The Wrong Question

“My food,” said Jesus, “is to do the will of Him who sent Me and to finish His work.”  (John 4:34)

Jesus considered God’s will to be His highest priority (see John 4:43-34). Following God’s will is also important to you. Often when people want to know God’s will, they will ask, “What is God’s will for my life?” As one of my seminary professors, Gaines S. Dobbins, used to say, “If you ask the wrong question, you are going to get the wrong answer.”

“What is God’s will for my life?” is not the best question to ask. The better inquiry is, “What is God’s will?” Because people are naturally self-centered, we tend to view the whole world — even God’s activity — in terms of our own lives. Of course, we want to know what we should do and how events will affect us. But that is actually an inverted life-perspective. Once I know God’s will, my life gains its proper perspective, and I can adjust my life to Him and to His purposes. In other words, what is it that God is purposing to accomplish where I am? Once I know what God is doing, then I see what I should do. My focus needs to be outward on God and His purposes, not inward on my life…

Discovering God’s greater plan helps you know what He wants to do through you. 

— Henry Blackaby, Richard Blackaby and Claude King in “Experiencing God: Knowing and Doing the Will of God”

SOUND BITES is a free, five-day-a-week e-mail ministry begun in 1999 in memory of Dustin Wilkinson, 1982-1998.  Rev. Dave Wilkinson is founder and editor. SOUND BITES originates from First United Methodist Church in Green Bay, Wisconsin, USA.  To subscribe to SoundBites click HERE

The Front Lawn Comes Alive for Christmas Season

If evangelism has a significant mixture of hospitality and communication, here is a project that has both and that is so exciting!

We have begun to build a life-size silhouette nativity – from camels to the baby Jesus – 15 figures is the goal for this round – for the front lawn. When all is said and done, these 15 figures will cost about $1,700 because we will eventually paint each figure with realistic detail and all those colors are expensive. The initial cost before all the paint is $1,000; and we are hoping that we can cover these material expenses through donations since all the cutting, priming, painting and install are free labor!

Initially, we will have white silhouettes as the prep of the wood so that it is smooth, primed and sealed is labor intensive. Thanks to Randy Longino, Rudy Herren, Gina Alford, Cookie Keene, Wayne Hunsucker, and RayeAnn Holewinski for jumping on board and please forgive if someone has been left off the list. If you feel led, we appreciate your contribution of labor and money; so let RayeAnn or Pastor Beverly know.

We are also asking for donations of solar floodlights.  We will need 4.

And yes, the scene will come together over the four weeks of December as all journey across the lawn to the stable.

O Come, O Come Emmanuel!

Stewardship of All God Has Given Us – Visions of 2019

As we begin our stewardship campaign (October 21 – November 11), we are going to be talking about our stewardship of all that God has given us, and not just the money (aka gifts in this context).  We also are stewards of our time, talent, service and witness.  A lot of these have nothing to do with pledging money.  Some take a bit of money for gas, but it is mostly the gift of service using our time and talents to be a witness. Fayette County has plenty of opportunities for a church like NFUMC to be in hands-on mission and ministry, and the UMC has things we can do to help people all over with such things as the various UMCOR kits. 

As we begin our stewardship program and plan for 2019, please be in prayer for how we might be disciples serving and making disciples here in the following areas. As you read, you may be lead to things not mentioned here.  If so, do not keep it to yourself.

Outreach

Our opportunities to reach out to the community have old and promise new opportunities. 

Christmas with Santa will give us the joy of serving children of our community again. What can we do to enhance the day? Something new? How can we invite them back to something else like VBS or Grow Camp where they can learn more about God and develop their relationship with Christ regardless of whether they attend a church regularly already.

And speaking of VBS, we could have a community-facing program this year.  That means we begin planning in January, we work with all of the smaller UMCs in our area and invite them to join us, we schedule a week that fits with other activities around us, we place banners and signage, and we use a mailing list from Breakfast with Santa.  We could have 30-75 children, and the only question is, will you serve?

The Peachtree Wind Ensemble is rehearsing here weekly, and will hold two more concerts this year on our campus, both during the Advent/Christmas season. For these holiday events, what can we do that would be a gift for the attendees or an opportunity to extend our ministry? You might not know that we have two wonderful church members who came to us through PWE, Liz and Phil Cole! The ministry of music is powerful, and we have a grand opportunity to be blessed and a blessing!

Evangelism As Hospitality

Most people may not think that evangelism is a matter of communion or hospitality, both are critical to offering Christ to folks.  We do a good job nurturing most of our congregation, but hospitality is a different concept. Hospitality is doing things for others who are not us (at least not yet), and seeing things through their eyes.  It means that we think about them, their needs, what they are seeking, and striving to open our doors and our hearts to receive and nurture them.

Making our campus a welcoming place begins with letting people know that we care. A group of folks have continued the efforts begun before last year’s homecoming, cleaning out storage areas and developing a list of things that need to be done to make NFUMC looke like a loved and cared for place.  We know that when our facilities look their best – look cared for – that it sends a message. We care about God’s house and we care about having a welcoming environment because we also care about the people who are new to us. There is a lot more that goes into Evangelism, and we will get to that.  But, one of the easiest and most satisfying things is to work together to be good stewards of this place.  Mostly it takes some sweat equity, some paint, and a measure of creativity; but it sends a large and powerful message:  we are alive, well and welcoming!

For those of us who find the work almost spiritual, cleaning out the closets, attic and basement; and finding new homes for all kinds of things is fulfilling.  And yes, even sending some things to the dump is sometimes needed. It makes room – literally and figuratively – for new things, new thoughts, new hopes, and can open us up to the fellowship of work and the ministry of hospitality. If you want to join this team, contact Gina Alford. So, will you do this?

