By Kelly Roberson
In one of the the oldest Methodist churches in Georgia, on Sunday, January 8, 2023, Bishop David Graves and his wife, Nancy, were officially welcomed to the South Georgia Conference as the conference celebrated and gave thanks for his assignment to South Georgia.
Bishop Graves was assigned as interim episcopal leader in September 2021 following the retirement of Bishop Lawson Bryan. During the Southeastern Jurisdictional Conference in November 2022 it was announced that Bishop Graves would return to South Georgia as its episcopal leader for the next two years.
Mulberry Street United Methodist Church’s historic sanctuary was filled with clergy and laity from around the conference who came to celebrate the episcopal couple, worship together, and offer warm hospitality.
The service was a joyous occasion featuring majestic music, a moving presentation of signs of episcopal ministry, and an inspiring sermon preached by Bishop Graves.
After a welcome from the Rev. Dr. Ted Goshorn, senior pastor of Mulberry Street UMC, and a greeting and prayer from the Rev. Dr. Paula Lewis, Dean of the Cabinet and Superintendent of the South Central District, Rev. Melissa Traver, chair of the Episcopacy Committee, introduced the Bishop and announced his official assignment to South Georgia. The Rev. Dr. Scott Hagan, senior pastor of Statesboro First UMC, then led those gathered in the Covenant Service.
A highlight of the service included the presentation of the eight signs for episcopal ministry. The presenters were laity and clergy from across the conference. Each read a statement and gave a symbol to the bishop, representing shepherding, the prophetic Word, baptism, communion, service, teaching, supervision and appointments. The Bible used in the service belonged to Bishop Arthur J. Moore and dates back to 1927.
Other conference leaders offered prayers and read various scripture passages.
Bishop Graves’ message was personal and full of gratitude.
“Nancy and I are so blessed to be in the South Georgia Conference of The United Methodist Church,” he said, speaking fondly of his time in South Georgia. “There is such a sweet spirit in South Georgia, a spirit that comes from God, and I just want to commend you for that.”
He spoke passionately about purpose and joining God in His kingdom work.
“Everyone in the life of our church and in the life of our culture and society is just as important as everyone else,” said Bishop Graves, recalling his days as a janitor in the local church that led him to his call in ministry. “The person who cleans is just as important as the person who preaches because we are all in this ministry of building God's kingdom together here on Earth as it is in heaven.”
Preaching from the first 22 verses of Acts 4 where Peter and John are in conflict with the religious leaders of the day, Bishop Graves recounted how Jesus is making a difference in people.
“They are turning to the Way because Jesus said, ‘I am the way and I am the truth and I am the life,’” said Bishop Graves. “Friends, people still need to hear that today. They need to hear that there is hope amongst the hopelessness. There's light amongst the darkness. And when we hear statistics like 58% of people in America feel like they have no hope, the church needs to rise above and be the proclaimer of the good news of Jesus.”
In the scripture passage, Peter and John spoke with great boldness because they had followed Jesus and were empowered by the Holy Spirit.
Bishop Graves concluded by calling on everyone to pray boldly and share Christ and to acknowledge that it is time to turn the page.
“It’s time to turn the page and fully get back to the business of sharing Christ to a broken and hurting world,” he said. “I'm asking us to put all of our energies there.
“When was the last time that you prayed for boldness? We follow a God that not only shows up but shows out. It's time to turn the page to be filled with the Holy Spirit and go forth in boldness.”
Following the service, a reception was held in Mulberry Street UMC’s fellowship hall.
Click here to view photos from the service taken by Cameron Bishop.
Video of the Service
Click here to view a recording of the service.