2023 North Georgia Annual Conference

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The 2023 North Georgia Annual Conference session was held June 1-3 at The Classic Center in Athens, Georgia, with Bishop Robin Dease presiding. Approximately 2,000 United Methodists gathered for the session under the theme “I will pour out my Spirit on all,” based on Joel 2:28. 

Among the highlights of the session were:

  • Powerful worship, music, and sermons,
  • Intergenerational participation,
  • The recognition of the posthumous ordination of Rev. Marita Harrell,
  • Adoption of the lowest apportionment budget in 22 years — $14,733,936,
  • A report that churches, districts and conference boards and agencies in 2022 received $1,388,622 in grants from the Barnes Fund (In 2023, the Barnes Fund is on track to invest $1,272,370 in mission and ministry across our annual conference),
  • Celebrating that every month, 25 to 30 older adults receive medicine for glaucoma and 63 children and young adults have received vision-saving treatments thanks to our donations through the Park Eye Fund,
  • Introduction to the Lighthouse Church initiative,
  • Introduction of our conference-wide strategic growth plan,
  • Licensing, commissioning and ordaining new servant leaders who are called and equipped to serve God’s holy church.

Worship

The 2023 North Georgia Annual Conference was anchored by three worship services.

The conference opened with the Service of Remembrance in which we named remembered beloved North Georgia Conference clergy, clergy spouses and laity who died in the past year. The names of each of the honored saints were read aloud and a bell tolled in their memory. 

The Rev. Terry Walton preached, reflecting on the lives of many of those we remembered, including his own father, the Rev. Gene Walton.

In a deeply meaningful moment, the annual conference recognized the posthumous ordination of Rev. Marita Harrell. As she prepared for ordination and full connection in The United Methodist Church, Marita’s life was tragically taken from us in May 2022 by one with whom she sought to share the saving love of God in Christ Jesus.

“The Board of Ordained Ministry and the North Georgia Annual Conference affirms her call to ordained ministry and seeks to honor that call even now as she joins us in that great cloud of witnesses,” said Bishop Robin Dease. Her family took part in the service, receiving a handmade stole signifying the office of elder.

At our Service of Licensing, Commissioning, and Ordination, the North Georgia Annual Conference licensed 15 new local pastors, six provisional elders, six full connection elders.

Retired Bishop Alfred Norris preached, sharing that he has, at times, been interested in the accolades of actors, athletes, and politicians, some proclaimed to be “the greatest.” But it is love that is the most powerful force in the world. No one was or is a greater practitioner of love than Jesus, he said.

The 2023 North Georgia Annual Conference closed with a Service of Word and Table that included Holy Communion, the fixing of the appointments, and a sermon from Bishop Dease on 2 Corinthians 4:7-10.

Business & Reports

Bishop Robin Dease called to order the 157th session of the North Georgia Conference and together we sang the historic opening hymn “And Are We Yet Alive.” Over the next three days we heard reports and took action, including:

  • Election of Conference Statistician Dana Everhart 
  • Election of Conference Chancellor Harold Buckley
  • United Methodist Men’s report
  • Scouting report
  • United Women in Faith report
  • Address of the Conference Lay Leader Nate Abrams
  • Commission on Equitable Compensation report
  • Fresh Expressions update
  • General and Jurisdictional Conference Delegation report
  • Conference Board of Pension and Health Benefits report
  • Trustees report
  • Conference Finance & Administration report
  • Adoption of two standing rules amendments
  • Board of Ordained Ministry report
  • Committee on Nominations report
  • Adoption of Four Resolutions
  • Closure of four United Methodist churches
  • Ratification of the disaffiliation of two United Methodist churches per Book of Discipline Paragraph 2553

5 Areas of Focus Update
In 2022, 5 Values and 5 Areas of Focus were prayerfully discerned by our Common Table, and affirmed by the annual conference session to guide our annual conference through 2024. The work of putting these areas of focus into action became the task of our Connectional Ministries Team, Center for Congregational Excellence staff, District Strategic Growth Teams, and local churches like Duluth UMC, who hosted workshops in all five areas as part of their Wednesday Night Programming last fall.

The 5 Values are Integrity, Courage, Inclusion, Connection, and Transformation. The 5 Areas of Focus are: Scriptural Literacy and Imagination, Community Engagement, New Faith Opportunities and Communities, Racial Justice and Healing, and Health and Wellbeing. Learn more at www.ngumc.org/focus.

Reparations Task Force
Formed in response to thoughtful discussion at annual conference in 2022, a reparations task force has been working and studying over the past year. The group of 16 members includes lay and clergy from across our conference. The report emphasized the importance of the word “repair.”

Please take time to watch three videos prepared by the task force (watch here) and visit www.ngumc.org/reparations. These videos give us a lens into a time the North Georgia Conference and Camp Glisson did something courageous by hosting one of the first interracial overnight retreats in 1962. Hear how a church welcomed a pastor who was once turned away from worship. Understand the relationship between our conference and Native American history.

