'Methodistapalooza' becoming a habit for Athens


      There could be no mistaking Athens, home of the University of Georgia and covered in red and black, as anything but a college town.
        But for one week each June, the tone and style of the historic town take on a different ambience. A very difference ambience. In addition to a thinned-out summer roster of college students --  adorned in shorts, T-shirts, flip-flops -- is a small army of mostly well-dressed visitors who appear generally unaware that it is 93 degrees outside.
        It is becoming as predictable as the swallows returning to Capistrano: The United Methodists return to Athens. The 2011 North Georgia Annual Conference, held at the Classic Center in Athens for the twelfth time in thirteen years, addressed various issues and made many important decisions in four days of meetings.
      One of those decisions: Athens was selected as host site for the 2014 and 2015 conferences. The home of the University of Georgia had already been secured as the location for the 2012 and 2013 events.
        The affection is mutual.
       “Methodists are now like old friends in Athens,” read the editorial headline in the Banner-Herald.
    The editorial stated:  “As they spend breaks from their business sampling downtown restaurants and visiting downtown merchants - sometimes asking advice from us about where to eat or shop - our Methodist friends help us to realize what a special place we have to call home.
      “And perhaps more importantly, their presence here serves as a reminder to us that, amid all the worldly cares we carry with us each day, there is a spiritual dimension to life to which we ought to pay some attention.”
      Then there was this comment posted on the Athens Banner-Herald website:
     “I have to tell you, as someone who worked downtown during Methodistapalooza a few times...what delightful visitors! They're polite, they tip, they're mostly adults, and they generally enjoy Athens a lot. I hope they come back, because they're awesome.”
        Methodistapalooza? Delightful? Awesome?
        John Wesley never felt such love in Georgia.
         Last November, voters in Athens-Clarke County approved authorizing $25 million in sales tax to expand the Classic Center, in large part to accommodate the Annual Conference. Construction could begin within two months, but work will be suspended during the 2012 conference.
           And so, at least for the near-future, members of the North Georgia Conference will continue to share sidewalk space and lines at coffee shops alongside of Athens’ regular clientele of young, T-shirt clad students.
         Though it might be a bit disconcerting for locals to see so many folks walking downtown streets, in the heat of the day, in coat and tie, wearing name tags, there are other benefits beyond the financial.
        “At least none of the Methodists puked their guts out on Clayton Street at 2 a.m.” read a comment on the Banner-Herald website.
      And for that, we say amen.
        Glenn Hannigan is editor of the North Georgia Advocate. If you have any other questions about the Advocate, or news to share, e-mail him at glenn@advocate.org.