Nearly 250 women – and a handful of supportive men – gathered at Porterfield United Methodist Church on Saturday, Oct. 18, for the 42nd annual meeting of the South Georgia United Methodist Women.
They came from across the South Georgia Annual Conference to celebrate 145 years of mission and ministry.
Meeting under the theme, “A Calling for This Time,” they met for the first time as a six-district organization. As they entered the sanctuary, each attendee was presented a pin highlighting the new districts.
During her address, South Georgia UMW president Mary Exley briefly spoke about the transition from nine to six districts.
“It took us nine months to organize, and all the time this process was going on this year, in the background we carried on as usual,” she said. “And we carried on very well, I might add.”
She read the parable of the wine and wineskins from Luke 5 and Isaiah 43:18-19, which says, “Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?”
“I’m here to say today that the state of UMW is excellent! Strong!” Exley said. “And, we are about to do a new thing.”
She outlined the ways United Methodist Women in South Georgia are learning about, fighting for, and advocating for social justice issues and growing as disciples of Jesus Christ.
“We are working hard to know and grow, as the Bishop has asked us to do,” she said. “I have encouraged reading and studying the scriptures, and making scripture and prayer the focus of everything we do."
Attendance was up at this year’s UMW Spiritual Growth Retreat, with more teen girls participating than ever before. The 2014 Mission u served a higher enrollment and, at the same time, 24 Hispanic laity participated in a course of study to prepare them to minister to their communities.
She thanked the district steering committees for their hard work in organizing and electing new officers. Each of the districts have leaders in place and are ready to work and serve, she said.
“You see, we are called to new beginnings,” Exley said. “God will do a new thing in South Georgia. And we want to be ready.”
During their business session, South Georgia UMW pledged $265,000 to missions giving in 2015 and approved a $347,965 budget for the coming year.
During the installation of officers led by Carolyn Hopkins, four were installed into leadership positions: Charlcie Jones, secretary; Marilyn Page, chair, committee on nominations; Gail Rigdon, member, committee on nominations; and Nancy Wilkes, mission coordinator for spiritual growth.
Love and appreciation were expressed to outgoing officers Nancy Hudson, Nicole Walker, and Chub Charles. Two candles, in memory of past UMW Presidents Augusta Carruth and Marilyn Blackmon-Johnson, burned throughout during the service.
Keynote speaker Dr. Charlene Black, UMW president from 1996-1997, shared the impact UMW had on a young girl from Dexter.
She spoke of her love for missions and said that the two years she spent as the Conference UMW president were the most rewarding years of her life.
Seeing God’s working being done in and through the South Georgia Conference was and is inspiring, she said.
“God calls each of us,” she said. “God does not have to call you anywhere other than where you are. You can serve right where you are and tell your story to those around you. ... With whom is God calling you to share your UMW story? Go now and obey His call.”
During the day’s worship service, attendees sang hymns and were treated to “Amazing Grace,” played on the guitar and sung by Shawn Walden, Porterfield Memorial UMC’s director of contemporary worship and technology.
Bishop James King and Rev. Leigh Ann Raynor, senior pastor of Porterfield Memorial UMC, led worshippers in a service of Holy Communion.
“The UMW is strong,” Exley said. “The world needs us. The Church needs us. God needs us.
“We may be a little bit disarranged from where we have been, but the sense of who we are has not changed, nor will it change. We just have to know and grow into it. With God’s help, we will set some goals, make some plans to do this new thing. I know we can. I know we will. We will do a new thing, and God will lead us.”