By GLENN HANNIGAN
For two weeks, they gathered to address the challenges and obstacles facing the church and to set a course moving forward. They shared their hopes, aspirations and solutions while dealing with some daunting realities.
One thousand delegates from around the world, including 26 from the North Georgia Conference, gathered in Tampa to set policy for the United Methodist Church. They were broken up into 13 distinct legislative committees to debate and hammer out resolutions, then reconvened in plenary sessions to cast ballots and make the ultimate decisions.
The debate was sometimes passionate and emotional, and often legalistic and pedantic. The reactions about the 2012 General Conference were almost as numerous as the people who participated in it.
After dedicating so much time to the issues of the United Methodist Church, what do North Georgia delegates think about its future?
“The future of the church is bright,” said clergy delegate Steve Wood, “and in good hands both globally and generationally.”
“I am excited about the spirit of this General Conference and pray that delegates will carry the hope living with us to the local churches,” said lay delegate Jane Finley.
“The future of the UMC will be determined by laity and clergy in local congregations,” said lay delegate Mathew Pinson. “If laity and clergy join together to build strong congregations, then I know we United Methodists will be in ministry long into the future.”
"The world is our parish," said clergy delegate David Jones. “But, like politics, all religion is local. Our future depends in large measure on solving the complex puzzle of what a worldwide church must hold in common and at what points nations can have different opinions and practices.”
“General Conference is such an ‘up and down,’ but we will only be able to see the whole after time has passed,” said clergy delegate John Simmons. “I am optimistic that God will continue to work through churches and individuals.”
“I am hopeful, but we have some very significant challenges,” said clergy delegate Jamie Jenkins.
“My feelings are mixed,” said clergy delegate Jim Cantrell. “I love our UMC and my hopes are high, but I have concern. We have had little meaningful conversation and no clear strategy to evangelize young adults.”
“I am impressed with the preparation and articulation of our delegates from Africa,” said lay delegate Lyn Powell, “particularly their leaders in the legislative committees.”
“I am excited and enthusiastic about the future of the United Methodist Church,” said lay delegate Bill Stikes. “This Conference has been filled with spirited debate from persons who sometimes disagree, but I've been uplifted by the number of my fellow young adults who are committed to making the church better in order to assist local churches in making disciples for Jesus Christ to transform the world. The future is bright!”
“I remain hopeful as I see amazing discipling work being done in local churches across our conference and beyond,” said clergy delegate Phil Schroeder.
“I will leave Tampa hopeful that our denomination can embrace our mission to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world,” said lay delegate Bill Martin. “I have enjoyed getting to know the North Georgia delegation and others from around the connection and will take their friendship home with me.”