2015 Annual Conference elects delegates; celebrates fellowship


The 2015 South Georgia Annual Conference session was marked by ballots and bonding.

Held June 3 through June 6 at the University of Georgia Tifton Conference Center, more than 1,000 South Georgia United Methodist clergy and laity gathered to conference in the Wesleyan tradition and elect delegates to the 2016 General and Jurisdictional Conferences.

Meeting under the theme “We’re Better Together” from Matthew 18:20, this year’s Annual Conference session emphasized the timeless value of fellowship.

During Wednesday afternoon’s opening worship service, Bishop King, presiding over his seventh Annual Conference session in South Georgia, introduced the theme and stressed the importance of Christian community.

“Our theme is ‘We’re Better Together.’ Hear this – it’s a big deal,” he said. “Big deals are relative. For some, it’s a big deal to learn to ride a bike. For others it’s a big deal to learn to drive a car. For Christians, there’s one thing that is a big deal that is the same for us all, all the time. It’s that God so loved the world that Jesus Christ would die for our salvation.

“Be in Christian fellowship. Now that’s a big deal!”

The other big deal of the 2015 Annual Conference session was the election of delegates to the 2016 General and Jurisdictional Conferences.

On Thursday afternoon, June 4, lay members gathered to vote and elect four General Conference delegates, four Jurisdictional Conference delegates, and two alternate delegates. Those elected as General Conference delegates were Bill Hatcher, Allison Lindsey, Larry Price, and Carl Childs. Elected to serve as Jurisdictional Conference delegates were Marianne Wright, Richard Shinhoster, Kelly Roberson, and Miriam Hagan. Gloria Morgan and Rus Black were elected as alternate Jurisdictional Conference delegates.

The following afternoon, clergy members gathered to vote and elect their delegates. Rev. Don Adams, Dr. Buddy Cooper, Rev. Jay Hanson, and Dr. Bob Moon were elected as 2016 General Conference delegates. Rev. Jim Cowart, Rev. Denise Walton, Rev. Scott Hagan, and Rev. Robert Beckum were elected as 2016 Jurisdictional Conference delegates. Rev. Doreen Smalls and Rev. Stacey Harwell-Dye were elected as alternate Jurisdictional Conference delegates.

“What an honor, but what an awesome responsibility,” said Bill Hatcher upon being elected to lead the laity delegation.

Important business of the Annual Conference was attended to during the plenary sessions.

One resolution, submitted by the Church Council of Asbury Memorial United Methodist Church in Savannah, recommended eliminating language from the “Book of Discipline” and the “Book of Resolutions” that marginalizes people because of their sexual orientation. After discussion and voting by paper ballot, the resolution was denied.

A second resolution, submitted by the Charge Conference of Trinity United Methodist Church in Savannah, sought to amend the “Book of Discipline” and the Social Principles of The United Methodist Church to eliminate discrimination based on sexual identity. After discussion and voting by paper ballot, the resolution was denied.

During Wednesday afternoon’s plenary session, attendees heard the Lay Leader's address, given by conference lay leader Gloria Morgan. Morgan reminded laity that “the journey is one that requires devotion, dedication, and discipline to be effective in the work we are called to do.”

The Conference also approved changes to the Standing Rules of the Conference; was invited to attend the 2015 Georgia Pastors’ School; approved the conference trustees report; heard the report of the conference personnel committee; approved the Board of Pensions and Health Benefits report and the HealthFlex report; celebrated as the General Board of Pensions presented Miriam Hagan with a token of appreciation and thanked her for her commitment to The United Methodist Church; honored 59 5-Star Pastors and 157 4-Star Pastors; and celebrated the ministry of New and Revitalized Congregational Development (NRCD) as they highlighted “The Top 12 things the church should do more often” with a video. NRCD also introduced the Conference to MissionInsite, a web-based demographic ministry resource South Georgia churches may access and use.

To close the day, a memorial service was held to honor the 39 faithful clergy and clergy spouses who have died since the 2014 Annual Conference session. Rev. Ronnie Wills gave a moving message as he remembered those who have gone to be with Christ.

“When we are a part of the church and the Father’s business we are not alone,” he said. “The list (of deceased clergy and clergy spouses) represents many, many years of ministry in the name of Jesus Christ. And now they are a part of the great cloud of witnesses.”

Thursday morning, June 4, began with separate clergy and laity sessions; afterwards everyone joined together for a plenary session during which Dr. Christine Pohl, Associate Provost and Professor of Church and Society/Christian Ethics at Asbury Seminary, led the conference in a teaching moment. Dr. Pohl reminded Conference members of the life of gratitude, which God calls us to celebrate.

“Grace and gratitude are central to our relationship with God and our relationship with each other,” she said.

