2023 North Georgia Conference Wrap Up
North Georgia Annual Conference
The Classic Center, Athens, Georgia
June 1-3, 2023
Bishop Robin Dease, presiding
The 2023 North Georgia Annual Conference session was held June 1-3 at The Classic Center in Athens, Georgia, with Bishop Robin Dease presiding. Approximately 2,000 United Methodists gathered for the session under the theme “I will pour out my spirit on all,” based on Joel 2:28. Together we worshiped, shared meals, deliberated, sang, prayed, and carried out the work of the church. (Watch a wrap up video.)
Among the highlights of the session were:
- powerful worship, music, and sermons,
- intergenerational participation,
- the posthumous ordination of Rev. Marita Harrell,
- honoring the saints who have gone before us,
- adoption of the lowest apportionment budget in 22 years,
- celebrating that the Barnes Fund awarded $1,388,622 in grants to local churches, districts, and conference boards and agencies in 2022 (in 2023 the Barnes Fund is on track to invest $1,272,370 in mission and ministry across our Annual Conference)
- introduction to the Lighthouse Church initiative
- introduction of our conference-wide strategic growth plan
- 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 2023 North Georgia Annual Conference was anchored by three worship services.
Service of Remembrance and Posthumous Ordination of Rev. Marita Harrell
The Conference opened with the Service of Remembrance
in which we named and remembered beloved North Georgia Conference clergy, clergy spouses, and laity who died in the past year. Rev. Dr. Terry Walton preached, reflecting on the lives of many of those we remembered, including his own father, Rev. Gene Walton.
“The work of God’s kingdom has been helped in ways beyond our imaginations because of these honored saints,” he said. “We stand on their shoulders. We remember them not as perfect saints but as saints that served with passionate intentions to build up the kingdom of God. And because of their faith-filled imagination, and their willingness not to give up on themselves and their willingness not to give up on us, they continued the journey of going on to perfection.”
In a deeply meaningful moment, the Annual Conference recognized the posthumous ordination of Rev. Marita Harrell
. As she prepared for ordination and full connection in The United Methodist Church, Marita’s life was tragically taken from us in May 2022 by one with whom she sought to share the saving love of God in Christ Jesus.
Service of Licensing, Commissioning, and Ordination
“The Board of Ordained Ministry and the North Georgia Annual Conference affirms her call to ordained ministry and seeks to honor that call even now as she joins us in that great cloud of witnesses,” said Bishop Robin Dease. Her family took part in the service, receiving a handmade stole signifying the office of elder.
At our Service of Licensing, Commissioning, and Ordination
, the North Georgia Annual Conference licensed 15 new local pastors, 6 provisional elders, 6 full connection elders.
Retired Bishop Alfred Norris preached, sharing that he has, at times, been interested in the accolades of actors, athletes, and politicians, some proclaimed to be “the greatest.” But it is love that is the most powerful force in the world. No one was or is a greater practitioner of love than Jesus, he said.
“I was included in his love, that's why I am a Christian and that's why I can love those who may not love me,” said Bishop Norris. “My VIPs are the Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.”
He made his message clear: “People are precious, all people, ALL people. Look for people, find them, bring them to Jesus.”
Closing Service of Word and Table & Fixing of the Appointments
The 2023 North Georgia Annual Conference closed with a Service of Word and Table
that included holy communion, the fixing of the appointments, and a sermon from Bishop Dease on 2 Corinthians 4:7-10.
This passage of scripture both exalts us and humbles us, Bishop Dease explained. It exalts us because God doesn’t leave ministry to heavenly beings but to you and me, people of clay. It humbles us because the earthen vessels of ours are easily broken, yet we hold the treasure of God’s spirit—something more valuable than gold or any treasure.
“The hallmarks of Christian leadership—the cross, love and gentleness, spirit-led and spirit-empowered ministry—are effective because they work in weakened vessels.” she explained. “We must have a genuine love for souls, just as God does.”
