Greetings to the South Georgia Annual Conference from Jim Cowart, Bill Hatcher, and the South Georgia delegation.
There are many moving pieces in our denomination right now. And it is challenging to stay on top of the most current information. With that in mind, I hope this update is helpful. Let me share some key dates, what’s been happening, and what’s ahead.
May 8, 2021: Virtual General Conference canceled by the Council of Bishops
To everyone’s surprise, the Council of Bishops canceled the virtual General Conference scheduled for May 8. This was to be a called General Conference to deal with a limited agenda proposed by the COB.
June 7, 2021: Virtual South Georgia Annual Conference
July 2021: A possible called SEJ Conference
Many believe that a Jurisdictional Conference can only take place after a General Conference. That has been our practice in the past, but there is talk of holding a one day, called SEJ Conference in July, if allowed.
October 9, 2021: A possible South Georgia gathering in Tifton
We say “possible” here because our Conference leaders are carefully watching CDC recommendations regarding crowds and the pandemic, vaccination availability, etc. as well as tracking General Conference updates.
June 5-7, or June 8, 2022: South Georgia Annual Conference Session
August 29 – September 6, 2022: General Conference Session (postponed from 2020)
These are the significant dates we know about at this time.
What’s Been Happening
A Process for Preparation for South Georgia
Separation of the United Methodist Church is looming on the horizon. In light of the postponement of General Conference until 2022, the delegation has revisited the document, “A Process for Preparation,” which was shared at the 2020 Annual Conference Session in order to update the process to fit the newly announced dates for General Conference.
The goal of this plan is to help South Georgia prepare to make a wise, prayerful decision about the future affiliation of the South Georgia Annual Conference. The delegation is currently sharing its thinking with the Leadership Forum Task Force, the Compass Group, the Appointive Cabinet, and the Laity Cabinet in order to invite those groups to speak into the updating of “A Process of Preparation.” We anticipate completing this collaborative work during April so the updated version of “A Process for Preparation” can be shared in May, ahead of the June 7 Annual Conference session.
Episcopal Leadership and Areas
Bill Hatcher and Don Adams have led the charge for South Georgia as the representatives on the SEJ Episcopacy Committee. The delegation has expressed our desire for Bishop Bryan to continue as our Episcopal Leader. However, there are conversations in the SEJ about combining Episcopal Areas. While the South Georgia Conference would remain intact under this scenario, our Annual Conference would be partnered with another Annual Conference, thus expanding that Bishop’s Episcopal area of oversight. In other words, we would share a Bishop with another Annual Conference. This is not our preferred scenario, but if this is the decision handed to us, we are strongly asserting that the South Georgia Annual Conference be paired with another Annual Conference with similar theological values.
The Protocol of Reconciliation and Grace Through Separation
The Protocol is a document designed by leaders representing Traditional, Centrist, and Progressive groups in The United Methodist Church. It is a legislative tool that allows the formation of a new Traditional Methodist Church and ends 50 years of infighting within The United Methodist Church.
Diverse advocacy groups such as Good News and UMC Next, representing both Traditional and Progressive camps, endorse the Protocol.
Due to its broad range of support throughout The United Methodist Church, it seemed highly likely that the Protocol would have passed at General Conference 2020. This would have allowed those who want to maintain the Book of Discipline’s stance on human sexuality and those who wish to change those standards, to separate in a peaceful, organized manner.
The South Georgia Delegation has joined the heads of delegations of the SEJ and others in recommending and endorsing this work. We have additionally sent a statement to the Commission on the General Conference urging the Protocol to be considered at the earliest date possible, whether that be by a virtual General Conference or in person.
Friends, change is coming.
At the next General Conference, there is a high probability that The United Methodist Church will undergo an amicable separation into two or more denominations. If the Protocol is passed, then there will be a new Traditional Methodist Denomination with the suggested name of the “Global Methodist Church.” There will also be a “post-separation United Methodist Church,” which will be more progressive in nature. There is the possibility of other denominations being formed, but essentially, we expect there to be a “Traditional Methodist Church” and a “Progressive Methodist Church.”
The Traditional Methodist Church (Global Methodist Church) will continue to uphold our current Doctrinal Standards including the traditional view of marriage between one man and one woman. And while loving all people, it “considers the practice of homosexuality to be incompatible with Christian teaching” as the Book of Discipline now states.
The post-separation United Methodist Church is expected to change the Book of Discipline’s prohibitions on the consecration of bishops and clergy with homosexual partners, the blessing of same gender marriages, and the ordination of practicing LGBTQ persons into ordained ministry.
