North Georgia's General Conference Delegation gathered on Saturday, August 26, at Mt. Bethel UMC in Marietta. This was their first meeting since the 2016 General and Jurisdictional Conferences.
The delegation convened to begin preparing for the work of the Special Called Session of General Conference in 2019. They have scheduled four meetings between now and May of 2018.
Dr. Ellen Ott Marshall of the Candler School of Theology and the Rev. Hal Jones of our United Methodist Children’s Home will be working with the delegation at these meetings on topics related to “Conflict Transformation,” “Listening Skills,” “Dialogue Strategies,” and other related material.
"We must prepare well for the work that is to come," explained Mathew Pinson, delegation chair. "We are taking this time to reacquaint ourselves with one another, to acknowledge that the Annual Conference reaffirmed our work together, and to prepare ourselves to be able to discuss what comes from the Commission on a Way Forward."
As leaders, the delegation will need to both participate in and facilitate crucial conversations.
"There is a great deal of value in gathering together as a delegation in the months leading up to the called 2019 General Conference Session," said Rev. Dr. Alice Rogers, a clergy member of the delegation. "We are able to engage intentionally in focused conversations on the same issues the Commission on the Way Forward is discussing; we have the opportunity to strengthen our 'community' and commitment to the church in the midst of our diversity; and we have the privilege of working with experts in conflict transformation to help guide our work."
Dr. Marshall and Rev. Jones offer the delegation a wealth of professional experience. Dr. Marshall is a professor of Christian Ethics and Conflict Transformation and Rev. Jones offers expertise in group dynamics.
"I was very skeptical of the process going in, but coming out was very impressed with the content," said Jeff Jernigan, a lay member of the delegation. "A real-time survey tool was introduced that I think could help many local churches."
Among the business conducted by the delegation was the election of the Rev. Dr. Phil Schroeder as vice chair. He takes on the role previously held by Bishop Sharma Lewis before her election as bishop.
Bishop Sue Haupert-Johnson served as chaplain at the August meeting.
"I was very impressed by the spiritual maturity of the North Georgia delegation and the love they have for each other," said Bishop Sue. "They love each other enough to enter into difficult conversations that honor their oneness in Christ. Although it is a diverse group with theological differences, I have no doubt that each member of the group loves Jesus Christ and his Church."
As chaplain for the day the bishop focused on 1 Peter 3:8-12, which reminds followers of Christ to have "unity of spirit, sympathy, love for one another, a tender heart, and a humble mind." It commands them to "...keep their tongues from evil and their lips from speaking deceit."
"I lifted up Rabbi Jonathan Sacks's discussion of evil speech in his book Lessons on Leadership: A Weekly Reading of the Jewish Bible," explained Bishop Sue. "He says that evil speech, or lashon hara, is speech about people that is negative and derogatory. Rabbi Sacks emphasizes that the Jewish sages regarded it as one of the worst of all sins, worse than idolatry, incest, and murder combined, because evil speech kills three people: the one who says it, the one it is said about, and the one who hears it."
She committed to the delegation that in her leadership of the Conference she would take seriously Rabbi Sacks's challenge not to tolerate evil speech, and insist that we model the fruits of the Spirit in our dealings with one another.