General Conference Reflections – 1976


Rev. C.E. Cariker sits in his study and shares his memories of the 1976 General Conference delegation.

By Kara Witherow, Editor

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

40 years ago, The United Methodist Church’s legislative body met in Portland, Ore., also the site of the 2016 General Conference.

During the 1976 General Conference, held April 27 through May 7, the conference established the Commission on the Status and Role of Women and established the office of diaconal minister. 

And much like today, the subject of human sexuality was a hotly debated topic.

Retired South Georgia pastor Rev. C.E. Cariker served as a General Conference delegate in 1976 and recalls being in Portland, serving on the Local Church legislative committee, and feeling that the state of the church was healthy.

He also remembers the Pacific Northwest being vastly different than rural South Georgia.

“We drove around for blocks in Portland looking for a church,” he said, laughing. “It wasn’t at all like here in the South where you can find a church on every corner!”

In a letter written to his district while still in Portland, Rev. Cariker said, “The General Conference seemed to reflect the grass roots of the church in many of its actions. The South Georgia delegation, lay and clergy, made many positive contributions, both in the legislative committees, in the halls, and on the floor. As a freshman I learned a great deal and feel much better about the future of The United Methodist Church.”

Serving as the Thomasville District Superintendent when he “just squeaked in” by being elected as the fifth clergy delegate to General Conference, Rev. Cariker recalls fondly the times the delegation shared together in Portland.

General Conference was held in the midst of a tightly contested presidential election, and there were, according to Rev. Cariker, several Jimmy Carter supporters among the South Georgia delegation. Veteran lay delegate George Wright, a pharmacist from Tifton, was among them.   

“He had this deep, resonant voice,” Rev. Cariker said. “He would always say, ‘This is George Wright from Georgia.’ And then he would say, ‘We are going to elect a president from Georgia!’”

There was strong leadership within the South Georgia delegation in 1976; Rev. G. Ross Freeman, who led the delegation, served as legislative committee chair of the Committee on Council of Ministries, and Rev. David Duck served as legislative committee chair of the Committee on Administrative Order. South Georgia also submitted several petitions for consideration. 

Rev. Cariker left Portland with positive feelings about the church he loves but acknowledges that it’s still dealing with some of the same issues today that it did then.

“The state of the church in 1976 was healthy,” he said. “But we’ve had difficulties in recent years.”

1976 General Conference delegates

G. Ross Freeman
A. Jason Shirah
Guy Hutcherson
C. Wilburne Hancock
David A. Duck
C. E. Cariker

George W. Mayo – Savannah
Augusta Carruth – Brunswick
S. Walter Martin – Valdosta
George A. Wright – Tifton
Ina Randitt – Cochran
Louis Jordan – Valdosta 

W. R. Key
William H. Hinson
V. L. Daughtery, Jr.
Alvis A. Waite, Jr.
Lenton H. Powell
Weyman R. Cleveland
Vernard E. Robertson
Lawrence E., Jr. Houston

J.R. Rivers – Camilla 
J. Taylor Phillips – Macon 
B. I. Thornton – Cordele 
Norman R. Johnson – Savannah
Nevolia O. Wright – Columbus
Syd Shepherd – Valdosta
James H., Jr. Sneed – Tennessee (was on General Board of Discipleship Staff)
Will J. Peterson – Soperton

To read more about the 1976 General Conference, click here to view the online Journal of the 1976 General Conference of The United Methodist Church.

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