Leading SGAUMC Forward: A Bright Future with Hope

God’s faithfulness felt amid much-anticipated annual conference session


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, as well as the appointment list, photos, and bulletin insert can be found by clicking here.

For the first time in three years, nearly 1,000 South Georgia United Methodists gathered to worship and conduct the business of the annual conference as Bishop David Graves led his first annual conference session in South Georgia.

Held June 5-8 in the Columbus Convention and Trade Center, it was a much-anticipated but anxious time as a gamut of emotions were experienced throughout the four-day session.

Speculation and sorrow, fear and frustration, trust and truth. All were felt as delegates conferenced. But one overriding idea prevailed: God is faithful.

“I see God’s faithfulness on the faces and hear it in the sound of those who continue to lift their hands, hearts, and voices to God in praise even when there is much to lament,” said Rev. Tony Crosby, who was just appointed pastor of Vienna and Shiloh United Methodist Churches. “Above the anxiety of conflict, grief over those lost to death, and the collective weariness of this world’s strife and suffering, we still sing of ‘strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow.’ Our songs are affirmations of faith that God is bigger than all of this and will see us through.”

Meeting under the theme of “Great is Your Faithfulness,” clergy and laity from across the South Georgia Conference rejoiced and remembered God’s faithfulness and goodness.

With vibrant and meaningful worship sessions, Ministry Moment Snapshots that highlighted various ways God’s faithfulness is seen in the South Georgia Conference, and powerful messages from Bishop Graves and Lay Leader J. Knapp, South Georgia United Methodists said they saw hope amid the struggle.

​​“God’s presence was in this place. Even in the midst of all that’s going on, that’s the majesty of God’s greatness, and we’re to lean into that faithfulness,” Bishop Graves said. “I’m thankful for the people of the South Georgia Annual Conference, for being here and for their participation. We saw God speak through worship and even through our debate. We saw God work through all of that.” 

Opening Worship

With his trademark passion and fervor, Bishop James Swanson, resident bishop of the Mississippi Conference of The United Methodist Church who served as a pastor and District Superintendent in the South Georgia Conference until he was elected to the episcopacy in 2004, opened the annual conference session with a rousing and inspiring sermon. 

Reading several Psalms, he reminded delegates and guests that, despite circumstances, they are never alone.

“We often think we’re fighting this battle by ourselves. The psalmist tells us we’re never alone. Quit trying to fight by yourself! Our Father, through the Holy Spirit, lives in us. We’re never alone.

“You are never alone because God is with you and because you have each other,” he said. “Lift up the name of the Lord no matter what you do.”

After Bishop Swanson spoke, a special offering for South Georgia’s mission partnership with the North Katanga Annual Conference was collected totaling more than $22,000. With the money, South Georgia United Methodists will help support two of the North Katanga Annual Conference’s ministries, Kamina Orphanage and Wings of the Morning Aviation.

Music was led by St. Mary’s Road United Methodist Church.

Monday, June 6

Monday morning, June 6 began with separate laity and clergy sessions. Afterwards, the Conference moved into a time of worship led by Rev. Adriane Burgess, pastor at St. Mary’s Road UMC in Columbus. Reading the parable of the Good Samaritan from Luke 10, Rev. Burgess challenged those gathered to be moved with compassion.

“Sometimes God’s business cannot be done from a distance. Sometimes our acts of mercy can’t be done at arm’s length,” she said. “Everything can’t be done at a distance. Sometimes we have to step down and get a little dusty to help someone else. Isn’t that how someone saved you?

“We know what matters. To do God’s work in the name of Jesus. It is all about love and compassion. Let us be moved toward each other with compassion. Let us be moved toward our neighbors with compassion. Let us not miss a single person on the street because we are moved with compassion. Let us be moved with compassion with the powerful name of Jesus.”

Bishop Graves then called the 156th session of the South Georgia Annual Conference to order. This was Bishop Graves’ first Annual Conference to preside over as the resident bishop of the South Georgia Area.

In Monday morning’s business session, the conference welcomed Bishop David and Mrs. Nancy Graves to their first South Georgia Annual Conference session; celebrated the ministry and impact of Camp Connect, the conference’s summer camping program; heard overviews of the standing rules, safe sanctuaries policy updates, and the resolutions; heard a second Ministry Moment Snapshot from Rev. Garth Duke-Barton where he shared how he’s seen God’s faithfulness in and through the work of mission and ministry locally and around the world; and presented a check to the Kamina Orphanage and the Wings of the Morning Aviation ministry of the North Katanga Conference.

