Annual Conference Update: Wednesday June 13


Here on Business: Day 2 of Annual Conference

Powerful worship and witness anchored the second day of the North Georgia Annual Conference. Members celebrated the lives of those who have joined the great cloud of witness in our Service of Remembrance and said yes to the unique call on their lives in the Service of Licensing, Commissioning and Ordination. They honored retiring clergy who pass the mantle to the newly ordained. They also ran an early morning 5K, heard reports from administrative committees and conference ministries, and gave generously. Gifts to our Conference-wide offering for the Ministerial Education Fund totaled $74,018.39 by night's end.


See photos from the week taken by the photographers of the Associate Secretary team. VIEW PHOTOS

Ordination, Commissioning, and Licensing

Tonight the North Georgia Conference ordained 8 elders in full connection, 2 deacons in full connection, commissioned 15 provisional members, and licensed new local pastors in a service with powerful music from the St. James UMC Alpharetta Choir and a stirring message. 

Preacher Rev. Dr. Byron Thomas empowered the congregation.

"You are not here by accident. You are here on business," he said. "And therefore your worth does not come from anyone outside yourself. You were born in this world with intrinsic worth or value. If you did not grow up in the best of circumstances, it's alright. God already incorporated into your very fiber worth and value."

This may seem like a far stretch, he said.

"But let's call Luke's gospel for a minute. The Angel Gabriel was sent to a village in Galilee called Nazareth ..." he began.

He confessed that the stakes are high and that everybody is not going to welcome you, "but your very soul has business in this world."

"Your time under God is right now," said Dr. Thomas. "You were born for such a time as this."

At the close of the service, Bishop Sue invited anyone feeling a call to ministry in their life to come forward to meet with the Board of Ordained Ministry.

"God is not done calling clergy into ministry in The United Methodist Church," she said. 

Closing with a final hymn from the St. James UMC Alpharetta choir, we were sent in Christ's name. 

Wednesday Morning

The Wednesday morning session started with singing: ‘Morning Has Broken,’ ’For the Beauty of the Earth,’ and ‘How Great Thou Art.’ Bishop Sue called the session to order and invited youth member Amanda Kiser of Walnut Grove UMC to pray. 

Members of Annual Conference used electronic voting devices for the day on Wednesday. The bishop led several rounds of practice votes to prepare. 

The Conference Board of Pension and Health Benefits was first to report. Conference Benefits Officer Karen Fullerton informed clergy on changes in tax law regarding moving expenses. This will increase pension for the month in which clergy receive their moving expenses. The board brought forth a motion on the clarification of the term “years of service" which passed. The board shared that our Pre-82 liability is now considered fully funded. 

Conference Treasurer and Director of Administrative Services, Keith Cox, shared that for the second consecutive year, we received the highest percentage of our Conference budget in 16 years, 94.7%! He acknowledged Rev. Dr. Bernice Kirkland and the Atlanta-College Park District on 99% apportionment payments, the highest of any district. "The United Methodist apportionment system has been around for over two centuries," said Cox. "It has, and continues to be, a proactive way that we can engage in worldwide ministry as a collective body of believers." Teresa Snyder offered an update on the conference audit process. Bishop Sue concluded the report by telling the story of a parishioner from one of her former churches, who on her last day before entering hospice stopped by the church to turn in her tithe check. She emphasized our responsibility to be great stewards of finances because of people like May.

Conference statistician Charles Broom shared that our Conference saw a decrease in church membership, average worship attendance, and professions of faith. However, we celebrated the increase in giving toward special Sundays and Advance specials, numbers up from 2016.

Bishop Sue turned the conference's attention to a Fresh Expressions video. Bishop Sue challenged North Georgia to create more Fresh Expressions of church.

Spiritual Disciplines 2: Who Are Your Neighbors
Rev. Andy and Rev. Anjie Woodworth of Neighborhood Church in the Atlanta-Emory District shared about the spiritual practice of "neighboring" and their experience in church and community in the Candler Park neighborhood of Atlanta. “Get out of the spaces we control and marvel at what God is doing,” they said.

Luckily, neighboring as a spiritual practice has no agenda, the Woodworths shared. “It is about a posture of humility. ...Asking questions, asking how others are doing, about seeing God in other people.”

The Woodworths inspired us to look up and look around. “The Life of Faith is an adventure. Let’s go live it!” 

