Bishop B. Michael Watson called to order the 149th North Georgia Conference session on June 16, marking his seventh year of service in the North Georgia Episcopal Area. With the theme of "We Are God's People Connected: A Focus on Global Health," worship and reports celebrated what can be accomplished because of the connectional nature of our United Methodist Church. Highlighting one of the denomination’s four areas of focus, Improving Global Health, the conference began and ended each of its eight sessions with a message about Imagine No Malaria.
The conference special offering went toward Imagine No Malaria, adding to a year-long fundraising effort by the conference. The annual 5K run/walk also benefitted Imagine No Malaria. By week’s end, $241,228.43 had been collected, plus $2,200 raised at the 5K run/walk. More than $440,000 had been previously collected, bringing total giving to Imagine No Malaria so far this year to $688,057.43
The Conference United Methodist Women collected health kits and other emergency response kits. They collected a total of 4,806 kits of which 4,629 were health kits.
Guests during the week included Bishop James King, Bishop Woodie White and Bishop Alfred L. Norris, as well as Bishop Warren Brown who brought warm greetings on behalf of our Pan- Methodist family and The African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church.
Bishop Deborah Wallace-Padgett of the North Alabama Conference was guest preacher for the North Georgia Conference. In opening worship she encouraged conference members to continue to be “The Good Soil” based on the scripture reading from Matthew 13: 1-9. Later that evening, she thanked ordinands for saying yes to God’s call on their lives.
The conference commissioned 13 provisional members (one as a courtesy commissioning for the Texas Conference), four full connection deacons, and 20 full connection elders.
The conference also recognized 26 retirees in a Passing the Mantle Liturgy. Fred Smoot, the longest tenured retiring clergy at 48 years of service, ended his reflections with this line of poetry from Mary Oliver: “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”
Coy Hinton, retired clergy, led a Service of Remembrance inviting the conference to “Look beyond our loss” as 18 clergy, 22 clergy spouses and two lay members were honored.
Global Ministries was welcomed to Atlanta by Dana Everhart and Kate Floyd; Mathew Pinson offered a blessing and Thomas Kemper brought greetings to the conference.
In a special service, Cheryl LaValley and Francine Ilunga Mpanga Mufuk were commissioned as Global Ministries missionaries. Both will serve in Cote d’Ivoire.
Laura Wise, young adult missionary with the United Methodist Committee on Relief, presented Bishop Watson and the North Georgia Conference with two awards from Global Ministries, one for the highest giving to International Disaster Response in The United Methodist Church in 2014 and one for the highest conference giving to Thailand Mission Initiative in The United Methodist Church 2014.
The Denman Evangelism Award was presented to youth Jordan Kelecheck; laity Gene Tibbs; and clergy Gregory Williams. The conference celebrated eight churches that had completed all requirements for Churches of Excellence in Outreach.
Several new leaders were introduced during the week including Michael McCord who will serve as the new executive director of the Georgia Commission on Higher Education and Campus Ministry. Laura Rappold will serve as the new director of the Conference Housing and Homeless Council.
A litany of thanksgiving for the gift of Simpsonwood, written by Barbara Day Miller and based on the Psalms, celebrated the stewardship and ministry that took place on the Simpsonwood property. The conference offices will move to a new location in September and the property will become a passive park.
Members of the conference were somber in the final two days of session, following the tragic shooting at Mother Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal church in Charleston. Bishop Watson addressed the tragedy, saying that his heart was aching. Asking the conference to join in prayer, he prayed:
“Oh, Lord, we pray for all of those whose hearts are so deeply wounded this morning because of the terrible tragedy that happened so close to us here, just over the border line of another state. And in a sister church, a part of our Wesleyan family. …
And we pray for our world. For what we’ve seen happen last night is happening all over our world all the time. Save us, Lord. Hurry to save us. Break into our world with the power of your Holy Spirit. Help us be your instruments and let it start right here. …”
A prayer vigil was held at noon outside the Classic Center and a spontaneous offering for the families of the victims was collected of more than $6,500. A group met just after adjournment to make plans for both an immediate show of support for Emanuel AME, and to thoughtfully explore how to respond long-term.
The conference passed two resolutions, one in support of “Coordinated Action on Behalf of Undocumented Neighbors” and one calling the conference to petition the General Conference to adopt as a missional priority the eradication of violence in communities as a quadrennial focus. Three resolutions recommending the conference petition the General Conference to change language in the Book of Discipline regarding same sex marriage and homosexual persons failed to pass.
Using electronic voting devices for the first time, the conference elected 11 lay and 11 clergy delegates to General Conference, 11 lay and 11 clergy delegates to Jurisdictional Conference, plus five lay and five clergy alternates. Conference lay leader, Mathew A. Pinson, was elected to lead the North Georgia delegation.
General Conference Delegation
Lay: Mathew A. Pinson, Jane Finley, Keith Cox, Jeff Jernigan, Bill Stikes, Randy Brown, Lathem Postell, Rachel Fullerton, Joe Wesley Kilpatrick, Tonya Murphy and Gary Fuller.
Clergy: The Revs. Sharma Denise Lewis, Philip Daniel Schroeder, Jane Newman Brooks, Patricia Alice Rogers, James Carlton Cantrell III, Steven Wood Sr., Richard Don Winn Sr., Charles Walter Savage II, Kyle Edward Tomlinson, Herzen De Vega and Byron Eric Thomas.
Southeastern Jurisdictional Conference Delegation
Lay: Jasper J. Russell Sr., Leon Jourolmon III, Tom Cook, Lee D. Highsmith, Bill Martin, Elizabeth Corrie, Sue Raymond, Janet Sligar, Dianne Andrews Spencer, Linda Culpepper and Lily del C. Berrios.
Clergy: The Revs. Nora Elizabeth Colmenares, Bridgette Denise Young-Ross, Dalton Troy Rushing, David Cochran Walters, Bernice Williams Kirkland, Olujimi Wesley Brown, Rodrigo Cruz, Elizabeth Camak LaRocca-Pitts, Michael Lee Cash, Juan A. Quintanilla and Howard Davidson Allen Grady.
Lay: Deloris F. Carhee, Kathryn Schroeder, Bob Fincher, Richard L. Williamson and Debby Stikes.
Clergy: Leon Edward Matthews Jr., James Hughes Lowry Jr., Kate Hurst Floyd, John Arthur Beyers and Hugh Bentley Cathey.
Conference membership stands at 361,329, down 2,054 members from 2013. Professions of faith were at 5,398, down 204 from 2013. Multi-racial members is 4,431, up 2,733 from 2013. Number of persons served by community ministries of outreach, justice and mercy was 1,857,890, up 16,101 from 2013.
The 2016 session of the North Georgia Conference will be held June 7-9 at the Classic Center in Athens, Georgia.
–Sybil Davidson, conference communications, North Georgia Conference of The United Methodist Church.