North Georgia Annual Conference
The Classic Center, Athens, Georgia
June 2-4, 2022
Bishop Sue Haupert-Johnson, presiding
The 2022 North Georgia Annual Conference session was held June 2-4 at The Classic Center in Athens, Georgia, with Bishop Sue Haupert-Johnson presiding. After two years of virtual sessions, 1,800 United Methodists gathered for a conference that felt like a homecoming under the theme of “A Place for You at The Table.”
Among the highlights of the session were:
- the endorsement of Rev. Dr. Byron Thomas as episcopal candidate,
- introduction of 5 values and 5 areas of focus to guide our work in the coming years,
- adoption of the lowest apportionment budget in 20 years,
- an inspiring presenter on multicultural worship,
- powerful music and sermons,
- affirmation of plans to relocate the United Methodist Center to Main Street in College Park,
- celebrating the Barnes Fund grants of more than $780,000 invested in local church mission and ministry in North Georgia Conference last year,
- honoring the saints who have gone before us,
- electing new boards and committees, and
- licensing, commissioning, and ordaining new servant leaders who are called and equipped to serve God’s holy church.
The Conference was anchored by three worship services.
In Opening Worship
, Bishop Sue Haupert-Johnson preached a powerful sermon on John 21:6-14, sharing a vision of a church that draws all people in to the table of Christ. Are we inviting everyone to the table, she asked, "Lord, show us who is sitting alone." To the disciples in John 21, and to us today, Jesus says come and be filled, and bring others with you. Just as the disciples hauled in an abundant net of fish, let us “haul people to Jesus.” This is our mission, not to serve the people already at the table, but to bring in the lonely, the brokenhearted, and the hurting and show them God’s love.
In the 2022 Service of Remembrance
the Conference honored the lives of 42 clergy, spouses, and laity who have joined the cloud of witness in the last year. As their names were read, a bell tolled for each the honored dead. Rev. Jane Brooks preached and the choir from St. John UMC in Augusta provided beautiful music.
In the Service of Licensing, Commissioning, and Ordination
, the North Georgia Annual Conference licensed 11 new local pastors, commissioned 11 provisional elders, and ordained 5 full connection deacons and 13 full connection elders.
To celebrate the 25th anniversary of the first class of Deacons ordained in the North Georgia Conference, the Ordination Service was planned by the Order of Deacons. Modeling a conversation around a table, the Rev. Margaret Davis Freeman, Rev. Dr. Shannon E. Karafanda, Rev. Dr. Joseph McBrayer, and Rev. Dr. Amy Valdez Barker preached together on Luke 7:36-50 seated around a table.
"It's at the kitchen table that we talk about difficult things, we sometimes have arguments, we celebrate special moments," said Rev. Freeman, who was a member of that first class of ordained deacons. In this verse, "Jesus reclined at the table, reminding us that he was connecting not only over food and drink and conversation but also the sacred." The sermon ended as the preachers transformed the table into an altar.
Bishop Sue sent us forth with the reminder that “at Jesus’s table, no one dines alone.” May it be so!
Business & Reports
Introducing the Five Areas of Focus
“In 2021, we accepted a charge to assemble a group of leaders, representative of our entire Conference, who would pray and discern how God is calling us to pursue our mission in this season. … We asked, what happens if we do nothing? What is possible if we do something?”
Rev. Blair Zant, Director of the Center for Congregational Excellence, and Rev. Brian Tillman, Director of Inclusion Advocacy, introduced the five values identified and adopted by the Common Table: Integrity, Courage, Inclusion, Connection, and Transformation.
Then they shared the five areas of focus for the Annual Conference
- Community Engagement,
- Scriptural Literacy and Imagination,
- Health and Wellbeing,
- Racial Justice and Healing, and
- New Faith Opportunities and Communities.
The areas of focus were highlighted throughout the Annual Conference session.
Conference Affirms Rev. Dr. Byron Thomas as Episcopal Nominee
With hands held high in affirmation, the members of the 2022 North Georgia Annual Conference endorsed the Rev. Dr. Byron Thomas as the North Georgia Conference episcopal nominee. Rev. Dr. Thomas currently serves as District Superintendent of the Central South District which covers DeKalb, Henry, Newton, and Rockdale Counties. He is chair of the North Georgia Conference Delegation to the 2020 General and Jurisdictional Conferences. Episcopal elections will be held in November 2022 at the Southeastern Jurisdictional Conference.
