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A sense of excitement and hope felt amid annual conference session focused on prayer


Detailed recaps of each day’s events, including listings of 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.

By Kelly Roberson

On the heels of a tough and trying season, the spirit of the 2023 Annual Conference was one of excitement and hope as South Georgia United Methodists gathered to worship and pray, conduct the business of the annual conference, and elect delegates to the General and Jurisdictional Conferences.

Held June 4-6 in the UGA Tifton Campus Conference Center, Bishop David Graves led his second regular annual conference session in South Georgia and focused on turning the page and moving forward together.

“There was a beautiful, peaceful, and loving spirit among us,” said Bishop Graves in reflecting on the three days of holy conferencing. “We have had wonderful worship and tremendous preaching. I heard so many people say there was just such a wonderful spirit here. People have come away inspired and encouraged. Most importantly, we turned the page this week, and we are moving forward. We are going to be focused on making disciples, and we are going to be focused on changing our communities. There was a spirit of empowerment as we came away from this annual conference. Thanks be to God for what all happened here in Tifton!”

Meeting under the theme of “When They Prayed,” for clergy and laity across the South Georgia Conference one overriding idea prevailed: when they prayed, God showed up.

With vibrant and meaningful worship sessions, prayer moments woven throughout, and powerful messages, South Georgia United Methodists said they saw hope.

“I know firsthand the tremendous amount of work that always goes into planning the Annual Conference session, but the wind of the Holy Spirit caught this one and the flames took off,” said J. Knapp, conference lay leader and a part of United Methodists of Thomasville. “Annual Conference was positive, inspiring, prayerful, and productive.”

Bishop Graves agreed.

​​“God’s presence was in this place. Even in the midst of all we have had going on, the majesty of God’s greatness and faithfulness prevailed,” Bishop Graves said. “I’m thankful for the people of the South Georgia Annual Conference, for being here and for their participation. We saw God at work, and we are excited about what God has next for South Georgia United Methodists.” 

Opening Worship
Bishop Graves opened the annual conference session with a pointed and inspiring sermon focused on this year’s theme, “When They Prayed,” based on Acts 4:31. 

“If ever there was ever a time for this scripture in my lifetime, it is right now,” said Bishop Graves. “A time where God's people would come together and pray, where the Holy Spirit would begin to speak the Word of God with boldness, and where the place would shake - all because they had gathered.”

Bishop Graves encouraged those in attendance to be poised, purposeful, and prophetic as they move forward as God’s people and pray bold prayers.

“Friends, God is looking for those who want to be bold and courageous in these days and to proclaim the Good News of Christ in ways we've never seen before,” said Bishop Graves. “I believe the best days of the Church are in front of us, but we have to do the work. We have to meet God where God is at work.” 

The 2023 Special Offering for South Georgia’s church planting and revitalization efforts was collected during the service totaling over $8,200. 

The first day of the 2023 Annual Conference session was brought to a close with separate laity and clergy sessions.

Monday, June 5
Monday morning, June 5 began with morning worship led by Rev. Rebecca Duke-Barton, pastor of Jesup First United Methodist Church. Reading from the book of Nehemiah, Rev. Duke-Barton invited those in attendance to “pray like a Methodist”.

“When we're praying like a Methodist, we pray knowing that the Holy Spirit is going to take us somewhere,” said Rev. Duke-Barton. “Because we believe in the God of steadfast love, because we have repented and turned to Him, God rebuilds.”

Rev. Duke-Barton reminded conference members that when we pray, God acts.

“I believe that what God did in Nehemiah's time, he wants to do for us right here in the South Georgia Annual Conference,” said Rev. Duke-Barton. “You know what we need to do? We need to get to praying like a Methodist and let the Holy Spirit take us where he will.”

Bishop Graves then called the 159th session of the South Georgia Annual Conference to order. This was Bishop Graves’ second regular Annual Conference session to preside over as the resident bishop of the South Georgia Area. He has also presided over two called special Annual Conference sessions. 

In Monday morning’s business session, the conference was led in a prayer moment by Dr. Ted Goshorn, pastor of Mulberry St. UMC in Macon; welcomed Bishop David and Mrs. Nancy Graves to their second in-person South Georgia Annual Conference; recognized and showed appreciation for Jodi Atkinson, Sharon Wolfe, Jane Seaman, Gail Grantham and Cindy Rollins, district administrative assistants; approved the Consent Calendar; celebrated Fully Connectional and Evangelistically Fruitful Churches; and closed the session with a prayer moment led by Rev. Teresa Edwards, associate pastor of Vineville UMC in Macon.

During the morning’s business session, Conference Lay Leader J. Knapp gave the Lay Leader’s Address in which he celebrated the faithfulness of the laity of the South Georgia Conference and gave a challenge to laity and clergy alike.

“South Georgia, it is time to put this ‘disaffiliation distraction’ behind us and focus on the mission and ministry to which we have been called,” said Knapp. “We have an opportunity to live into a new and reinvigorated vision of the South Georgia Conference. Our Conference is still here, still strong, and still making disciples for Jesus Christ!”