Much of the conflict within The United Methodist Church since 1972 has evolved around LGBTQ issues. But for those of us who have been engaged in this conversation for a while, we believe the division is much more significant than this one topic. Sacred beliefs, such as Jesus being God’s son, born of the virgin Mary, His redemptive sacrifice on the cross, and the physical, real resurrection…not a metaphor, not an illustration, but literally, Jesus crucified, dead and buried and that he rose again…these beliefs are being challenged by a growing number of progressive leaders within The United Methodist Church.
In recent years to present day, this progressive leadership, which now includes some bishops, has become more and more defiant of our General Conference decisions, openly ignoring and disobeying our agreed upon Book of Discipline.
Because of these deep divisions, we believe it is time for a peaceful, amicable separation. With the Protocol, Annual Conferences and/or local churches could vote to decide which of the two denominations with which to align. Annual Conferences and local churches that choose not to vote will automatically stay with the post-separation United Methodist Church. Annual Conferences and local churches that choose to join the new Global Methodist Church (traditional) will take their property, assets, and liabilities with them and own them outright. This is new. Property and assets are currently held “in trust” by the Annual Conference. After the separation is complete, churches will be reorganized into new Conferences in whichever denomination they choose.
We are striving to reach a fair conclusion for all…for those with whom we agree theologically and with those with whom we disagree. We are working to treat everyone with dignity and respect and to “disagree without becoming disagreeable” with our actions and words.
By following the path laid out by the Protocol for Separation, every local church and Annual Conference can choose the best way to serve God according to their conscience and separate peacefully.
Of course, we thought we’d be further along in this process by now but the pandemic and related travel restrictions have caused General Conference to be postponed until August, 2022. As we move toward that date, the delegation is open to your thoughts and questions, and we certainly solicit your prayers as we seek God’s wisdom and will.
Blessings and peace to South Georgia in Jesus Christ our Lord!
In a letter to the Commission on the General Conference, the South Georgia Annual Conference General and Jurisdictional Delegation asked that The “Protocol of Grace & Reconciliation Through Separation” be the first matter considered by the 2021 General Conference.
Whether meeting in person or virtually, South Georgia’s delegation urged that The Protocol – a mediated proposal for the future of The United Methodist Church that allows each part of the Church to remain true to its theological understanding while recognizing the dignity, equality, integrity, and respect of every person – be brought before the body immediately following adoption of organizing motions.
“In regards to holding the General Conference being planned for later this year and setting the agenda, lay and clergy have consistently expressed to us their desire for our beloved church to discern, discuss and move past the issues that have caused hurt and distraction away from our mission and witness. While there are necessary items of maintaining ministry that will be before us, discussing the future of the church is vital. To delay that discussion does harm to countless local churches and their leaders around the world,” the letter stated.
The delegation also expressed its gratitude for the holy work being done by the Commission to prepare for the 2021 General Conference session.
“Every member of our delegation signed this message of appreciation for the work of the Commission. This is a time when clarity around how to safely and easily meet is difficult to find, yet we know they are doing their best,” said clergy delegate Rev. Dr. Scott Hagan, senior pastor of Statesboro First United Methodist Church. “Similarly, folks in South Georgia continue to seek clarity about what is next for our denomination. I know there are lots of topics that need attention, but our request is that the Protocol gets first consideration, if possible.”
The South Georgia Annual Conference General and Jurisdictional Delegation has released a statement unanimously affirming the work done on the “Protocol of Grace & Reconciliation Through Separation.” It also recommended the Protocol be the first legislative item considered by General Conference 2020.
The statement reads: “The South Georgia Annual Conference General and Jurisdictional Delegation supports the Protocol of Reconciliation & Grace Through Separation as a way to move forward into new expressions of Methodist ministry and mission. We earnestly believe that the Protocol provides the best option to end the impasse in our denomination, is in the best interests of our Annual Conference and strengthens our witness in our communities and the world.
We humbly urge the Commission on the General Conference to take such action as necessary to make possible the consideration of all legislation implementing the Protocol by a Committee of the Whole. We urge that the Protocol be the first matter of consideration by the 2020 General Conference following adoption of organizing motions.” READ MORE | WATCH VIDEO
Mr. Bill Hatcher
Member, Statesboro First UMC
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Rev. Jim Cowart
Pastor, Harvest Church, Byron
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Mrs. Jennifer Cowart
Member, Harvest Church, Byron
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Rev. Robert Beckum
Mrs. Allison Lindsey
Member, St. Mark UMC, Douglas
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Rev. Doreen Smalls
District Superintendent, Southwest District
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Mr. Larry Price
Member, Christ UMC, Albany
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Rev. Jay Hanson
Pastor, The Chapel, Brunswick
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Mr. Richard Shinhoster
Dr. Scott Hagan
Mrs. Brenda Adams
Member, Pine Forest UMC, Dublin
Email Brenda: Asbury71@icloud.com
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Serving on behalf of South Georgia in legislative committees will be:
Scott Hagan (alternate to General Conference)
Jimmy Towson (alternate to General Conference)
Richard Shinhoster (alternate to General Conference)
Brenda Adams (alternate to General Conference)
During the 2019 annual conference session, held June 2 through June 5, South Georgia United Methodists elected delegates to serve at the 2020 General and Southeastern Jurisdictional Conferences.