Business & Reports
Bishop Robin Dease called to order the 157th session of the North Georgia Conference and together we sang the historic opening hymn “And Are We Yet Alive.” Over the next three days we heard reports and took action, including:
The Host Committee
Host District Superintendent Rodrigo Cruz welcomed the North Georgia Conference back to Athens. Cruz lifted up our one goal and one mission in the North Georgia Conference: to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. All of our resources and efforts are aligned to accomplish that goal. Noting the strong relationship with the University of Georgia, he presented Bishop Dease, with a jersey.
Election of Conference Statistician and Conference Chancellor
The North Georgia Annual Conference elected Harold Buckley as Conference Chancellor and Dana Everhart as Conference Statistician.
United Methodist Men
Ernest Perry, North Georgia Conference president of UMM, celebrated the 159 active charters of United Methodist Men in North Georgia. Together we can enhance God's kingdom on earth by reaching men where they are and transforming lives by introducing them to Jesus Christ.
Chair of our Committee on Scouting, Chris Karabinos, lifted up scouting ministry as an important ministry of our Conference and our denomination--one of the single best tools to walk alongside youth.
He shared that Bishop Dease provided the keynote address to the national scouting gathering in Atlanta earlier this week, representing not only the North Georgia Conference but The United Methodist Church. He and Bishop Dease invite all to a Scout Lunch on March 9, 2024, at Peachtree Road UMC.
United Women in Faith
United Methodist Women is now United Women in Faith. Stephanie Dressler, North Georgia Conference president of United Women in Faith, celebrated this essential ministry and how the name change will better reflect how women answer our calling as United Methodists. United by God's love, our sisterhood is stronger than ever. Love in action can change the world.
5 Areas of Focus Update
Last year, 5 Values and 5 Areas of Focus, which were prayerfully discerned by our Common Table, were affirmed by the Annual Conference to guide the Annual Conference through 2024. The work of putting these areas of focus into action became the task of our Connectional Ministries Team, Center for Congregational Excellence staff, District Strategic Growth Teams, and local churches like Duluth UMC, who hosted workshops in all five areas as part of their Wednesday Night Programming last fall.
The 5 Values are Integrity, Courage, Inclusion, Connection, and Transformation. The 5 Areas of Focus are: Scriptural Literacy and Imagination, Community Engagement, New Faith Opportunities and Communities, Racial Justice and Healing, and Health and Wellbeing. Learn more at www.ngumc.org/focus
Reparations Task Force
Formed in response to thoughtful discussion at Annual Conference 2022, a reparations task force has been working and studying over the past year. The group of 16 members includes lay and clergy from across our Conference. The report emphasized the importance of the word "repair."
Please take time to watch three videos prepared by the task force (watch here
) and visit www.ngumc.org/reparations
. These videos give us a lens into a time the North Georgia Conference and Camp Glisson did something courageous by hosting one of the first interracial overnight retreats in 1962. Hear how a church welcomed a pastor who was once turned away from worship. Understand the relationship between our Conference and Native American history.
The task force brought forward four recommendations, each addressed in other reports of the Annual Conference. They include a recommendation regarding Red Oak UMC Griffin, a process for encouraging mergers between legacy churches of color, an amendment to the Standing Rules to require intercultural competency training for all who serve on Conference boards, councils, commissions, and committees, and a recommendation that Conference staff and members of the Board of Ordained Ministry be required to complete intercultural competency training. All four of these recommendations passed.
North Georgia United Methodists were introduced to the Lighthouse Church initiative. Lighthouse churches are United Methodist congregations devoted to Christian hospitality, and the welcome and care of people who've been displaced from their church home by disruption, disaffiliation, or closure. A Lighthouse designation signals that a congregation is committed to a unifying missional focus of welcoming and caring for people who have been through crisis and/or carry church hurt. Ideal churches for this movement are
- Called to extend radical hospitality;
- Focused on Christian discipleship and spiritual formation;
- Likely to receive, or are already receiving, those who are displaced from their church.
Learn more at www.ngumc.org/Lighthouse
Address of the Conference Lay Leader
Conference Lay Leader Nate Abrams celebrated the good and inspiring work happening across the North Georgia Conference and also lifted up the challenging season we face.