During the afternoon business session, the conference heard a South Georgia Conference history moment from Rev. Dave Hanson; heard the Board of Ordained Ministry report given by Rev. Fran Magoni; recognized clergy who faithfully serve beyond the local church in an extension ministry appointment; thanked Rev. Josh Bizzell for serving six years as the Board of Ministry Coordinating Registrar; affirmed clergy who have been elected into provisional membership and into full conference membership; heard a Ministry Moment Snapshot with Bishop David Graves and Rev. Abra Lattany-Reed as they talked about moving forward in making racial justice a priority in the conference; heard the report of the delegation on disaffiliation and the postponement of General Conference to 2024; approved a report from the Conference Trustees in which a process was affirmed that extends the terms of South Georgia’s current disaffiliation policy through December 31, 2024; voted on and approved the disaffiliation of 18 churches; and celebrated the Methodist Home for Children and Youth’s 150th anniversary.

The Conference gathered Monday evening in St. Luke United Methodist Church’s sanctuary for the service of Ordination with Commissioning.

In his sermon, Bishop Graves challenged the ordinands and those being commissioned to remember where they came from and to be all God calls them to be. He also shared a few guiding principles that have helped him be all God created him to be: stay in love with Jesus; ministry is best accomplished when you do it with a team; learn to be a great communicator; discipline yourself so no one else has to; don’t just work hard, work smart; change is a must; and handle success like you handle failure.

“We’re supposed to walk with each other so we can be all God created us to be. That’s my prayer for you.”

Bishop Graves presided over the ordinal rites and was assisted by Mr. J. Knapp, Conference Lay Leader, representing the laity, and Rev. Fran Magoni, Chair of the Board of Ordained Ministry, observed the ordinal rites. 

Tuesday, June 7

Tuesday morning also began with worship, led by Rev. Teresa Edwards, newly appointed associate pastor at Vineville UMC in Macon. She preached from Luke 9:18-20 in which Jesus asks the questions, “Who do the crowds say I am?” and then “But what about you? Who do you say I am?”

“Jesus always knows how to ask the right questions,” Rev. Edwards said. “The question for us at hand today is about identity. Jesus’ identity and our identity.”

All are witnesses, here and now, she said, and the question all must answer, before all others, is the same one Jesus asked, “Who do you say I am?”

“Hear the good news - today we can remind each other through our witness, of faith and faithfulness, of kindness and respect, of hugs, of prayers, of thoughtful discourse, and yes, even loving disagreement - here’s the photo we’re all looking for; it’s the one with Jesus in the center. There, see, we’re all gathered around, in the name of Jesus for this moment, witnesses, together! Jesus, the sure foundation by which we are saved and on which we stand, we, the South Georgia Conference, are here to be your witnesses. Make it so.”

In Tuesday morning’s business session, the conference approved the 2022 Report from the Committee on Nominations and elected Carolyn Fletcher as an at-large member of the Nominating Committee; heard a minority report from several members of the delegation who shared differing opinions from the previous day’s delegation report; voted on resolutions; and celebrated with pastors who have served 50 years in the ministry and pastors retiring at this Annual Conference session.

Conference Lay Leader J. Knapp also gave the Lay Leader’s Address in which he celebrated the faithfulness of the laity of the South Georgia Conference. Knapp shared stories of how congregations all across South Georgia are sharing the love of Christ in life-changing and life-giving ministries, from Hazlehurst First UMC and Albany First UMC to Sylvania UMC, St. Luke UMC, Thomasville’s Lawson Neel MedBank, and more.

“Service in ministry is a special function. It’s not the role of the pastor or staff. It is ours,” he said. “It is up to us, the laity, to be more engaged. The clergy can do nothing without the laity!”

That afternoon, a memorial service was held to honor the 46 faithful clergy and clergy spouses who have died since the 2021 Annual Conference session. Rev. Bill Bagwell, South Georgia minister, reminded those gathered that hope is an important work.

“Hope is in our job description,” he said.

“I dearly need hope. Do you? It is the essence of how we, the community of Christ, maneuver life and death.”

Just an ounce of hope can transform everything, he said, before asking the congregation if they have been in a place of hope during the past year and whether they have sensed God is present.

“Proclaim Jesus crucified and risen. He is our judge and our hope,” he said. “God is with us. We are not alone. Thanks be to God.”

