2018 North Georgia Annual Conference
The 2018 North Georgia Annual Conference session was held June 12-14 at The Classic Center in Athens, Ga. With a theme of "Moving Toward Perfection in Love,” the conference focused on the practice of spiritual disciplines, including prayer, the study of scripture, fasting, worship, and molding of our souls in Christian community. Bishop Sue Haupert-Johnson presided, marking her second annual conference as resident bishop in North Georgia.
God is So Good: Worship at the North Georgia Annual Conference
Four worship services anchored the conference, each planned by a different team of North Georgia United Methodists.
The North Georgia Conference opened with song, prayers, and praise. Worshipping in several of the languages of our diverse congregations, we heard Spanish, Swahili, Korean, English and saw sign language. We prayed out loud in the Korean tradition.
In the Opening Worship sermon, Bishop Sue gave the charge to "Go, be good Methodists!" Preaching from Luke 18:9-14, she called the North Georgia Conference to cross any boundary, go anywhere, desperate to love people.
Acknowledging our shortcomings and natural tendency to categorize by who's more righteous, more holy, more close to Jesus, she said, "We always want to measure up and put ourselves a little above. … But there is another way.”
"John Wesley realized there's a method to break us out of this bondage," said the bishop. "Prayer, reflection, time together in small groups and worship, all remind us that we are human and God is God. ... We have the method, we just have to reclaim it."
As Bishop Sue preached, local artist and United Methodist Sarah Glass began painting on an 8'x8' canvas on the stage. She continued the work throughout the three-day conference, completing it just before the closing session.
Opening worship was planned by the Rev. Eric Lee and Arturo Quintanilla of the Chapel Roswell congregation with music from Chapel Roswell Band and a choir of youth members.
In a Service of Remembrance that was both solemn and celebratory, the conference remembered 27 clergy, 14 spouses, and 4 of the many North Georgia Conference laity who have faithfully served and taken their places in the cloud of witness.
"With great tenderness and tremendous joy we celebrate the many ways these lives have touched us," said preacher for the service the Rev. Elaine Puckett, retired. "Sometimes collectively as a part of this church that we all so dearly love."
The service closed with the ringing of a bell for each of the honored dead and a single bagpiper processing through the congregation.
The service was planned by the Rev. Bill Britt and Peachtree Road United Methodist Church staff along with the Rev. Dana Everhart of North Georgia Conference Ministerial Services and featured musicians and choir from Peachtree Road United Methodist Church in Atlanta.
In the Service of Licensing, Commissioning and Ordination, preacher the Rev. Byron Thomas of Ben Hill United Methodist Church empowered the congregation.
"You are not here by accident. You are here on business," he said. "And therefore your worth does not come from anyone outside yourself. You were born in this world with intrinsic worth or value. If you did not grow up in the best of circumstances, it's alright. God already incorporated into your very fiber worth and value."
He confessed that the stakes are high and that everybody is not going to welcome you, "but your very soul has business in this world."
At the close of the service, Bishop Sue invited anyone feeling a call to ministry to come forward to meet with the Board of Ordained Ministry.
The service was planned by the Rev. Dana Everhart of the Office of Ministerial Services and Melodi Lovely of St. James United Methodist Church Alpharetta and featured the St. James United Methodist Church choir.
Closing worship and communion incorporated Korean, Czech, German, Spanish and English languages. The stage was set with six large, lighted letters: J-E-S-U-S.
The Rev. Rodrigo Cruz of The Nett United Methodist Church was preacher for the service.
Speaking to the disagreements in our denomination, he shared several touching stories about his children.
His family has learned that belonging together doesn't mean they will always get along. "That is a microcosm of our conference and our connectional system," he said.
Cruz pointed out that this is not the first time in history when a group of Christians is wondering about the future. This situation draws him to Acts 20:22-24, when Paul writes that he doesn't know the future, but "nothing is more important than completing my mission."
"As we face General Conference, let me tell you one more time: 'I don't know what will happen,'" he said. "Church, there is a future and I know nothing about it.”
What he knows is that his mission is to go out and finish the work that Jesus started.