During the morning’s business session, the conference heard a motion from Rev. Allen Cason to amend the Standing Rules 3.1.5 regarding the distribution of materials for Annual Conference; heard a Connectional Ministries report; and discussed and voted on a resolution from the Church Council of Asbury Memorial United Methodist Church in Savannah.

As laity elections took place, clergy had the opportunity to attend a clergy gathering. Focused on the theme “We’re Better Together,” clergy engaged in teaching and discussion related to ministry best practices, coaching, small groups, affinity groups, and practical tools for working effectively as a team.

Later that evening, the John Hunt Auditorium was full as Annual Conference members, guests, and community members enjoyed a special performance of Swamp Gravy, the official Folk Life Play of Georgia.

Friday morning, June 5, began with a teaching moment led by Dr. Pohl, who reminded attendees that every community is held together by the promises made to one another.

“Speaking truth in love means speaking of the goodness and grace we see,” she said.

During the day’s business session, the Conference approved a motion from Dr. Derek McAleer that faithfulness in marriage be an emphasis in 2017 for the South Georgia Conference and local churches; heard the Board of Ordained Ministry report; recognized clergy who faithfully serve beyond the local church in an extension ministry appointment; received clergy into provisional membership and full conference membership; heard about the creation of The Young Clergy Academy; approved a 2016 budget of $10,406,501; celebrated the ministry of six pastors who have served 50 years in ministry; and honored 22 retiring pastors.

As clergy elected their delegates, laity had the opportunity to attend three mission- and ministry-focused workshops.

After a free evening to fellowship and foster friendships, the Annual Conference session reconvened Saturday morning as Dr. Pohl led a final teaching moment focused on hospitality.

“Our hospitality reflects God’s greater hospitality and divine generosity,” she said.

During the morning’s plenary session, the conference took action on two church closings; approved Rev. Cason’s motion to amend the Standing Rules 3.1.5 regarding the distribution of materials for Annual Conference; celebrated the faithful ministry of Rev. Cindy Autry and welcomed Rev. Michael McCord, the new executive director of the Georgia Commission on Higher Education, during the Higher Education and Ministry report; heard an update on the new Conference Center; approved the equitable compensation report; elected persons presented by the nominations committee to serve on conference and agency committees/boards; celebrated with individuals who have received awards from various agencies and ministries throughout the conference; showed appreciation for the work and hospitality of the South Central District and the Tifton Local Arrangements Committee as well as the Conference Worship Committee, Conference Secretary and those who work to put on Annual Conference; and accepted an invitation to hold the 2016 Annual Conference session in Tifton June 8-11.

With Rev. Cason’s motion approved, in 2016 only those Annual Conference members who opt in before the mailing deadline will receive printed materials, including the Book of Recommendations and Reports. All materials will be made available online on the conference website in an electronic format.

John Wesley scholar Rev. Dave Hanson shared two “John Wesley Moments” throughout the Annual Conference session. These concise and powerful mini-sermons reminded attendees of their Wesleyan roots. In the first moment, Rev. Hanson reminded attendees of Wesley’s encouragement to “never, never, never allow anything to keep us from our priority of sharing God’s Word.” In the second, Rev. Hanson reminded the Conference that John Wesley didn’t want to leave his small group at Oxford to return to Root. His small group of friends was one that other students called Methodists because of their strange methods. These early Methodists understood that they were better together.

To close the 2015 Annual Conference session, the Conference gathered for the service of Ordination and Commissioning. Bishop Jonathan Keaton, resident bishop of the Illinois Great Rivers Annual Conference, preached a sermon titled, “We Have This Treasure.”

In his message, Bishop Keaton reminded clergy and laity of the demanding call of Jesus in ministry and discipleship.

“In ministry Jesus always wants more … but we are promised by the Apostle Paul that we can do all things through the strength only Jesus can provide,” he said.

He ended his sermon by reminding everyone what all Christians are called to as he led the congregation in singing “I Surrender All.”

Bishop King, assisted by Bishop Keaton, presided over the ordinal rites. Gloria Morgan represented the laity and Rev. Jimmy Towson, chairman of the Board of Ordained Ministry, observed the ordinal rites. Rev. Jonathan Smith and Rev. Meg Procopio represented the Orders of Elders and Deacon.

At the conclusion of the Ordination Service, Bishop King extended an invitation to anyone feeling the call to ministry to join him on stage. Two people joyfully came forward as the Bishop and Cabinet surrounded them with encouraging words.

Annual Conference 2015 ended with a Service of Sending Forth as Bishop King encouraged each person to be the light of the world. 

“You are the hope for a better day; hope for a better world,” he said. “Together we are better together.”

Following his message, the names of those receiving a new appointment were read.

South Georgia by the numbers

Membership stands at 118,712, down 3,278 from the previous year. Worship attendance stands at 49,358, down 27. Church school attendance stands at 33,129, up 2,302 from 2013.

The 2016 Annual Conference session will be held June 8-11, in Tifton.

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/annualconference.