2019 Annual Conference elects delegates, focuses on being Alive Together

6/10/2019

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, as well as the appointment list, photos, and bulletin insert can be found by clicking here.
 
As the Chattahoochee River flowed outside, the Holy Spirit flowed inside as nearly 1,000 South Georgia United Methodists gathered in Columbus, Ga. for the 2019 South Georgia Annual Conference session.
 
Held June 2 through June 5 at the Columbus Convention & Trade Center, clergy and lay members from across South Georgia gathered to conference in the Wesleyan tradition and elect delegates to the 2020 General and Jurisdictional Conferences.
 
With his trademark humor, Bishop Richard Looney, South Georgia’s bishop from 1988-2000, wove story after story together in a captivating and engaging message about evangelism during the session’s opening worship service.
 
“I hope we can reclaim the joy of sharing the Good News,” Bishop Looney said after those gathered gave him a standing ovation. “Share the Good News, do it in a winsome way. It doesn’t have to be complicated. God will use even you to bring salvation to someone who’s lost. And may you find joy - joy, joy - in sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ.”
 
After Bishop Looney spoke, a special offering, totaling nearly $20,000, was received for the Moscow United Methodist Theological Seminary. With the money, South Georgia United Methodists are partnering with United Methodists in Russia to help provide the means for students to attend the seminary and will help it continue to be instrumental in helping revive Methodism in Russia.
 
The first day of the 2019 Annual Conference session was brought to a close with separate laity and clergy sessions.
 
Monday morning, June 3, began with the opening business session of the 2019 Annual Conference where attendees heard the Board of Ordained Ministry report given by Chairman Rev. Scott Tucker; recognized those clergy who faithfully serve beyond the local church in an extension ministry appointment; recognized new certified candidates, 2019 Licensing School students, new Licensed Local Pastors, and 2018-2019 Young Clergy Academy interns; received clergy into full conference membership; heard a South Georgia Conference history moment from Rev. Dave Hanson; heard an “Alive Together in the World” moment focusing on leadership development; were led by Dr. Gil Rendle in the first of four teaching moments; took action on the church closings of four churches; celebrated with those pastors who have served 50 years in ministry; and honored those pastors retiring this year.
 
That afternoon, a memorial service was held to honor the 27 faithful clergy and clergy spouses who have died since the 2018 Annual Conference session. Rev. Cleo Gilchrist preached a moving message as she reminded those gathered that although they may grieve, God is able.
 
“When grief comes to your home, God’s grace will be sufficient,” she said. “Be not dismayed. God will be able to take care of you.”
 
During the afternoon business session, the conference heard a report from the Conference Trustees and one from the Leadership Forum Task Force. They also heard an “Alive Together in the World” moment that highlighted the work being done by the Multicultural Task Force and the Undocumented Neighbors Task Force. Conference Lay Leader Gloria Morgan gave the Lay Leader’s address, highlighting the ways laity in each district are serving their neighbors and spreading the love of Christ.
 
“Jesus welcomed the poor, the homeless, the sick and the stranger. We have the honor to stand in for Him, welcoming them, serving them, and providing for them,” she said. “With our involvement, we become the hands, feet, eyes, and body of Christ as we support mission projects and personnel around the world. We share in the mission work that seeks to fulfill God’s directive found in Matthew 25:35. … May we continue to live as God’s people whenever and wherever there is a need as members of the South Georgia Annual Conference.”
 
Presiding over his third Annual Conference session in South Georgia, Bishop Bryan in his episcopal address spoke about the vitality and fruitfulness he sees in South Georgia. “God is faithful and God continues to send the Holy Spirit upon us,” he said. “But the other part of that is: we are open to God. We hold out our hands willing to receive all that Christ our Lord wants to give us. We stretch out our hands to reach into God’s future. God is faithful. Our people are willing. The result is vitality.”
 