As a pastor of a new church that's just three years old, people often ask Cruz "What's the future?"
"We're meeting in my living room and people ask, 'What's the future for this church?' We move into a high school and people ask, 'What's the future for this church?' We move into our first building and people ask, 'What's the future for this church?' This year we're going to a second campus. 'Pastor, what's the plan for the future of this church?'" he said.
"Here's the plan for the future of the church,” he said. “We are going to be obedient today."
He called on the congregation not to miss what God can do today because of what God may or may not do in 2019. Paul didn't have the perfect plan to move forward, Cruz continued. He had to be obedient.
"We don't have to be a perfect church to share a perfect savior," he said.
The service was planned by Michael Cromwell of Hillside United Methodist Church and Cruz and featured music from the Hillside United Methodist Church worship band.
The service closed with Holy Communion.
Moving Toward Perfection in Love: Spiritual Disciplines Teaching Times
This week the North Georgia conference went "Country Dark," heard spoken word poetry, considered "neighboring," practiced Lectio Divina, and we prayed. In four sessions across three days, experts from our conference led teaching times on the practice of spiritual disciplines.
The sessions were:
- “Conversation with Country Dark” with Gregory Ellison II, associate professor of Pastoral Care & Counseling, Candler School of Theology, Emory University
- "Know Your Spiritual Type" with Ellen Shepard, senior pastor of Stone Mountain First United Methodist Church and director of Women, Theology & Ministry, Candler School of Theology, Emory University
- “My Life with Others” Neighboring, Care of the Earth, and Hospitality led by Anjie Woodworth and Andy Woodworth, co-pastors, Neighborhood Church
- “Examen; Fasting” led by Lahronda Little, M.Div. Ph.D student at The Laney Graduate School of Emory University
- “Fixed Hour of Prayer” with Julie Boone, senior pastor, McKendree United Methodist Church
- “Lectio Divina” with Millie Kim, pastor, Second Avenue United Methodist Church, Rome
- “Visio Divina” with Tavares Stephens, Assistant Pastor, St. James United Methodist Church - Alpharetta
Continuing the Conversation: A Way Forward
The Conference heard several times about the special session of General Conference.
Delegation chair Mathew Pinson shared that our delegation has been diligently preparing for the 2019 General Conference. They've spent four sessions learning to see one another across deeply held differences. Pinson's prayer is for unity. "I pray for the unity of the church. Not unity for unity's sake, but for Christ’s sake. Because I pray for the unity of Christ's body in the world," he said.
On Wednesday, members of the annual conference took a poll to gage the feelings of the body as we look toward the special General Conference session next year. The results showed both hope and concern about the future of the church, but a desire for unity from a majority. Conducted by the Rev. Byron Thomas, he closed with his thoughts on the future. “There is nothing we can’t overcome through Christ,” he told the conference members.
Bishop Sue addressed the conference on Thursday, speaking from her heart about the future of the church. She began by asking all to consider how our decisions will affect people not yet in the church.
“Being conformed to Christ is my life's goal and I hope your goal,” she said. “The church is to be a place where all gather in the grace of God and work together companions on the journey.”
We know that the church is not of one mind on the matter of human sexuality, explained Bishop Sue, and there is not a clear answer to this challenge. But, she continued, “There's too much at stake to draw battle lines,” she said. “I urge every church to be in conversation. To presume any sort of consensus or presume everyone in any church believes one way, I think, is naïve.”
She spoke to the history of the church. More than 100 years ago we had disagreement over slavery and the church split. We had disagreement over segregation and created a whole Methodist polity around segregation that we are still paying the price for. For years ago the church struggled over divorce and remarriage, Bishop Sue said.
“Our decisions over the next year are incredibly important,” she said. “My request is, please start a conversation and discuss this and gain understanding. To really see the image of God in every human being requires us to see the image of God in every human being. That is the role of the church.”
Bishop Sue shared an article from theologian Thomas Oden, "Do not rashly tear asunder." The title comes from a John Wesley quote.
“Do not rashly tear our United Methodist connection asunder,” she said.
We don't know what exactly the future holds, but Bishop Sue sees great hope in the large majority who desire go forward together.
