The 2013 South Georgia Annual Conference session was one of mission and minimizing.
Held June 2-4 at the Macon Centreplex in Macon, Ga., more than 1,000 South Georgia United Methodist clergy and laity gathered together to conference in the Wesleyan tradition and make critical decisions about the future structure of the Conference.
On Tuesday afternoon, the session’s final day, clergy and lay delegates debated and voted whether or not to retain the current nine-district structure.
After several motions and impassioned speeches for and against reduction, the body voted to reduce the number of districts to six.
Many voted to reduce based on projected cost savings. In 2014, when the changes will take effect, the Conference Council on Finance and Administration (CFA) estimates six months of savings totaling $202,420. In 2015, they project a $550,000 savings, which includes estimated total savings from all funding streams that support district life (conference budget, district operational budget, district missional budget, and district property).
Others based their vote on their desire for the Conference to experience change and growth.
“This is about vision and where we’re going to go,” said Rev. John Stephens, senior pastor of Wesley at Frederica United Methodist Church on St. Simons Island, as he spoke against the motion to retain the Conference’s current nine districts. “We will never change if we stay the same.”
The other major highlight of the three-day session was service. The Office of Connectional Ministries organized three mission opportunities for South Georgia United Methodists to put their faith into action.
During Sunday evening’s opening worship service, a special offering was received for Stop Hunger Now, a Conference Advance Special (Advance #982795). Collected prior to the Annual Conference session and during the Sunday evening worship service, congregations and individuals gave more than $39,000 to fight hunger and support the ministry of Stop Hunger Now. For those interested in giving to the Stop Hunger Now special offering, designated gifts are still being received by the Conference Treasurer.
On Monday, nearly 150 volunteers spent their lunch break packaging mobile meals for Stop Hunger Now. They packed more than 30,000 meals, which contain a vitamin packet and a scoop each of rice, soy flour, and dehydrated vegetables. They will be shipped to school feeding programs in some 38 countries across the globe.
On Tuesday, attendees supported the Conference’s local mission agencies, donating movies, toiletries, school supplies, baby wipes and more to Magnolia Manor, the Methodist Children’s Home, Open Door Community Center, Vashti, Wesley Community Centers and Wesley Glen. So much was given that bins overflowed with donated goods.
Bishop King welcomed attendees to Macon with his trademark, “Greetings, beautiful people!”
Rev. Jenny Jackson-Adams, who preached the conference’s opening worship service on Sunday evening, read from 1 Corinthians 13 and challenged clergy and laity to love one another in word and deed.
“Love is hard. It’s so simple that it’s hard to do,” she said. “Paul tells us that we won’t be able to do it (love) unless God’s love is in us. It will be impossible. Love is not just what we think or feel, it’s how we act, too.”
Monday morning, June 3, began with separate clergy and laity sessions; afterwards everyone joined together for the opening business session of the 2012 Annual Conference.
During the day’s business session, attendees heard the Lay Leader’s address, given by Conference lay leader Roy Blackwood. Blackwood challenged laity to continue to build relationships with one another and other congregations and to strengthen the connection.
“Some churches are larger and some are smaller,” he said, “but ideally they are connected in a way which says, ‘How can we help each other to be more effective in the process of making disciples of Jesus Christ? How can we as a group of churches be linked together as a district to make a difference not only in our community, but also in the world?’”
The Conference also heard the Board of Ordained Ministry report given by Chairman Dr. Marcus Tripp; recognized those clergy who faithfully serve beyond the local church in an extension ministry appointment; received seven clergy into full conference membership; celebrated the ministries of The Methodist Home for Children and Youth, Wesley Glen Ministries, New and Revitalized Congregational Development, Open Door Community Centers, Wesley Community Centers, Good News Television, the Georgia United Methodist Foundation, the Arthur J. Moore Methodist Museum, Epworth By The Sea, and Higher Education and Ministry; heard the report of the conference personnel committee; approved the equitable compensation report; approved the conference trustees report; adopted items on the consent calendar; elected persons presented by the nominations committee; approved the Board of Pensions and Health Benefits report; learned more about the Connectional Ministries’ Nurture, Witness, Outreach and Advocacy teams; were introduced to Gil Hanke from the General Commission of United Methodist Men; and heard a report from the District Study Task Force.
Bishop King, in his Monday afternoon episcopal address, reminded everyone of the South Georgia Conference’s vision.
“We know where we are going,” he said. “We have a vision – it’s a vision of a Christlike world.”
He outlined three goals that will help the Conference create a more Christlike world: disciple plans, Project Turnaround, and the five-star benchmark system.
He also reminded delegates and attendees that God’s plan is for everyone, and that God considers everyone special.