Bishop Sue presided over a vote on a Constitutional Amendment that contained an error last year. Results are not reported at the present time but will be shared once the entire denomination has cast ballots. After the vote, Bishop Sue recognized Rev. Steve Napier who took a moment of personal privilege to say what this amendment means to his family. It was not submitted by a committee, but by his wife, with input from his daughter; an idea that began over dinner at their kitchen table.

Chris Karabinos, the North Georgia Conference Scouting Coordinator shared a video on scouting in our Conference. At the close of his report, Conference Lay Leader Bill Martin came to the stage with a presentation of The Silver Torch Award. This high honor is awarded to an adult for exemplary service to scouting and/or youth ministry. 

One report was removed from the Consent Agenda. The Charles Barnes Fund will be added to Thursday's agenda.

Mille Kim, Dean of the Georgia Pastors' School, encouraged all clergy to attend Pastors' School in July at Epworth By The Sea.

John Simmons, Chair of the Conference Board of Trustees, reported a successful first year with the Norton Agency of Gainesville as our agents and partners in the stewardship of properties in North Georgia. The sale of some properties led the Conference Board of Trustees to see the need for a “Windfall Committee” to make recommendations to the Conference Trustees and then to the Council on Finance and Administration concerning the best stewardship of funds received from property sales. In most cases, 75% of net proceeds go to the district and 25% go to the Charles Barnes Fund for Church Development. With the disparities in real estate valuations between metro and non-metro districts, the potential exists for some districts to accumulate large sums of investable assets. The Windfall committee will discuss and then make any recommendations for consideration by the Conference Trustees and then CFA. He reminded the Conference that the Trustees oversee the Wesley Campership Fund. This summer, the Trustees have made available $110,000 for camperships for needy children. Simmons also reminded members of the availability of the E.R. Park  Eye fund. Members considered a revised cemetery resolution as a result of the change in a standing rule last year that places responsibilities for cemeteries for abandoned or closed churches. The resolution passed.

S. Kelley Henderson, CEO of Action Ministries, is called upon by Bishop Sue to give his report on the ministries of this associated organization. He shared the ways we make a difference together when we serve. A video highlighted the important work of Action Ministries across North Georgia, including 127,000 people service. 

Michael McCord of the Georgia United Methodist Commission on Higher Education shared that "Students Matter!" The UMCommission celebrates a new partnership between Peachtree Road UMC and the Georgia Tech Wesley Foundation. "God is moving on our college campuses," said McCord. In the last three years the Wesley Foundations in our state have grown by 40 percent - reaching more than 5,000 college students. 

Rev. Dr. Byron Thomas led the Annual Conference in a poll similar to one taken by the General Conference Delegation, clergy at Clergy Days Apart. The poll gave us a sense of hopes and fears regarding the future of the church.

The Board of Ordained Ministry is offering new resources to support a Culture of Call. The board recommends that congregations invest further in those called to ministry, and advocates for a ‘Call Sunday’ annually. If individuals are feeling a call to ministry or interested in creating a Culture of Call in their church they are encouraged to visit for information. 

Representing retiring clergy, Rev. Robert Lawrence and Rev. Joy Melton, took part in the Passing of the Mantle liturgy with newly ordained clergy Rev. Robert King and Rev. Stanley Davidson. Retirees were recognized in a video and received certificates from the bishop and Rev. Dr. Dana Everhart. Everhart highlighted the extensive and excellent service of the retired ministers. 

The second session closed with prayer by youth delegate Ella Strickland of St. Paul UMC Washington St.

Service of Remembrance 

In a service that was both solemn and celebratory, the conference remembered 27 clergy, 14 spouses, and 4 of the many North Georgia Conference laity who have faithfully served and taken their places in the cloud of witness. The service was planned by Rev. Bill Britt and Peachtree Road UMC with preacher Rev. Elaine Puckett. 

"With great tenderness and tremendous joy we celebrate the many ways these lives have touched us," she said. "Sometimes collectively as a part of this church that we will all so dearly love."

A line in the closing song of Hamilton asks, "who keeps your flame, who tells your story?" said Puckett.

