2016 Annual Conference full of celebration and commemoration


Bishop James King preaches during his eighth and final South Georgia Annual Conference session.

By Kara Witherow, Editor

Each year, Annual Conference is a time to worship, fellowship, and conduct the business of the conference. This year, South Georgia United Methodists also celebrated Bishop James King’s eight years of ministry as episcopal leader of the South Georgia Conference and the conference’s 150th anniversary.

It was a session full of celebration and commemoration, with an Evening of Entertainment featuring musician Buddy Greene honoring Rose and Bishop King, and much-loved history moments presented by Rev. Dave Hanson. The conference also celebrated as five individuals were commissioned as probationary clergy members and three were ordained as full Conference members.

Meeting under the theme “Testify and Multiply” from Acts 2:40-41, this year’s Annual Conference session was held June 8 through June 11 at the University of Georgia Tifton Conference Center and emphasized the timeless value of witnessing.

During Wednesday evening’s opening worship service, Bishop King, presiding over his eighth and final Annual Conference session in South Georgia, introduced the conference theme and emphasized the importance of sharing faith stories and love with others.

“When you feed people with the love of God … they will come,” he said. “Use your testimony to testify. If you say you are a Christian, you should have a story to tell!”

The heart of the Church’s mission is to make disciples, he said.

“So I say to you, Beautiful People, all of us have a story to share. And that story is our witness platform that God has given us to testify. Do you have a story? Tell the story and grow the kingdom of God and glorify God! Tell the story and testify and multiply!”

Teaching moments and evangelism tools

The theme was woven throughout the Annual Conference session as Dr. Winston Worrell, director of World Methodist Evangelism Institute; Dr. Laceye Warner, Associate Professor of the Practice of Evangelism and Methodist Studies at Duke Divinity School; and Dr. Michael McQueen, senior pastor of St. James United Methodist Church in Alpharetta, gave several examples of traditional testifying methodologies and patterns for faith sharing.

“The best way to testify is to testify,” said Dr. Worrell during his Wednesday morning teaching moment. “There are no shortcuts. The only way to learn to share my faith is to share my faith. … The only way some people will hear this good news is if you and I will testify.”

Action steps for congregational growth were also shared during Friday’s Fruitfulness in Evangelism panel discussion, moderated by Rev. Jay Hanson, director of Congregational Development. Five clergy – Rev. Antonie Walker, Rev. Leigh Anne Raynor, Rev. Hale Bishop, Rev. Matt Hearn, and Rev. Jim Cowart – each shared two key tools for evangelism and growth.

After having pledged on Wednesday to increase average weekly worship attendance by 10 percent by Jan. 2018, clergy and lay attendees were given 10 action steps for 10 percent growth: 1) Reach and teach, 2) Do you see what I see, 3) Raise the bar, 4) Marketing strategies, 5) Stop waiting on uninvited guests, 6) Simplify, 7) Use every tool in the box, 8) Plan for success, 9) Plan for growth, and 10) Start preaching for life change.

“Be clear about your objective,” Rev. Hanson said as he closed the panel discussion. “Be obsessively intentional on pursuing it.”

Motions made and approved

Four motions were made and approved by the 2016 Annual Conference.

One, made by Rev. Jay Hanson, director of Congregational Development and lead pastor of The Chapel in Brunswick, set a goal for the conference to increase its average weekly worship attendance by 10 percent by January 2018. The Office of Congregational Development has plans in place to help put this motion into action during the next two years.

Another motion, made by Rev. V.L. Daughtery, a retired clergy in the South Central District, requested that Bishop King convey to the Council of Bishops of The United Methodist Church a request that a previous quadrennial study on human sexuality ordered by a previous General Conference be read, studied, and evaluated by the members of the Council of Bishops before any new study is ordered, a committee appointed as ordered by the 2016 General Conference, or a called General Conference is undertaken.

A third motion, made by Rev. Robert Beckum, senior pastor of St. Luke United Methodist Church in Columbus, asked that the Resident Bishop of the South Georgia Conference not receive, for appointment or transfer, clergy who have publicly stated their intent to disregard the current language of the “Book of Discipline” regarding human sexuality.

During the trustees report on Friday, Rev. Daughtery made a motion recommending that funds from the sale of the superannuate homes be given to the Board of Pensions for them to determine where it would do the most good.

The business of Annual Conference

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

During Wednesday afternoon’s plenary session, attendees heard the Lay Leader’s address, given by conference lay leader Gloria Morgan. Morgan reminded laity that they are equipped, empowered and inspired to enthusiastically make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.

“It’s up to us, the laity, to become more involved,” she said. “Laity and clergy must work together to accomplish great things for the South Georgia Annual Conference.”

The conference also celebrated the 150th session of the South Georgia Conference by watching a video produced by the Archives and History staff and listened to South Georgia Conference History Moments by Rev. Dave Hanson. Click here to watch the video. Click here to read the full texts of Rev. Hanson’s History Moments.

