The 2018 North Georgia Annual Conference "Raised the Bar," went "Country Dark," and sent young people off in ministry across the US and the world with our prayers and admiration!
In a service planned by Rev. Eric Lee and Arturo Quintanilla, and led by musicians from the Chapel Roswell Band, the North Georgia Conference opened with song, prayers, and praise. Worshipping in the languages of our diverse North Georgia Conference, we heard Spanish, Swahili, Korean, English and saw sign language. We prayed out loud in the Korean tradition. The energetic choir was made up of Conference Youth Members.
Bishop Sue Haupert-Johnson delivered the sermon for the opening service.
Preaching from Luke 18:9-14, Bishop Sue called the North Georgia Conference to cross any boundary, go anywhere, desperate to love people, and to "Go be good Methodists!"
Using the story of Ruby Turpin in Flannery O'Connor's short story "Revelation," Bishop Sue confessed our tendency to classify one another, just like the character.
"I am a human being and do the same thing. We are all Pharisees, categorizing by who's more righteus, much more holy, more close to Jesus," she said. "We always want to measure up and put ourselves a little above."
But there is another way.
"John Wesley realized there's a method to break us out of this bondage," said the bishop. "Prayer, reflection, time together in small groups and worship, all remind us that we are human and God is God."
"We have the method, we just have to reclaim it," she said.
A large wooden bar hangs high above the stage painted with the words from our Annual Conference theme, "Perfection in Love."
"We are way below perfection in love," said Bishop Sue. "We are way, low. The only thing that gets us to the bar is Jesus."
It begins in our prayer closet, where we open our hearts to God, she said.
"I'm a sinner in need of your grace and I need to be schooled in love. I want to think Christ's thoughts and see whith Christ's eyes, and wipe tears from eyes with his hands," prayed Bishop Sue.
"The best witness we can give is to love each other despite our differences," Bishop Sue said in closing.
"Go, be good Methodists!"
As Bishop Sue preached, an artist from Chapel Roswell began painting a large canvas in the background. The artist will continue to interpret Annual Conference from the floor of the Grand Hall this week.
Diving into our focus on Spiritual Disciplines, the Conference experienced the first of four teaching times. The session was led by Rev. Dr. Gregory C. Ellison II, author of "Fearless Dialogues" and faculty at Candler School of Theology, and the Rev. Dr. Ellen Shepard, pastor of Stone Mountain First UMC and Director of Women, Theology, and Ministry at Candler.
The practices of spiritual disciplines "help us stop, help us be present, help us listen to the still small voice of God,” said Shephard.
She explained Spiritual Types and the reality that two people can attend the same worship service and walk out with different experiences.
"It's about how we’re wired spiritually to experience God," she said.
Ellison spoke about our fears. Through the work of "Fearless Dialogues," gathering unlikely partners for conversation, he has come to recognize five fears:
Fear of the unknown, fear of strangers (one of those strangers is the stranger within), fear of appearing ignorant (people who fear this often fill the space with empty words), fear of plopping (sharing our truth and it plops, no one gets it), fear of oppressive systems (problems are too big for little ol' me to fix).
He shared about how to face the fears of the unknown through a story about "country dark" (as opposed to "city dark") because "there's some things you can only experience in the presence of the dark."
As a six-year-old visiting the country with his grandma, his hand was undetectable inches from his face. He was afraid. But he came to learn that night that "country dark" is God's gift to your senses and his fears melted away.
To end their session, Ellison and Shephard shared five quotes that help explain their journey.
The first business session included greetings, singing, and reports from several agencies. We began with a prayer from Matthew Martin of Dacula UMC.
The Host Committee and Superintendent Brian Clark welcomed the Conference back to Athens. “My deepest prayer is that it will be more than just business as usual,” said Clark. Athens Mayor Nancy Denson and Dr. Jere Morehead, president of the University of Georgia, addressed the Conference. Morehead has been a member of Athens First UMC for more than 30 years, and Denson reminded us that while she isn't a member of a United Methodist church, she is United Methodist one week a year.
The Committee on Episcopacy celebrated Bishop Sue's ministry in her second year in North Georgia. The appointments she has made are bearing fruit! 11 of the 25 fastest growing churches in our conference are churches with new pastors appointed by Bishop Sue. "We are thankful for Bishop Sue. For her fruit here in North Georgia, for her work with the council of bishops, and thankful for her guidance. The committee also recognized staff member Judy Bush and the Bishop's family.
Chair Mathew Pinson shared the report from our General Conference Delegation. At the close of the 2016 General Conference, they did not abandon their work. They have been diligently preparing for the 2019 Special General Conference. They've spent four sessions learning to see one another across deeply held differences. Pinson's prayer is for unity. "I pray for the unity of the church. Not unity for unity's sake, but for Christ’s sake. Because I pray for the unity of Christ's body in the world," he said. "It's an honor to serve you and this conference," closed Pinson.
The Cokesbury Ministry Resource Center is open in the Foundry Building featuring our bishop's requested titles, small group Bible studies, and other helpful resources. Cokesbury has launched several new and expanded resources including Deep Blue Connect, a new children's Sunday School program; the CEB Storytellers Bible; and Confirm, a confirmation program.
The Georgia United Methodist Foundation shared that they are a partner with United Methodist churches across the state. Their video highlighted ministry across the conference in churches and agencies. Georgia United Methodist Foundation's mission is simple: empowering people who change lives.
The United Methodist Connectional Federal Credit Union presented its annual scholarship to Andrew Long of Watkinsville First UMC. Long is attending NY Medical College. He is the son of North Georgia Conference clergy member Rev. Teresa Angle-Young. Credit Union services and membership are open to any member of a United Methodist Church in North Georgia.
The Standing Rules Committee highlighted four proposed amendments to Standing Rules. These are in our Conference Handbook.
Nominations reports are in our Annual Conference tote bags. Send corrections to the report to Pam Higgins at email@example.com.
The session closed with a prayer and blessing of three Global Missions Fellows: Kristi Painter of Hickory Flat UMC, Asti White of Trinity on the Hill UMC in LaGrange, and Julia Falgout of North Decatur UMC. "These are shining examples of our young people, and our institutions of higher learning that form and shape our young people," said Bishop Sue.