The South Georgia Conference of The United Methodist Church is writing a new chapter in its story as it looks ahead to mission and ministry in this next season.
Bishop David Graves, episcopal leader of the South Georgia Conference, has expressed his great hope for the future of the South Georgia Conference. While it may be smaller in number, he says, he knows that numbers do not tell a full story nor define a church’s ability to bear witness to the Good News of Jesus Christ.
“It is time to put the word disaffiliation behind us and begin to write the next chapter in the story of this great conference,” said Bishop Graves in a recent video message to the conference.
Bishop Graves believes the South Georgia Conference will be stronger as clergy and laity partner together to focus on reaching new people with the gospel message.
To aid in this, Bishop Graves has formed a ministry strategy team to help cultivate new expressions of ministry and help established churches vision and seek new ways of sharing Christ with new people.
Bishop Graves is excited to announce that the Revs. Jeremy Alexander, Stephanie Smith, and Matt Waldron will serve the conference as ministry cultivators. These three cultivators will continue to serve an appointment in the local church in addition to this ministry strategy work. They officially began their work May 8, 2023.
“The Cultivators will be a team of gardeners for new things growing up in South Georgia,” said Mrs. Anne Bosarge, Director of Leadership Strategies and Local Church Resources. “They will be investing in people who are hearing God prompting them to do new things and helping nourish these new seeds into health and life. We look forward to the cultivators equipping leaders who are starting home churches, Fresh Expressions, missional communities, digital ministries, new church starts, and whatever else God has in store for South Georgia in this new season.”
These three cultivators join the Connectional Ministries and Congregational Development team in the work they are already doing to resource and guide local churches. Bosarge will give oversight to the cultivators and has already begun the work of helping to develop and support fresh expressions and new faith communities popping up all over the conference.
“We have highly relational, high-capacity staff who love the work they do with laity and clergy all throughout South Georgia,” said Mrs. Kelly Roberson, Director of Conference Ministries & Communications. “Each person on our staff is uniquely gifted to live out their calling to love, serve, resource, and meet the needs of our local churches. Even in a challenging season, our staff is ready to move forward and focus on the future as we pray boldly, seek to make disciples, and work to strengthen our United Methodist connection here in South Georgia. We are excited for Jeremy, Stephanie, and Matt to join our team.”
Bishop Graves and Conference leadership previously announced a plan for a new district leadership model. In this new configuration, the six districts will remain in place, but there will be three regions with two districts in each region. Rev. Doreen Smalls will oversee the Northwest and Southwest districts; the Rev. Dr. Paula Lewis will oversee the North Central and South Central districts; and the Rev. Dr. Scott Hagan will oversee the Coastal and Northeast districts. Dr. Jay Harris will assume an expanded role as the Superintendent of Clergy and District Services.
“While I will continue my role in providing clergy services through both the Board of Ordained Ministry and the Episcopal Office, I will also provide services to the Districts by leading the team giving support to the superintendents and helping free them up in other ways so they focus their attention on the mission of the local churches under their care,” said Dr. Harris.
In addition, Mrs. Meredyth Earnest will move to a full-time role with the Annual Conference to provide streamlined management and coordination of all data and online forms, tools, and processes to assist the districts and local churches. Mrs. Cindy Rollins will offer administrative support to the districts in a full-time capacity. The Communications Office, under the direction of Kelly Roberson, will take on communications for the districts, and the Administrative Services office, under the direction of Mrs. Suzanne Jones, will work with the districts to provide financial services and support.
“I want our district superintendents to live into their role of being chief missional strategists,” said Bishop Graves. “By putting a strong support team around them our intent is to move District Superintendents away from administrative maintenance and on to mission. Our Conference staff will be meeting together to work on a number of elements that shift the superintendent role to being a missional strategist so their focus can be on their local churches.”
These intentional efforts by the Bishop and conference leadership and staff to move forward in creative ways are all done with the intention to engage and energize local churches to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.
“We have incredibly gifted staff who have worked under some hard circumstances these past several years,” said Bishop Graves in expressing his gratitude for the South Georgia team. “These staff members as well as our conference leadership, our clergy, and the laity of our local churches give me energy and the promise of a new day in this conference.
“Our focus moving forward will be on mission and ministry, starting new churches in places where there is no longer a United Methodist presence, and working with our existing churches to reach their communities in new and innovative ways. May we all join together in praying for one another and for these servant leaders as they guide this critical work of the conference. We have a great future with hope!” said Bishop Graves.