Just outside the doors of the Jekyll Island Convention Center, the Atlantic Ocean stretched as far as the eye could see. Inside, the South Georgia Annual Conference gathered Sunday, June 3 through Tuesday, June 5 for its 152nd annual conference session.
“Stretch,” Bishop Bryan said as he preached the conference’s opening worship service sermon and encouraged South Georgia United Methodists to respond to Jesus’ call to follow Him and love and serve others.
“Even John Wesley had to learn to stretch,” he said. “John Wesley stretched the church.”
Bishop Bryan recounted the biblical stories of the women at Jesus’ tomb, the man with the withered hand, and the woman at the well to help illustrate a believer’s response to Jesus’ calling on their lives.
“The real issue is, do I want to let myself wither? Do I want to let myself die? Or do I want to be healed? Do I want to stretch?
“Stretch out your hand,” Bishop Bryan said, noting those four words from Mark 3:5 summarize Jesus’ ministry. “At the end, Jesus stretched out his hands on the cross so that all the world might come within the embrace of His saving love."
Stretching up in worship, out to the world
Gathering under the theme “Alive Together in Worship,” annual conference members stretched up in worship and stretched out to each other and to the world throughout the three-day conference.
During the opening worship service, nearly $30,000 was given for Abundant Health initiatives and the Special Relief Fund for South Georgia Clergy in order to provide gifts of hope to enrich the health and lives of people in South Georgia, the United States, and around the world. Dr. Simbo Ige, Executive Director of Global Health for Global Ministries, was present to receive the check and share about Global Ministries’ Abundant Health initiative.
A Memorial Service for those faithful servants who have served in the Conference was held Monday afternoon. Rev. Leigh Ann Raynor, a retired South Georgia minister, reminded those gathered of their calls to serve and to thank God for calling them into ministry.
“Remembering our calls, shouldn’t we be saying thank you, Jesus, for calling us?” As we remember these who served, let us say thank you for letting us be among those on whom you shower your grace,” Rev. Raynor said.
Monday evening, the Conference gathered for the service for the Ordination of Deacons and Elders with Commissioning. Bishop Bryan’s sermon, “The Great Privilege of Ministry,” was from Matthew 9:35-10:8, which recounts Jesus commissioning and sending the disciples.
“We pay attention to Jesus having his own commissioning service for the disciples,” Bishop Bryan said as he addressed those being ordained and commissioned.
“God has given you exousia - the authority that comes from within. It is who you are. Never let go of that.”
The great privilege of ministry, he said, is to see healing occur.
“The fundamental ministry of Jesus is healing. It’s about broken people and things being put back together,” Bishop Bryan said.
He invited the ordinands and those being commissioned to look in their neighborhoods and communities and heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the leper, and drive out demons.
“Laity and clergy, that’s the great privilege. Together, healing, cleansing, raising, and driving out demons, in the ministry of Jesus Christ.”
Bishop Bryan presided over the ordinal rites and was assisted by Mrs. Gloria Morgan, Conference Lay Leader, representing the laity, and Rev. Scott Tucker, Chair of the Board of Ordained Ministry, observed the ordinal rites.
The business of Annual Conference
Important business of the Annual Conference was attended to during plenary sessions.
During Monday’s plenary session, attendees heard the Lay Leader’s address, given by conference lay leader Gloria Morgan. Morgan highlighted the ways laity are serving their neighbors in each district and spreading the love of Christ. “South Georgia United Methodists are reaching out by telling our story of what Christ has done for us by encouraging others to join us in worship, Bible study, and prayer,” she said.
“It’s up to us as the laity to become more involved. Laity and clergy must work together to accomplish great things for the South Georgia Annual Conference. May we continue to live as God’s people whenever and wherever there is a need.”
Monday afternoon, South Georgia delegates approved a conference arrearage policy to help stem the tide of clergy benefit debt.
During his episcopal address, Bishop Bryan challenged the Conference to be alive together with a heart of peace.
“Fast forward two or three years from now,” he said. “As people look back on this time of the special General Conference and the discussion on the Way Forward, what will you have done and what will you have said that cause your name to come up as a person of peace?”
Tuesday morning the Conference took a revote on a proposed amendment to the UMC constitution dealing with women’s equality. It was announced May 10 that an error had been made in the text of proposed Constitutional Amendment I as it was presented to annual conferences for voting in 2017. The amendment needed 66.7 percent of the votes to pass and only received 66.5. A sentence that should not have been included was removed by a vote of 746-56 of the 2016 General Conference but was inadvertently included in the version that was distributed.
It also heard a presentation on A Way Forward from Bishop Bryan, Conference Chancellor Warren Plowden, and Rev. Don Adams and Bill Hatcher, clergy and lay heads of the General Conference delegation. Bishop Bryan is scheduling meetings in every district for laity and clergy once the Way Forward report from the Council of Bishops is released.
