By Kara Witherow, Editor
Fellowship, worship, Bible study and celebration marked the 2012 South Georgia Annual Conference session, held June 3-5 at the Macon Centreplex in Macon, Ga.
Nearly 1,200 South Georgia United Methodist clergy and laity gathered together to conference in the Wesleyan tradition. Bishop James R. King, Jr., episcopal leader of the South Georgia area, presided over his fourth Annual Conference session in South Georgia.
Meeting under the theme of “Let the Redeemed Say So” from Psalm 107:2, this year’s Annual Conference session focused on and emphasized the timeless values of witnessing and evangelizing.
While the 2012 session was shorter than usual – just two full days instead of the usual three – the time spent together was meaningful and impactful, attendees say.
As Bishop King welcomed attendees to Macon with his trademark, “Greetings, beautiful people!,” he gave thanks to God.
Dr. Marcus Tripp, who preached the conference’s opening worship service on Sunday evening, challenged clergy and laity to “go home and tell your neighbor” what God has done.
“Your call is to go to tell the people you know best what God has done for you,” he said. “There’s something out there greater … there’s the amazing grace of God available.”
And just like the man who had been possessed by demons did in Mark 5, so should they tell how God has saved them, Dr. Tripp said.
“What does God mean to you?” he asked. “If you can put that in words you can go home and tell your neighbor what God has done for you. If you can’t pray like Peter, if you can’t preach like Paul, go home and tell your neighbor what God has done for you. Who can tell them better?”
During the service, an offering was received to support three of the Conference’s mission agencies – Vashti, Open Door Community Center, and Wesley Community Centers. Prior to Annual Conference, each church in the South Georgia Conference was asked to take a special offering. These individual congregational gifts, which totaled nearly $36,000, will be brought together and divided between the three agencies to further their missions in South Georgia.
Monday morning, June 4, began with separate clergy and laity sessions; afterwards everyone joined together for the opening business session of the 2012 Annual Conference.
During the day’s business sessions, attendees heard the Lay Leader's address, given by conference lay leader Roy Blackwood. Blackwood challenged laity to share their stories and witness.
“Every day our lives are interwoven with people who … need someone to listen,” he said. “When we tell others about our faith we are just introducing them to Jesus by telling them how He has changed our lives. Only you can share your stories. Don’t let your stories be lost.”
The Conference also heard the Board of Ordained Ministry report given by Chairman Dr. Marcus Tripp; recognized those clergy who faithfully serve beyond the local church in an extension ministry appointment; received 14 clergy into full conference membership; celebrated the ministries of The Methodist Home for Children and Youth, Wesley Glen Ministries, New and Revitalized Congregational Development, Open Door Community Centers, and Higher Education and Ministry; heard the report of the conference personnel committee; approved the equitable compensation report; approved the conference trustees report; adopted items on the consent calendar; heard the report of the General Conference delegation; elected persons presented by the nominations committee; approved the Board of Pensions and Health Benefits report; endorsed Rev. Robert Beckum as the conference candidate for the episcopacy; and heard a report on the feasibility of reducing the number of districts.
Bishop King, in his Monday afternoon episcopal address, reminded delegates and attendees to “grow a Christlike world” and admonished them to continue to form and shape their lives as disciples.
Bishop King wants the Conference to focus on evangelism in the coming year, and in doing so, said that Christians should have an attitude of gratitude.
“As people of faith, we need to be bubbling over making a happy noise,” he said. “If you’re happy and you know it – show it! Witness to God’s goodness in your life everywhere you go.”
To close the day, the Conference gathered for the service of Ordination and Commissioning. Bishop B. Michael Watson, episcopal leader of the North Georgia Annual Conference and former South Georgia area bishop, preached on the conference theme, “Let the Redeemed Say So.”
Reading from 1 Peter, Bishop Watson told the ordinands that they are holy and chosen for a very high privilege.
“We are called holy. We are called out. Set apart. Separate. Different. That’s what we are called to be,” he said. “We are called to be different in our responses. We are called to respond in faith, hope and love. That’s how we are holy.”
“So that you may speak of the wonderful acts,” Bishop Watson said. “So that you can tell the world that God’s salvation is real and that He wants to pour His love, mercy and salvation on the earth. So that you may say so.”
Bishop King, assisted by Bishop Watson, presided over the ordinal rites. Roy Blackwood represented the laity and Dr. Tripp, chairman of the Board of Ordained Ministry, observed the ordinal rites. Dr. John Stephens and Rev. Karen Kilhefner represented the Order of Elder and Deacon.
Dr. Brent Strawn, associate professor of Old Testament at Candler School of Theology at Emory University, led attendees in Bible studies on Monday afternoon and Tuesday mornings, focusing on the importance of witnessing and evangelism.
Through his teaching moments, titled, “Preach Always: Use Words if Necessary,” Dr. Strawn encouraged attendees to witness with their lives.
“God wants to know humans and to be known by humans, all of them,” he said. “It’s about preaching, even without words.”
And when you must use words, he said, look to Jonah for inspiration.
“We saw in Jonah that sometimes just a few words can suffice. In chapter three, Jonah said five words. Apparently five words can suffice for evangelism. Let them say so with their bodies and their habits and their lives.”
During Tuesday’s business session, the Conference celebrated the ministry of the Summer Camp Leadership Team; continued the conversation around the District Feasibility Study and approved an amended motion to continue the study for an additional year; viewed a virtual tour of the proposed new Conference Center on the grounds of Wesleyan College in Macon and heard the progress of funding for the center; approved a reduced 2012 budget of $10,550,552, which is a 10.13 percent decrease in the 2012 budget approved at the 2011 Annual Conference session; approved a 2013 budget of $10,552,948; and celebrated with pastors who have served 50 years in ministry and those who are retiring.
A memorial service to honor the 36 faithful clergy and clergy spouses who have died since last year’s Annual Conference was held on Tuesday afternoon. In honoring them, Rev. Marshall Howell said, “We are all connected by bonds that cannot be broken, by bonds that cannot be severed by their passing.”
John Wesley scholar Rev. Dave Hanson shared three “John Wesley Moments” throughout the Annual Conference session. These concise and powerful mini-sermons reminded attendees of their Wesleyan roots. In the first moment, attendees were reminded of the challenges John Wesley faced in sharing his faith and preaching in the fields. In the second, Rev. Hanson reminded the Conference of a special day in John Wesley’s life when his mother, Susanna, dedicated her life to prayer. In the third John Wesley Moment, Rev. Hanson said that while John Wesley’s main concern would be for the salvation of souls, he would surely caution against evil speaking, or gossip.
Annual Conference 2012 ended with a Service of Sending Forth as Bishop King urged everyone to not forget their calling.
“God’s call on your life is still calling you to live into the fullness of that calling,” he said.
He also issued a challenge to be passionate followers of Christ who continue to grow a Christlike world.
“Have a passion for Jesus. Be on fire for Jesus. Be burning up for Jesus. If you have a passion for Jesus you’ll have a passion to grow a world that looks like Him.”
Following Bishop King’s message, appointments were read as tokens were given to every clergy person by Bishop King and bookmarks were presented to every lay person by conference lay leader Roy Blackwood.
The 2013 Annual Conference session will be held June 2-4, in Macon.