Dear Friends of the South Georgia Conference,
What a joy it has been to visit with over 2,000 laity and clergy across the South Georgia Conference during the month of September. The attendance at these regional gatherings surpassed my expectations, and it was good to be in connection and conversation with the people of South Georgia. Thank you to those who attended as we sought to bring clarity to the issues facing our denomination and annual conference.
A Time to Pause During Advent
It goes without saying that we have had a lot to deal with over this past year. There has been great ministry happening all across the conference, but we have also faced challenges as we try to navigate a post-pandemic church and our path forward as a conference. As I met with laity and clergy last month, I heard over and over again: “Bishop, we are weary.” I see it in your faces; I hear it in your voices.
Our six District Superintendents have been extended in unprecedented ways. You’ve heard me say that I truly believe they have the hardest job in the denomination in this season we find ourselves. They have worked tirelessly in 2022 to accommodate numerous requests from local churches to hold church conferences and town hall meetings.
In order to give our Cabinet, staff, clergy, and lay leadership time to focus on ministry in the local church, their family, and their personal faith walk, I want us to “pause” as we move into the Advent season.
Therefore, I am calling for a pause on any special church conferences or town hall meetings related to local church disaffiliations between November 20, 2022 - January 1, 2023.
Timeline, FAQ, Video
There will still be time for any necessary conversations and meetings in the new year. There is no window that is closing if a church wants to disaffiliate at the 2023 Annual Conference Session. Together, the Cabinet, the Conference Board of Trustees, and the Conference Chancellor will be releasing a timeline this month for 2023 and 2024 as it relates to disaffiliations.
Conference leadership is also working on a frequently asked questions (FAQ) document based on the questions I was asked in our various meetings during the month of September. In addition, I will be releasing a video providing a summary of these questions and answers. I hope these resources will help your local church.
A Personal Word
In my journey over the past two months visiting with clergy and laity - in August I was in the Alabama-West Florida Conference and in September I was in South Georgia - it occurred to me that it would be helpful to share with you several reasons why I choose to remain United Methodist. I feel a deep sense of calling from God to stay at the table and to be part of the future of this great denomination that has been such a witness for Christ. I hope you will see my heart in the reasons “Why I Love Being a United Methodist.” (see below)
I have shared with you all in various settings that I am a United Methodist pastor and bishop, and I firmly believe a future UMC needs traditional, orthodox members as well as progressive members, centrist members, and everyone in between. A church cannot effectively reach the least, the lost, and the lonely if it is of one mind on every topic. It takes us all to challenge and encourage one another in our discipleship efforts and our spiritual journey.
As expected, I fielded questions about many relevant denominational topics during our September conversations. However, my heart was warmed to know that many people attended these sessions in order to better understand what the future of The United Methodist Church looks like and what laity can do to encourage their church to remain United Methodist.
Some in attendance wanted more information on the steps for local church disaffiliation. We did not focus our time on the nuances of that topic. However, a page on our website explains those details, and your District Superintendent is always available to answer questions.
Your District Superintendents, conference leadership, and I have spent a lot of time helping churches get to where they need to be. Now as we move forward and some churches make a decision to depart, I want you to know my commitment is focusing on the people and churches of the great South Georgia Conference and moving forward in this next season of ministry together.
My prayers are with each of you, and I welcome your prayers as we continue to focus on mission and ministry.
Bishop David Graves
Why I Love Being a United Methodist
The United Methodist Church is a GLOBAL CHURCH of 12 million members whose reach and impact can be felt around the world. From Imagine No Malaria to the support of Ukrainian refugees, from Africa University to Camp Connect, The United Methodist Church is empowering people to love God and love neighbor around the world.
Jesus is at the center of all that we do. Together, we join in God’s mighty acts of salvation, proclaiming and living the Lordship of Christ throughout the world. Our mission is clear, and we are committed to MAKING DISCIPLES of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.
GRACE is central to our theology, our witness, and our ministry to the world. Steeped in the best of evangelical theology, we believe that salvation is a gift available to all, offered to us without price, through faith in Jesus Christ. In The United Methodist Church, everyone is welcome—including sinners! All are invited to follow Jesus.
Our evangelical theology is bolstered with a focus on TWO SACRAMENTS. In the sacrament of baptism, we are adopted into the family of God and given new life through Jesus Christ. In the sacrament of holy communion, all are invited to the table of our Lord where Jesus meets us. In both sacraments, God’s amazing grace is poured out on God’s people.
We are a DIVERSE church. “In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity.” With Christians around the world, we worship the Triune God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. At the same time, we believe there is strength in our diversity. We boldly welcome people from different backgrounds, with different political views, and with a variety of worldviews. As a community born out of the fires of Pentecost and shaped by the cross of Christ, our stories make us stronger, give us resiliency in times of uncertainty, and provide a rich testimony of the steadfast love of God in our lives.
We WORSHIP God in a variety of ways, across four continents, in a multitude of languages. United Methodists faithfully worship in traditional high churches and tiny house churches, in contemporary venues and on college campuses. Together, our varied voices proclaim the goodness and grace of God.
The United Methodist Church’s IMPACT is felt and known across our country. Countless colleges, universities, hospitals, community centers, and social services agencies were born through the vision and gifts of United Methodists. This cultural impact continues from giant research universities to church-sponsored institutions like Andrew College and Wesleyan College.
The United Methodist Church is a CONNECTIONAL church, wherein churches are joined with each other and the global church in a multitude of ways. Our connection provides training and resources for clergy and laity, produces curriculum and devotional material for all ages, sends missionaries and mission teams around the world, and empowers new ministries to reach new generations.
When there is a DISASTER our connection responds through The United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR). United Methodists are often the first ones in and the last ones out when disaster strikes. After Hurricane Michael, our connectional partnerships gave us access to money and aid that enabled us to assist hurricane survivors.
The United Methodist Church has a BRIGHT FUTURE, for God is at work in ways seen and unseen across our connection. God is using United Methodist churches to proclaim the gospel, feed the hungry, comfort the broken, and resist the evils of this world. God has called us, God has equipped us, and God will carry us forward to reach new people and new generations for Jesus Christ.