Following the business session, the South Georgia Annual Conference celebrated with those clergy who have served in ministry for 50 years and those who are entering into a retired relationship with the Annual Conference.

Clergy recognized for having served 50 years in ministry include Wayne B. Anthony and David C. Seyle.

Clergy honored for retiring this year were Kevin Baker, Sandi Conley, Hal Grimmett, John Haney, Brenda Johnson, Derek McAleer, Steve Meguiar, Steve Patton, Ivelisse Quinones, and Gerald Reppert, Jr.

During the afternoon business session, the conference heard a John Wesley prayer moment from Rev. Dave Hanson; was led in a prayer moment by Rev. Precious Hawkins, pastor of Asbury UMC in Savannah; recognized extension ministers and two local pastors who have completed all 20 classes of the basic Course of Study: Jeff Alligood and Michael Jones; affirmed three clergy as full conference members/elders: Joseph Isaac Carter, Mark Jeffrey Miller, Matthew Steven Stout; approved church closings; approved the Conference Trustees report; heard an exciting update on the Bishop’s Priorities - disrupting and dismantling racism, clergy mental health, resourcing the local church for ministry, and church planting & revitalization; and celebrated with three individuals who received denominational awards:Frances Asbury Award from Higher Education and Ministry: Rev. CJ Harp, Valdosta State University Wesley Foundation; One Matters Award from Discipleship Ministries: Rev. Jerry Hudson, Bemiss UMC; and the Harry Denman Evangelism Award from the Foundation on Evangelism: Mr. Johnny Updike, Georgia Southwestern University Wesley Foundation; and closed the session with a prayer moment led by Revs. Ted Goshorn, Teresa Edwards and Precious Hawkins. 

The conference then enjoyed a BBQ meal generously provided by The Methodist Home for Children and Youth.

Delegates elected
Because of the pandemic and then scheduling challenges, the 2020 General Conference was postponed and will now meet April 23-May 3, 2024, in Charlotte, North Carolina. The Judicial Council ruled that conferences may hold elections to fill vacancies in its delegation due to the lapse in time between election and service. Lay and clergy who were elected in 2019 and who remain part of the South Georgia Conference continue to serve on the delegation. 

These persons previously elected and continuing to serve are: Laity - Richard Shinhoster, member of ConneXion United Methodist Church in Savannah; and Clergy - Rev. Doreen Smalls, superintendent of the Northwest and Southwest Districts; Dr. Scott Hagan, superintendent of the Coastal and Northeast Districts; and Rev. Alaina Harrison, deacon in the South Georgia Conference.

Along with Rev. Smalls, Dr. Hagan, and Rev. Harrison, Dr. Jimmy Asbell, senior pastor of Vineville United Methodist Church in Macon, will now serve on the General Conference clergy delegation.

In addition to Shinhoster, the laity delegation now includes Allison Lindsey, member of St. Mark United Methodist Church in Douglas; Patsy Thomas, member of M.L. Harris United Methodist Church in Columbus; and Karen Forrester, member of Bainbridge First United Methodist Church.

Jurisdictional Delegates
The clergy Jurisdictional Conference delegation includes Dr. Ben Martin, senior pastor of Wesley Monumental United Methodist Church in Savannah; Rev. Michael Culbreth, senior pastor of ConneXion United Methodist Church in Savannah; Rev. Tony Crosby, senior pastor of Vienna and Shiloh United Methodist Churches; and Rev. Stephen Grantham, senior pastor of Isle of Hope United Methodist Church in Savannah.

Dr. Ben Gosden, senior pastor of Trinity United Methodist Church in Savannah; and Rev. Precious Hawkins, senior pastor of Asbury United Methodist Church in Savannah, were elected alternate Jurisdictional Conference clergy delegates.

The Jurisdictional Conference laity delegation includes John Ray, member of Statesboro First United Methodist Church; Denise Rooks, member of Harper’s Chapel United Methodist Church in Baxley; Dana Goshorn, member of Mulberry St. United Methodist Church in Macon; and Scott Cleaveland, member of Wesley Monumental United Methodist Church in Savannah.

Scott Lewis, member of Bemiss United Methodist Church in Valdosta, and Mark Allen, member of Isle of Hope United Methodist Church in Savannah, were elected alternate Jurisdictional Conference lay delegates.

Ordination Service
The Conference gathered Monday evening in the sanctuary of Tifton First United Methodist Church for the Service of Ordination to celebrate the ordination of Joseph Carter, Mark Miller, and Matthew Stout. Bishop Sharma Lewis, episcopal leader for the Mississippi Annual Conference, was the preacher for this service.

In her sermon focused on Acts 13, Bishop Lewis challenged the ordinands to be set apart for ministry as servants of God and to recognize the voice of the Holy Spirit. 

“Ordinands, you should desire to be set apart for the work of ministry,” said Bishop Lewis. “You shouldn't desire to blend in with this world, but to recognize that God has gifted and called you. For such a time as this you are to make a difference in The United Methodist Church. My prayer for you is that you recognize that there is no limit to what God can and will do through you in this unusual season.”

