Bound for Greater Things: North Georgia Annual Conference Report


North Georgia Annual Conference
The Classic Center, Athens, Ga.
June 7-9, 2016
Bishop B. Michael Watson, presiding

I assure you that whoever believes in me will do the works that I do. They will do even greater works than these because I am going to the Father. I will do whatever you ask for in my name, so that the Father can be glorified in the Son. When you ask me for anything in my name, I will do it. — John 14:12-14 (CEB)
The 2016 North Georgia Annual Conference session was held June 7-9 at The Classic Center in Athens, Ga. With a theme of "Bound for Greater Things" based on John 14:12-14, the North Georgia Conference marked its 150th session. Bishop B. Michael Watson presided over his ninth session of the North Georgia Annual Conference, and his last before his upcoming retirement.

In a conference session filled with celebration, a highlight was the music. Song leader Ralph Freeman, organist Dottie Hunt, musicians from Oak Grove UMC in Atlanta, a bluegrass band from Pine Log UMC, a choral ensemble from various churches, Dr. Don Saliers of Candler School of Theology, and other guest performers lent their talents to the three-day event. 

In addition to its sesquicentennial, members recognized the 60th anniversary of clergy rights for women, the 20th anniversary of the Order of Deacons, and the 10th Annual Conference 5K run.

Worship and Special Services

Guest preacher Bishop Bill McAlilly of the Nashville Area brought messages of hope and encouragement at Opening Worship and the service of Licensing, Commissioning and Ordination. In his sermon “Expecting Greater Things,” Bishop McAlilly reminded those assembled that we are to place our trust in Jesus, not in an institution, preacher, bank account or a bishop. “God is going to do something mighty if [we] will let God do something,” he said. 
“There are enough Methodists in this room to change the world,” he concluded. “Are you bound for greater things? I pray so.”

The North Georgia Conference commissioned 17 provisional elders and 4 provisional deacons, ordained 5 full connection deacons and 12 full connection elders, recognized a transfer of orders from elder to deacon, and recognized a transfer of orders from another denomination.

The ministry of 40 retirees was celebrated during the retirement service and passing of the mantle liturgy.

Rev. Wiley Stephens, retired, preached at the service of remembrance, reminding us that “we are indebted to each other.” And, “because of this cloud of witnesses, none of us are on this journey alone. We all need each other.” The Annual Conference honored 47 deceased clergy, clergy spouses and laity, ringing a handbell as each name was called.

A service celebrating the ministry of Bishop Mike Watson and Margaret Watson was filled with song, stories, and thanksgiving. Bishop Watson will retire in September 1 and will become Ecumenical Officer of the Council of Bishops

Representatives from North Georgia’s episcopacy committee, General Conference delegation, laity, and clergy addressed the Watsons at the service. "Under your leadership our debt has been reduced, membership has increased, bridges have been built, and our faith has deepened," said Skip Matson, chair of the Committee on Episcopacy. "We give thanks for the fact that God has allowed our paths to cross."

The Watsons spoke briefly sharing memories and words of thanks. 

"The United Methodist Church has taken us places we have never imagined and allowed us to have relationships with God's very finest, and to be able to close that chapter of our lives with North Georgia and with you, it's just been pure joy," said Bishop Watson to the members of the Annual Conference. Retired Bishop Alfred Norris offered the benediction. 

Bishop Watson presided over a service of commissioning for the offices of deaconess and home missioner. The North Georgia Conference commissioned Deaconess Rene Grant of the Ebenezer UMC in the Gainesville District and Home Missioner John David Jessup Peterson of St. Paul UMC in the Atlanta-Decatur-Oxford District. 

Reports and Awards

Mathew Pinson, delegation chair and conference lay leader, gave a General Conference report. "You were incredibly well represented," he said, sharing the great deal of preparation that took place, including nine day-long delegation meetings with leaders of the denomination and invaluable guidance from Bishop Woodie White, Bishop Alfred Norris, and Bishop Watson who each served as chaplains to the delegation. He thanked the many volunteers who traveled to Portland from our Conference. Pinson shared numerous pieces of legislation that were passed, and notable legislation that did not pass. Pinson concluded the report by making a motion that the Annual Conference affirm Rev. Sharma Lewis as the North Georgia Conference episcopal nominee. 