"The ministry of Jesus Christ IS alive and well in North Georgia even as we navigate our troubles," said Abrams. "I challenge each of you to look for where God is pouring out God’s spirit. Listen for where new visions and models of ministry are emerging. And then… join God in God’s work. For the work of the church is not ours alone. The making of disciples and the transformation of the world does not rest on our skills, our knowledge, our connections, or our maneuvering. It rests in the power of the Holy Spirit being poured out on all of God’s people that they may witness and prophesy for the better days to come."
Conference-wide Strategic Growth Plan
The Office of Congregational Development has developed a conference-wide Strategic Growth Plan for 2023-2025. This plan offers 7 strategies for enabling and resourcing vibrant communities of faith that are relevant to the people in our communities today. These strategies are rooted in the Great Commission and the Great Commandment of Jesus Christ, the savior who calls us to “love one another as I have loved you.”
More than 100 people across our annual conference have contributed to the formation of these strategies. They are:
- Identifying and developing Sending Missional Churches in every district
- Launching Fresh Expressions of church
- Anchor Church stability
- Better Together: two or more churches joining together for missional impact
- Intentional Community Development and Discipleship
- Planting new church starts
- Online faith communities and Lighthouse churches
In the 2022-23 conference year, the North Georgia Conference has started 21 new Fresh Expressions initiatives--from fitness related to young adult focused, Brew Theology to assisted living facilities, House Church, Intergenerational Messy Churches, meal centered, and micro communities, dinner churches, those that meet in a coffee shop and one that meets in a comic book store. Fresh Expressions are new forms of church created primarily for people that are not yet a part of any church and often meet in places where people are already gathering or within affinity groups. Learn more at www.ngumc.org/FreshExpressions
General and Jurisdictional Conference Delegation Report
Delegation chair Rev. Dr. Byron Thomas offered an update on the 2023 Southeastern Jurisdictional Conference and the upcoming 2024 General Conference. Three bishops were elected by the SEJ Conference—Bishop Tom Berlin, Bishop Connie Shelton, and Bishop Robin Dease—and bishops were assigned, including Bishop Dease to North Georgia. Find information about General Conference at www.ngumc.org/GC2024
Conference Board of Pension and Health Benefits
Our Conference Board of Pension and Health Benefits report was presented by Amy King, conference benefits officer, and Rev. Charles Broome, of the Conference Board of Pension and Health Benefits. Ensuring that clergy have access to quality healthcare and properly funded retirement and disability plans is a responsibility that the Board takes very seriously. Find the report beginning on page 71 of the Handbook. They offered a thorough overview of the actions of the Board of Pension in the last year, sharing both methodology and rationale.
The board made three recommendations, which were approved.
Commission on Equitable Compensation
- The first recommendation relates to the participant portion of the health insurance premiums. The Conference received the rates from Wespath earlier this year and the new rates are shown on page 74 of the Handbook.
- The second is to set the church portion for the clergy health insurance at $1,350/month. This rate is the blended rate and is a increase of $100 per month from 2023. Even with the increase in the participant rate and the increase in the church rate, the conference is still covering just under $1.5 million in the cost of the health insurance from reserves.
- The third recommendation relates to Via Benefits.
The work of the Commission on Equitable Compensation is to support our churches and clergy by recommending conference standards and guidelines, which define fair, minimum compensation for our clergy, including minimum housing allowances and parsonage standards. New in the report are Guidelines for Renting a parsonage, which may be found on page 64 of the Handbook. View the full report beginning on page 57.
Acknowledging the tension in present circumstances with cost-of-living concerns and financial challenges among our smaller churches, the Commission recommends maintaining the current levels of minimum compensation for 2024. Though, in general, the Commission encourages all churches to bear in mind their specific situations and consider providing cost-of-living salary increases for their clergy and lay staff for 2024.
The Conference Board of Trustees, in alignment with an order from the Superior Court of Columbia County, brought forward two churches that request disaffiliation from The United Methodist Church per Book of Discipline paragraph 2553: Trinity on the Hill United Methodist Church Augusta and Mann-Mize United Methodist Church Augusta. The disaffiliations were ratified by the annual conference.
