By Kelly Roberson
Naomi. Nehemiah. Mary. Peter. United Methodists of the South Georgia Annual Conference.
What do all of these have in common? They prayed bold prayers. Because of their prayers, we see how God redeems, rebuilds, reveals, revives, and moves us forward into a hope-filled future.
In a focused effort, the South Georgia Conference centered itself around prayer leading up to and during the 2023 South Georgia Annual Conference, meeting June 4-6, 2023, at the UGA Tifton Campus Conference Center in Tifton, Ga.
“I chose the theme of our 2023 Annual Conference session, When They Prayed, based on Acts 4:31: ‘And when they had prayed, the place in which they gathered together was shaken, and they were filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness,’” said Bishop David Graves, episcopal leader of the South Georgia Conference.
He acknowledges that while it seems obvious that prayer is at the center of our work, we sometimes need to make intentional efforts so we don’t get sidetracked by the business and agenda items of our meetings.
“I did not want anything to distract us from listening for God’s voice and seeking God’s will for us, for our churches, and for our Annual Conference,” said Bishop Graves. “I want us to pray bold prayers, and this collective focus on prayer allowed space for the Holy Spirit to guide us and to guide our work.”
South Georgia laity and clergy gathered online each week for the six weeks leading up to this year’s Annual Conference session. Led by Mrs. Anne Bosarge and Mrs. Suzanne Akins, Connectional Ministries staff, and Rev. Rebecca Duke-Barton, pastor of Jesup First UMC, and Rev. Chance Ward, pastor of Goshen UMC, participants focused on praying as certain Biblical figures prayed: Naomi (when we pray blessings on others, God redeems, Ruth 1:8), Nehemiah (when we acknowledge our shortcomings, God rebuilds, Nehemiah 1:5), Mary (when we rejoice and give thanks, God reveals, Luke 1:46-56) and Peter (when we pray boldly, God revives, Acts 9:40.
Those gathered online were asked the questions: What would it look like if we prayed boldly today for healing and for a filling of the Spirit? What does bold prayer look like? How do we have the courage to pray these bold prayers?
This same focus was carried into the Annual Conference session.
Rev. Duke-Barton shared a message Monday morning where she invited those in attendance to “pray like a Methodist”
“When we're praying like a Methodist, we pray knowing that the Holy Spirit is going to take us somewhere,” said Rev. Duke-Barton. “Because we believe in the God of steadfast love, because we have repented and turned to Him, God rebuilds.”
Rev. Duke-Barton reminded conference members that when we pray, God acts.
“I believe that what God did in Nehemiah's time, he wants to do for us right here in the South Georgia Annual Conference,” said Rev. Duke-Barton. “You know what we need to do? We need to get to praying like a Methodist and let the Holy Spirit take us where he will.”
On Tuesday morning, Rev. Michael Culbreth, pastor at ConneXion UMC in Savannah, preached from Luke 1:46-55, Mary’s prayer of praise.
“We see why God showed favor to Mary by allowing her to become the mother of our Savior,” said Rev. Culbreth. “God knew we needed a Savior. We needed somebody to show us love and compassion. We needed somebody to forgive our sins. We needed somebody to give us hope, peace, joy, and love. That's why God favored Mary.”
We have also received God’s unmerited favor, Rev. Culbreth says.
“We haven't earned it; we don't deserve it; but all we can do is accept it,” said Rev. Culbreth. “And through Jesus, God favored us and gave us forgiveness, love, and peace. We are recipients of God's favor. We are recipients of God's grace.
Powerful prayer moments led by Rev. Teresa Edwards, associate pastor of Vineville UMC in Macon, Rev. Precious Hawkins, pastor of Asbury UMC in Savannah, and the Rev. Dr. Ted Goshorn, pastor of Mulberry St. UMC in Macon, were woven into every business session.
Each prayer time ended with this simple prayer: “Together, we pray with confidence and proclaim with boldness that Christ is alive and moving among we, the people called United Methodist. Thanks be to God! Amen.”
Prayer stations were set up in the back of the Conference Center auditorium.
It was truly a powerful, Spirit-filled, prayer focused week, says Bishop Graves.
“My prayer leading up to Annual Conference was that we could leave our time together with a renewed sense of purpose for our life and ministry in each local church,” said Bishop Graves. “I am praying, hoping, and expecting God’s people to do great things because that’s what happens when God’s people pray! May it be so!”
The following are resources used leading up to and during the 2023 Annual Conference session that are being made available to local churches to tailor for use in their own context.