He then asked attendees to:

  1. Renew their commitment to seeking God’s future for The United Methodist Church and for South Georgia.
  2. Reclaim their passion for the salvation of the world.
  3. Refocus their energies on redemptive relationships in the world. 
Wrapping up with a baseball analogy, he told attendees to “let the ball come to us. The Good News is, it has. Let’s play ball.”
 
The Conference gathered Monday evening in St. Luke United Methodist Church’s sanctuary for the service for the Ordination of Deacons and Elders with Commissioning. Bishop Bryan’s sermon, “The What, How and Why of Ministry,” was from John 10:1-18.
 
What does an elder do? An elder tends the flock of God that is in his or her charge. An elder is a shepherd, he said. The role of shepherd is to get to know its flock.
 
“Get to know your flock,” Bishop Bryan said. “Go where they go. Eat where they eat. Shop where they shop. Make sure they know your voice and you know their voice. Take care of your flock.”
 
Why serve in ministry? “Because there is that in life which is opposed to God,” he said. “There a what, there’s a how, and there’s a why. You have it all tonight.”
 
Bishop Bryan presided over the ordinal rites and was assisted by Mrs. Gloria Morgan, Conference Lay Leader, representing the laity. Rev. Scott Tucker, Chair of the Board of Ordained Ministry, observed the ordinal rites.
 
Delegates elected
 
Voting for lay and clergy delegates to General and Jurisdictional Conferences commenced Tuesday, June 4.
 
After a full day of voting, 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.
 
Leading the General Conference clergy delegation is Rev. Jim Cowart, lead pastor of Harvest Church in Byron. William S. “Bill” Hatcher, a businessman and a member of Statesboro First United Methodist Church, will lead the General Conference laity delegation.
 
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 Rev. Robert Greene, senior pastor of Porterfield Memorial United Methodist Church in Albany; 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.
 
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.
 
Rev. Scott Tucker, incoming pastor of Isle of Hope United Methodist Church in Savannah; and Rev. Alaina Harrison, associate pastor of Wesley United Methodist Church in Macon, were elected alternate Jurisdictional Conference clergy delegates.
 
In other business Tuesday morning, the conference heard another John Wesley moment from Rev. Dave Hanson, heard an “Alive Together in the World” moment focusing on disaster response, were led by Dr. Gil Rendle in two teaching moments, and approved the nominations report.
 
During Tuesday afternoon’s business session, the conference passed a Disaffiliation Policy with two amendments. The policy sets out a framework to be followed when a significant number of members of a congregation express a desire to leave the South Georgia Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church, pursuant to the provisions of paragraph 2553 of The Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church.
 
The Conference also passed a Pension Liability Policy that would only apply to churches that choose to disaffiliate under the provisions passed by the General Conference and our South Georgia Conference.
 
They heard another “Alive Together in the World” moment focusing on disaster response and the strength in the connection, approved recommendations from the Conference Board of Pensions and Health Benefits, approved six standing rules changes, approved a report from Equitable Compensation, heard a report from the Conference Personnel Committee, and elected at-large members of the nominations committee.
 
During Wednesday morning’s business session, attendees heard The Leadership Forum Task Force’s third and final report; heard a report from the Conference Council on Finance and Administration (CFA) and approved a budget of $9,326,184, a reduction of $736,642 from the previous year; heard a final John Wesley Moment from Rev. Dave Hanson; heard an “Alive Together In The World” moment focusing on the global church; were led in a final teaching moment by Dr. Rendle; accepted an invitation to hold the 2020 Annual Conference session in Columbus with a start date of June 7, 2020; and approved two motions: a study of the election practices and policies of other Annual Conferences in the Southeastern Jurisdiction to bring recommendations to the 2020 Annual Conference regarding standing rules on election policies and a study of the reason why churches have failed to pay clergy benefits and churches who have paid little or no apportionments.
 
Mission Partnership
During Wednesday morning’s business session, Allison Lindsey, associate director of Connectional Ministries, shared that South Georgia has an opportunity to enter into a mission partnership with Bishop Mande Muyombo and the North Katanga Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church.
 
