Oh, How We Worship: Annual Conference 2017


More than a theme, "Show Your Work: Worship That Inspires Action," was put into practice at the 2017 North Georgia Annual Conference session. The 3-day event focused on praise and worship, and emphasized the importance of worship planning and preparation. 

Four primary services themselves progressed through the stages of worship. The Annual Conference began with gathering (Opening Worship), moved into the word proclaimed (Service of Remembrance), a time of response (Ordination), and sending forth (Closing Worship). 

Planning for worship began in the fall of 2016, and each of the services was coordinated by excellent North Georgia Conference worship practitioners.

The four teams of worship planners were:

  • Rev. Sonny Sellers of Griffin First UMC and Rev. Eric Lee and Arturo Quintanilla with Chapel Roswell Band: Opening Worship
  • Rev. Cindi McDonald of Mt Carmel UMC and Atticus Hicks of Oak Grove UMC Decatur with the 9:35 Band: Service of Remembrance 
  • Rev. Jane Brooks, Assistant to the Bishop, and Gerald Ricks of Central UMC Atlanta: Service of Licensing, Commissioning and Ordination
  • Rev. Olu Brown of Impact UMC and the Impact Worship Team: Closing Worship and Communion
The teams collaborated with one another as well as liturgists, servers, musicians, and worship and visuals committees. Revs. Dave and Susan Allen Grady served as conveners and coordinated between the planning teams. Dr. Don Saliers of Candler School of Theology served as a consultant and adviser. 
Accompanying the four major services was a 20-minute time of discussion. The worship planners shared about their decision-making process and gave insight into how to incorporate some of the elements of the service in a local church setting.

Here's more of what members of Annual Conference 2017 experienced:

Go to the Font: Opening Worship

The 2017 North Georgia Annual Conference embraced its theme from the beginning. The spirit moved in a powerful opening worship service.

The service represented the "gathering" of the Conference and began with a processional from all corners of the room. District Superintendents, district lay leaders, Bishop Sue and Conference Lay Leader Bill Martin carried stones to pour into a large Ebeneezer, or font, at the foot of the stage. 

The service served as our official introduction to Bishop Sue Haupert-Johnson as presiding bishop.

A brief video introduced Bishop Sue before she preached. In it, she shares about accepting the call to serve as bishop. “My only agenda, in this whole thing, is to see the holy spirit in full force in every person and every church,” she said in the video.

Bishop Sue preached on the text Ephesians 4:1-6. She began with a video illustration -- a Heineken ad with the message, “Is there more that unites us than divides us?" She suggested that as the congregation watched, they replace the image of beer bottles on the table with the bread and the cup. “Sometimes it takes the secular world to show the church what we haven’t figured out yet,” she said.

The ad shows strangers with differing viewpoints meet and get to know one another. 

“Christ calls us to sit down, listen, and engage”, said Bishop Sue. “You may never agree with me, but you are called to love me, you are called to hear me, you are called to share worship with me.”

The Bishop challenged congregations to have difficult conversations and called for an end to church gatherings that don't feature the fruit of the spirit.

"Show me your love, show me your joy, show me your peace, show me your patience, show me your gentleness, show me your kindness, show me your generosity, show me your self control, go to the font and show me your work,” she concluded. 

The highlight of the service was the baptism of Rowan Atticus Hicks, surrounded by his family, and baptized by his grandmother Rev. Nanci Hicks and Bishop Sue.

Show Your Work: In the Kitchen With Opening Worship Planners

In an experience unique to this Conference, each worship service was accompanied by a discussion with the worship planners. After the Opening Worship, Lee, Sellers, and Bishop Sue pulled up stools and talked about how they planned Opening Worship.

"Worship takes preparation," Sellers began. 

Lee emphasized the importance of three things: communications, creativity, and collaboration.

"Teamwork and collaboration is critical," he said. He also encouraged churches to experiment and try new things. "It doesn’t matter how big or small your church is, have a team that can collaborate, be creative, and communicate about worship." 

