The following is the South Georgia report submitted to United Methodist News Service.
Report to UMNS
By Kara Witherow, Kelly Roberson
South Georgia Annual Conference
Jekyll Island Convention Center, Jekyll Island, GA
June 4-7, 2017
Bishop R. Lawson Bryan, presiding
The Jekyll Island Convention Center was filled with red as the South Georgia Annual Conference celebrated Pentecost and convened for its 151st session Sunday, June 4.
Meeting under the theme “Alive Together in Christ,” this year’s Annual Conference session was held June 4 through June 7 at the new, oceanfront locale.
Beautiful views, ocean breezes, and a new facility gave the conference a casual, relaxed, family friendly atmosphere.
Bishop R. Lawson Bryan, presiding over his first annual conference session since becoming South Georgia’s episcopal leader, felt the conference was filled with joy and hopefulness.
“I felt a very hopeful spirit that will allow us to impact our communities in a very positive way as people of hope,” he said.
He also felt that the conference theme was evident in every aspect of conference, and says he experienced being alive together in Christ with those gathered for the session.
“I feel like this is more than a slogan; I feel like this is really how the conference operates,” Bishop Bryan said. “There was a sense of aliveness, a great sense of togetherness, and a deep sense of devotion to Christ as the common bond that unites us. So I really did feel like it demonstrated what it looks like to be alive together in Christ.”
The “Alive Together in Christ” theme was woven throughout the Annual Conference session as Dr. Lovett Weems, Distinguished Professor of Christian Leadership at Wesley Theological, taught three sessions based on his book, “Overflow: Increase Worship Attendance and Bear More Fruit.” Each of the sessions was geared toward helping the conference achieve its goal of increasing average worship attendance by 10 percent.
One highlight of this year’s Annual Conference session was the Vital Signs moments. These brief, interactive snapshots of ministries showed the various ways South Georgia agencies, ministries, and people are alive together in Christ.
While some used video to tell their story, others featured quick question-and-answer sessions, and others told their stories through the giving of awards, all showcased the exciting and transformative work that’s being done through South Georgia clergy and laity.
In other action, members:
- heard the Lay Leader's Address given by Mrs. Gloria Morgan as she highlighted the ways laity are serving their neighbors in each district and spreading the love of Christ. “South Georgia United Methodists are alive together in Christ and are telling our story,” she said.
- heard an inspiring sermon by Bishop James Swanson, episcopal leader of the Mississippi area, during the Opening Worship Service. Bishop Swanson reminded us that, “There is no togetherness without the power and presence of the Holy Spirit. We can only be together and alive through the Holy Spirit.”
- heard a moving message from Bishop B. Michael Watson in the Memorial Service as we remembered those who have gone before us. “Those we’ll name have outrun us to that great homecoming. We can be grateful that God has got them. Just like He has us.”
- collected nearly $25,000 for Disaster Response ministry.
- honored Rev. Matt Hearn, pastor of Gateway Pooler, and Mrs. Teri Nave, CFO at Harvest in Byron, with the Harry Denman Evangelism Awards.
- supported the Conference’s local mission agencies, donating toiletries, school supplies, etc. to Magnolia Manor, the Methodist Children’s Home, Open Door Community Center, Vashti, Wesley Community Centers and Wesley Glen.
- approved two resolutions: the first, a “Resolution in support of a Coordinated Action on Behalf of Undocumented Neighbors,” was written and submitted by South Georgia Hispanic pastors and allies. It calls on the presiding bishop to form a task force to develop a strategy to educate clergy and laity about the history of immigration and human and civil rights concerning undocumented members of society and to encourage South Georgia United Methodists to engage in works of piety and mercy towards their undocumented neighbors. The second resolution approved, the “Multiculturalism Taskforce Resolution,” resolves that the bishop appoint a diverse task force to consider the implications of multiculturalism education.
- voted on five constitutional amendments.
- voted to retain the current General Conference delegation for the 2019 called General Conference Session.
- approved a $10,662,813 million budget for mission & ministry for 2018.
Four persons were commissioned as provisional elders. Two persons were ordained into the Order of Elder.
Nineteen pastors retired, and six were recognized for achieving their 50th anniversary in ministry. Thirty-six clergy and clergy spouses who died in the past year were remembered during the memorial service.
Annual Conference 2017 ended with a Service of Sending Forth as Bishop Bryan encouraged each person to be curious together about what God is doing.
"As we go home, we know what we are doing, and we know the world desperately needs it," he said.
Membership stands at 113,498, down 3,227 from the previous year. Worship attendance stands at 47,944, down 1,463. Church school attendance stands at 18,962, down 1,472.
The 2018 Annual Conference session will be held June 3-6 on Jekyll Island.