“Regardless of what is decided in February, we can choose to stay together,” she said.
Reports, Awards, and Presentations
Through reports to the annual conference, members saw the reach of the United Methodist connection from our local communities, across our conference, and around the world.
The 60th mayor of Atlanta and active United Methodist, Keisha Lance Bottoms, greeted the North Georgia Conference and later spoke to the laity at the annual Laity Dinner. Her faith story was a highlight of the conference for many.
We heard from related-agencies about the collaborative mission and ministry happening across our conference including: United Methodist Children's Home, Murphy-Harpst, Wesley Woods, Aldersgate Homes, Housing and Homeless Council, Camp and Retreat Ministries, the Georgia United Methodist Foundation, the United Methodist Connectional Federal Credit Union, and Georgia's United Methodist Commission on Higher Education.
Russell Pierce, on behalf of Global Ministries, presented Bishop Sue with plaques recognizing the North Georgia Conference for being in the top 10 conferences for giving in four of six mission areas. The North Georgia Conference gave $1.7 million to disaster response in 2017, the second highest amount in the denomination.
The North Georgia Conference Churches of Excellence in Outreach awards were presented to:
- Carrollton First United Methodist Church, ROCA
- Cornerstone United Methodist Church, LGRN
- Douglasville First United Methodist Church, ROCA
- Jackson United Methodist Church, GRFN
- Northside United Methodist Church, ACPK
- Oak Grove United Methodist Church, AMRY
- Vinings United Methodist Church, AMAR
The Harry Denman Evangelism Award was presented to:
- Youth - Addison Franklin of Barrow Community Church in the Atlanta-Marietta District
- Laity - James “Jim” Davis of Dalton First United Methodist Church in the Northwest District
- Clergy - William Seihwan Kim of The Korean Church of Atlanta in the Atlanta-Roswell District
Chris Karabinos, the North Georgia Conference scouting coordinator, was presented with The Silver Torch Award. This high honor is awarded to an adult for exemplary service in scouting ministry.
The conference celebrated three young adults who will serve as Global Missions Fellows: Kristi Painter of Hickory Flat United Methodist Church, Asti White of Trinity on the Hill United Methodist Church in LaGrange, and Julia Falgout of North Decatur United Methodist Church. "These are shining examples of our young people, and our institutions of higher learning that form and shape our young people," said Bishop Sue.
The North Georgia Conference had the honor of commissioning Global Ministries Missionary Didier Monga Wa Shakapanga of the North Katanga Conference and Deaconess Cynthia D. Campbell of Bethel United Methodist Church in Smyrna.
Generosity and Vitality
The annual conference celebrated and practiced generosity.
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.
Gifts to our annual conference special offering for the Ministerial Education Fund totaled more than $74,000. Donations are still incoming.
More than 4,000 UMCOR Kits were donated primarily by local UMW units in the conference.
The Annual Conference Red Cross Blood Drive had 71 donors, the most we have ever had participate.
The total amount given for Special Sundays, General Advance Specials, World Service Specials, and other forms of directed benevolence (charitable giving) in 2017 was $9.37 million, up from 2016.
The North Georgia Conference ordained 8 elders in full connection, 2 deacons in full connection, and commissioned 15 provisional members.
Keith Cox, conference treasurer/director administrative services shared that in 2017, North Georgia United Methodist churches had paid 94.7 percent of the apportionment budget, the highest percentage of apportionments paid in 16 years.
The Conference approved recommendations from the District Administrative Review Team (DART) for more effective and efficient district office administration. Among the recommendations is that bookkeeping of the District Work Funds will transition to the Conference Treasurer's office.
The annual conference passed a budget of $21,920,651 for 2019.
Membership for 2017 stands at: 357,015, a 1 percent decline from 2016. (Though we celebrate that seven of our twelve districts had increases in their membership in 2017.)
Worship attendance for 2017: 107,000
Professions or reaffirmations of faith: 4,627
Both of these numbers are down slightly from 2016.
The next North Georgia Annual Conference will be held June 11-14, 2019 at The Classic Center in Athens.
— Sybil Davidson, conference communicator