One With Each Other: 2019 North Georgia Annual Conference Report


North Georgia Annual Conference
The Classic Center, Athens, Ga.
June 11-14, 2019
Bishop Sue Haupert-Johnson, presiding

The 2019 North Georgia Annual Conference session was held June 11-14 at The Classic Center in Athens, Ga. With a theme of "One With Each Other,” the Conference focused on the prayer from our United Methodist Communion liturgy, “May we be one with Christ, one with each other, and one in ministry to all the world.” Bishop Sue Haupert-Johnson presided.

Put on Love: Worship and Music at the North Georgia Annual Conference

Four worship services anchored the conference.

Opening Worship
Members of Annual Conference were on their feet or moving in their seats as the 2019 North Georgia Conference opened with worship! Bishop Sue Haupert-Johnson preached on Colossians 3:1-17. She used the text from The Message translation.

“Our goal is to introduce each and every human being to Christ and his love!" she said in her sermon.

Bishop Sue shared two video examples of loving others and living in loving community.

“My first image of the church is Curtis’ bus," she said after playing a video from CBS Sunday Morning about the Dallas, Texas bus driver. (WATCH VIDEO)

Her second image of the church was a community like this one in Newton, Massachusetts where neighbors show their love to a two-year-old by learning sign language. (WATCH VIDEO)

“Regardless of what else you put on, put on love," said Bishop Sue in closing. "It is your, basic all-purpose garment.”
The service ended with Holy Communion. All were invited to write a prayer on a strip of paper and to bring their prayer with them as they received. The prayers were connected into paper prayer links that lined the Grand Hall. 

Service of Remembrance
The Conference paused from business on Wednesday to recognize 46 saints who have gone before us. Rev. Dr. David Naglee, retiring District Superintendent from the Rome-Carrollton District, was preacher and the inspiring Glenn Memorial UMC Chancel Choir was guest choir. 

Naglee told a story about his grandmother's cookie jar. She was surprised when that was all he wanted of the things she owned.

"It represents your generosity and your love," he told her. "When I was a kid I could have a cookie any time I wanted."

"It was valuable because of what had been in it and what it meant about my grandmother," he continued. 
Naglee explained that he thought about that cookie jar when he was asked to preach this sermon. Apostle Paul recognizes that each of us is handmade and unique, he explained, and there's something fragile about us. We're open to flaw and defect and can be broken.

"Paul says into this fragile vessel, a treasure has been placed," Naglee said.

The clergy, spouses, and laity recognized at this service were treasures in earthen vessels he said. We have a treasure in earthen vessels. What are you going to do with your treasure? 

Service of Ordination, Commissioning, and Licensing
On Thursday evening, the Annual Conference came together to praise God, to hear the holy word, and to seek for ourselves and others the power, presence, and direction of the Holy Spirit. We celebrated a sacred moment for 27 licensed local pastors, 18 provisional members, two ordained deacons, and 16 ordained elders. 

The tone for the service was set by the magnificent Ben Hill UMC Choir. 

Rev. Dr. Alice Rogers, superintendent of the Gainesville District, preached on 1 Corinthians 12:4-14, 26-34.

"We are all different, and yet the same Lord is Lord of all. And the same spirit breathes upon and empowers us all," she said. "This is the concept the Apostle Paul celebrates."

On our very best days, she explained, we not only believe this, but we act like this. 

"When forces threaten to divide you, remember and practice that 'love is patient, love is kind, it isn’t jealous, it doesn’t brag, it isn’t arrogant, it isn’t rude, it doesn’t seek its own advantage, it isn’t irritable, it doesn’t keep a record of complaints, it isn’t happy with injustice, but it is happy with the truth. Love puts up with all things, trusts in all things, hopes for all things, endures all things.'"

After the last elder had been ordained, Bishop Sue shared that many years ago she was ordained by Bishop Cornelius Henderson, a beloved son of this Conference. He spoke often of his church, Ben Hill in Atlanta. Tonight, Ben Hill UMC joined her on stage as she ordains others. 