In all, four clergy and four laity were elected to attend General Conference, the highest legislative body of the denomination, which will meet May 5-15, 2020, in Minneapolis, Minn.
In addition, the conference elected another four clergy and four laity to attend the Southeastern Jurisdictional Conference, along with the General Conference delegates. Jurisdictional Conference will be held July 15-18, 2020, when bishops will be elected.
The first two members of the jurisdictional delegation are also considered alternate delegates to General Conference and will prepare to attend that conference as well. Two additional alternate delegates were also elected to attend Jurisdictional Conference.
Leading the General Conference clergy delegation is Rev. Jim Cowart, lead pastor of Harvest Church in Byron. Rev. Cowart served as a General Conference delegate in 2012, 2016, and 2019.
William S. “Bill” Hatcher, a businessman and a member of Statesboro First United Methodist Church, will lead the General Conference laity delegation. This will be Hatcher’s tenth General Conference session.
General Conference Delegates
In addition to Rev. Cowart, the 2020 General Conference clergy delegation includes Rev. Robert Beckum, senior pastor of St. Luke United Methodist Church in Columbus; Rev. Doreen Smalls, superintendent of the Southwest District; and Rev. Jay Hanson, senior pastor of The Chapel in Brunswick.
The laity delegation includes Hatcher; Jennifer Cowart, member and executive director of ministry and operations for Harvest Church; Allison Lindsey, associate director of Connectional Ministries and member of St. Mark United Methodist Church in Douglas; and Larry Price, retired president of Albany Winnelson Company and a member of Albany’s Christ United Methodist Church.
The clergy Jurisdictional Conference delegation includes Dr. Scott Hagan, pastor of Bonaire United Methodist Church; Rev. Jimmy Towson, senior pastor of Park Avenue United Methodist Church in Valdosta; and Rev. David Thompson, superintendent of the Coastal District, and Rev. Scott Tucker, incoming pastor of Isle of Hope United Methodist Church in Savannah.
Rev. Alaina Harrison, associate pastor of Wesley United Methodist Church in Macon, were elected alternate Jurisdictional Conference clergy delegates.
The Jurisdictional Conference laity delegation includes Richard Shinhoster, a retired college administrator and member of ConneXion Church in Savannah; Brenda Adams, a retired teacher and member of Pine Forest United Methodist Church in Dublin; Chuck Cowart, a member of Arlington United Methodist Church; and Steve Rumford, a retired diaconal minister and former president of the Methodist Home and member of Mulberry Street United Methodist Church in Macon.
Debbie Turner, a retired educator and member of Akin United Methodist Church, and Jeff Barker, president and CEO of the St. Marys UMC Foundation and member of St. Marys United Methodist Church, were elected alternate Jurisdictional Conference lay delegates.
While the denomination’s future and human sexuality will dominate conversations at the 2020 General Conference session, Rev. Cowart says there’s more to discuss than just those two issues.
“It’s certainly going to be at the center - are we going to stay together, are we going to split,” he said. “The continuity and unity of the denomination are going to be the main focus, and what brought us there is human sexuality.”
But, he said, more work needs to be done in regards to declining membership.
“Evangelism, discipleship, and turning the numbers around are all things that have to be addressed.”
Hatcher, who has served as a delegate in every General and Jurisdictional Conference since 1988, said that he’s honored and humbled that the laity of South Georgia are trusting him in this role. He’s ready for the denomination to move forward past the issues that have divided it for decades.
“My hope is that I will be able to help the Church continue on the path established in St. Louis,” he said. We’ve too long fought over the issue of human sexuality and the interpretation of scripture. So when we, as the church, can get to the conclusion we can serve God’s kingdom better going our separate ways, each interpreting the scripture as we are led, all of us will be in a better place. We should bless each other and wish one another the best instead of fighting and being adversaries.”
Rev. Cowart said that, while there will be challenges, he is grateful to serve alongside the other delegates.
“This is an awesome task to help our Church navigate these turbulent waters.”