With a “Glory Hallelujah” the Annual Conference indeed affirmed Rev. Sharma Lewis as its episcopal nominee.

Thomas Kemper, General Secretary of Global Ministries, reminded the conference that our United Methodist missionaries are “from everywhere to everywhere.” Kemper asked, “If we can Imagine No Malaria, can we Imagine Abundant Health for All?” and introduced Abundant Health: Our Promise to Children. Kemper also expressed Global Ministries’ excitement in creating the Center for Mission Initiative, bringing the global and local churches together to share mission innovations and mission theologies. Bishop Watson spoke on behalf of the annual conference to Kemper and Global Ministries, “You have our support! Welcome to Georgia!”

Scott Hughes, Director of Adult Discipleship Leadership Resources for Discipleship Ministries, awarded pastors Tariq Cummings and Theophilus Stanford of Allgood Road UMC with the One Matters award. The One Matters award is presented to a church in each annual conference that has reported the greatest increase in professions of faith from a previous report of zero professions of faith. The award comes with a gift of $1,000.

Ashley Gish, assistant campaign director of Imagine No Malaria, thanked the North Georgia Conference for its support in helping make the campaign a success. North Georgia United Methodists have given approximately $800,000 to the work to eradicate malaria.

Harry Denman Evangelism Awards were presented to Lisa Caine, clergy, Oconee Street UMC; Garey McManus, laity, Douglasville First UMC; and Caroline Douglas, youth, Douglasville First UMC.

The North Georgia Conference Churches of Excellence in Outreach awards were presented to the following churches: Cornerstone UMC, LaGrange District; Douglasville First UMC, Rome-Carrollton District; East Cobb UMC, Atlanta-Marietta District; Kelley Chapel UMC, Atlanta-Decatur-Oxford District; Hoosier Memorial UMC, Atlanta-College Park District; North Decatur UMC, Atlanta-Decatur-Oxford District; Northside UMC, Atlanta-College Park District; Oak Grove UMC, Atlanta-Emory District; University Heights UMC, Atlanta-Emory District; Vinings UMC, Atlanta-Marietta District; and Zoar UMC, Atlanta-Decatur-Oxford District.

Vitality, Finances, and Generosity

The Office of Connectional Ministries reported that the number of Vital Congregations in North Georgia has increased since joining this denominational effort four years ago.

The Board of Pensions and Health Benefits celebrated reaching fully-funded status on the Pre-1982 retirement liability. The Conference was able to reach this long-standing goal with proceeds from the sale of the Simpsonwood property and a $4 million gift from our Conference Foundation for Retired Ministers.

Keith Cox, Conference Treasurer and Director of Administrative Services, gave a summary of the Annual Conference’s financial report. Giving highlights included:
  • Conference Advances: $582,415
  • General Advance Specials: $238,709
  • Special Offerings: $1,092,554
  • Apportionment Payments: $21,645,161
In 2015, 700 churches (80% of all churches apportioned) supported regional and global ministries by paying 100% of their apportionments.
The Annual Conference passed a budget of $22,134,096 for 2017.

The members of the North Georgia Conference gave generously during the session, donating 96 pints of blood, giving $120,034 for the Raise the Roof offering that will go toward housing for the very poor, raising more than $2,500 for the Youth Service Fund through the 5k run and collecting 5,833 UMCOR health kits.
Membership stands at 361,503, up slightly from the previous year. Worship attendance stands at 117,845 and church school attendance stands at 46,988. Professions or reaffirmations of faith for 2015 stand at 5,120, down slightly from 2014. Young adults in small groups totaled 11,217 and other adults in small groups stands at 72,463 in 2015.
The 2017 North Georgia Annual Conference will be held June 13-15, 2017 at The Classic Center in Athens.
- Sybil Davidson, Conference Communicator