Julie Childs, chair of the Conference Board of Trustees, presented the Trustee's report (page 55 of the Handbook). This included updates on:
- Red Oak UMC Griffin, a historically Black church, was one of seven churches that closed in 2022. That year, the Annual Conference engaged in a compelling conversation around justice and churches of color. A motion was passed encouraging the Conference Board of Trustees to consider a way to honor this church. The Trustees proposed to designate funds from the sale of the church property, approximately $79,000, for Black Church Development to determine its use in consultation with the South West District. The recommendation was approved by the 2023 Annual Conference.
- In consultation with the Episcopacy Committee, the Trustees sold the episcopal residence and are providing Bishop Dease with a housing allowance for the time being.
- The Trustees continue to oversee the Park Eye Fund. In 2019, the Conference began a relationship with the Emory Eye Center which does cutting-edge procedures and treatments for eye-related medical issues. Every month, 25 to 30 older adults receive medicine for glaucoma and as of March, 63 children and young adults have received amazing treatments allowing them to keep the gift of sight thanks to our donations.
- The board of Trustees has voted to lift the pause on disaffiliation allowing the 2553 process to resume. Details on the process and procedure are being finalized and information is available at www.ngumc.org/disaffiliation-process-and-information
Julie closed by thanking the members of the Board of Trustees who are North Georgia conference laity and clergy committed to their responsibility, and carry out their role prayerfully, out of love for the church, with a sincere effort to hear God’s will.
Conference Finance & Administration
Conference Treasure Allison Berg and CFA member Bill Burch presented the Conference Finance and Administration report, which starts on page 80 of the handbook. They presented a fiscally responsible proposed budget that retains resources at the local church level and makes prudent use of reserves. The proposed Annual Conference budget is the lowest budget in 22 years – $14,936 – a reduction of 1.7 million compared to 2023. The budget and CFA recommendations were approved by the Annual Conference.
In 2022, the Barnes Evaluation and Administrative Team (or BEAT for short) awarded $1,388,622 in 23 grants to local churches, districts, and approved Conference Boards and Agencies. In 2023 the Barnes Fund will invest $1,272,370 in mission and ministry across our Annual Conference. Already this year BEAT has funded 17 grants. These grants have included a broad spectrum of ministry, including funds for community centers, digital and technical enhancements for churches, church mergers, facility upgrades, racial reconciliation ministries, and investments in young adult ministries just to name a few.
For information, visit www.ngumc.org/BEAT
. The Dashboard
is updated after every funding window.
Four resolutions were adopted by the members of the 2023 Annual Conference:
The Conference adopted two proposed changes to the Standing Rules. The first addressed an omission and addition that provide clarity for attendance and membership expectations for chairpersons and members on committees and boards.
The second requires all members of conference boards, teams, councils, commissions, and committees including chairs, co-chairs, vice-chairs, and ex-officio members to complete intercultural training or the equivalent within 90 days of the start of the term in which they were initially elected.
Friday, the members of the Annual Conference approved the closure of four churches:
Committee on Nominations
- Freeman Memorial UMC - Newnan, Georgia
- Hollonville UMC – Williamson, Georgia
- Roopville UMC – Carroll County, Georgia
- Mt. Bethel UMC – Marietta, Georgia
Rev. Dr. Brian Tillman presented the Nominations Report for the boards, committees, and commissions for the next Conference year. The report was approved.
2023-2024 Appointment List
On June 3, Bishop Robin Dease fixed the clergy appointments for the 2023-2024 Conference year.
VIEW APPOINTMENT LIST
Awards And Celebrations
The Board of Ordained Ministry and Center for Clergy Excellence recognized and celebrated 33 retirees: 21 elders, 11 local pastors, and 1 deacon. Together they represent 690 years of service to The United Methodist Church.
“Retirees, we give God thanks for the way you have devoted so many years of your life to serve God through the United Methodist Church," said Rev. Dr. Alice Rogers. "Some of you answered the call later in life, while others have served for decades. To all of you, we are grateful that you answered the call to ministry. You have faithfully served as Jesus’ hands and feet in the churches and communities all over North Georgia and beyond.”
Commissioning of a Deaconess
Becky Gaar has responded to God’s call to be a Deaconess in The United Methodist Church and was commissioned to this work by Bishop Dease. She is commissioned to serve the needs of the families in the community of Pine Mountain as Food Pantry Supervisor at Pine Mountain UMC.