Then reading from Ephesians 4:11, Bishop Lewis reminded those being ordained of all they are being commissioned for as believers of the faith called to go out and make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. 

“You are commissioned to the task of loving our neighbors as we love ourselves. You are commissioned to help the downtrodden by improving their lives in their communities. You are commissioned to utilize your spiritual gifts and talents within the body of Christ. You are commissioned to stand up and fight the injustices of poverty, homelessness, and food insecurity. You are commissioned to be an ambassador for Christ and not only to read and study the word but to embody the word of Jesus Christ. You are commissioned to bring sight to the blind and to set the captives free. You are commissioned to go to the highways and to the hedges and prepare folks to come into the house of the Lord so the Lord's house will be filled,” Bishop Lewis said as she spoke to the three ordinands. “You are commissioned tonight by the Holy Spirit, and will be confirmed by the church through praying, fasting, and laying on of hands to be an instrument to carry the name of Jesus Christ. You are commissioned to go out and make disciples for the transformation of the world.”

Bishop Graves presided over the ordinal rites and was assisted by Mr. J. Knapp, Conference Lay Leader, representing the laity, and the Rev. Dr. Nita Crump, acting Chair of the Board of Ordained Ministry, observed the ordinal rites. 

Tuesday, June 6
Tuesday morning began with worship led by Rev. Michael Culbreth, pastor at ConneXion UMC in Savannah. He preached from Luke 1:46-55, Mary’s song of praise.

“We see why God showed favor to Mary by allowing her to become the mother of our Savior,” said Rev. Culbreth. “God knew we needed a Savior. We needed somebody to show us love and compassion. We needed somebody to forgive our sins. We needed somebody to give us hope, peace, joy, and love. That's why God favored Mary.”

We have also received God’s unmerited favor, Rev. Culbreth says.

“We haven't earned it; we don't deserve it; but all we can do is accept it,” said Rev. Culbreth. “And through Jesus, God favored us and gave us forgiveness, love, and peace. We are recipients of God's favor. We are recipients of God's grace.”

In Tuesday morning’s business session, the conference was led in a prayer moment by Dr. Goshorn; approved the 2023 Report from the Committee on Nominations and elected Rev. Ramon Hernandez, Flo Sapp-Martin, Lisa Salveter, and Dana Goshorn as at-large members of the Nominating Committee; approved one resolution: The South Georgia Conference of the United Methodist Church Evangelism and Church Initiative; approved standing rules changes; heard a report about the future of the South Georgia Conference, a future that is Christ-centered, connectional, collaborative, compassionate, and kind and were invited to “keep dancing” and keep moving forward together as the South Georgia Conference of The United Methodist Church; and was led in a prayer moment by Rev. Teresa Edwards.

That morning, a memorial service was held to honor the 36 faithful clergy and clergy spouses who have died since the 2022 Annual Conference session. The Rev. Dr. Derek McAleer, South Georgia retired minister, asked those gathered to think about that great Hall of Faith found in Hebrews 11.

“We know their stories. And we know they have moments of great glory, but they’ve also got scars,” said Dr. McAleer in speaking of those mentioned in Hebrews 11. “Occasionally they stretch to the heights of grace and then they fall to the depths of sin. The Bible is unflinching about the character of God's people. It holds no secrets and minces no words. But knowing that they are far from examples of untarnished glory, God nevertheless sets them before us as examples of what it means to walk in faith with Him.”

Those we honor today, says Dr. McAleer, are neither more perfect nor less perfect than Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Joseph.

“God sees them with all their flaws,” said Dr. McAleer. “They have provided for us examples of what it means to walk in faith. Sometimes that example is what it means to stand up for God. Sometimes that example is what it means to stand before God and bow your head and say, ‘will you take me back?’ They recounted their vision, they regained their obedience, and they walked that path a little bit further to that city whose maker and builder is God.” 

In Tuesday afternoon’s business session, the conference was led in a prayer moment by Rev. Precious Hawkins; heard another John Wesley prayer moment from Rev. Dave Hanson; approved the recommendations from the Conference Board of Pensions and Health Benefits and heard a report from the board on the importance of focusing on clergy mental health; approved the report of the Equitable Compensation Report; approved a budget of $5,472,651 for 2024, a reduction of 29% compared to last year’s budget so that more funds will be used for local church ministries; accepted an invitation to hold the 2024 Annual Conference session in Tifton with a start date of June 2, 2024; showed appreciation for the hard work and gracious hospitality of the Tifton First UMC Local Arrangements Committee and the South Central District as well as the Conference Worship Committee, Conference Secretary, and all of those who work to put on Annual Conference; and closed the session with a prayer moment led by Revs. Ted Goshorn, Teresa Edwards and Precious Hawkins.

Reading of the Appointments
Annual Conference 2023 ended with the reading of the appointments. 

The District Superintendents read the 2023-2024 Clergy Appointments. Each district lay leader stood with the superintendent as the clergy names and churches were read.

The 2024 Annual Conference Session will be held in Tifton, GA beginning June 2.

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