Leading his fifth and final annual conference session as South Georgia’s episcopal leader, on Monday, June 7, Bishop R. Lawson Bryan welcomed more than 700 delegates and guests to the 155th session of the South Georgia Annual Conference.
This year’s gathering was again virtual, with clergy and laity participating from their living rooms, home offices, and churches. Earlier in the week the conference worshiped virtually in three separate services: the Retiree Recognition Service on June 1, the Memorial Service on June 3, and the Service of Ordination with Commissioning on June 6.
With a theme of “Alive Together at the Table,” Bishop Bryan opened the business session by reflecting on his five years serving South Georgia and the numerous ways in which the conference is alive.
He acknowledged the global coronavirus pandemic has changed the way congregations and churches work and worship, but said they are strong and resilient.
“I celebrate the adaptability of our laity and our clergy,” he said. “I have learned something about how faithful our laity and clergy are. Many of our local churches now have fresh, new avenues of ministry. We’ve learned better ways to be the church.”
And although times are uncertain, Bishop Bryan said he’s noticed South Georgia United Methodists do not seem to be uncertain about what matters most.
“I have not sensed any uncertainty about the importance of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world,” he said. “Our laity and clergy, while acknowledging uncertainty all around, still realize that the hurting people in our communities need a church and that they’re ready to respond to a church that is open to them, and that is what I see happening all over.”
Morning business session
During the morning business session, the conference voted on and approved items in the Consent Calendar; celebrated the ministry and comeback of Camp Connect; heard about a book club focused on race relations hosted by Connectional Ministries; celebrated with those pastors who have served 50 years in ministry and those who have retired; watched a video celebrating and promoting clergy S3 (Sabbath, Service, Study) groups; heard the Board of Ordained Ministry (BOM) report given by Rev. Fran Magoni, chair of the BOM, and recognized new certified candidates, 2020 Licensing School students, new Licensed Local Pastors, and received clergy into full conference membership; honored the 45 faithful clergy and clergy spouses who have died since the 2020 Annual Conference session; approved a report from Equitable Compensation; approved a report from the Conference Board of Pension and Health Benefits, including a motion to no longer collect apportionments for payment of pre-1982 pension and benefits and celebrated that the obligation for the funding of the pensions and the yearly increase of the past service rate has been met; heard a report from the Conference Trustees; recognized Emanuel United Methodist Church in Brunswick for winning the One Matters Award; took action on the closings of two churches; approved the disaffiliation of nine churches; approved the nominations report; celebrated the ways the conference has responded to disasters and built disaster response capacity; celebrated the faithful ministry of the laity by hearing a report from Lay Leader J. Knapp who introduced the Laity Cabinet; and heard a welcome message from Bishop David Graves, episcopal leader of the Alabama-West Florida Conference, who will provide interim episcopal leadership for South Georgia beginning Sept. 1.
Afternoon business session
During the afternoon business session, the conference heard two John Wesley Moments from Rev. Dave Hanson (John Wesley Moment 1 / John Wesley Moment 2); recognized conference agencies and showed appreciation for their fruitful ministries; heard a report from the heads of the General Conference delegation and the Leadership Forum Task Force; heard a report from the Conference Council on Finance and Administration (CFA) and approved a budget of $8,437,218, a reduction of $735,096 from the previous year; heard an announcement from CFA that churches need to ensure they have bonding for their treasurers and financial secretaries; celebrated South Georgia’s partnership with the North Katanga Conference; remembered the lives and ministries of former UMW president Gloria Gilmore and former UMM president Henry Holt as Patsy Thomas shared a black history month spotlight; highlighted the ministry of certified lay ministers; received an offering for the Annual Conference Special Offering, the Golden Cross Fund; gave thanks and appreciation to Bishop Bryan for his five years of service to the Conference, and accepted an invitation from the Northwest District to host the 2022 Annual Conference session in Columbus June 5-8. Before the close of the session, the 2021-2022 pastoral appointments were set.
Be the doorkeepers
As Bishop Bryan closed the 2021 Annual Conference session - his final session as episcopal leader of the South Georgia Conference - he read Psalm 84 and encouraged South Georgia UMs to stay together and be doorkeepers.
“Aren’t we ready to be back in worship, in church together? The psalmist expresses it perfectly: ‘My soul longs for this,’” Bishop Bryan said. “I hope the pandemic has helped teach us all to stay in touch with our deep longing that God has given us to be together. This is the way God created us. This is the need the church fulfills. It’s part of who we are.”
Local churches should be places where all may enter and find security and a spiritual home, he said.
To close, Bishop Bryan asked everyone to consider themselves as doorkeepers - those who welcome and invite others in - and asked, “For whom will you open the door?”
“May we go forth today thinking of ourselves as doorkeepers. It’s something every one of us can do,” he said. “We’re all here because doors were opened for us. I’d rather be a doorkeeper in the house of the Lord. That’s what your community needs: people who know how to open doors. And you are one of those people. You know the doors that need to be opened and you know how to open those doors. I’d rather be a doorkeeper; what better role could you have?”
For full Annual Conference coverage, visit www.sgaumc.org/annualconference.