“God expects every person to honor God and glorify Him with their faith,” Bishop King said. “God loves the people you don’t like. God loves the people you resent. I believe in my heart that God’s plan includes everyone.”
He admonished everyone to “see Jesus in every person.”
“I believe the world will get better and better when we see that we are all God’s children, and that makes everyone special.”
To close the day, the Conference gathered for the service of Ordination and Commissioning. Retired Bishop Al Gwinn preached a message of, “Set your minds and your hearts.”
Reading from Colossians 3:1-3, Bishop Gwinn told the ordinands that they have been called into God’s work.
“It is so important for you to remember this is not your work. God wants to do God’s work through you. This is God’s story,” he said.
“You and I serve out of love for Christ and His church.”
Speaking to each ordinand by name, Bishop Gwinn reminded them that their ministry is a calling, not a job.
“When Christ calls a person, He bids them come and die,” he said. “It’s not about how many bathrooms are in the parsonage, or how much vacation time you have. It’s about Jesus needing you on this errand for Him.
“Set your minds on things above. Set your hearts on things above, not on earthly things.”
Bishop King, assisted by Bishop Gwinn, presided over the ordinal rites. Roy Blackwood represented the laity and Dr. Tripp, chairman of the Board of Ordained Ministry, observed the ordinal rites. Dr. John Stephens and Rev. Meg Procopio represented the Order of Elder and Deacon.
Dr. Denise Hopkins, professor of Hebrew Bible and the Woodrow W. and Mildred B. Miller professor of Biblical Theology at Wesley Theological Seminary, led attendees in Bible studies on Monday afternoon and Tuesday morning, focusing on the importance of promoting justice.
Reading Rahab’s story in Joshua 2, Dr. Hopkins reminded the audience that Rahab is one of only five women who appear among 41 men in Jesus’ genealogy.
“All five are wronged, boxed in, manipulated by the male world,” she said. “All five risk their own condemnation and damage to the usual social order…”
Dr. Hopkins asked the audience what type of woman they thought Rahab to be and then urged that they read deeper and ask questions.
“Read to question rather than accept. Read to refuse stereotypes, read to realign all relationships, read to question assumptions, read to understand what it’s like to be between a rock and a hard place like Rahab, and read to understand ‘The Other.’”
In her second Bible study, Dr. Hopkins taught on the commandment, “Thou shall not steal,” telling attendees that, in Biblical times, there was no such thing as private property.
“’You shall not steal’ is not about protecting the right to private property,” she said. “It’s about protecting each family. They prohibit those things that damage the community.
“We are called to mutual watchfulness.”
During Tuesday’s business session, the Conference continued the conversation around the District Study Task Force; celebrated with pastors who have served 50 years in ministry and those who are retiring; voted on four constitutional amendments; took action on five church closings and celebrated their ministries; heard a report from the Conference Council on Finance and Administration (CFA); celebrated two newly constituted South Georgia United Methodist Churches, The Ridge in Columbus and Gateway Community in Rincon; honored Five-Star and Four-Star Pastors; and approved a 2014 budget of $11,025,844.
A memorial service to honor the 30 faithful clergy and clergy spouses who have died since last year’s Annual Conference was held on Tuesday afternoon. In honoring them, Rev. Creede Hinshaw said, “We loved those whom you are remembering today.”
“We can never forget what they did,” Rev. Hinshaw said. “Go up, Moses. We join our hands with those who have gone before.”
John Wesley scholar Rev. Dave Hanson shared three “John Wesley Moments” throughout the Annual Conference session. These concise and powerful mini-sermons reminded attendees of their Wesleyan roots. In the first moment, attendees were reminded that John Wesley was concerned for the “least of these,” especially children, and that caring for the least of these is part of the United Methodist heritage. In the second, Rev. Hanson said that women used to be among, “the least of these,” and that Wesley and his mother Susanna should be thanked for opening the doors for women in leadership. In the third John Wesley Moment, Rev. Hanson said that John Wesley would be proud of the prison ministries that nurture those who are incarcerated.
Annual Conference 2013 ended with a Service of Sending Forth as Bishop King urged everyone to deepen their faith, have passion for Jesus, and pray.
“Wherever He is, there will be life and joy and peace and abundance …,” Bishop King said. “Jesus, Jesus, Jesus; pray, pray, pray; turn, turn, turn.
“God has been at work among us and will continue to be,” he said. “We are one in Christ and one together in ministry.”
Following Bishop King’s message, clergy appointments for 2013-2014 were announced and those attending engaged in a covenant service pledging their best to God for the coming year.
The 2014 Annual Conference session will be held June 1-3, in Savannah.
More detailed recaps of each day’s events, including listings of who was ordained and commissioned, those who retired, and the ministers and spouses who were remembered during the memorial service, can be found at www.sgaumc.org/ac2013.