"God calls so many different people, and God keeps calling because the world cries out for those who will tend to the brokenhearted, to the weary, to the sick, to the lost," said Bishop Sue. 

We praise God for those who said, "Speak Lord, your servant is listening." 

Service of Sending Forth
Rev. Dr. Michael McQueen, pastor of St. James UMC Alpharetta, preached the closing worship service, sending us forth to "Keep the Main Thing, The Main Thing." McQueen preached on Matthew 6:25-33. 

"Don't worry about how the vote went or how the vote will go," he said. God is still "large and in charge." 

The conflict before the church today isn't new, McQueen reminded the Conference. "The church was born in conflict and there has always been conflict in the church," he said. "But the church also has the presence of the peace of the Holy Ghost."

McQueen challenged us to exhibit love toward each other, to work toward a church that's authentic and relevant, and to find more creative ways to bring more people to Christ. 

"At the end of the day, love, forgiveness, and reconciliation are the order of the day," he said. 

The prayers that were written in opening worship were weaved into a pastoral prayer offered by Emily Whiten in closing worship.

As our Annual Conference began with Holy Communion, it also closed with Holy Communion. 

Bishop Sue Haupert-Johnson shared the final benediction, reminding us that whatever we put on, wear love. 
The Annual Conference House Band and Music Coordinator
Gerald Lee Ricks, the conference music coordinator, brought together and led the musicians from across North Georgia. Throughout the week, talented musicians provided holy moments, humor, and energy. Leading us in songs like “Love Train” (People all over the world, join hands, start a love train, love train), “The Summons” (Will you come and follow me if I but call your name?), and beloved hymns such as “Come Thou Fount” (Come thou fount of every blessing, Tune my heart to sing thy grace), the house band was an audible example of the unity we seek.

2020 Delegation

The North Georgia Annual Conference elected its delegation to the 2020 General and Jurisdictional Conferences of The United Methodist Church. All are invited to join the delegation in prayer and fasting on Thursdays from July 1 through the General Conference in May. 

Clergy Members of the Delegation

(General Conference)

Byron Eric Thomas
Philip Daniel Schroeder
Patricia Alice Rogers
Jasmine Rose Smothers
Glenn Leland Ethridge
Bernice Williams Kirkland
Shannon Elizabeth Karafanda
Elizabeth Camak Larocca-Pitts
Nora Elizabeth Colmenares 
Dalton Troy Rushing
Eric Matthew Lee

(Jurisdictional Conference) 
Terry Eugene Walton
Quincy Durand Brown
James Carlton Cantrell
Joya Lenita Abrams
Dana Allen Everhart
Karen Miyoshi Kagiyama
William Carter Zant
Amy Valdez Barker
Millie Luke Kim
Yvette Denise Massey
Blair Bosta Setnor

(Alternate Delegates)
Jessica Terrell
Michael Long
Catherine Boothe Olson
David Allen Grady
Carolyn Stephens

Lay Members of the Delegation

(General Conference)

Jane Finley
Randy Brown
Jeff Jernigan
Odell Horne Jr
Chuck Savage III
Debby Stikes
Gary Fuller
Janet Sligar
Tonya Murphy
Rachel Fullerton
Bill Martin

(Jurisdictional Conference)
Ray Cann
Nathaniel Abrams
David Gray
Leon Jourolmon
Lee Highsmith
Amy King
Jay Horton
Ben Fletcher
Gwen Hamill
Liza Kittle
Maxine Easom 

(Alternate Members)
Dan Parr
Elijah Shoaf
Elizabeth Corrie
Tina A. Kirkland
Joel Taylor

Being One With Each Other: Learning from Gary Mason

Rev. Dr. Gary Mason gave four rich and meaningful presentations to the North Georgia Conference. Mason is a world-renowned and heavily consulted Methodist pastor. He directs a conflict transformation organization based in Belfast called "Rethinking Conflict."
Mason shared his own story of having lived through violent conflict in his hometown of Belfast and his role in the Northern Ireland Peace Process. 