Denman Evangelism Award
It was a joy to recognize Denman Evangelism Award recipients in the North Georgia Conference this year. They were:
One Matters Awards
- Youth recipient of the Denman Award: Elijah John Mccoy Washington
- Lay recipient of the Denman Award: Nancy Yeates.
- Clergy Recipient of the Denman Award: Rev. Brett DeHart
The One Matters Award, sponsored by Discipleship Ministries, celebrates churches who through concerted efforts in outreach and discipleship have increased the number of baptisms and/or professions of faith they have celebrated from zero in 2021 to 1or more in 2022. Each will receive a monetary gift of $1,000 to continue the work of making disciples and seeking transformation. Recipients are:
Churches of Excellence in Outreach
- Roe Chapel UMC
- Acworth First UMC
- Trinity at the Well UMC, Cartersville
The Church of Excellence in Outreach award recognizes churches that have gone above and beyond in their support of mission. We celebrated 10 churches receiving the Church of Excellence in Outreach designation for their action-oriented faith shown during the 2022 calendar year. Rev. Scott Parrish and Rev. AnnaKate Rawles presented awards to
UM Connectional Federal Credit Union Scholarship Award
- Ben Hill UMC
- Bethlehem First UMC
- Carrollton First UMC
- Cornerstone UMC
- East Cobb UMC
- Jackson UMC
- Mt. Zion UMC Marietta
- Newnan First UMC
- Northside UMC
- Oak Grove UMC
Each year our Credit Union awards a scholarship to four winning applicants, one from each of the credit union's four United Methodist Annual Conferences: North Georgia, South Georgia, Florida, and Alabama-West Florida. This year's recipient in North Georgia is Austin Sever of Snellville UMC.
UM Commission on Higher Education: Francis Asbury Award
Rev. Sam Dawkins, director of the Wesley Foundation at the University of West Georgia, received the Francis Asbury Award from our Georgia United Methodist Commission on Higher Education. Each year, GBHEM invites Annual Conference Boards of Higher Education and Campus Ministry to submit nominees based upon extraordinary leadership above and beyond basic responsibilities in United Methodist higher education ministries. GBHEM reviews each nomination and issues awards accordingly.
Each day a devotional was offered during the session.
- Thursday Rev. Nora Colmenares brought an afternoon devotion, sharing that one of the most transformative lessons she learned has been about how the church played a pivotal role in the Civil Rights Movement. She called on us to remember that we too have received the boundless pouring out of the Holy Spirit. "This is again our call today: to be brave enough to prophesize, to dream dreams, to see visions, and bring about transformation in the world."
- Friday morning Rev. Chaloea Hale shared with us about knots, including her favorite, the Anchor Knot, which provides a secure link between the anchor and the anchor line. “May we hold onto our faith in Christ Jesus, so anchored in Him.”
- Rev. Minho Chung offered our Saturday devotional. Sharing about his son’s love of baseball, he reflected on the reality that if you want to play for the Atlanta Braves, first you have to put in the practice and discipline. Similarly, if we are going to live as the people of God, we have steps to take. We must not just proclaim we love Jesus, but live it out. We must care about the Body of Christ.
As we depart Annual Conference, $34,546 has been given to the Special Offering for UMCOR and our Conference Disaster Response efforts. Gifts continue to come in for the Offering. Give online at www.ngumc.org/give or by mail. Please designate gifts as Fund #1140 Annual Conference Special Offering.
Conference Treasurer's Office
PO Box 102417
Atlanta, GA 30368-2417
Future Dates & Sites of Annual Conference
2023 Called Special Session: November 18, 2023
2024: June 13-15, 2024, the Classic Center, Athens
2025: June 12-14, 2025, the Classic Center, Athens
At the close of 2022, in the North Georgia Conference:
- Membership stands at: 303,798
- Average weekly in-person attendance was: 58,722
- Online worship attendance is reported at: 66,562
- Professions of Faith through confirmation: 1,431
- Professions of Faith other than confirmation: 1,142
— Sybil Davidson, Conference Communicator