Steeped in Methodist history, Savannah was a fitting venue for an historic South Georgia Annual Conference session.
Held June 1 through June 3, 2014, at the Johnny Mercer Theatre, transition was the theme of this year’s session as the South Georgia Conference officially reduced from nine districts to six.
“Change happens quickly, but transition takes time,” said Bishop James King, South Georgia’s episcopal leader, during his episcopal address. “I need you to be patient and persistent. I need you to be kind and loving towards each other.”
The only goal of a Christian, he said, is to satisfy God while growing a Christlike world.
“Everything else is adjustable, so we will keep adjusting.”
June 11, 2014, is the official date that the Conference will transition to these six districts: Coastal, North Central, Northeast, Northwest, South Central, and Southwest. Click here to view the six-district Conference map and list of churches by district.
During Sunday evening’s opening worship service, Bishop King introduced the Annual Conference session’s theme of “Know and Grow” and emphasized the importance of teaching and learning scripture in order to fulfill the mission of making disciples for the transformation of the world. He also challenged South Georgia United Methodists to imagine what the Church would look like if everyone who welcomed the gospel message also devoted themselves to the apostles’ teachings, followed the same rules, hugged the same values, and turned up the volume so that the voice of Jesus could guide their footsteps.
“Beautiful people, unless we know Christ we cannot be like him,” he said. “This is God’s church. And those of us who believe in Jesus are obligated to teach the ways of Christ that hopefully they will grow in the likeness of Christ and grow a Christlike church.”
Monday morning, June 2, began with separate clergy and laity sessions; afterwards everyone joined together for the opening business session of the 2014 Annual Conference, which Bishop King, presiding over his sixth South Georgia Annual Conference session, called to order after attendees sang the historic hymn, “And Are We Yet Alive.”
During the day’s plenary sessions, attendees heard the Lay Leader’s address, given by Conference lay leader Gloria Morgan. Morgan challenged attendees to remember the commitments they made to support their local churches and The United Methodist Church with their prayers, presence, gifts, service and witness.
“Where are you with the promises you made,” she asked. “Remember those promises and begin to take a new outlook in your attitude about our church and our responsibilities as a church member.”
She shared with the Conference the many ways laity and local congregations are sharing the gospel and serving those in need.
“Good things are happening in the South Georgia Conference,” she said, but “it is up to us, the laity, to become more involved and to keep our promises if our church is to grow into the mighty church it can be. May we continue to live as God’s people whenever and wherever there is a need. May all who come
behind us find us faithful.”
The Conference also approved the conference trustees report and passed a motion requesting they give consideration to transferring the remaining two-thirds of the Superannuate Homes Fund to the South Georgia Conference Board of Pensions to be used for the benefit of retired ministers and spouses, widows, or widowers; heard and voted in support of the report from the Transition Team; heard the Board of Ordained Ministry report; recognized clergy who faithfully serve beyond the local church in an extension ministry appointment; received clergy into full conference membership; approved the equitable compensation report; heard the report of the conference personnel committee; took action on the church closings of six churches and celebrated their ministries; were greeted by Andrew College President Dr. David Seyle as he encouraged the Conference to join in celebrating Andrew College’s 165th anniversary; celebrated through mission moments the ministry of the Summer Camp Leadership Team, Clergy Spouses, Pastors’ School, Epworth By The Sea, and Hinton Rural Life; celebrated the ministry of New and Revitalized Congregational Development and the constituting of The Waterfront Church in Richmond Hill; heard highlights from Rev. Daniel Medina about Hispanic Ministries across the conference; and honored 36 Five-Star and 107 Four-Star Pastors for 2013.
Bishop King, in his Monday afternoon episcopal address, introduced his 20-1-5 initiative, which is designed to help South Georgia United Methodists know Christ more deeply and intimately.
It follows his Five-Star program, a system by which pastors, clergy and congregations participate in and develop the 10 timeless values. The five stars are the teaching star, the fellowship star, the stewardship star, the witness star and the justice star.
The “20-1-5” represents 20,000 South Georgia United Methodists earning their one teaching stars by following five steps that include prayer, reading, participation in a small group, and tracking and reporting progress.
“The focus is on knowing Jesus Christ better so we can make disciples,” he said. “When you want to get something done you really have to focus on it.”
To close the day, the Conference gathered for the service of Ordination and Commissioning. Bishop Ken Carter, episcopal leader of the Florida Conference, preached a message of “A Future With Hope.”
Reading from Revelation 21:1-5, Bishop Carter told the ordinands that they have to have a vision – a vision for something that doesn’t yet exist.
The Church today is not biblical, Wesleyan or sustainable, he said, but God wants to see the Church as it should be, not as it is.
“God wants to see the Church as His dream. As His project. As His mission,” Bishop Carter said. “God has a dream for this world and it’s all about alleviating human suffering.”
