2020 Annual Conference Meets for First-Ever Virtual Session


Photos: (Above) Bishop Sue presiding over the 2020 Annual Conference online. Photo courtesy of Rev. Dr. Joseph McBrayer. (At right) Conference Associate Secretary Rev. Joya Abrams takes minutes from home this morning. Photo courtesy of Nate Abrams. 

On Saturday, August 29, nearly 2,000 North Georgia United Methodists gathered for a beloved time of conferencing in a new way. Meeting virtually from living rooms, kitchen tables, church offices, and beyond, members of the Conference adopted a condensed agenda to complete essential business. 

Bishop Sue Haupert-Johnson presided over the historic session. Behind her and on the speaker's podium were hand-painted banners of overlapping circles. Seven of the circles align to reveal a dove. This imagery was a steady reminder of the presence of the Holy Spirit and an appropriate metaphor for the work of alignment that was a thread throughout the business of the day.

Bishop Sue began the session with scripture, reading John 21:1-14. 

"The whole world has changed," said Bishop Sue reflecting on the passage and on our current circumstances. "All of our normal ways to be together have changed, but I think the risen Lord comes among us and says, we have an opportunity to consider how we are fishing. Instead of moving toward what's familiar, I challenge you to sit in the unfamiliar, to go back into prayer, go back into reflection, speak into those who are hurting, and those who are pleading for justice and righteousness. Hear the cries of God's people."

Closing in prayer, Bishop Sue said: "Gracious God, we pray we will answer your call to follow you in new ways. Give us new insights, give us a clear word of how to serve you in new ways." 

Redistricting for Mission and Stewardship 
Members voted to support a new 8-district structure drawn in a mission-focused manner reflective of today’s North Georgia Conference and the communities we serve. The 8 new districts follow county lines and each contains a similar number of churches. Every new district includes some high-growth counties and population (as well as population growth) is balanced between the districts.

The new districts are:
  • District 1 | Central West: Carroll, Cobb, Douglas, Haralson, and Paulding Counties
  • District 2 | Central North: Fulton and Clayton Counties
  • District 3 | Central East: Barrow, Clark, Oconee, Gwinnett, and Walton Counties 
  • District 4 | Central South: DeKalb, Henry, Newton, and Rockdale Counties
  • District 5 | North West: Bartow, Catoosa, Chattooga, Cherokee, Fannin, Floyd, Gilmer, Gordon, Polk, Murray, Pickens, Walker, and Whitfield Counties
  • District 6 | North East: Banks, Dawson, Habersham, Hall, Hart, Forsyth, Franklin, Jackson, Lumpkin, Madison, Rabun, Stephens, Towns, Union, and White Counties
  • District 7 | South East: Baldwin, Columbia, Elbert, Greene, Hancock, Lincoln, McDuffie, Morgan, Oglethorpe, Putnam, Richmond, Taliaferro, Warren, and Wilkes Counties
  • District 8 | South West: Butts, Coweta, Fayette, Harris, Heard, Jasper, Lamar, Meriwether, Monroe, Pike, Spalding, Troup, and Upson Counties
This change will save the Conference upwards of $1 million annually. Learn more at https://www.ngumc.org/district-restructure

Trustees Report
A process from the Board of Trustees for pooling the proceeds of closed churches was adopted by the Conference and was followed by an update to the Charles Barnes Fund for Church Development to align the work. 

"We must pay attention to Conference, district, and local church interests at the same time," said Chair of Trustees Rev. Dr. John Simmons. "Transparent mechanisms like this are needed so we can know what we're doing and why we're doing it. This enables us to put resources where they are needed for disciple-making."

Postponed 2020 General and Jurisdictional Conferences
Bishop Sue offered an update on the Postponed 2020 General and Jurisdictional Conferences. New dates are:
  • Postponed General Conference 2020: August 29 – September 7, 2021
  • Postponed Southeastern Jurisdictional Conference 2020: November 10 – November 12, 2021 
Members of the Annual Conference voted to affirm the 2020 General and Jurisdictional Conference Delegations elected in 2019.

Laity Address
Conference Lay Leader Bill Martin addressed the session, speaking on Acts 4:7-20. He closed with a quote from Rev. Herchel H. Sheets:

“Christ is ALWAYS with those who are spreading the Good News, taking the gospel to people who need to hear it. He does not save them from all mistakes, he does not deliver them from all errors of judgment. But somehow, when they are faithful, their efforts bear fruit, the good news spreads, new disciples are made, and those who are already disciples are built up in the faith.”

Conference Finance and Administration
The Annual Conference passed a budget of $16,976,101. 

"CFA took a conservative approach to the 2021 budget by reducing line items and drawing on reserve funds," said Rev. Bill Burch, chair of Conference Finance and Administration. "This year CFA's proposed budget reduces the budget by 19.1 percent." 

That is more than a $4 million reduction. 

Conference Board of Pension and Health Benefits
The Conference adopted both recurring and new recommendations from Conference Pensions and Health Benefits. Chair Charles Darden presented the report and recommendations. There will be no large increases to participant insurance premiums in 2021. The recommendations set the church portion for the clergy health insurance at $1,256/month, an increase of only $6 per month from 2020.

Equitable Compensation
The work of the Commission of Equitable Compensation is to provide guidelines for pastoral support. The conference approved the report and recommendations of the Commission of Equitable Compensation which are found on Handbook page 76. 

Property Resolutions 
Twenty-three churches were formally closed by the Annual Conference.  In circumstances when keeping a church open is no longer sustainable, our denomination has guidelines in place to direct the congregation and its leadership through the process of closing. Bishop Sue offered a time of prayer for the churches. Find the list of closed churches at https://www.ngumc.org/eventdetail/13622125/newsitem/14150583.

"Every church listed has born witness. They have served and been Christ to their communities," said Bishop Sue. "Yet they have reached the point in the life of their church when it is time to close."

Every death leads to new life, she explained, and new ministries will be fueled by these closures.

The morning and afternoon sessions each opened and closed with a prayer from a youth or young adult member of the Annual Conference. Ellie Dillsworth, Ariel Murphy, Brad Biggerstaff, and Elijah Shoaf led the conference in prayer from their dorm rooms, desks, and churches. 

Deep Appreciation
One of the most heartwarming components of the session were gestures of appreciation for the ministry, creativity, patience, and faithfulness of the members of the 2020 North Georgia. Thanks to a gift from the UM Connectional Federal Credit Union and the Georgia United Methodist Foundation, gifts of $500 were given in the name of five lay members and five clergy members to ten meaningful ministries in the bounds of our Annual Conference. The gifts were made to:
  • Wellroot Family Services
  • Action Ministries
  • Aldersgate Homes/Collinswood
  • The Georgia UMCommisison on Higher Education and Collegiate Ministries
  • North Georgia Camp and Retreat Ministries 
  • North Georgia Housing and Homeless Council
  • Foundation of Wesley Woods
  • Murphy-Harpst Children's Centers
  • North Georgia Foundation for Retired Ministers 

​Post Conference Survey
If you participated in the 2020 online North Georgia Annual Conference, please share about your experience at https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/NGAC2020

More on this historic Annual Conference will be available in the coming days at www.ngumc.org/AC2020.