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See photos from the week taken by the photography team of the Associate Secretaries.
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The North Georgia Conference had the honor of commissioning of Deaconess Cynthia D. Campbell of Bethany UMC in the Atlanta-Marietta District and Missionary Didier Monga Wa Shakapanga of the North Katanga Central Conference.
Murphy-Harpst Children's Center shared a video on the agency's work to care for neglected and abused children.
Idelia Ulmer, chair of the Church of Excellence in Outreach committee, presented the awards for Churches of Excellence in Outreach.
Tracy Crump, President and CEO of the Foundation of Wesley Woods, shares the ministries of the organization. A video gives a glimpse into the happy side of aging and the loving Wesley Woods communities. Terry Barcroft, President and CEO of Wesley Woods Senior Living highlights new pastoral care program and recognized Rev. Karen Kagiyama as the first pastoral care director.
Gue' Hudson, Rev. Anne Hansen, and Sue Raymond of Aldersgate/Collinswood shared that 80% of families with a member with a disability are unchurched. The ministry of Aldersgate and Collinswood seeks to make a positive difference in the lives of persons with developmental disabilities.
Bishop Sue spoke to the Conference, sharing poll results from the Annual Conference yesterday side-by-side with results from similar polls taken by clergy at Clergy Day Apart in April and the General Conference Delegation in the fall. The three groups felt both hope and concern about the future of the church. The church is not of one mind on the matter of human sexuality, Bishop Sue said, explaining that there is not a clear answer to this challenge. At the recent Council of Bishops meeting, the bishops spent hours in prayer and conversation. Though they aren't of one mind on the matter, the majority agreed that the proposed "One Church" model offered a way forward together. We don't know what exactly the future holds, but she sees great hope in the large majority who desire unity. “In the end, mission overcomes everything," she said. Bishop Sue shared from an essay by Thomas Oden, "Do Not Rashly Tear Asunder," that is now posted on the Conference website.
Russell Pierce, the Executive Director of Mission Engagement for Global Ministries and UMCOR, spoke about the work of The ADVANCE, both nearby and around the world. He thanked the North Georgia Conference for our giving and presented Bishop Sue with plaques recognizing the North Georgia Conference for being in the top 10 conferences for giving in four of six mission areas. The North Georgia Conference gave $1.7 million to disaster response in 2017, the second highest amount in the denomination.
The revised Consent Agenda was passed after the removal of the Charles Barnes Fund proposal. That item will be referred to the Office of Congregational Excellence.
The Standing Rules Committee presented three changes for vote and they were approved.
The nominations report was approved with several updates shared from the stage. These nominees are now the members of our Conference Boards and Agencies.
Tiara Towns of Smith Chapel United Methodist Church, Pine Mountain, closed the session in prayer.
The Conference recognized ten closing churches. In each of these churches, the District Superintendent and congregation have followed the process of consultation, approvals, and action. Three facilities have identified future uses and will stay in the control of the district for re-use by the district. Seven will close and property will transfer to the Conference Board of Trustees so that the properties can be sold and proceeds used according to the policies of the Annual Conference. Dean of the Cabinet Bernice Kirkland led the Conference in prayer. The closing churches are:
Providence UMC, Statham – ATHN
Trinity UMC, Carnesville – ATHN
Connexion at North Covington – ADOX
White’s Chapel, Conyers ADOX
Briarcliff UMC, Atlanta – AMRY
John Wesley UMC, Norcross - AMRY
Hightower Silvertown UMC, Thomaston – GRFN
Zion Chapel UMC, Thomaston - GRFN
Dunson, LaGrange - LGRN
Clem UMC, Carrollton - ROCA
Rev. Richard Puckett, Retired Elder from Briarcliff UMC, encouraged us to not use the term "sad" or "unfortunate" about these closings, because these churches have made thoughtful, difficult decisions that will enable ministry in new ways. While there's grief, there's also a legacy to celebrate.
"In our faith, death and resurrection always go together," closed Bishop Sue.
Moving Day is June 21.Giving the COSROW Monitoring Report, Rev. Emily Case shared that men spoke 20 percent more than women in our Annual Conference sessions. She encouraged the members of the Conference to ask, "Where are you giving space to hear women's voices?"
The Conference paused to thank artist Sara Glass who completed an 8'x8' painting that she began during opening worship.
The service of communion and sending forth began with a video showing tragedy, fear, disaster, and destruction, then transitioned to video from this week in Athens. As the worship band from Hillside UMC played, we saw clips from the three previous worship services and conference sessions.
Planned by Michael Cromwell of Hillside UMC and Rev. Rodrigo Cruz of The Nett UMC, worship incorporated Korean, Czech, German, Spanish and English languages. The stage was anchored by six large, lighted letters: J-E-S-U-S.
Cruz was preacher for the service.
Speaking to the disagreements in our denomination, he shared several stories about his children.
"I love my children, yet I know they're not perfect," he said. "They know they love each other but they fight like cats and dogs. They know they belong together, even if they don't act like it."
His family has learned that belonging together doesn't mean they will always get along. "That is a microcosm of our conference and our connectional system," he said.
Cruz pointed out that this is not the first time in history when a group of Christians is wondering about the future. This situation draws him to Acts 20:22-24, when Paul writes that he doesn't know the future, but "nothing is more important than completing my mission."
"As we face General Conference, let me tell you one more time: 'I don't know what will happen,'" he said. "Church, there is a future and I know nothing about it. We understand the theology of trusting God. Yet when it's our turn we do not do it."
What he knows is that his mission is to go out and finish the work that Jesus started.
As a pastor of a new church that's barely three years old, people often ask Cruz "what's the future."
"We're meeting in my living room and people ask, what's the future for this church? We move into a high school and people ask, what's the future for this church? We move into our first building and people ask, what's the future for this church? This year going to a second campus. Pastor what's the plan for the future of this church?" he said.
"Here's the plan for the future of the church. We are going to be obedient today."
He called on the congregation not to miss what God can do today because of what God may or may not do in 2019. Paul didn't have the perfect plan to move forward, Cruz continued. He had to be obedient.
Cruz told a touching story about picking up his adopted son from China last year. He was told it may take some time to bond with his son because he hadn't been around any males. It was true. Their son quickly bonded with his mother but not his father.
"It wasn't a matter of me trying to convince him that I was a good guy. That we would be better together," said Cruz. "So I told Kelly, bedtime is my time. Every night for the past 372 days. I pick him up, pray for him, lay him in the crib and kneel next to him."
The last thing his son sees before he falls asleep each night is his dad on his knees.
"But I can tell you that after a year I am his favorite person in the world," said Cruz. "See, I didn't win an argument with words. Sacrifice, humility, being on my knees, and love won the argument."
Cruz reminded us that the world can't wait for us to get it together.
"We don't have to be a perfect church to share a perfect savior," he said.
"Be an obedient church."