Leading SGAUMC Forward: A Bright Future with Hope

Report to United Methodist News

Every year each Annual Conference in The United Methodist Church is asked to submit a recap of their Annual Conference Session to share with the denomination. Below is South Georgia's report:
 

South Georgia Annual Conference Session

June 5-8, 2022
Columbus, Ga.

Bishop David Graves, presiding
 

For the first time in three years, nearly 1,000 South Georgia United Methodists gathered to worship and conduct the business of the annual conference as Bishop David Graves led his first annual conference session in South Georgia.
 

Held June 5-8, 2022, in the Columbus Convention and Trade Center, it was a much-anticipated but anxious time as a gamut of emotions were experienced throughout the four-day session. Speculation and sorrow, fear and frustration, trust and truth. All were felt as delegates conferenced. But one overriding idea prevailed: God is faithful.
 

Meeting under the theme of “Great is Your Faithfulness,” clergy and laity from across the South Georgia Conference rejoiced and remembered God’s faithfulness and goodness.
 

“God’s presence was in this place. Even in the midst of all that’s going on, that’s the majesty of God’s greatness, and we’re to lean into that faithfulness,” Bishop Graves said. “I’m thankful for the people of the South Georgia Annual Conference, for being here and for their participation. We saw God speak through worship and even through our debate. We saw God work through all of that.”
 

Along with Bishop David Graves, who preached the Service of Ordination with Commissioning, worship leadership was provided by Bishop James Swanson, resident bishop of the Mississippi Conference of The United Methodist Church who also served in the South Georgia Conference, in the Opening Service and Rev. Bill Bagwell, who retired at this Annual Conference, in the Memorial Service. Rev. Adriane Burgess, Rev. Teresa Edwards, and Rev. Daniel Medina preached at the morning worship services. 
 

Reading several Psalms, Bishop Swanson reminded those gathered that, despite circumstances, they are never alone.
 

“We often think we’re fighting this battle by ourselves. The psalmist tells us we’re never alone. Quit trying to fight by yourself! Our Father, through the Holy Spirit, lives in us. We’re never alone.
 

“You are never alone because God is with you and because you have each other,” he said. “Lift up the name of the Lord no matter what you do.”
 

During the business session, members:

  • celebrated the faithful ministry of the laity with the Lay Leader’s address from J. Knapp as he shared stories of how congregations all across South Georgia are sharing the love of Christ in life-changing and life-giving ministries. “Service in ministry is a special function. It’s not the role of the pastor or staff. It is ours,” he said. “It is up to us, the laity, to be more engaged. The clergy can do nothing without the laity!”

  • received a special offering totaling more than $22,000 for the North Katanga Conference to support the Kamina Orphanage & the Wings of the Morning aviation ministry; 

  • heard ministry moment snapshots highlighting the various ways we see God’s faithfulness in the South Georgia Conference;

  • heard the report of the delegation in which they gave the results of a survey they sent and talked about disaffiliations and the postponement of General Conference to 2024;

  • approved a report from the Conference Trustees in which a process was affirmed that extends the terms of South Georgia’s current disaffiliation policy through Dec. 31, 2024;

  • celebrated the Methodist Home for Children’s 150th anniversary;

  • approved three resolutions – one on saying ‘no’ to single-use plastics; a second on wage equality; and a third that amends the timeline in the conference’s disaffiliation policy to allow for the August called Annual Conference session and provides for a plan to ensure salary, housing, and benefits for a pastor whose church disaffiliates at any time other than the June session but is staying in The United Methodist Church;

  • approved a recommendation that every local church revisit and update as necessary their Safe Sanctuaries policy by Dec. 31, 2023, and approved changes to the conference Safe Sanctuaries Policy; 

  • approved the establishment of a Retiree Health Care Trust, which helps to secure retiree healthcare funding as we move into an uncertain future;

  • approved the disaffiliation of 18 churches and the closing of 2 churches;

  • approved a budget of $7,936,868 for 2023, a reduction of $500,350 from the previous year;

  • supported the Conference’s local mission agencies, donating toiletries, school supplies, etc. to Magnolia Manor, the Methodist Children’s Home, Open Door, Vashti, Wesley Community Centers and Wesley Glen;

  • accepted an invitation from the South Central District to host the 2023 Annual Conference session in Tifton beginning June 4.

Three persons were ordained into the Order of Elder, one person was commissioned as provisional elder, and one person was commissioned as provisional deacon. Twenty pastors retired, and seven were recognized for achieving their 50th anniversary in ministry. Forty-six clergy and clergy spouses who died in the past year were remembered during the memorial service. 
 

As Bishop Graves closed the 2022 Annual Conference session he acknowledged that, like Jeremiah, life is hard and messy. He read Jeremiah: 20:7-18 and asked, “Are there days where you feel like Jeremiah?” 
 

While all have had those feelings, he encouraged South Georgia laity and clergy to “chill out and do our work.”    

“I want to be a part of a church that seeks to be in relationship with each other. If you walk away from each other, you don’t have influence,” he said. “I want to be in a church that is more focused on the outside than the inside.” 
 

Bishop Graves urged South Georgia United Methodists to hold on and to keep making disciples in their local churches. 
 

“Hold on. Let’s see what God is going to do. In the meantime, chill out and do your work.”  
 

Membership stands at 98,324, down 5,140 from the previous year. Worship attendance stands at 23,427, down 2,104. Church school attendance stands at 11,762, down from 979. Professions or reaffirmations of faith for 2021 were 765, up 176 from 2020. Adults and young adults in small groups for 2021 was 21,318, down 234 from 2020. 

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