During the 2019 annual conference session, held June 2 through June 5, South Georgia United Methodists elected delegates to serve at the 2020 General and Southeastern Jurisdictional Conferences.
In all, four clergy and four laity were elected to attend General Conference, the highest legislative body of the denomination, which will meet May 5-15, 2020, in Minneapolis, Minn.
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 July 15-18, 2020, when bishops will be elected.
The first two members of the jurisdictional delegation are also considered alternate delegates to General Conference and will prepare to attend that conference as well. Two additional alternate delegates were also elected to attend Jurisdictional Conference.
Leading the General Conference clergy delegation is Rev. Jim Cowart, lead pastor of Harvest Church in Byron. Rev. Cowart served as a General Conference delegate in 2012, 2016, and 2019.
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 tenth General Conference session.
General Conference Delegates
In addition to Rev. Cowart, the 2020 General Conference clergy delegation includes Rev. Robert Beckum, senior pastor of St. Luke United Methodist Church in Columbus; Rev. Doreen Smalls, superintendent of the Southwest District; and Rev. Jay Hanson, senior pastor of The Chapel in Brunswick.
The laity delegation includes Hatcher; Jennifer Cowart, member and executive director of ministry and operations for Harvest Church; Allison Lindsey, associate director of Connectional Ministries and member of St. Mark United Methodist Church in Douglas; and Larry Price, retired president of Albany Winnelson Company and a member of Albany’s Christ United Methodist Church.
The clergy Jurisdictional Conference delegation includes Rev. Robert Greene, senior pastor of Porterfield Memorial United Methodist Church in Albany; Dr. Scott Hagan, pastor of Bonaire United Methodist Church; Rev. Jimmy Towson, senior pastor of Park Avenue United Methodist Church in Valdosta; and Rev. David Thompson, superintendent of the Coastal District.
Rev. Scott Tucker, incoming pastor of Isle of Hope United Methodist Church in Savannah; and Rev. Alaina Harrison, associate pastor of Wesley United Methodist Church in Macon, were elected alternate Jurisdictional Conference clergy delegates.
The Jurisdictional Conference laity delegation includes Richard Shinhoster, a retired college administrator and member of ConneXion Church in Savannah; Brenda Adams, a retired teacher and member of Pine Forest United Methodist Church in Dublin; Chuck Cowart, a member of Arlington United Methodist Church; and Steve Rumford, a retired diaconal minister and former president of the Methodist Home and member of Mulberry Street United Methodist Church in Macon.
Debbie Turner, a retired educator and member of Akin United Methodist Church, and Jeff Barker, president and CEO of the St. Marys UMC Foundation and member of St. Marys United Methodist Church, were elected alternate Jurisdictional Conference lay delegates.
While the denomination’s future and human sexuality will dominate conversations at the 2020 General Conference session, Rev. Cowart says there’s more to discuss than just those two issues.
“It’s certainly going to be at the center - are we going to stay together, are we going to split,” he said. “The continuity and unity of the denomination are going to be the main focus, and what brought us there is human sexuality.”
But, he said, more work needs to be done in regards to declining membership.
“Evangelism, discipleship, and turning the numbers around are all things that have to be addressed.”
Hatcher, who has served as a delegate in every General and Jurisdictional Conference since 1988, said that he’s honored and humbled that the laity of South Georgia are trusting him in this role. He’s ready for the denomination to move forward past the issues that have divided it for decades.
“My hope is that I will be able to help the Church continue on the path established in St. Louis,” he said. We’ve too long fought over the issue of human sexuality and the interpretation of scripture. So when we, as the church, can get to the conclusion we can serve God’s kingdom better going our separate ways, each interpreting the scripture as we are led, all of us will be in a better place. We should bless each other and wish one another the best instead of fighting and being adversaries.”
Rev. Cowart said that, while there will be challenges, he is grateful to serve alongside the other delegates.
“This is an awesome task to help our Church navigate these turbulent waters.”