The task force brought forward four recommendations, each addressed in other reports of the annual conference. They include a recommendation regarding Red Oak United Methodist Church Griffin; a process for encouraging mergers between legacy churches of color; an amendment to the Standing Rules to require intercultural competency training for all who serve on conference boards, councils, commissions and committees, and a recommendation that Conference staff and members of the Board of Ordained Ministry be required to complete intercultural competency training. All four of these recommendations passed. 

Barnes Fund

In 2022, the Barnes Evaluation and Administrative Team (or BEAT for short) awarded $1,388,622 in grants to local churches, districts and approved conference boards and agencies. In 2023 the Barnes Fund is on track to invest $1,272,370 in mission and ministry across our annual conference. Already this year, BEAT has funded 17 grants. These grants have included a broad spectrum of ministry, including funds for community centers, digital and technical enhancements for churches, church mergers, facility upgrades, racial reconciliation ministries and investments in young adult ministries. For information, visit https://www.ngumc.org/BEAT. The dashboard is updated after every funding window.

Conference-wide Strategic Growth Plan

The Office of Congregational Development has developed a conference-wide Strategic Growth Plan for 2023-2025. This plan offers seven strategies for enabling and resourcing vibrant communities of faith that are relevant to the people in our communities today. These strategies are rooted in the Great Commission and the Great Commandment of Jesus Christ, the savior who calls us to “love one another as I have loved you.”

More than 100 people across our annual conference contributed to the formation of these strategies. They are:

  1. Identifying and developing Sending Missional Churches in every district
  2. Launching Fresh Expressions of church
  3. Anchor Church stability
  4. Better Together: two or more churches joining together for missional impact
  5. Intentional community development and discipleship
  6. Planting new church starts
  7. Online faith communities and Lighthouse Churches

Lighthouse Congregations

North Georgia United Methodists were introduced to the Lighthouse Church initiative. Lighthouse churches are United Methodist congregations devoted to Christian hospitality, and the welcome and care of people who’ve been displaced from their church home by disruption, disaffiliation or closure. A Lighthouse designation signals that a congregation is committed to a unifying missional focus of welcoming and caring for people who have been through crisis and/or carry church hurt. Ideal churches for this movement are 

  1. Called to extend radical hospitality;
  2. Focused on Christian discipleship and spiritual formation;
  3. Likely to receive, or are already receiving, those who are displaced from their church.

Learn more at www.ngumc.org/Lighthouse.

Awards And Celebrations

Celebrating Retirees

The Board of Ordained Ministry and Center for Clergy Excellence recognized and celebrated 33 retirees: 21 elders, 11 local pastors, and 1 deacon. Together they represent 690 years of service to The United Methodist Church. 

One Matters Awards

Recipients are:

  • Roe Chapel United Methodist Church
  • Acworth First United Methodist Church
  • Trinity at the Well United Methodist Church, Cartersville

Denman Evangelism Award

Recipients are:

  • Youth recipient of the Denman Award: Elijah John Mccoy Washington
  • Lay recipient of the Denman Award: Nancy Yeates.
  • Clergy Recipient of the Denman Award: Rev. Brett DeHart

Commissioning of a Deaconess
Becky Gaar was commissioned as a deaconess in The United Methodist Church by Bishop Dease.

Churches of Excellence in Outreach

The Church of Excellence in Outreach award recognizes churches that have gone above and beyond in their support of mission. We celebrated 10 churches receiving the Church of Excellence in Outreach designation for their action-oriented faith:

  • Ben Hill United Methodist Church
  • Bethlehem First United Methodist Church
  • Carrollton First United Methodist Church
  • Cornerstone United Methodist Church
  • East Cobb United Methodist Church 
  • Jackson United Methodist Church
  • Mt. Zion United Methodist Church Marietta
  • Newnan First United Methodist Church
  • Northside United Methodist Church   
  • Oak Grove United Methodist Church  

UM Connectional Federal Credit Union Scholarship Award

This year’s recipient in North Georgia Annual Conference is Austin Sever of Snellville United Methodist Church. 

UM Commission on Higher Education: Francis Asbury Award

The Rev. Sam Dawkins, director of the Wesley Foundation at the University of West Georgia, received the Francis Asbury Award from our Georgia United Methodist Commission on Higher Education and the United Methodist Board of Higher Education and Ministry. 

Special Offering

The Annual Conference Special Offering of $34,546 (and counting) will go to UMCOR and our Conference Disaster Response efforts. 

Future Dates of Annual Conference

2023 Called Special Session: November 18, 2023

2024: June 13-15, 2024, the Classic Center, Athens

Statistics

At the close of 2022, in the North Georgia Conference:

  • Membership stands at: 303,798 
  • Average weekly in-person attendance was: 58,722
  • Online worship attendance is reported at: 66,562
  • Professions of Faith through confirmation: 1,431
  • Professions of Faith other than confirmation: 1,142  

Sybil Davidson, Conference Communicator



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