Bishop Sue recommended a great resource for public speakers - clergy or laity - "Talk like Ted: The 9 Public Speaking Secrets of the World’s Greatest Minds." The book expands on nine keys to success: Passion, Stories, Conversational Tone, Jaw Dropping Moments, Illustrations, Humor, Memorable and Multisensory, Eighteen Minutes. 

Go Rest High on That Mountain: Service of Remembrance 

Wednesday afternoon's Service of Remembrance began with a processional of clergy and laity carrying stones painted with the names of the clergy, clergy spouses and laity being remembered. The name of each of person was read aloud and the stones were placed in the Ebenezer at the foot of the stage. 

The congregation joined Oak Grove UMC's 9:35 Band in singing of "Go Rest High on that Mountain." 

Rev. Jimmy Moor, a retired elder, preached on hope and memory.

“We remember these people today, not because of what they did, but because of who they were, and who they were for us,” he said. “We remember how they showed us what it means to be Christian, and what it means to be a human being.”

He asked the congregation to take a moment and remember those we have lost.

“They had weaknesses, they made mistakes, sometimes they struggled, sometimes they stumbled, but they carried God's baptismal font, and God was with them in their stumbles and their mistakes. God carried them through, and God transformed them,” he said.

Moor lifted up the powerful message in the chorus of the song “Go Rest High On The Mountain” and invited the audience to sing it one more time with him. 

“I have a vision of these, our departed loved ones, and they are singing on their way to heaven,” he said.

Show Your Work: Service of Remembrance 

Cindy McDonald, Atticus Hicks and Jimmy Moor pulled stools to the table to share how they planned the Service of Remembrance. They made the decision early in the process to celebrate the lives of people remembered, recognizing grief, pain and sadness, but moving on to remembering a life well lived. 

Their hope was that we would all take a journey that was helpful and healing. 

Moor and Hicks collaborated on the music choice of "Go Rest High on That Mountain." Moor considered singing the chorus in the sermon, an idea McDonald and Hicks liked so much that Hicks suggested singing the full song earlier in the service. 

McDonald wrote the opening prayer, keeping in mind the scripture and service. In it she lifted up preachers and lay leaders, saints who folded chairs and washed dishes, saints who trusted in God's mercy, parents and grandparents, sisters and brothers, the courageous and committed, and all who helped us know the Lord.

She also spoke about the banners used as backdrops on the stage. An artist from Mount Carmel UMC, Tara Campbell, created the banners specifically for the event.

The team emphasized the importance of being flexible and allowing ourselves to let go of some ideas. 


God is Already There: Service of Licensing Commissioning and Ordination

Wednesday night, Bishop Sue Haupert-Johnson, licensed 26 local pastors, commissioned 13 provisional members, ordained four full-connection deacons, and ordained 11 full connection elders. 

In a show of support, more than 300 robed clergy processed into the service to be seated behind their new colleagues. Retired bishops, Bishop Woodie White and Bishop Alfred Norris, each participated in the service. 

The powerful and talented choir of Central UMC with leader Gerald Ricks, Robert McMichael, and Jarvis Wilson brought the congregation to its feet. 

Bishop Sue offered the sermon. Opening by saying that Luke is her favorite gospel because no detail is ignored, she shared guidance from the scripture.

To the new clergy, she offered comfort. 

"The pressure is off," she said. "We just have to show up. God is already there. We're sending you in the name of Jesus to meet him."

She said she turned to this knowledge when she faced new appointments. "God is sending me to where he already is," said Bishop Sue. "There is nothing I meet there that I can't handle with his help."

She offered these words of advice paraphrased from scripture:

  • We need you to lead the people of the church out of church to draw in people who do not know Christ. 
  • Travel light. 
  • Live simply. 
  • Eat what's before you (in other words, adapt to the culture; don't be picky). 
  • Don't go from house to house (or move from church to church in your mind). 
  • When you go to a house, offer peace. If they share your peace, your peace rests on them. If they don't accept your peace it will come back to you.  "Only years in ministry did I realize how often I let my peace go," said Bishop Sue. "The only thing that will help you keep your peace is daily time with scripture, daily time in prayer."
  • Offer healing. 
  • Pray for more workers. 