He shared theological and biblical foundations for peacemaking, conflict resolution, and reconciliation. And he explained how toxic theology fanned into the culture and allowed people of faith to eventually kill one another. 

It began, he said, with the teaching of contempt.
“People have hated in the name of the God of love," he said. He cautioned us to be careful of the powerful nature of religion to move people
“Religion is like fire, it warms but it also burns," he said. "And we are the keepers of that flame.”

He shared insight into how we can accomplish this difficult task, beginning with learning to "disagree better" and see our own shortcomings.
“Everyone thinks Jesus is just like them,” he said citing a study where participants were asked questions about what they thought Jesus' personality was like. Then they were asked in a follow-up question to describe themselves. 
Calling on North Georgia United Methodists to bring grace to their communities, he quoted George MacLeod: 

I simply argue that the cross be raised again 
at the centre of the marketplace 
as well as on the steeple of the church. 
I am recovering the claim that 
Jesus was not crucified 
in a cathedral between two candles 
but on a cross between two thieves 
Because that is where He died,
And that is what He died about.
And that is where Christ’s own ought to be,
And that is what church people ought to be about.

He implored us to open our eyes to the world around us. "I want a theology that spills into the public space," said Mason. "Escapism has nothing to do with Biblical Christianity."

Mason gave North Georgia United Methodists pointed advice. 
  • Only be critical of others when we have been critical about ourselves. 
  • Repentance precedes reconciliation.
  • Reconciliation means dialogue. 
  • The gospel of grace can bring about reconciliation. 
  • Quoting a Time Magazine article, he said: "Forgiveness does not seem like a tool for survival in a bad world, but that is exactly what it is."

"My final appeal is this," he said in closing. "You need to hear each other better."

Conference members Lily Berrios, Bill Stikes, and Byron E. Thomas joined Mason for a panel discussion moderated by Ellen Shephard and DuWanna Thomas. The panelists discussed "big rocks" for North Georgia United Methodists. They discussed the need to provide spaces for people to articulate pain and experiences and they shared tools they use personally to keep their faith healthy.

Reports, Awards, and Presentations


The Conference celebrated, learned, and discerned during reports and presentations this week.
Denman Awards
The Conference Evangelism committee presented the 2019 Denman Award to three worthy recipients:
  • Clergy: Heather Jallad, Associate Pastor, Douglasville First UMC
  • Laity: Shirley Alcorn, Lay member, Bethlehem First UMC
  • Youth: Ariel Murphy, Youth member, Headland Heights UMC

Missionary Commissioning and Celebration of US-2 Candidates
The North Georgia Conference had the honor of taking part in the blessing and commissioning of Global Ministries missionary and celebrating Global Mission Fellows. 

Amy Valdez Barker of the General Board of Global Ministries presented Luis Mauricio Velasquez for commissioning as a Global Ministries Missionary with Projected Placement in Sun Prairie, Wisconsin.

The conference celebrated and prayed blessings upon Hangoul Choi of Mt. Pisgah UMC who will be a Global Mission Fellow with a Projected Placement in Thessaloniki, Greece; and Lauren Elizabeth Norton of Carrollton First UMC who will be a US-2 with Projected Placement in Alaska. They begin their training and commissioning this summer.

