be held June 2-5 in Columbus.