Leading his fifth and final annual conference session as South Georgia’s episcopal leader, Bishop R. Lawson Bryan welcomed more than 700 delegates and guests to the 155th session of the South Georgia Annual Conference.
With a theme of “Alive Together at the Table,” Bryan opened the online meeting by reflecting on his five years serving South Georgia.
He acknowledged how the global coronavirus pandemic has changed the way congregations and churches work and worship, but said they are strong and resilient.
“I celebrate the adaptability of our laity and our clergy,” Bryan said. “I have learned something about how faithful our laity and clergy are. Many of our local churches now have fresh, new avenues of ministry. We’ve learned better ways to be the church.”
And although times are uncertain, Bryan said he’s noticed south Georgia United Methodists do not seem to be uncertain about what matters most.
“I have not sensed any uncertainty about the importance of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world,” he said. “Our laity and clergy, while acknowledging uncertainty all around, still realize that the hurting people in our communities need a church and that they’re ready to respond to a church that is open to them, and that is what I see happening all over.”
During the business session, members:
• heard a video message from Bishop David Graves, episcopal leader of the Alabama-West Florida Conference, who, upon Bryan’s retirement on Sept. 1 and during the approximate 16-month interim, will provide episcopal leadership to both the South Georgia and the Alabama-West Florida Conferences;
• celebrated the faithful ministry of the laity with a report from lay leader J. Knapp who introduced the laity cabinet;
• recognized conference agencies and showed appreciation for their fruitful ministries;
• watched videos highlighting areas in the South Georgia Conference of ways the conference is “Alive Together at the Table;”
• approved a motion to no longer collect apportionments for payment of pre-1982 pension and benefits and celebrated that the obligation for the funding of this pension and the yearly increase of the past service rate has been met;
• heard from Bill Hatcher and the Rev. Jim Cowart, heads of South Georgia’s General Conference delegation, as they gave an update on the status of The United Methodist Church, the postponed 2020 General Conference session and the Protocol for Separation through Grace and Reconciliation;
• recognized Emanuel United Methodist Church for winning the One Matters Award, presented by Discipleship Ministries;
• received a special offering for the Golden Cross Fund;
• approved the disaffiliation of nine churches and closing of two churches;
• accepted an invitation from the Northwest District to host the 2022 Annual Conference session in Columbus, Ga., June 5-8;
• approved a budget of $8.4 million for mission and ministry, a reduction of $735,096 from the previous year;
• gave thanks and appreciation to Bryan and Sherill Bryan for their five years of service to the conference.
Earlier in the week the conference worshiped virtually in three separate services: the Retiree Recognition Service on June 1, the Memorial Service on June 3 and the Service of Ordination with Commissioning on June 6. Bryan preached the Service of Ordination with Commissioning, and the Rev. Brad Brady, retired South Georgia minister, preached the Memorial Service.
One person was ordained into the Order of Elders and four persons were commissioned as provisional elders. Eleven pastors retired, and five were recognized for achieving their 50th anniversary in ministry. Forty-five clergy and clergy spouses who died in the past year were remembered during the memorial service.
As Bryan closed the 2021 Annual Conference session he read Psalm 84 and encouraged south Georgia United Methodists to stay together and be doorkeepers.
“Aren’t we ready to be back in worship, in church together? The psalmist expresses it perfectly: ‘My soul longs for this,’” Bryan said. “I hope the pandemic has helped teach us all to stay in touch with our deep longing that God has given us to be together. This is the way God created us. This is the need the church fulfills. It’s part of who we are.”
Local churches should be places where all can come and find security and a spiritual home, he said.
To close, Bryan asked everyone to consider themselves as doorkeepers — those who welcome and invite others in — and asked, “For whom will you open the door?”
“May we go forth today thinking of ourselves as doorkeepers. It’s something every one of us can do,” he said. “We’re all here because doors were opened for us. I’d rather be a doorkeeper in the house of the Lord. That’s what your community needs: people who know how to open doors. And you are one of those people. You know the doors that need to be opened and you know how to open those doors. I’d rather be a doorkeeper; what better role could you have?”
Membership stands at 98,222, down 5,391 from the previous year. Worship attendance stands at 25,353, down 17,060. Church school attendance stands at 12,726, down 7,428 from 2019.
- Kelly Roberson, director of communications, and Kara Witherow, editor of the South Georgia Advocate.
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