Credit Union Scholarship
This year's North Georgia Conference recipient of the United Methodist Connectional Federal Credit Union Scholarship is Austin Euler of East Lake UMC. Austin will attend Clark Atlanta University in the fall. 
Churches of Excellence
Churches of Excellence in Outreach Awards were presented to Carrollton First UMC, Cornerstone UMC, Douglasville First UMC, East Cobb UMC, Northside UMC, Oak Grove UMC, and Vinings UMC.
Disaster Response
North Georgia churches gave $155,650 to South Georgia Disaster Relief, $104,235 to the North Carolina Conference Disaster Response effort, and $314,246 to the United Methodist Committee on Relief for other U.S. disaster relief efforts last year. More than 80 teams from North Georgia served in Disaster Response in the past year. Bishop Sue recognized Scott Parrish for being an unsung hero, shepherding North Georgia to serve in new ways and more ways in response to widespread need. Hurricane season starts this month.
Fresh Expressions 
The Fresh Expressions movement is growing in North Georgia. What are the right ingredients for a Fresh Expression in your community? Every member of the Annual Conference who was interested was offered a recipe card with steps to receive a $500 micro-grant to get started! Watch and share the video to get cooking on an idea.
Committee on Episcopacy Report
The Episcopacy Committee celebrated Bishop Sue's leadership in North Georgia and recognized recent milestones for the episcopal family. Samantha graduated from high school this May, receiving the prestigious Atlanta Journal-Constitution Cup for outstanding senior. She will attend the University of Florida in the fall. The committee celebrated Rev. Allen Johnson's new appointment to Johns Creek UMC. They also shared that Bishop Sue will take a 3-month renewal leave beginning in July. Jane Brooks, assistant to the bishop, will serve as the contact point for the bishop’s office during this time.

Delegation Report
Acknowledging that much has already been said and reported on the 2019 Special General Conference, delegation leader Mathew Pinson shared from his heart about how his experience at the session emboldened him to carry on the work of the Methodist movement on behalf of his children, remembering their baptism vows. 

Laity Lunch
More than 600 laity gathered for the North Georgia Conference laity lunch on Wednesday, June 12. Speaker Dr. Tom Jackson, a long-time member of the Conference and an active member of Athens First UMC, spoke to the laity about his deep Methodist roots and his faith. Find his address at the link below.
Retirement Recognition and Anniversary Celebration
The 2016 General Conference mandated that conferences adopt an 8-year assessment program by 2020. This year, North Georgia launches our version of the program: Growing U. The program launched with the recognition of 8-year anniversaries of clergy in our Conference. We then celebrated 40 retirees and their spouses and families.

Fixing of the Appointments and Prayer
Throughout the Conference, we took time to recognize and pray for district superintendents, lay leaders, retirees and clergy taking new appointments. Bishop Sue Haupert-Johnson fixed the appointments of the newly appointed clergy in each district.
Pension & Health Benefits
The Pension and Health Benefits report included updates on the status of net assets and recommendations from the board. We welcomed new staff member Amy King, who will follow Karen Fullerton in the role of Benefits Officer when Fullerton retires in July. "Karen has served the Conference for 33 years," said Keith Cox. "She has touched countless lives with her care. She leaves a legacy of service and competence." The conference members, many of whom have seen that care and competence first-hand, gave a standing ovation. 
DART Committee
The District Administrative Review Team reported that the Conference has accomplished the transition to centralized accounting for District Work Funds and has begun the process of transitioning to a centralized investment management arrangement with the Georgia United Methodist Foundation. They have also developed an equitable pay scale to begin to address discrepancies in District Administrative Assistant salaries. The goals established by the members of DART have been achieved and the committee will be disbanded.

Conference Board of Trustees
“I want to remind the Annual Conference of what I hope you already know and remember: our North Georgia Conference is gifted with resources of leadership, churches and financial strength as we strive to fulfill the mission of the United Methodist Church,” said John Simmons, chair of the Board of Trustees. The report included updates on real estate property and sales, Wesley Campership funds that went toward sending 227 young people to camp in 2018, the work of a relocation committee to explore options for the future of the United Methodist Center when the lease expires in March 2023, availability of partnership with SteepleCom, progress on the establishment on the Windfall Committee, and a new way to distribute the Park Eye Fund.

