Donning an episcopal purple face mask with the cross and flame emblem, presiding Bishop R. Lawson Bryan welcomed nearly 750 delegates and guests to the 2020 annual conference session on Aug. 15.
An historic session, this year’s gathering was virtual, and clergy and laity participated from their living rooms, home offices and churches. This was due to the coronavirus pandemic, a concern for the health and safety of conference members and the restrictions on large-group gatherings, Conference leadership postponed the previously scheduled June in-person session and pivoted to plan the first-ever virtual session.
The 2020 annual conference session kicked off Sunday, Aug. 2, with a virtual clergy session. It was followed by four worship services on four separate days: The Virtual Commissioning Service on Aug. 8, the Virtual Ordination Service on Aug. 9, the Virtual Retiree Recognition Service on Aug. 11 and the Virtual Memorial Service on Aug 13. The 2020 Annual Conference season culminated with the Aug. 15 virtual business session.
Though significantly shortened, the 2020 conference followed the original theme and focus: “Alive Together in Witness.”
In his devotional and morning address, Bryan read Paul’s words from his letter to the Colossians: “Devote yourselves to prayer, keeping alert in it with thanksgiving. At the same time pray for us as well that God will open to us a door for the word, that we may declare the mystery of Christ, for which I am in prison.”
Like Paul, he said, all need to pray to see the open doors. The coronavirus pandemic, race relations and rolling restarts are all open doors through which ministries can be expanded and God’s love and grace can be extended, he said.
“I invite you to consider your open doors,” he said. “What are the doors we can walk through? What are the open doors you and I want to walk through in the next 16 months? ‘God help us’ is our prayer. God help us not to miss the open doors that are right before us.”
During the business session, members:
- Approved a motion for South Georgia United Methodist clergy and laity to commit to stand against racism, renew their commitment to live out their baptismal vows and speak with a united voice against systemic racism in every United Methodist congregation.
- Approved a recommendation for the reallocation of designated reserve funds to support several ministries in the North Katanga Annual Conference.
- Celebrated the commissioning of Deaconess Linda Laye from Columbus, Georgia.
- Recognized Warren Plowden, the longest-serving chancellor in United Methodism, and welcomed Cater Thompson as his successor.
- Celebrated the ways the conference has responded to disasters and built disaster response capacity.
- Shared appreciation for Gloria Morgan and her service as the conference lay leader these past seven years, and affirmed J. Knapp as incoming conference lay leader.
- Recognized Port Wentworth United Methodist Church for winning the One Matters Award, presented by Discipleship Ministries.
- Celebrated as Communications Director Kelly Roberson was presented a denominational Epi Award for her outstanding work in communications.
- Approved the disaffiliation of seven churches.
- Approved a budget of $9,172,314, a reduction of $153,870 from the previous year.
Four persons were ordained into the Order of Elder, and four persons were commissioned as provisional elders.
Eighteen pastors retired and six were recognized for achieving their 50th anniversary in ministry. Twenty-seven clergy and clergy spouses who died in the past year were remembered during the memorial service.
As Bryan closed the 2020 annual conference session, he introduced the theme for the coming year, “Alive Together at the Table.”
After reading verses from the 23rd Psalm, he asked, “Is there anything more powerful we can do in the coming year than to ask, ‘Where’s the table, Lord?’”
It’s at the table where enemies — violence, poverty, abuse, racism, sexism, ageism, all that harms human flourishing — are defeated, he said, and where new life begins. These are overcome when we come to the table that the Lord has prepared for us.
“Where’s the table? It’s in your church, it’s in your life, it’s in our decision ourselves to come to the table. We have to be at the table.”
Membership stands at 103,613, down 3,936 from the previous year. Worship attendance stands at 42,413, down 1,320. Church school attendance stands at 20,154, down 91 from 2018.
— Kelly H. Roberson, director of communications, and Kara Witherow, editor of the South Georgia Advocate.