The 2012 North Georgia Annual Conference, nearly 3,000 members strong, gathered in Athens Tuesday under the banner of “Seeing the World Through the Waters of Baptism.”
It marked the 13th time in 14 years that the event has been held at the Classic Center in downtown Athens. Tuesday’s opening session was a celebratory time of prayer, worship, Holy Communion, ordination, and fellowship, with a little business tossed in. Bishop B. Michael Watson presided over the 146th session of the conference.
Dr. Eddie Fox, Director World Director of World Methodist Evangelism, set the tone for the day as he delivered passionate, engaging messages at both the opening worship session and the evening’s ordination service.
Fox, using 2Cor 5:16-21 as his text for the worship service, challenged members of the North Georgia Conference to be ambassadors of Christ.
He emphasized the importance of spreading the Gospel and sharing Christ in grace and truth. “Society wants the grace part,” he said, “but does not want the truth part.”
At the evening ordination service, which featured the commissioning of 21 provisional members, the ordination of one full connection deacon and 12 full connection elders, Fox used as his texts Romans 15:18-19 and 2Tim 4:1-5.
“This is a hallelujah moment,” he said. “We are standing on holy ground . . . surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses.”
Fox said that to spread the Gospel, “Words, deeds and signs must all be present together.” He reminded those being ordained that “You do not preach as an individual entrepreneur. You preach in the middle of the community of faith and are part of it. There are people you do not know yet who will be counting on you, leaning on you.”
He also referred to one of John Wesley’s most famous quotations: “Give me one hundred preachers who fear nothing but sin, and desire nothing but God, and I care not a straw whether they be clergymen or laymen; such alone will shake the gates of hell and set up the kingdom of heaven on Earth.”
Fox closed with a passionate plea.
“If God has called you to preach,” he said, “for God’s sake do it!”
Lay Orientation Session
The laity session opened with music by The Harmonizers from Elberton First UMC and a prayer by Courtney Mixon, conference youth president. In addition to welcoming and giving instructions, the laity took a few minutes to identify the youngest and oldest delegates. North Georgia laity range in age from 12 to 89.
Lay Leader Jane Finley encouraged churches to consider inviting a “mystery worshiper” to church, a project involving many Leadership UMC participants to evaluate a church from the viewpoint of a first-time visitor. For information, visit www.ngumc.org/mystery_worshiper.
Members began worship singing "Take me to the water, set my spirit free," in this Service of Word and Table
Bishop B. Michael Watson introduced the preacher for the session, Dr. Eddie Fox.
"I know of no one who has shared the word more widely than Eddie Fox," said Bishop Watson.
"He has been to more than 88 nations in the world sharing the good news of the gospel in the Wesleyan Way."
Fox expressed excitement over the conference Bridges initiative, building connections between North Georgia and Uganda, El Salvador, Bahamas, Israel, Portugal, Russia, The Phillipines, Action Ministries and to the entire world through World Methodist Evangelism.
"God is a missionary God," said Fox. "It is not a \program of the church, it is at the heart of the living God."
Opening of Conference
Bishop Watson called to Order the 146th Session of Annual Conference. Phillip Watkins, a youth from Ben Hill UMC, offered a prayer, and conference was officially opened with the historic Charles Wesley Hymn "And are We Yet Alive."
Words of welcome were brought by Host Committee and special guests Nancy Denson, mayor of Athens Clark County, and Paul Freeman, director of the Classic Center.
"For 51 weeks a year, I'm Presbyterian; for one week a year, I'm Methodist," joked Denson.
Bishop Watson introduced the theme that is our foundation for the next three days: seeing the world through the waters of baptism. He explained that there are four distinct visuals: the globe, symbolizing our call to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world and our connection to World Methodist Evangelism; the ripples of water which symbolize our baptismal covenant; the dove that reminds us of the dove that descended at Jesus' own baptism; and hands reminding us to be filled with Christian hospitality and invitation.
"Through the waters of baptism we have been named, claimed and called by God," said Watson.
Mantles: Putting on Christ
Youth members distributed mantles made of various fabrics in shades and fabrics that remind us of water and Bishop Watson invited all to wear the mantle as a reminder of our baptism.
Epworth Old Rectory
Rev. Claire Potter, director of the Epworth Old Rectory in England where John Wesley was raised, addressed Annual Conference. "It is constantly humbling to work at the very place where John Wesley was inspired," said Potter. She asked North Georgians to help preserve our shared heritage and legacy. The house is deteriorating and current funding only allows the house to survive, but is far from its potential. To join Bishop Watson and wife, Margaret, as donors go to www.epwortholdrectory.org.uk.
United Methodist Publishing House
Dr Walter Kimbrough, on behalf of Cokesbury, introduced four resources:
Connectional Ministries Team Realignment Proposal: WORLD
The Office of Connectional Ministries and the Conference Nominations Committee presented a proposal to realign the connectional ministries teams to more closely reflect the language and intent of Vital Congregations. The five teams would include all the same ministry areas and be named:
If approved, Parish Life team would be dissolved and committees will be distributed among other teams, and the Resourcing component will consist of conference Connectional Ministries staff.
General Conference Delegation
Sharma Lewis, leader of North Georgia's 2012 General Conference delegation, brought a report from the quadrennial event in Tampa.
Key legislation included:
retained position on homosexuality;
abolished "guaranteed appointments" for clergy;
adopted a 603.1 million budget;
entered in full communion with Pan Methodist African-American denominations;
made UMW an autonomous organization;
created a national ministry for Pacific Islanders;
required that petitions must come from a local church council or larger unit of UMC (no individual submissions);
Lay Speaking will be called "Lay Servant Leader," but lay speaking ministry has been preserved as a part of the Lay Servant Leader program thanks in part to North Georgia's lay leader Jane Finley.
Most legislation will come into effect Jan 1, 2012
Holston Endorsed by North Georgia Conference
Sharma Lewis moved that the conference vote to unanimously endorse Rev. Lewis Jonathon Holston as a candidate for Bishop. The motion was seconded and approved.
Board of Ministry
Annual Conference adopted the Clergy Sexual Ethics Policy and Sexual Abuse Response Line reports from the Handbook.
Service of Licensing, Commissioning and Ordination
The North Georgia Conference commissioned 21 provisional members, ordained one full connection deacon, ordained 12 full connection elders.
Edward Harvey Archer, Jr.
William Andrew Covington
Angela Lynn Crummie
Lindsay Elizabeth Geist
Jeremy A. Green
Allison Lee Griner
Samuel Brent Huckaby
Heather McIntyre Jallad
Mark Taylor Jones
Mary Edith Kirkland
Allyson Leigh Lawrence
Timothy David Lloyd
Adam Price Mathes*
Kevin Rashad Murriel
Brian K. Ridgedell
Carolyn Albertha Stephens
Allan F. Tarr
Blair Elizabeth Ann Tolbert
Full Connection Deacon
Anne Marne Hansen
Full Connection Elders
Sarah Ellen Hopkins**
Harden Paul Hopper, III
Terry Allen Hunter
Edward Tillman Keen, Jr.
Jacqueline Dee Lawson
Elizabeth Ann Lobello
Cynthia Goodwin McDonald
Benjamin White Mitchell, Sr.
Shelia J. Preacher
Jordan Sims Thrasher
Gigi Alisa Warren
Andrew Mahon Woodworth
* Courtesy Commissioning done by Western North Carolina Conference