"You'll look back at appointment after appointment, years down the road, and in every appointment you will have learned something," she said. 

You will see the power of God. There is no better calling. No better job. No better thing to do in this world. We are sending you out to the wolves, but you will see miracles in the midst of them. May you have rich ministry and may you see miracles like we have all seen."

Show your Work - Service of Ordination, Commissioning, and Licensure

Gerald Ricks, Jane Brooks, Robert McMichael, and Terri Lemons shared about planning the service of ordination in the session prior to the service. In a change from year's past, Bishop Sue invited all the clergy to participate by wearing robes and processing in to sit behind their new colleagues. The service is about Response, and is a traditional and formal service with a focus on those being licensed, commissioned, and ordained.

"You need a lot of helpers to plan something like this," said Brooks. 

McMichael shared about some of the music. Many songs were from one of the newest resources of the UMC which is the Africana Hymnal, including Here I Am Lord, which the members of Conference sang to become familiar before the service. 

From the planning sessions, the team felt that allowing a way for those who feel called to ministry to respond in this service seemed important. Toward the end of the service, the bishop gave an invitation to anyone interested in this calling into ministry to come and speak with a clergy person. Many responded, moving to an area where they could talk and pray with members of the Board of Ordained Ministry.


Closing Worship: We Lift Up Our Praise, Lord

As the North Georgia Conference gathered for closing worship, the Impact Worship band began the service with music and words of praise. Speakers read scripture and prayed. Liturgical dancers performed.

Communion liturgy was woven throughout the service and came from liturgists in three locations around the room.

Rev. Olu Brown preached on Paul’s words to Timothy, compelling the congregation to “Show Your Work.”

“Paul often talks about work,” said Brown. "Paul is encouraging Timothy to show his work. He says, let your work be something you live through your life. Make an effort to present yourself as a tried and true worker who interprets the message of truth correctly.”

Brown called on North Georgia United Methodists to do the work of Jesus Christ so souls can be saved.

“The work ahead is not easy,” he said. “God says you are a tried and true worker. Not for the banking community, not for the education community, not for the entertainment community – for the work of Jesus Christ.”

Brown shared a song he listens to when he feels like giving up.  

“I go to a song by Travis Green called “You Made a Way,” he said. “We’re standing here only because God made a way.”

He offered encouragement to never be ashamed to show our work.

“We’ve been called,” he said. “God is calling us to have courage right now."

The service culminated in the sharing of Holy Communion. 

Show Your Work: Service of Sending Forth

Impact Church, led by Rev. Olu Brown, planned the final worship experience and communion service for Annual Conference. The team gathered on stage beforehand to talk about the process. Planning for the service started last year and the goal was to bring Impact worship to the North Georgia Conference. The goal at Impact is to do church differently.

Candi Cylar explained that at every Impact worship experience, the team’s focus is to keep God and Christ at the center and for people to feel engaged just like they would in their lives outside the church.

“As we begin planning, we dream together,” she said. “We get excited about how we can connect what we see in the world to the church. In planning this service, we first came together to dream.”

From that they considered an experience they tried last year in the church with a dramatization called clown communion.

“We were looking to express communion in a different way,” she said. “In the service you will hear spoken word along with movement and dance.”

After they dream, the team begins planning. Rev. Terri Lemons shared that communion takes an additional team at Annual Conference because of the number of participants. She recruited 93 communion servers that represented the diversity of our Conference.

Rev. Joya Abrams, associate pastor at Impact, shared a charge Brown gave her when she came on staff. “As a church, how do we take these mysteries God has shown to us and make them accessible to people who, for instance, may have never heard of communion.” she said. “What you’ll experience today is that we’ll bring in things familiar and twist them just a bit to communicate this amazing grace we experience at the table. So that when people come to the table, they know this grace is for them.”

Victor Smith takes the great ideas and makes them come to life on screens and online.

Brown explained that at Impact they refer to worship as an experience rather than a “service.” We want it to be engaging and for worship to inspire people to make a commitment to Jesus Christ.

“If they’ve already made a commitment to Jesus Christ, we want them to leave with a deeper commitment,” he said.