He urged the ordinands to allow laity to teach them the meaning of scripture and how it connects to life.
“In the places you are being sent, you will find a lay person who loves their community,” he said. “They are praying that someone would see the vision with them.
“To do this work you have to have a vision for a Church that does not now exist.”
Bishop King, assisted by Bishop Carter, presided over the ordinal rites. Gloria Morgan represented the laity and Rev. Jimmy Towson, chairman of the Board of Ordained Ministry, observed the ordinal rites. Rev. Jonathan Smith and Rev. Meg Procopio represented the Order of Elders and Deacons.
Dr. Craig Rikard, a clergy member of the South Georgia Conference, and Rev. Sharma Lewis, a district superintendent in the North Georgia Conference, led teaching moments on Monday afternoon and Tuesday morning.
Dr. Rikard read from Exodus 3, John 1 and shared a personal story as he spoke about God’s calling on lives and the importance of a single act.
“The word of the Lord came to me,” he said, just as it came to Moses as a burning bush. “The word of the Lord came to you, too, laity. It’s not just for clergy. The same redeeming word that came to Moses came to me and came to you.”
Rev. Lewis taught about the importance of scripture from 2 Timothy 2:15, saying, “In order to become faithful believers, we need the Bible.”
The Bible is reliable and useful, she said, and is the true rule and guide for faith and practice. She taught that scripture is useful for teaching God’s truth, for rebuking and correcting, and for training.
“When you read the word … there should be transformation,” she said. “South Georgia, are you ready to get into the word so the word can get into you?”
During Tuesday’s business session, the Conference celebrated with pastors who have served 50 years in ministry and those who are retiring, approved a resolution to dissolve the Relief Association; approved the Board of Pensions and Health Benefits report and the HealthFlex report; heard a report from the Enhanced Technology Team; approved changes to the conference elections policy for General and Jurisdictional Conferences; heard from Dr. Hal Brady on the progress of the Conference Center; elected persons presented by the nominations committee to serve on conference committees; and celebrated through mission moments the ministries of Living Grace, Higher Education, Open Door and Epworth By The Sea.
Prior to and during the Annual Conference session, congregations and individuals collected and gave nearly $40,000 to special offerings. $ 33,185.55 was given to Imagine No Malaria and the church wide effort to eradicate the disease; $3,065.56 was given towards the Special Relief fund; and $2,315.88 was collected for the Ministerial Education Fund.
Also on Tuesday, the Council on Finance and Administration (CFA) presented a recommended budget for 2015 of $10,336,776, which was approved by the Conference. Rev. Scott Hagan made a motion that the CFA reflect the district operating funds in the following year’s budget proposal. The CFA welcomed this motion as a friendly addition. The CFA also recognized and thanked the 440 churches that paid 100 percent or more of their apportionments.
A memorial service to honor the 25 faithful clergy and clergy spouses who have died since last year’s Annual Conference was held on Tuesday afternoon. In honoring them, Rev. Tommy Martin said, “In life, in death, in life beyond death, we are not alone. God is with us.”
Reading from Psalm 118, Rev. Martin told worshippers that the psalmist’s words are a reminder of who they are and whose they are.
“God is at work in us,” he said. “That is the promise. God honors us because we desire to get it right.
“I am indebted to those who have gone before.”
John Wesley scholar Rev. Dave Hanson shared three “John Wesley Moments” throughout the Annual Conference session. These concise and powerful mini-sermons reminded attendees of their Wesleyan roots.
In his first “John Wesley Moment,” Rev. Hanson said that John Wesley would be interested in our beliefs, but more interested in our souls. “John Wesley knew that love is the essence of true religion, not doctrine,” he said.
In the second moment, attendees were reminded that John Wesley was, first of all, a man of prayer and believed that almost everything God did was in answer to prayer. He know that God does not manifest His presence where He is not invited. “If John Wesley were here today he would say, ‘let us pray.’”
In the final John Wesley Moment, Rev. Hanson said that John Wesley loved Holy Communion and knew that the Holy Sacrament is a personal, converting experience.
The 2014 Annual Conference session ended with a Service of Sending Forth as Bishop King urged everyone to commit to improve.
“We live in a world where we want more and more things, but have less and less of Jesus,” he said. “I’m asking you to get better in teaching, better about self-care, better in your stewardship practices, better at witnessing, and to get better about going beyond the walls of the church to reach people who need
to be reached."
Admonishing South Georgia United Methodists to become more Christlike, Bishop King said, “Leave this place with a commitment to improve. Work on your sanctification.”
Following Bishop King’s message, new clergy appointments for 2014-2015 were read and those attending engaged in a covenant service pledging their best to God for the coming year.
The 2015 Annual Conference session will be held June 3-6 in Tifton.
More 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, can be found at www.sgaumc.org/annualconference.