The conference approved a proposal to use the funds originally collected for the East Africa Annual Conference partnership to explore this new partnership with the North Katanga Annual Conference.  
 
The balance of the fund as of Dec. 31, 2018, totals $83,826. The proposal, as approved, requests that the mission partnership be overseen by the Office of Connectional Ministries and its Mission Team, that a team travel to the region in 2019 and/or 2020 as part of the exploration process, and that funds raised for the Open Hands Partnership be made available for this exploration.
 
It also states that the mission team will seek to develop a full partnership and ministry proposal, which could include the use of the $83,826 initially raised and given for the Open Hands Partnership and the Humble Place Orphanage. If developed, the proposal will be brought back to the 2020 session of the South Georgia Annual Conference.
 
“Our local churches are engaged in vital mission and ministry in their communities and beyond,” Lindsey said. “This partnership will provide an opportunity to come together as an annual conference in developing a mutual relationship with the North Katanga Annual Conference focusing on ministry with (as opposed to ministry to); asset-based community development; and sharing knowledge with each other around evangelism, agriculture, leadership development, age-level ministries, and more. I look forward to discovering all the possibilities!”
 
Teaching Moments
On Monday morning, Tuesday morning, and Wednesday morning, Dr. Gil Rendle, author of “Quietly Courageous: Leading the Church in a Changing World,” led conference attendees in four teaching moments focused on how to have an effective witness for Christ in a changing culture.
 
Church leaders need to have an understanding that the world - and the culture - has changed, Dr. Rendle told attendees during his teaching sessions. In order to be effective, fruitful leaders, for Christ in a changing world, church leaders and congregations must adapt.
 
“We are now in a new mission field,” he said. “We are living in a brand new place.” Good leadership is not enough, he told the annual conference. The problem churches and other faith organizations face is not exclusive to The United Methodist Church. “The world around us has grown different. The mission field has changed,” he said. “The reality of the Gospel of Jesus Christ does not change, but the way we talk to the world about it must.”
 
During Tuesday’s teaching sessions, Dr. Rendle explained the changes the culture has experienced in the past few decades. “We are simply living in a different creation,” he said. “Something needs to change. And it is us.”
 
He outlined three temptations of leadership and said that church leaders have to learn to ask different questions than have been asked in the past. “The better question,” he said, “is ‘What would God want us to make better next?’ Change the question we ask. Make it purposeful and faithful.”  
 
He taught about the need to differentiate between scarcity and abundance, and said that congregations need to ask what difference they’ve been called to make. Instead of starting a new program or ministry, he suggested finding something God is already doing and joining in.
 
“Scarcity chasing scarcity will not work,” Dr. Rendle said. “But chasing God’s abundance will. We have to think differently. We have to be different."
 
During Dr. Gil Rendle’s final teaching moment he asked attendees, “What is your next step to helping people be a disciple?”
 
In this new world, new conversations have to be started, he said, and people have to learn what no one can teach. In order to do this, he urged those in attendance to go home and try a few things: say something (don’t leave what you learned in Columbus), find your conversation partners, and trust in God’s mystery (be open and willing to the Spirit of God).
 
“Growth is not the purpose of our ministry. Growth is the product of our ministry,” he said. “Let us have the courage to have conversations about the purpose of our ministry that we haven’t had in the past. The gospel of Jesus Christ is unchanged in a world that is changing and changing.”
 
Annual Conference 2019 ended with a Service of Sending Forth.
 
“Let us all draw on each other as resources,” said Bishop Bryan as he highlighted various groups in our conference and their effective, fruitful ministry. “We all have something to contribute.”
 
Following his message, the names of those receiving a new appointment were read. Click here to view the 2019-2020 Clergy Appointments.
 
The 2020 Annual Conference Session will be held in Columbus, Ga. beginning June 7, 2020.
 
South Georgia by the numbers
 
Membership stands at 107,624, down 3,302 from the previous year. Worship attendance stands at 41,900, down 3,962. Church school attendance stands at 20,246, up 407 from 2017.

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