Report from the 2020 Annual Conference of the North Georgia Conference of The United Methodist Church
The 2020 Annual Conference for the North Georgia Conference of The United Methodist Church convened on Saturday, August 29th, but NOT in Athens as usual. All 2,800+ delegates (both clergy and laity) tuned in to the virtual conference online. This was indeed a huge switch from the historically congenial gathering at the Classic Center in Athens. Bishop Sue Haupert-Johnson presided with the incredible technical support of the conference staff.
The opening slide presentations congratulated newly commissioned elders and deacons, provisional elders (including our former Youth Pastor, Robin Parr), retiring clergy and conference staff. The slide presentation also paid tribute to those who have passed away during the previous year.
Bishop Sue’s opening reflection centered on John 21: 1-14, where Jesus tells the frustrated disciples to cast their nets on the other side of the boat and they then haul in overflowing nets. She reminded us that in difficult and different times, we need to seek new and different directions to cast our nets for Christ. Online has become a very different side of the boat for many. This was followed by a hymn sung by a virtual choir which included our own David Daniel and Rev. Beth Brown Shugart, beautiful music to start an interesting and productive day.
During the course of the conference there were many procedural changes which had to be approved, but there were 3 significant issues requiring approval by vote. They are as follows:
- The North Georgia Conference has spent the last four years working with an outside consultant to redistrict our conference from twelve districts down to eight. The big question is WHY? “The current district structure was created during a far different era in North Georgia. Realigning our districts in a more strategic, mission-focused manner reflective of today’s North Georgia Conference is the responsible and most opportune path to pursue”, according to the NGC explanation information. Churches within each county will be together in a district, larger and smaller churches will be more balanced within each district, clergy will have a better opportunity to collaborate within each district – making each new district more cohesive. In addition, this restructuring will reduce conference expenses by over one million dollars annually, funds that can be used to better serve God in north Georgia. A vote was taken - electronically of course - and the motion passed by an overwhelming majority. Our church is now in District 3, the Central East district along with Barrow, Clark, Oconee and Walton counties.
- The next major issue to be addressed is a change in monetary management. The Charles Barnes Fund for Church Development was established to provide financial support for new or struggling church development. It is managed by a committee which reports to the Conference Board of Trustees. The proceeds from the sale of conference owned church properties will now go directly into the Barnes Fund for use throughout the conference on a needs basis. The change here involves a switch from district to conference management of sale proceeds, making these funds more available for use across the conference. A vote was taken and the motion was approved by a comfortable majority.
- The third major issue to be addressed involved some changes for the better in clergy healthcare packages and housing compensation. The vote was taken and also approved by a vast majority.
In other business, the General Conference of the United Methodist Church, scheduled to be held in Minneapolis, has been postponed until August 29 – September 7, 2021. The 2020 Conference of the Southeast Jurisdictional Conference of The United Methodist Church will now be held November 10 – 12, 2021. But, the 2021 Annual Conference of the North Georgia Conference of The United Methodist Church is still planned for June 3-5, 2021 at the Classic Center in Athens – God Willing!
All in all, it was a very successful, if not traditional, annual conference. In addition to our clergy members, the conference was attended by lay members Sherry Ferguson, Elizabeth Marcus, Jim and Terrie Adkins.