2017 North Georgia Annual Conference
In the church there is no "them." There is only "us."--Bishop Sue Haupert-Johnson
The 2017 North Georgia Annual Conference session was held June 13-15 at The Classic Center in Athens, Georgia. With a theme of "Show Your Work: Worship That Inspires Action,” the session focused on worship preparation and innovation. Bishop Sue Haupert-Johnson presided, marking her first annual conference as resident bishop in North Georgia.
It was a historic session in North Georgia, as Bishop Haupert-Johnson is the first woman to serve as episcopal leader in the conference. As she called the first session to order, the presider’s table was entirely staffed with women for the first time, including Conference Secretary Donn Ann Weber and four associate conference secretaries.
Oh, How We Worship
The annual conference embraced its theme from the beginning. Not only did the conference focus on worship, the 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). Each of the services was planned by teams of excellent North Georgia Conference worship practitioners from local churches.
Accompanying each service was a time to hear from the worship planners. Called “Show Your Work,” the discussions focused on the teams’ decision-making process, tips for local churches, and a look behind the scenes.
Beautiful visuals included a large Ebenezer, or font, that was utilized as a centerpiece of the session. It illustrated the message in the hymn “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing,” which was sung throughout the week. Prayer stations developed by youth invited members to engage with God in the midst of conference.
In opening worship, Bishop Haupert-Johnson preached on the text Ephesians 4:1-6.
“Christ calls us to sit down, listen, and engage,” said Bishop Haupert-Johnson.
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.
The highlight of the service was the baptism of Rowan Atticus Hicks. Surrounded by his family and members of Oak Grove United Methodist Church in Decatur, he was baptized by his grandmother the Rev. Nanci Hicks and Bishop Haupert-Johnson.
In the service of remembrance, the Rev. Jimmy Moor, a retired elder in North Georgia, 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.”
At the close of the sermon, he invited to conference to sing along with him the chorus of “Go Rest High on that Mountain,” by Vince Gill.
At the June 13 service of licensing, commissioning and ordination, the conference licensed 26 local pastors, commissioned 13 provisional members, ordained 4 full-connection deacons, and ordained 11 full connection elders. The choir from Central United Methodist Church in Atlanta brought the congregation to its feet with songs from the Africana hymnal.
In a new tradition, more than 300 robed clergy processed into the service to sit behind their new colleagues. Retired bishops, Bishop Woodie White and Bishop Alfred Norris, each participated in the service.
Bishop Haupert-Johnson offered the sermon sharing guidance from scripture and words of comfort to the new clergy.
"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."
The final worship service of the session was led by the Rev. Olu Brown and Impact Church. Communion liturgy was woven throughout the service.
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.”
Four Areas of Focus
The Four Areas of Focus of The United Methodist Church were celebrated throughout the session.
We learned about new places for new people with congregational development, which highlighted vital mergers taking place this year and new Fresh Expressions being launched.
We were asked, "Where do Principled Christian Leaders come from?" And found the answer in the Camp and Retreat Ministries report.
We heard from our ministry partners in the Philippines who sent a heartfelt message of thanks for a new autoclave donated by the North Georgia Conference to United Methodist-affiliated Mary Johnson Hospital to replace the one they had that was over 70 years old.
Dr. Deb McFarland of the Rollins School of Public Health of Emory University, and a member of Glenn Memorial United Methodist Church, was keynote speaker at the annual conference laity dinner. She focused on the value of public health projects.
We heard from mission agencies Action Ministries and the Housing and Homeless Council on an upcoming training and networking event, the “With Conference,” that will focus on best practices for ministry with the poor.
Reports and awards
Through report to the annual conference, members saw the reach of The United Methodist connection from our local communities, across our conference, and around the world.
We heard from related-agencies United Methodist Children's Home, Murphy-Harpst, Wesley Woods, and Aldersgate Homes as well as our Georgia United Methodist Foundation the United Methodist Connectional Federal Credit Union and the UM Commission on Higher Education.
The One Matters Award, given by Discipleship Ministries to a congregation that has grown in numbers and recovered from a struggle, was presented to Suwannee Worship Center United Methodist Church. The One Matters reward includes a $5,000 donation to the church to further the good work.
The North Georgia Conference Churches of Excellence in Outreach awards were presented to:
Carrollton First United Methodist Church, Collins Memorial United Methodist Church, Cornerstone United Methodist Church, Douglasville First United Methodist Church, East Cobb United Methodist Church, Hoosier Memorial United Methodist Church, Kelley Chapel United Methodist Church, Northside United Methodist Church, Oak Grove United Methodist Church, University Heights United Methodist Church, and Vinings United Methodist Church.
The Harry Denman Evangelism Award was presented to:
Clergy – the Rev. Dr. Bob Beckwith, director of the Wesley Foundation of the University of Georgia.
Laity – Dave McCoy, a member of McEachern Memorial UMC in Powder Springs.
Youth – Simone Barbee, a member of St. James United Methodist Church in Alpharetta.
The North Georgia Conference was honored to commission Global Ministries missionary Tazionepi Nyarota. Along with members of Global Ministries Bishop Sue Haupert-Johnson commissioned her to service on behalf of The United Methodist Church.
Generosity and vitality
The annual conference celebrated and practiced generosity in a variety of ways.
- The annual conference 5K run/walk was sponsored by the Conference Council on Youth Ministries. Proceeds are going to the Youth Service Fund, a fund raised by youth, administered by youth, to support youth-led mission projects in our conference.
- More than $95,000 was collected, with donations still incoming, in a special offering for the North Georgia Ministerial Education Fund.
- A total $64,467 worth of UMCOR Kits were donated primarily by local UMW units in the conference.
- The Conference Board of Trustees, celebrated the good news that this summer, Conference Camp and Retreat Ministries received $110,000 for scholarships through the Wesley Campership Fund for children and youth who, without financial support, would not be able to attend camp.
- Keith Cox, conference treasurer/director administrative services, shared the good news that in 2016, North Georgia United Methodist churches had paid 94.7 percent of the apportionment budget, the highest percentage of apportionments paid in 15 years. 85 percent of churches paid 100 percent of their apportionments.
- The annual conference passed a budget of $22,020,804 for 2018.
Membership and attendance for 2016 stands at:
- Annual conference membership: 360,771.
- Worship attendance: 112,482
- Professions or reaffirmations of faith: 5,422
Each of these numbers is down slightly from 2015.
The 2018 North Georgia Annual Conference will be held June 12-14, 2018 at The Classic Center in Athens.
- Sybil Davidson, conference communicator