Tuesday afternoon delegates passed a resolution that calls on the South Georgia Conference to “affirm the present standards of our Discipline” and also asks that the Secretary of the Annual Conference, within 60 days, share a copy of the resolution and the vote count (431 yes, 179 no) with the head of the General Conference delegation of each annual conference along with a request for the resolution to be shared with the delegations. An amendment to the resolution was added for increased accountability.
It also approved six standing rules changes: change in lay membership, change in Office of Communications, change in Personnel Committee, change in officer who keeps clergy personnel records, change in Archives & History Committee, and Change in Elections Policy.
Throughout the three-day session, attendees heard three John Wesley Moments from beloved John Wesley historian Rev. Dave Hanson. In his final John Wesley moment, Rev. Hanson shared that even John Wesley stretched himself.
“John Wesley took it upon himself to stretch,” Rev. Hanson said, by ordaining ministers and sending them to America. “Unusual situations call us to stretch, and we must do what we need to do,” he said. “We think of John Wesley as methodical and intentional, but John Wesley stretched many times. That was just one time. Stretch.”
During its plenary sessions, the Conference 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; took action on seven church closings; heard the report of the conference personnel committee; approved the Equitable Compensation Report; celebrated the ministry of four pastors who have served 50 years in ministry; honored 18 retiring pastors; voted to refer a resolution that would create a “Task Force on Spirituality” to the Office of Connectional Ministries; were “energized” with a song and dance by the kids from BEACH camp and the College Summer Camp Leadership team; approved the Board of Pensions and Health Benefits report; approved the nominations report; approved the conference trustees report; heard an update on the new Conference Center; approved a 2019 budget of $10,062,826; showed appreciation for the hard work and gracious hospitality of the Coastal District and the 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 2019 Annual Conference session in Columbus June 2-5, 2019.
South Georgia United Methodists were generous in their giving to missions and ministry. Giving totals to the 2018 offerings were: Special Offering for Abundant Health: $29,029.95; Special Relief: $4,029.72; Ministerial Education Fund: $2,235.75.
Plan on a Page
Church consultant and guest teacher Claire Bowen, a human resources specialist and Statesboro native, led clergy and laity to work together in teams to develop a plan for vitality and ministry.
“Whatever size we are, we need a plan for being alive together in the world,” Bishop Bryan said in his introduction of Bowen, a lifelong United Methodist who grew up attending Statesboro First United Methodist Church.
As clergy delegates sat with their lay delegates, Bowen led them through simple, fun, practical exercises to put vision into action. Dubbed “Plan on a Page,” the process helps church leaders create a plan and make a commitment.
“A vision that stretches us inspires us to be God’s children making disciples of Christ for the transformation of the world,” Bowen said. “What inspires you to lead your church to be all that it can be? What vision would make you want to stretch your arms and shout, ‘Yes, God! Let’s do it!’”
This year’s Vital Signs moments highlighted ways congregations, agencies, ministries, and people are Alive Together in Christ.
With the help of Tyler Reagin, president of Catalyst, and Bob Goff, author of “Love Does,” via video, Rev. Jay Hanson, director of Congregational Development, and Rev. Ben Gosden, pastor of Trinity UMC in Savannah, talked about how pastors and laity can better leverage their influence in the community, how leaders should produce more leaders, and how leaders should surround themselves with other effective leaders.
In another Vital Signs moment, Rev. Hanson highlighted churches that are seeing significant increases in worship attendance. Joining Rev. Hanson were Rev. Barry Giddens, pastor of Waycross First UMC; Rev. Mike Myers, pastor of Trinity UMC in Waycross; and Revs. Alaina and Greg Harrison of Wesley UMC in Macon. They shared with the conference they ways they are reaching out to their communities and finding new, innovative ways to minister to people and grow their churches.
In the final Vital Signs moment, Dr. Matt Woodbery, Director of Connectional Ministries, facilitated highlights from the Connectional Ministries team that showcased where the Conference is “Alive Together In the World.
Service of Sending Forth
Annual Conference 2018 ended with a Service of Sending Forth as Bishop Bryan encouraged each person to ask themselves, “Where am I stretching?”
“We hold our communities in our hands,” Bishop Bryan said, as he held a small stress ball shaped like a globe. “Hope is a wonderful thing. Where are you bringing hope in your community? Stretch out in ministry to the world. Stretch out your hands to the world.”
Following his message, the names of those receiving a new appointment were read. Click here to view the 2018-2019 Clergy Appointments.
South Georgia by the numbers
Membership stands at 110,926, down 2,520 from the previous year. Worship attendance stands at 45,862, down 2,165. Church school attendance stands at 19,839, up 877 from 2017.
The 2019 Annual Conference session will be held June 2-5, in Columbus.
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.