The Annual Conference of the North Georgia Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church 2023 Report
The annual conference is the basic body in The United Methodist Church. It is comprised generally of a geographic region. The North Georgia Annual Conference covers all of North Georgia from just north of Macon all the way to the Tennessee line. Each year the Annual COnference meets and sessions of the annual conference have historically been a time for the people called Methodists to gather, give account to God of the work they have done and their stewardship of the resources God has given them since they last met.
Delegates to the Annual Conference comprise of every Clergy person and a Lay person to match the number of clergy. This year St. Pau UMC sent five delegates. Pastor Cassie attended as St. Paul’s appointed clergyperson and Celeste McCollough attended as St. Paul’s lay delegate. Additionally Katie Varner, Jeff McCord, and Shelly Hart attended as at large delegates for our district. Below are their thoughts and a report of the 2023 Annual Conference which took place in Athens Georgia from June 1-3, 2023. You can find a wrap up and resources from the Annual Conference on North Georgia’s website here.
Annual Conference took place over 3 days in June. A delegation of some 2000 or so United Methodists from across North Georgia convened to worship together, discuss the missions and ministries of our church, and to vote on policy and other matters. This year, St. Paul was represented at the conference by Pastor Cassie, and by four Lay delegates, consisting of myself as St. Paul’s lay delegate, and three at large North Central District delegates (Katie, Shelly Hart and Jeff McCord, who couldn’t be with us today).
This was Jeff’s first Annual Conference, and he summed it up this way: “my deepest impressions as a first time attendee at AC included the reaffirmation of interconnected ness and the overlayering of ministries at the district and conference level. St Paul is not alone and our bigger church is doing some great things as well.”
Indeed, the Annual Conference is a great place to learn about the ministries of the United Methodist Church as a connectional organization across North Georgia. We received many exciting reports from the various agencies and ministries. A short list includes:
- New Church Development and Fresh Expressions
- Digital Ministries
- Children’s and Youth Ministries
- Black, Hispanic, and Pan-Asian Congregational Development
- Global Ministries
- Native American Ministries
- Community Discipleship and Development
- Our conference agencies for foster care, troubled children and youth and the elderly
On all of these areas there are written reports, and if you would like to review any of them online, see us.
To highlight just three:
- Local Disaster Relief: North Georgia is implementing a disaster relief response through UMCOR (United Methodist Commission on Relief) that will train and deploy teams that will address both the immediate destructive aftermaths of natural disasters AND provide ongoing support through long-term recovery efforts.
- Reparations for Racial Injustice. Last year, the closing of a historically Black United Methodist Church (Red Oak) engendered a Conference floor discussion recognizing the historic and systemic ways in which the United Methodist Church, and North Georgia United Methodists in particular, have undermined and failed to support Black members and congregations. This discussion resulted in a deployment of proceeds from the sale of this one small church in a way that addresses Black congregational development and support, and it also has led to a conference-wide effort to examine how we can make reparations for our sins of supremacy and exclusion. A new commission was empowered to explore these issues and it now has a program actively encouraging our churches to find meaningful ways to repair the damage that was done – ways that may include, but that go beyond, monetary actions. So far, this program has three videos online at the conference website promoting these programs.
- New Congregational Experiences. The Conference is actively developing and supporting new congregational experiences, including the formation of an online congregation and the establishment of Lighthouse Churches throughout the conference, which are existing congregations that become prepared and deployed to provide church homes (temporary or permanent) for United Methodists individuals who lose their existing church homes as the landscape of the United Methodist Church shifts in the coming months and years through the disaffiliation of some congregations from the United Methodist denomination.
These are just a few of the proactive programs that are being implemented by our conference. In addition to these programs, the conference delegates adopted by wide margins resolutions promoting sound gun policies through our State political organs; support for our Queer jurisdictional and general conference delegates; urging leadership and integrity in our leaders as the church moves through the next phase of its governance and existence; and urging an exploration of a path for our deacons – such as own Lisa Gwock – to administer the sacraments.
Jeff got it right – St. Paul is not alone in the United Methodist connection, and our bigger church is doing some great things.
We can’t, however, discuss the business of the Church without a word about the upheaval that is taking place as a substantial number of congregations are going through a process to disaffiliate from the United Methodist Church. These are the elements of the denomination that are appearing in the news, and your conference delegation is charged with voting on issues pertaining to that. In all honesty, this process is arduous and painful. This year, following a lawsuit filed by two churches, the Conference voted to approve the disaffiliation of those two churches in Augusta. As a result of a separate lawsuit, some 185 congregations in North Georgia are similarly walking through the process of potential disaffiliation, and a called session of the Annual Conference will take place in November of this year pertaining to churches that vote to disaffiliate as a result of that process. We, your delegation, are actively seeking to educate ourselves about a God-driven way to respond to these efforts and will report to you about those issues as they unfold. In the meantime, we solicit your prayers for the delegation and for the church.
In the face of this process, your lay delegates attended a worship service held by the North Georgia Reconciling Ministries Network, of which St. Paul is a member. It would be impossible to express the joy with which we were led in worship by our own Rev. Andi Woodworth – whom many of you will remember grew up right here in our own pews and in our children’s and youth ministry. Andi and Angie are now co-ministers of the Neighborhood Church in Candler Park, and they are doing a wonderful job creating a church home for many who have felt isolated and rejected by the church, particularly as it interacts with LGBTQ+ people. Witnessing Andi’s confident and inspiring love for all people serves as a beacon for how a loving, spirit filled congregation such as St. Paul can join with the processes and connectivity of the United Methodist Church to create disciples who bring the good news to those around us.
We are blessed to have participated in Annual Conference this year. Please feel free to ask any one of us for more information.