In Tuesday afternoon’s business session, the conference heard a Ministry Moment Snapshot with Rev. David Thompson, Rev. Jorge Moreno, and Rev. Isaac Salgado as they shared about South Georgia’s Hispanic ministries; approved changes to the conference’s Standing Rules; approved a recommendation that every local church revisit and update as necessary their Safe Sanctuaries policy by Dec. 31, 2023; approved changes to the conference Safe Sanctuaries Policy; heard another John Wesley moment from Rev. Dave Hanson; approved the establishment of a Retiree Health Care Trust; approved the recommendations from the Conference Board of Pensions and Health Benefits; approved the report of the Equitable Compensation Report including a 3 percent increase in minimum salary; and approved resolution 6 with the following addition: if a church or charge votes to disaffiliate from the United Methodist Church at a time other than at the June session of the South Georgia Annual Conference and the pastor appointed to serve that church or charge does not desire to leave the United Methodist Church and an appointment is not available, the disaffiliating church will pay the salary, housing and benefits of all the pastor (all appointed clergy regardless of status - to include local pastors, provisional and full deacons appointed to the local church, and provisional and full elders) for the remainder of the Conference year to the Annual Conference along with the other funds required by the Discipline in paragraph 2553 and the Annual Conference disaffiliation policy.

Wednesday, June 8

Wednesday morning, June 8 began with a worship service led by Rev. Daniel Medina, pastor of Nueva Vida UMC, Warner Robins First UMC, and associate director of Hispanic Ministries in the Office of Connectional Ministries.

“Jesus goes to places of deep suffering and pain, Rev. Medina said as he recounted the story of Jesus casting out demons in Mark 5. “Jesus always surprises us by where he goes.”

Jesus has not come to add to human misery but to free us from our misery and fears, he said. 

“Jesus is still the Prince of Peace, the Lord of Shalom. Let us not be fearful,” Rev. Medina said. He encouraged those gathered to notice the marginalized, the homeless, the immigrant, and the refugee in their midst.

“Who is our Gerasene brother or sister today? God’s love transcends race, nationality, language, culture, status, and borders. It is a love that cries for justice and peace. It is a love that is deeply needed today.”

In Wednesday’s business session, the conference heard a Ministry Moment Snapshot where Kelly Crane, Coastal district disaster response coordinator, shared opportunities South Georgia United Methodists have to serve and bring hope to those in times of crisis and disaster; approved the church closings of Brooks United Methodist Church and Elko United Methodist Church; heard a report from the Conference Council on Finance and Administration (CFA) and approved a budget of $7,936,868 for 2023, a reduction of $500,350 from the previous year; heard a final John Wesley Moment from Rev. Dave Hanson; prayed a prayer of lament for harm done to Boy Scouts participants; recognized all Eagle Scouts, all Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, and the positive impact of scouting ministry; heard a word about the called session of Annual Conference, set for August 20, 2022; showed appreciation for the work and hospitality of the Northwest 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; expressed appreciation for the clergy and lay staff who the Annual Conference; and accepted an invitation to hold the 2023 Annual Conference session in Tifton.

Service of Sending Forth

Annual Conference 2022 ended with a Service of Sending Forth and an episcopal address by Bishop Graves.

The six District Superintendents read the names of those receiving a new followed by a prayer from each District Lay Leader. Click here to view the 2022-2023 Clergy Appointments.

In his episcopal address, Bishop David Graves acknowledged that, like Jeremiah, life is hard and messy. He read Jeremiah: 20:7-18 and asked, “Are there days where you feel like Jeremiah?” 

While all have had those feelings, he encouraged South Georgia laity and clergy to “chill out and do our work.”

“I want to be a part of a church that seeks to be in relationship with each other. If you walk away from each other you don’t have influence,” he said. “I want to be in a church that is more focused on the outside than the inside.” 

He shared evidence of God’s work and goodness in his life, starting with the church he grew up in and was nurtured in through the last local church appointment he had. 

“God kept speaking, ‘David, I called you. You are a bishop in The United Methodist Church because I allowed it. You have been preparing your whole life for this moment. Don’t you remember? Have you forgotten? I did not bring you to this day to leave.”

Bishop Graves urged South Georgia United Methodists to hold on and to keep making disciples in their local churches. 

“Hold on. Let’s see what God is going to do. In the meantime, chill out and do your work.”

The 2023 Annual Conference Session will be held in Tifton, Ga. beginning June 4, 2023.

South Georgia by the numbers

Membership stands at 98,324, down 5,140 from the previous year. Worship attendance stands at 23,427, down 2,104. Church school attendance stands at 11,762, down from 979. Professions or reaffirmations of faith for 2021 were 765, up 176 from 2020. Adults and young adults in small groups for 2021 was 21,318, down 234 from 2020. 

For full Annual Conference coverage, visit www.sgaumc.org/annualconference.   

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