United Methodist Women gather for 41st annual meeting


Exley to succeed Bankhead as UMW president

Pittman Park United Methodist Church’s sanctuary was packed on Saturday, Oct. 19 as women from across the South Georgia Annual Conference gathered together for the 41st annual meeting of the South Georgia United Methodist Women. Meeting under the theme “Living the Heart of God,” nearly 250 women – and a handful of supportive men – celebrated 144 years of mission and ministry.

“There’s a place for laity called to service,” said keynote speaker Dr. Sandi Hortman, a deaconess who served at Open Door Community House until retiring last month. “Be radical.” 

Dr. Hortman, who was commissioned as a deaconess in 2007, shared with the group the radical love and 125-year history of deaconesses in The United Methodist Church.

“I get asked, ‘just what is a deaconess?’ at least once a week,” she said. “We are lay women consecrated to a lifetime of service.”

Having served at Columbus’ Open Door Community House for eight years, Dr. Hortman saw, firsthand, how UMW are helping to love and serve those in need.

“Oh, how Jesus has changed lives at Open Door.”

Through the years, Dr. Hortman said, deaconesses have loved and served radically. Phoebe, who Paul called a “helper of many,” was the first known deaconess.

“I consider Phoebe a radical,” Dr. Hortman said. “She may have been the only kind word some people heard.”

Encouraging UMW to continue loving and serving those in need, Dr. Hortman urged them to “be radical.”

UMW president Sara Bankhead, in her last address as president, reminded everyone that they were gathered to celebrate the work and ministry of the UMW in the South Georgia Conference.

“We are 7,990 strong in 254 units.  We are women meeting together for Bible study, hands on mission work and fellowship.  All things we do to fulfill the purpose of United Methodist Women.” 

She outlined the ways that United Methodist Women in South Georgia are learning about, fighting for, and advocating for social justice issues. 

“We are a giving and caring organization that sees the needs of others and provides financially to our three National Mission Agencies here in South Georgia,” Bankhead said. 

She highlighted the ministries that, because of involvement by United Methodist Women, are taking place in the South Georgia Conference.

So far this year, UMW members across the Conference have been busy with 206 mission studies, have had 276 participants in their reading programs, 92 units have received Mission Today Awards, 36 Units are participating in Social Justice Programs, 94 units attained the distinction of being 5-Star Units, and 64 of those went the “second mile” and became Hall of Fame Units.

During their business session, South Georgia UMW pledged $235,000 to missions giving in 2014 and approved an $115,140 budget for the coming year, a $2,435 reduction from the 2013 budget.

Expressing thanks and appreciation for the support she’s been given during her four-year UMW presidency, Bankhead said she was eternally grateful for the opportunity.

“I’ve traveled many miles, attended lots of meetings and enjoyed having the opportunity to work with many talented and dedicated women,” she said.

During the installation of officers led by Gloria Morgan, four were installed into new leadership positions:  Mary Exley, president; Agnes McKinney, secretary of program resources; Margaret Wheeler, communications coordinator; and Jean Ivey, member of the Committee on Charter for Racial Justice.

Three officers were elected to second two-year terms in their current offices: Leona Rogers, treasurer; Carol Banks, mission coordinator for education and interpretation; and Aldene Lee, mission coordinator for social action.

The newly elected officers will begin their terms on Jan. 1, 2014.

“You are called together to a common purpose,” Morgan said. “The purpose of the United Methodist Women.”

Love and appreciation were expressed to outgoing officers Sara Bankhead, Gale Rigdon, and Gwen Cox.

During the day’s worship service, attendees sang hymns and were treated to liturgical dancing by Caylee Blanton, a member of Centerville United Methodist Church, and special music by the St. Luke Hispanic Ministry Praise Band.

Rev. Jonathan Smith, associate pastor at Pittman Park UMC; Rev. Chris Ramsey, Statesboro District Superintendent; Rev. Ivelisse Quinones, St. Luke UMC associate pastor and minister of Hispanic ministries; and Rev. Denise Walton, assistant to the Bishop for Connectional Ministries, led worshippers in a service of Holy Communion.

“Thank you for helping me be who I am and whose I am,” Bankhead said. Quoting John Ripley of Ripley’s Believe it or Not fame who often said, “I dare you to prove me wrong,” Bankhead said to the UMW, “We are radical girls. … I’d tell anyone, anywhere – South Georgia United Methodist Women are the best anywhere and ‘I dare you to prove me wrong!’”