In a solemn moment, members of the North Georgia Annual Conference ratified the disaffiliation agreements of 70 churches. The process for disaffiliation was established by the 2019 General Conference of The United Methodist Church.
"Bless these congregations as they depart," prayed Bishop Sue. "I pray that we will be partners in ministry and you will do your mighty work of healing division and overcoming rifts."
The Annual Conference heard reports from:
Board of Pension and Health Benefits:
Presented by Amy King, Conference Benefits Officer, and Morris Henderson, Chair, recommendations included a decrease in rates charged to participants and church portion for the clergy health insurance. Additionally, the Conference Board of Pensions and Health Benefits voted to designate a portion of an over-funded Retiree Medical plan to offset unfunded pension liability.
Commission on Equitable Compensation:
Harden Hopper, chair of the Commission on Equitable Compensation, reported on Equitable Compensation grants and Conference members approved a 5.6% increase to the minimum salary levels and a similar increase to the minimum housing allowance – the first increase since 2018.
Council on Finance & Administration:
“We are grateful for the financial faithfulness of our congregations,” said Rev. Bill Burch, Chair of the Council on Finance & Administration. During the historical challenges of the past years, congregations have responded with ongoing generosity. We received 91.9% of apportionment payments in 2021. CFA continued to take a conservative approach to the 2023 budget, proposing an additional reduction of 4%, accomplished by reducing budget line items and utilizing reserve funds. This marks the lowest apportionment budget in 20 years.
The CFA report also acknowledged the Boy Scouts of America Abuse Survivors Settlement. CFA approved the use of reserve funds to pay the North Georgia Annual Conference’s allocation of $1,092,505.
CFA introduced Allison Berg, incoming Conference Treasurer/CFO, and celebrated the ministry of retiring Treasurer Keith Cox. “We are grateful for the tremendous work that Keith Cox and his gifted team perform on behalf of the North Georgia Conference. We have been blessed by his leadership and expertise, and wish him a happy retirement,” said Burch.
Barnes Evaluation and Administration Team:
The Barnes Evaluation and Administration Team, led by co-chairs Nate Abrams and Rev. Steven Usry, has created a consolidated, transparent grant process with equal access for churches and ministries of all sizes who are seeking funding for innovative ministry. In 2021, local churches and districts received grants totaling more than $780,000 for a variety of worthy investments such as enhancing digital ministry, improving building accessibility, opening a medical clinic, and building a park. You can see the full list of grant recipients on the dashboard at www.ngumc.org/beat
To apply for a BEAT grant, review the application process at ngumc.org/beat, talk to your Superintendent, and submit an application to your district strategic growth team. The next application deadline is September 1, 2022.
Julie Childs, chair of the Conference Board of Trustees, offered updates on the life-changing work of the E.R. Park Medical Mission Fund, which can be accessed through the Conference Director of Administrative Services, and the Louise D. Park Eye Fund. To date, our Conference has provided over $800,000 in assistance which has provided crosslinking surgery for 62 children and young adults and glaucoma medicine for 75 patients. This means 137 folks have the gift of sight thanks to these funds. Additionally, a motion was approved to reallocate $1 million from the Wesley Campership Fund to the operating budget to the Camp and Retreat Ministries operating fund.
United Methodist Center Relocation Task Force:
The Trustees presented the recommendation of the United Methodist Center Relocation Task Force to buy property adjacent to College Park UMC to build a 5,400 sq foot headquarters utilizing designated funds that are projected to adequately cover the costs. Conference members voted to approve the recommendation to purchase the property on E. Main Street, College Park, Georgia, and build a new conference headquarters.
General and Jurisdictional Conference Delegation:
Rev. Byron Thomas and Jane Finley presented an update on the General/Jurisdictional Conference Delegation. The COVID pandemic, lack of global access to high-speed internet, and inability to obtain travel visas resulted in the delay of the 2020 General Conference. General Conference is scheduled for 2024. Jurisdictional Conference has been scheduled for November 2-5, 2022, for the purpose of electing bishops.
