South Georgia United Methodists encouraged, take actions at 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.}

More than 1,200 United Methodists felt God’s presence during their Annual Conference session, held June 5-9 in Tifton.

Whether it was through warm greetings and friendly smiles, in the bright sun and blistering heat, or through the blinding dust storm and power outage, one thing was for certain: they were never alone.

“In God’s kingdom, no one is alone,” said Bishop James R. King, Jr., episcopal leader of the South Georgia area, as he preached the conference’s opening worship service on Sunday evening.  “In God’s Kingdom everyone deserves to be loved,” he said.

With a message titled, “Never Alone,” Bishop King proclaimed that there is “no place to hide in the Kingdom of God; there is no place to hide in true fellowship.”

Bishop King challenged clergy and laity alike to “recommit yourselves to Jesus being the Lord of your life.  And recommit yourselves to true fellowship so that as the world grows more Christlike no one will ever be alone.”

Monday morning, June 6, began with separate clergy and laity sessions; afterwards everyone joined together for the opening business session of the 2011 Annual Conference.

During the day’s business sessions, attendees heard the Lay Leader's Address, given by conference lay leader Roy Blackwood.  Blackwood reminded attendees that “the purpose of tithing is to teach us to put God first. Tithing is an indicator of our generosity.  It is an expression of a heart truly thankful to God for all his blessings in this life and the life to come.”

The Conference also heard the Board of Ordained Ministry report given by Chairman Dr. Marcus Tripp; recognized those clergy who faithfully serve beyond the local church in an extension ministry appointment; received clergy into full conference membership; and heard about exciting ministry taking place with new congregations, revitalized congregations and Hispanic ministries during the New and Revitalized Congregational Development report.

Voting for lay and clergy delegates to General and Jurisdictional Conferences commenced.

On Monday afternoon, the Conference participated in a worship service to commission six for Ordination of Elders, one for Ordination of Deacons, and to recognize four as Associate Members of the Annual Conference.

Presiding over his third Annual Conference session in South Georgia, Bishop King in his episcopal address admonished the crowd to, “constantly seek to have a clear understanding of what God has called you to … have confidence, have courage to take action.”

The afternoon ended with a focus on Imagine No Malaria, and an offering was received to support the United Methodist Church’s campaign against the disease.  Each church in the South Georgia Conference was asked to take a special offering prior to Annual Conference.  These individual and congregational gifts, which totaled $75,050.06, were brought together in a single offering, and South Georgia United Methodists now have the privilege of making a significant difference in saving lives.

To close the day, the Conference gathered for the service of The Order of Ordination.  Bishop Thomas Bickerton, episcopal leader of the Western Pennsylvania Annual Conference, preached on the conference theme, “Never Alone.”

Midway through the service, as severe thunderstorms rolled into the Tifton area, the Conference Center’s electrical supply went out, leaving the entire room cloaked in darkness. 

Although the power was out for most of the service, the Holy Spirit moved in a powerful way.  With no microphone and only a flashlight shining from the crowd to illuminate his face, Bishop Bickerton, also known as "Mr. Microphone" in divinity school, reminded the ordinands that God is with them in all that they do. 

“Tonight you are being ordained and entrusted to take this theology of ours, a theology of grace and love, to a world that is broken and lost and dominated by negativity … but you are not alone!

“In the midst of it all there is a voice,” said Bishop Bickerton.  “It’s the voice of Jesus that rises out of the scriptures.  It’s the voice of God that descends out of the Holy Spirit.  Listen, can you hear it?  You are never alone!” 

Bishop King, assisted by Bishop Bickerton, presided over the ordinal rites.  Roy Blackwood represented the laity and Dr. Marcus Tripp, chairman of the Board of Ordained Ministry, observed the ordinal rites. 

Near the end of the service, lit by candles and cell phone lights, a spontaneous rendition of “This Little Light of Mine” sprang forth from the crowd.