During Thursday’s business session, the conference approved changes to the Standing Rules of the Conference, which creates a new task force on Hispanic Ministries, changes the name of New and Revitalized Congregational Development to Congregational Development, allows for the creation of task groups for Congregational Development, and directs the proceeds of abandoned or discontinued property to go first toward any unpaid debt to the South Georgia Conference for pensions and health benefits already paid by the conference on behalf of the discontinued church.

On Friday afternoon, Denman Evangelism Awards were presented to Kristian Jowers, a youth from Whigham United Methodist Church in the Southwest District; Warren Jones, a lay person from New Covenant United Methodist Church in the Coastal District; and Rev. Jay Hanson, senior pastor at The Chapel Brunswick in the Coastal District.

During the four-day session, the Conference heard a report from the General Conference delegation about the 2016 General Conference Session; took action on six church closings; celebrated the ministry of Congregational Development; heard a report from the Office of Connectional Ministries; 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 a report on the Young Clergy Academy; approved the Equitable Compensation Report; heard the report of the conference personnel committee; approved the Board of Pensions and Health Benefits reports as well as the HealthFlex report; heard an update on the new Conference Center; approved the nominations report; heard about the work of Global Ministries from Thomas Kemper, Global Ministries General Secretary; celebrated the ministry of seven pastors who have served 50 years in ministry; honored 24 retiring pastors; nominated persons to the Jurisdictional Pool for consideration to serve on General boards and agencies and Jurisdictional committees; heard about an exciting laundry ministry, Loads of Love, started by Caroline Gowan, a teenager from Bonaire United Methodist Church; approved a 2017 budget of $10,493,427; heard reports from the United Methodist Foundation, Epworth By The Sea, Pastor’s School and the United Methodist Connectional Federal Credit Union; recognized 138 four-star and 41 five-star pastors; celebrated with individuals and churches who have received awards from various agencies and ministries throughout the conference; heard a report from Bill Hatcher, chair of the Episcopacy Committee, about the episcopal transition; showed appreciation for the hard work and gracious hospitality of the South Central District and the Tifton Local Arrangements Committee as well as the Conference Worship Committee, Conference Secretary and all of those who work to put on Annual Conference; and accepted an invitation to hold the 2017 Annual Conference session on Jekyll Island June 4-7.

Throughout the Annual Conference session, attendees heard Amplify moments – short videos that share the fruits of conference ministries through personal testimonies of those that have had or are having life transforming experiences through Jesus Christ and the work of these ministries. Click here to watch the videos.

South Georgia United Methodists were generous in their giving to missions and ministry. Giving totals to the 2017 offerings were: Special Offering for Global Ministries: $17,911.26; Special Relief: $3,975.02; Ministerial Education Fund: $2,860.90.

Services of Worship

On Thursday afternoon, a memorial service was held to honor the 28 faithful clergy and clergy spouses who have died since the 2015 Annual Conference session. Rev. Don Adams gave a moving message as he remembered those who have gone before us.

“Each of these people responded to God’s ‘tap on the shoulder,’” Rev. Adams said. “We say thank you to Jesus for tapping these dear ones on the shoulder. And we say thank you to them for responding in faithful obedience. Many lives – many of our lives – are different today because they said yes.”

On Saturday morning, the Conference gathered for the service of Ordination and Commissioning. Bishop Debra Wallace-Padgett, resident bishop of the North Alabama Episcopal Area, gave those being ordained and commissioned four words to remember as they continue their ministries.

“Journey to the One,” she said. “Journey to the one who is our savior and redeemer … and as you journey frequently to Jesus, you will have many reasons to testify, and you will feel compelled to go to the next one (person) for Him and to share the good news of Jesus Christ and to multiply as Christ followers in this world. Journey to the One. Now, and today, and the next day, and the next.”

In her message, Bishop Wallace-Padgett said that it’s not easy to serve as clergy in twenty-first century America. But turning to Jesus daily is key.

“We are wise to often journey to Jesus to gain insight, and wisdom, and strength, and grace, and power, and resilience, and whatever else we need in order to be effective leaders, because the truth is, ministry is not about us, it’s about Christ,” she said. “It’s about the one being served. We do not have to do it alone. In fact, to journey to the One is our lifetime vocation, whether we’re clergy or lay.”

Bishop King, assisted by Bishop Wallace-Padgett, 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.

Annual Conference 2016 ended with a Service of Sending Forth as Bishop King encouraged each person to grow a Christlike world.

“You can’t grow a Christlike world by being a settler. We are not settlers,” he said. “We must do all that we can for as long as we can to grow a Christlike world.

“Practice these (Ten Timeless) Values with intentional regularity as often as possible. Testify and multiply. That’s how a Christlike world grows.”

South Georgia by the numbers

Membership stands at 116,733, down 2,111 from the previous year. Worship attendance stands at 49,424, down 854. Church school attendance stands at 33,398, down 1 from 2015.

The 2017 Annual Conference session will be held June 4-7, on Jekyll Island.

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.