The Conference recognized the closure of seven churches. Bishop Sue lifted up a prayer for the closed churches: “We thank you for the witness of these churches in ages past. We thank you that resurrection always follows death, and we pray that the legacy of these churches will be used to build new churches that will introduce people to Christ.”
Those churches are:
Avondale Pattillo UMC, Central South;
Burnt Hickory United Methodist Church, Central West;
Chicopee United Methodist Church, North East;
Living Mission United Methodist Church, North East;
Red Oak United Methodist Church (Griffin), South West;
Wesley Chapel United Methodist Church (Covington), Central South;
Wesley Chapel United Methodist Church (Trion), North West.
The North Georgia Conference adopted two resolutions, both related to Native American Ministry. Read the resolutions below:
- Laity Address: Conference Lay Leader, Nate Abrams, addressed Conference members, reminding us of our common beliefs and tenants and exhorting us to “remain united, that together we may be a light that all may know Christ.”
- Holy, Holy, Holy: Josh Davis, pastor of multicultural church Proskuneo in Clarkston, led us in an experience of and exhortation to diversity in worship, cautioning us that “if worship is not diverse, it is dangerous.” If worship is not diverse, we make God in our own image, centering our churches around something other than Jesus – like worship style, a pastor’s personality, a building – and we risk sending a message to multiracial people and families that Jesus is not for them. Instead, let us imagine our churches led by diverse people in diverse ways. What would that testify to? What would that look like? What would that change? Can you imagine multicultural worship at your church?
Awards and Celebrations
Churches of Excellence in Outreach
Rev. Jessica Blackwood, Rev. Scott Parrish, Rev. Juan Quintanilla, and Bishop Sue presented Churches of Excellence in Outreach awards to 11 churches. The award celebrates churches with a commitment to connectional mission and ministry and who have gone above and beyond in their support of such mission. Well done to this year’s Churches of Excellence:
Passing of the Mantle and Recognition of Retirees
- Acworth UMC
- Ben Hill UMC
- Carrollton First UMC
- Cornerstone UMC
- Douglasville First UMC
- East Cobb UMC
- Jackson UMC
- Mt. Zion UMC Marietta
- Northside UMC
- Oak Grove UMC Decatur
- Vinings UMC
The conference celebrated the ministry of 30 clergy retirees with the Passing of the Mantle and Recognition of Retirees. A video highlighted words of wisdom from retirees: live as an example, remember your baptism, remember your calling, be a shepherd, God will meet you at every appointment, and embrace the adventure. We give thanks for their faithful witness and service.
2022 retirees are:
William B. Burch
Hee Seop Song
Sara Webb Phillips
Commissioning of Deaconess and Home Missioner
We rejoice that Choong-Hee Lee, Director of Family Ministry at Immanuel Korean Church, has responded to God’s call to be a Deaconess, and that Jeffrey Fuller has responded to God’s call to be a Home Missioner serving across the North Georgia Conference as Abundant Health Coordinator. We send them forth with our blessings and support!
Rev. Dr. Luther Felder Receives Francis Asbury Award
Rev. Dr. Michael McCord, Director of the UM Commission on Higher Education, presented the Francis Asbury Award to Rev. Dr. Luther Felder. The honor, given by the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry of the UMC, recognizes individuals who have made a significant contribution to fostering the church’s ministries in higher education at the local, district or annual conference level.
Fixing of the 2022-2023 Appointments
Bishop Sue Haupert-Johnson fixed the 2022-2023 Appointments on Saturday, June 4. See the full list of appointments, effective July 1, below.
North Georgia United Methodists donated $23,465.18 to the Annual Conference Special Offering for UMCOR (the United Methodist Committee on Relief) during the Service of Remembrance on June 3. Gifts continue to come in!
An offering of $2,913 for the Ministerial Education Fund was received during the Service of Licensing, Commissioning, and Ordination.
At the close of 2021, in the North Georgia Conference:
- Membership stands at: 339,259
- Average weekly in-person attendance was: 59,636
- Online worship attendance is reported at: 93,004
- Professions or reaffirmations of faith: 1,262
The next North Georgia Annual Conference will be held May 31-June 3, 2023 (Wednesday-Saturday) at The Classic Center in Athens.
— Sybil Davidson, Conference Communicator