It was my pleasure to represent BRUMC at the North Georgia Annual Conference in Athens. The Annual Conference is a gathering of representatives from Methodist churches in North Georgia. The delegates come together to praise God, hear sermons and devotionals, and listen to reports from the many committees and groups the Conference sponsors. This year (as happens every four years) the Lay Members present voted and elected delegates who then go and represent North Georgia at the General and Jurisdictional Conferences. It was a wonderful experience on many levels. Unfortunately, the tragedy in Charleston happened in the middle of our conference, and it cast a dark shadow over the proceedings.
At previous Annual Conferences there was a greater emphasis placed on worship, song and singing praises. This year, because of the voting, the Conference seemed more businesslike, dealing with the business of the church. The balloting system is difficult and time consuming. A candidate has to receive more than 50% on the ballots cast in order to win (not the simply highest vote getter). There were about 40 lay candidates running for the 22 positions available. While the lay delegates were voting, the Clergy members were also electing delegates from their members. In the Clergy, they do not have declared candidates, so they have about 500 people to select from. What I am trying to say is the voting is long, difficult, and, the seats get hard.
Electing strong representatives to the General and Jurisdictional Conferences is important. These people are the ones who consider and vote on changes to the Book of Discipline. If you follow the national news, you know that the U.S. Supreme Court will make a ruling in the near future concerning gay marriage. This is just one issue that the Methodist Church will be considering soon, along with many others. On my ballot, I tried to get as large a cross section of representatives as possible. I tried for equal males to females, selecting people from different regions, balancing larger urban churches with smaller churches. I tried to include white, black, Hispanic and Asian members as well. There is always the call for more young people with new ideas. There is also the call for stability, those people who have worked tirelessly for years on committees who have earned the opportunity to represent North Georgia Methodist values. How can you balance all these values?
On the first ballot several people with strong name recognition were selected. As the voting continued, a pattern began to develop where some voters began to switch candidates and form voting blocks. I tried to remain strong for my candidates and our northwest area. In the end I think the North Georgia Conference will be well represented at the General and Jurisdictional Conferences.
The overall theme of this year’s Conference was: We are God’s People Connected: A Focus on Global Health. The theme highlighted on the ongoing battle against Malaria in Africa. Malaria kills a child world wide every 60 seconds. Think about that -every minute Gordon Riddoch a child dies from malaria. This is considered an improvement from once every 45 seconds which it had been until recently. One very simple solution to this disease is a mosquito net. For a mere $10 the Methodist Church can provide a net to a family in Africa and possibly save a child’s life. Our church alone donated enough money to save 15 children. The connection to malaria is a demonstration how the Methodist Church is an international congregation and all Christians are connected. Two young missionaries from North Georgia were sent forth with a blessing at the conference. Think about what a challenge these two brave women will face as they go to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
There were the usual reports on the budget, and how the apportionments are being spent. A great deal of time was spent explaining the new health care insurance program and pension benefits for pastors. This is an example of how health insurance has become one big factor in our economy. If the Supreme Court rules against the affordable care act, everything will change next year. The overall Conference budget has gone down again this year.
One report that did not get as much discussion as it should have was from the Conference Statistician. Their records indicate that for the second year in a row the, Churches in the North Georgia Conference reflected a flat line growth pattern. The worldwide number of Methodists continues to increase, but these numbers include new people from countries other than America. Perhaps we might have to evaluate our methods of “Making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.” The numbers indicated there was also a slight decline in average attendance at weekly worship services.
There are several events that occur every year that always have deep meaning. The first is the Service of Ordination and Commissioning for new pastors as they go forth into the world. The second event is the recognition of retiring pastors. This event gives retiring pastors a chance to thank those people who walked with them through their preaching life. They sometimes take the opportunity to preach their best sermon one last time. The third event is the Service of Remembrance for former pastors who have passed away in the last year. The wives of pastors who have passed away are also remembered. The last big event is the Fixing of Appointments and the Service of Sending Forth. For some churches this is where the new pastor is officially announced.
Annual Conference is an interesting event in the Methodist Church life. Thank you for permitting me to be your representative. I had a chance to see former Blue Ridge UMC Pastors Glenn Ethridge, and John Brantley briefly and spoke to Tom McElroy for a long time. All are doing well and have fond memories of their time here in Blue Ridge. If you have any questions, please feel free to ask me. I did not have enough space to explain all the things that happen that exciting week.