Voting continued during Tuesday’s business sessions.  The conference also took action on the church closings of the following churches, while also celebrating the impact they have had on many people in the South Georgia Conference: Hardwick UMC, Liberty Hill UMC, Carnegie Chapel UMC, Lilly UMC, Manassas UMC, Hannatown UMC, Woodlawn UMC, and North Glynn UMC.

The conference also voted on an updated and amended church professional misconduct policy; recognized Four-Star and Five-Star clergy; and conducted other business.

On Tuesday afternoon, 12 clergy and 15 spouses who have died during the past year were remembered during a memorial and Holy Communion service.

Dr. Hal Brady preached at the service, and, in honoring the deceased, said, “Life in Christ, death in Christ … we can trust it all in God.

“Wherever heaven is, there Jesus is.  We don’t know exactly what is beyond the grave, but we know exactly who is beyond the grave.” 

Speaking to the families of the deceased, Dr. Brady said, “Every last one of your loved ones has made a contribution.  They really can’t die; otherwise the universe wouldn’t make sense.”

Wednesday morning kicked off with a focus on health with “A Healthier Me: Body, Mind and Soul.”  Annual Conference attendees ran and walked, participated in aerobics, body prayer, wellness workshops and health screens, all in an effort to enhance the well being of their lives. 

As a part of the day’s business session, members celebrated and recognized 18 retiring clergy and eight pastors who have served 50 years in ministry.

The conference also celebrated the ministry of Rev. Hamp Watson and his contributions to South Georgia agencies and ministries; approved the report of the Conference Board of Pensions and Benefits; approved a 2010 budget of $11,742,085; approved 17 Special Sundays for 2012; and concluded laity and clergy balloting.

Wednesday concluded with a service of music featuring a diverse variety of musical styles including The Valdosta State University Wesley Foundation Music Team, the Perry UMC older adult choir and instrumentalists, and the Vision of Jesus United Methodist Church’s praise band.

On Tuesday morning, Wednesday afternoon and Thursday morning, Dr. Steven Manskar, director of Wesleyan Leadership at the General Board of Discipleship, led conference attendees in Bible study focusing on the importance and role of small groups in spiritual formation.

“Small groups are the way that congregations make disciples for the transformation of the world,” said Dr. Manskar.  “Making disciples doesn’t just happen.  It takes intentionality.  And small groups are the proven way that disciples make disciples.”

On Thursday morning he issued this challenge: “Make disciples of Jesus Christ who make disciples of Jesus Christ, and we will transform the world.  Lead a life worthy of the life to which you have been called.  All have been called to a life of ministry.”

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.  According to Rev. Hanson, John Wesley would certainly approve of our theme, “Never Alone,” since he felt Christians should band together in small groups.  And he would remind us that if we really want to be Christlike we will submit to self-exam and invite others to ask about us.

On Thursday, the final day of conferencing, the conference approved a motion to study the feasibility of providing conference delegates with the option of receiving all possible conference materials electronically in lieu of paper materials; approved a motion for Bishop King to appoint a task force of five clergy and five laity to reassess the General and Jurisdictional Conferences Elections Policy; approved a motion to look into reducing the Annual Conference session by one day and to look into having the session during the weekend to attract more young people; and approved a motion that next year’s Annual Conference special offering be divided between the conference’s three mission agencies – Vashti, Open Door Community Center, and Wesley Community Centers.

Annual Conference 2011 ended with a Service of Sending Forth as Bishop King gave a challenge for each person to engage in ministry and with people.  “Let them know you recognize them.  How many people come in and out of your life … and you’ve just walked past them and they feel like they don’t count, like you haven’t noticed them?

“Talk with God and let God talk with you.  Once you are engaged with God, you are blessed to engage with neighbor.”

Following Bishop King’s message, the new appointments were read and a token was given by Bishop King to every clergy person and Mr. Roy Blackwood, conference lay leader, gave a token to every lay person.

The 2012 Annual Conference session will be held in Macon, June 3-6, 2012.

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 by clicking here.