In all, four clergy and four laity were elected to attend General Conference, the highest legislative body of the denomination, which will meet in Portland, Ore., May 10-20, 2016.
In addition, the conference elected another four clergy and four laity to attend the Southeastern Jurisdictional Conference, along with the General Conference delegates. Jurisdictional Conference will be held in July 2016 when bishops will be elected.
The first two members of the jurisdictional delegation are also considered alternates to General Conference and will prepare to attend that conference as well. Two additional alternate delegates were also chosen to attend Jurisdictional Conference.
Leading the General Conference clergy delegation is Rev. Don Adams, senior pastor of Albany First United Methodist Church. Rev. Adams served as a General Conference alternate delegate in 2012 and as a Jurisdictional Conference delegate in 2012 and 2008.
William S. “Bill” Hatcher, a businessman and a member of Statesboro First United Methodist Church, will lead the General Conference laity delegation. This will be Hatcher’s eighth General Conference session.
General Conference Delegates
In addition to Rev. Adams, the 2016 General Conference clergy delegation includes Dr. Edwin “Buddy” Cooper, Northwest District Superintendent; Rev. Jay Hanson, senior pastor of The Chapel in Brunswick; and Dr. Bob Moon, senior pastor of Valdosta First United Methodist Church.
The laity delegation includes Hatcher; Allison Lindsey, associate director of Connectional Ministries and member of Douglas First United Methodist Church; Larry Price, retired president of Albany Winnelson Company and a member of Albany’s Christ United Methodist Church; and Carl Childs, Jr., a retired Bell South employee and member of Fort Gaines United Methodist Church.
The clergy Jurisdictional Conference delegation includes Rev. Jim Cowart, pastor of Harvest Church in Byron; Rev. Denise Walton, assistant to the Bishop for Connectional Ministries; Rev. Scott Hagan, pastor of Bonaire United Methodist Church; and Rev. Robert Beckum, senior pastor of St. Luke United Methodist Church in Columbus.
Rev. Doreen Smalls, pastor of Savannah’s Asbury United Methodist Church, and Rev. Stacey Harwell-Dye, Minister of Community Building at Macon’s Centenary United Methodist Church, were elected alternate Jurisdictional Conference clergy delegates.
The Jurisdictional Conference laity delegation includes Marianne Wright, a marriage and family therapist and member of Park Avenue United Methodist Church in Valdosta; Richard Shinhoster, a retired college administrator and member of Speedwell United Methodist Church in Savannah; Kelly Roberson, South Georgia Conference director of communications and member of Leesburg First United Methodist Church; and Miriam Hagan, a retired certified public accountant and member of Pittman Park United Methodist Church in Statesboro.
Gloria Morgan, a retired preschool teacher and member of Pine Forest United Methodist Church, and Rus Black, associate pastor of Swainsboro First United Methodist Church, were elected alternate Jurisdictional Conference lay delegates.
Unity – whether or not The United Methodist Church will stay together or split – will likely dominate conversations in Portland. And as in recent General Conference sessions, cultural issues, primarily those involving homosexuality, will be hot topics.
“I think that’s everyone’s biggest concern – can we stick together, can we hold together,” Rev. Adams said. “Obviously the human sexuality issues are the most significant subtext of that.”
Both Rev. Adams and Hatcher would prefer that the General Conference’s time be spent focusing on church growth and disciple-making efforts, but they know that pressing social issues must be discussed and dealt with. Hatcher believes that the current climate puts the South Georgia delegation in a defensive posture.
“There’s been a push for the past 35 to 40 years to change the language in the discipline and to make dramatic changes in ordination and allow same-sex marriages,” he said. “It feels to me that our primary focus and interest is being on the defense and keeping that from happening.”
Rev. Adams said that, while there will be challenges, he is looking forward to serving alongside the other delegates.
“I really feel like part of a team and I have great respect for all of the other people on this delegation,” he said.
The four clergy and four laity delegates elected during this year’s annual conference session are a decrease from the five clergy and five laity delegates who were elected to attend the 2012 General Conference.
At its fall 2013 meeting the church’s General Commission on General Conference (GCGC) voted to make a 12.5 percent reduction in the number of delegates who will attend the 2016 General Conference session. In 2012, 988 delegates convened in Tampa, Fla. When General Conference gathers in Portland, Ore. in 2016, 864 delegates will set policy for the 12.5 million-member worldwide denomination.
Hatcher says that it is an honor and an awesome responsibility to have been elected to serve as a delegate, and that despite the potential for conflict and chaos, he remains hopeful.
“I’m excited about the persons who have been elected,” he said. “We have a great group and I sense a great spirit.”