"In many ways that's what we are about today," she said. "One bishop, two who served as superintendents, at least 2 were local pastors, one was half of a clergy couple. Most had an opportunity to serve a small congregation in a far-off place. They were nurtured by families. They tended to the spiritual disciplines that move us to the perfect love of God and neighbor. They looked to Jesus as the creator and perfecter of their faith."

She closed with a challenge to the congregation.

"God still needs runners with unqualified commitment and tremendous perseverance," she said.

The names of each of the honored dead were read aloud as a bell was rung. After all were named a single bagpiper walked through the room, pausing at the altar, and exiting to the hallway, the music fading. 

"It is an honor to name those who have reached perfection," said Rev. Dr. Dana Everhart.

Afternoon Session

Rev. Laura Rappold of the Housing and Homeless Council celebrated the ministry of our Conference for more than 25 years. Clergy and laity from 12 districts collected more than $120,000 in the homeless offering this year that enabled 51 grants. Examples of grant recipients include the Mosiac Center of Mosaic UMC in Augusta — a place where people in the community can come daily for job help, literacy and financial training, recovery, and spiritual care —  and Clarkston UMC which offers many resources to the refugee community. 

Equitable Compensation provides guidelines and standards for pastoral support and helps churches provide compensation in difficult times. Chair Kathy Lamon shared reminders and best practices including that all pastors are to be paid in advance at the beginning of the month. Please pay pastors before paying apportionments, she said. The committee proposed a 3% incr inease the minimum salary of full-time clergy, which passed. Minimum housing allowance remains the same.

“Bold Women Inspire!” A video from United Methodist Women featured the work of bold women in our conference. This week the UMW has collected 4,000 UMCOR Kits. 

“We experience God through relationship with each other,” said Rev. Herzen Andone, director of Connectional Ministries.
A video featured ministries led by conference staff, volunteer ministry reps, and by ministry committees. These included collaborative children's ministry, innovative youth opportunities, mission and disaster response work (including more than $2 million given by North Georgia United Methodists to Disaster Response last year), suicide awareness, disabilities ministry, and ministry to those with mental illness. 

Spiritual Disciplines 3: “Opening Myself to God” 
Led by Lahronda Little, M.Div. Ph.D student at The Laney Graduate School of Emory University in the fall, and Rev. Julie Boone, Senior Pastor of McKendree UMC, the two explored “Examen and Fasting” and “Fixed Hour of Prayer." 

The prayer practice Examen serves to orient us with the love of God and how He is moving in our lives. "Review the day with God," said Little. "Take the opportunity to reflect on how we respond to conflict," she said. And take time for Renewal. Look to the day with God and live it according to God’s desire. 

She also shared about fasting. "Fasting attunes us to God," she explained. “Fasting reveals our excessive attachments." It shows how we put the material world before the spiritual. She says fasting doesn't have to be from food. It can be from television, social media, gossiping, negative attitudes. 

Boone encouraged us to find a balance between contemplation and life in the world. 

"John Wesley set aside time for prayer, praising, and thanking God seven times a day," she said. "Work, but set aside time to pray. The prayer is just as important as work."

Introduced as a lawyer, a dynamic leader, a wife, a mother, and a United Methodist, the 60th mayor of Atlanta, Keisha Lance Bottoms, greeted the North Georgia Conference. "This is a pinch-me moment," she said, just before spotting her former pastor Griffin District Superintendent Richard Winn in the audience. "It really is a pleasure to be here. I look forward to sharing with you over dinner. I'm grateful for you," she said. She spoke at the evening's Laity Dinner, sharing her inspiring personal faith story.

Congregational Development is about the work of creating new places for new people. Fresh Expressions vision days, Pioneer Learning Committees, and Fresh Expression grants are all available to congregations and members of our conference. 
This year there were 11 graduates from Black Church Development intern program. Now 22 interns have been selected for a second training. A fun video looked back at new ideas for ministry shared just four years ago. The same clergy shared updates on just how things went as they tried new things, empowered laity, and worked hard to get outside the walls of the church.

United Methodist Men has an exciting ministry developing - a "Younger Men’s Ministry." UMM has also launched a program to fight domestic violence, and is taking part in an internation mission project, Bikes and Bibles in Africa. They are an official affiliate of ‘Mobility Worldwide’. 

Leadership UMC gave us a glimpse into this ministry by video. There have been 643 graduates since 2002, including 46 in 2018. They also announced the new "Premium Program: Leadership Advanced."