UM Commission on Higher Education
The Georgia United Methodist Commission on Higher Education shared about the vital role campus ministry can play in the life of young adults - particularly young adults experiencing a crisis. Our UM Commission has accomplished a goal set four years ago: today every campus ministry is actively growing - more than 10,000 students in Georgia who participate in United Methodist campus ministry. This vibrant ministry is poised to help address the challenge of the rising rate of depression, anxiety, and mental health issues in young adults. 

Campus ministries can provide a place to discover community, seek help, and discover the redemption of Jesus Christ. To partner with the UM Commission in this initiative, text your name and church to 770-854-7283.

Camp and Retreat Ministries
Russell Davis, director of North Georgia Conference Camp and Retreat Ministries, shared a 2015 study led by the University of Chicago. The study found that, contrary to our common assumptions, children raised in religious households were less empathetic and less altruistic than their secularly raised peers. "The challenge we face as a church isn’t beyond us or between us – it is us," he said. "We must be willing to risk offering ourselves to others, and offering a place of belonging to the world." 

Davis gets asked a lot, often by campers, “Why can’t church be more like camp?” It's not a fair question because ... waterfall. But Davis does have lessons from two core principles of North Georgia Camp Ministry that may be equally powerful in the local church. 

The first practice is "Creating Time: Be With Each Other.” The second: “Courageous Vulnerability - Be Real With Each Other.”
Resolution Adopted: “Helping to End Suicide in the Church Amongst At-Risk Individuals”
The Conference adopted Resolution 701, "Helping to End Suicide in the Church Amongst At-Risk Individuals.” The Center for Congregational Excellence along with the Conference Council on Youth Ministries will begin development of resources for churches and youth leaders to offer support and intervention for young people at risk of suicide.

Generosity and Vitality

The Annual Conference celebrated and practiced generosity. 
Council on Finance and Administration
In 2018 North Georgia United Methodists paid 95.2% of apportionments (totaling $20,965,001), the highest percentage paid since 2001. The 2020 budget was approved as recommended and is set at $20,984,649. The total includes $775,000 reclassified from the 12 District budgets. 
Annual Conference Special Offering
A conference-wide offering for the Pastoral Care Program of Wesley Woods was received. The total is $69,146.73 and counting as gifts continue to come in. An offering for the North Georgia Conference Ministerial Education Fund was taken Thursday evening totaled $5,543.41.
Serving With Each Other
On Tuesday afternoon, North Georgia United Methodists packed 5,000 snack bags, 1,000 literacy kits, and 1,000 hygiene kits—all for kids and seniors in need in Georgia. The evening was sponsored by North Georgia Conference related agencies Action Ministries, United Methodist Federal Credit Union, the Housing and Homeless Council, the Georgia United Methodist Foundation, Wellroot Family Services, Murphy-Harpst, Wesley Woods, Aldersgate Home, and the Georgia United Methodist Commission on Higher Education. (And, not to be remiss, we also gathered around tables for delicious barbecue sandwiches and conversation!) 

5K "Fund" Run for the Youth Service Fund
The 5K run/walk was sponsored by the Conference Council on Youth Ministries. Proceeds went to the Youth Service Fund, a fund raised by youth, administered by youth, to support youth-led mission projects in our Conference.

Membership and Statistics
The North Georgia Conference reports the following membership and statistics:
  • Membership in 2018 was 353,110 which is a net loss of 1% as compared to 2017.
  • Average worship attendance for 2018 was 105,053. This reflects a 2% decrease.
  • The total number of persons who worshiped online in 2018 increased to 21,755, reflecting an increase of 38%.
  • In 2018 we had 4,006 Professions of faith
  • The total number of community ministries for outreach, justice, and mercy offered by the local church was 4,990 in 2018, which is an increase over 2017.
  • In 2018, $419,800 was given for General Advance Specials remitted to the Annual Conference.

The next North Georgia Annual Conference will be held June 18-20, 2020 (Thursday through Saturday) at The Classic Center in Athens.
— Sybil Davidson, Conference Communicator