Hospitality is more than a welcoming “looking” place, it is also welcoming people.  Our greeters and ushers are so important as they not only engage people coming to worship, but also share info with Pastor Beverly.  But, saying hello is only the beginning.

These days, people want to know if they can belong before anything else, even before they can really hear some of the important things about faith and God. And, the first step to knowing they belong is whether or not people already here care.  If we care, we want to know about them, break bread with them, and include them in what we are doing around the church.

What if you took the time after worship (please not during worship!) to find out a little about someone you haven’t known before – visitor or member – and invited them to lunch?  Took a rain check (with contact infor), so you could reschedule if it wasn’t convenient that Sunday? That is REAL hospitality, not the “ya’ll come” kind. That open ended without any intentionality or commitment is just what it sounds like: insincere.

And, what if you not only invited them to a class or meeting and actually had something in mind that you could invite them to do, and introduced them to whatever you and your group were doing instead of assuming they would figure it out. Or, better yet, you included them, listened to them, and accepted their suggestions.  Wow, that would be powerful.

So, the real question is, will you do these things?

Evangelism as Communication

One of the biggest downfalls in churches is communication.  Sometimes it is because we think that “everybody knows” what is happening, when, how and by whom.  Actually only the people who have done whatever it is for years know any of this, and new people know nothing about it. 

Communication is hospitality in that people need to know what is happening to get involved.

Communication is in advance.

Communication requires planning and teamwork. It is not a solo or last minute thing.

Communicators will work together to do the best job they in order to reach the most people and be the most effective with whatever they are doing.

Are you a communicator? Are you willing to be a part of a team who strive to make sure that everyone knows about events, fundraisers, missions, ministry, etc.? Will you do this?

Discipleship

Making disciples and growing in discipleship are intentional. It is a process which includes getting us all into growth mode: information plus transformation, equals growth … and growth leads to increasing maturity and that means we can bear fruit. These fruits of the spirit are the internal qualities that Paul talks about (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control, Galatians 5:22-23)which enable us to live out the Christian life, and becoming better and better servants and witnesses to the gospel.

So, when was the last time you did a Bible study? Did you have a really good confirmation experience?  If you don’t attend Sunday School now or want a deeper experience, are you willing to do a Bible Study? Not interested traditional Sunday School?  How about a small group gathering in your home, say once a month to start with, where you break bread, fellowship and spend some time studying together.? It’s never too late to grow … that is life! The only question is, will you do this?

And here’s just one more question about discipleship: are you supporting others in their discipleship as they seek to learn, grown, serve, offer hospitality, communicate, reach out, and all that? Most often, we don’t give each other the support we should. Since it is very important that everyone have some way to be involved in the life of the church, and that no one does (or should do) everything; we have to be gentle with one another. No one is really in control of everything in a church.  Pastor Beverly has been ordained with the authority to “order the church,” but even she does not control the church.  Her job is not to do our jobs or to tell us how things have to be done, but to guide, encourage, direct when there is a reason (disciplinary, theological, doctrinal, scriptural), and generally encourage everyone to be in ministry.

Going back to Paul again, “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, with all malice, and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. (Ephesians 4:31-32)

The more we are doing, the more fruitful we are, the more we are about the work of the Lord; the more likely we will need to remember that.  We will easily forget the Lord of the work and his ways, and step on each other’s toes.  It is among the first stumbling blocks that we place in our path and the path of others when a church begins to move and grow and thrive.

Mission

At the end of our “no more pew potatoes” month, we joined other UMCs in our cluster for a morning at MidWest Food Bank.  It was a lot of fun, no particular skills were required, and a wide range of ages participated. Pastor Beverly was asked, “Why don’t we do this more often?”

Well, there is no reason we cannot plan to do a Morning of Mission on a regular basis. What if we started with a quarterly schedule? We primarily need a coordinator/contact, and folks to sign up.  It is really that easy to get involved with doing hands-on ministry. So, what are some of the things we could do?  There are plenty of opportunities that many of you know about.  What are they?  Will you become involved?

Mission: Extending the Table

One of the most meaningful things we could do on a communion Sunday is extend the table to the homebound. Pastor Beverly has a number of “traveling communion sets,” and we have the people who could do this.

No, you are not presiding at the table because that is something only an ordained elder can do. You are extending the table by taking the already consecrated elements of bread and wine (aka juice).  There is a brief order of worship with prayers and such already there that you read, and for some prayer, have everyone who is able read with you. Pastor Beverly will make sure you are trained and comfortable, and will ride along with you to get you started if needed.

This is a huge blessing for those that receive as well as those who journey out to share the Lord’s Table with others. So, will you do this?

Praying Our Way Forward

 

WASHINGTON, D.C.  — The Council of Bishops, in partnership with The Upper Room, is launching Phase 3 of Praying our Way ForwardPhase 1 involved 84 members of the Council of Bishops praying for The United Methodist Church’s way forward for 15 minutes daily, from August to December 2016. This was followed by Phase 2, which resulted in 18 continuous months of daily individual and corporate prayer by faithful members of annual conferences around the globe.

“Now we are ready to launch Phase 3, which begins June 3 and continues through the Special Session of General Conference in February 2019.  In this phase, we are encouraging every United Methodist to fast weekly and to pray daily with the Council of Bishops,” said Bishop Al Gwinn, the Prayer Team Coordinator.

In Phase 3, all United Methodists are invited to:

1. Engage in a weekly Wesleyan 24-hour fast from Thursday after dinner to Friday mid-afternoon.  Those who have health situations causing food fasts to be unadvisable might consider fasting from social media, emails or another daily activity.

2. Pause and pray for our church’s mission and way forward daily for four minutes from 2:23 through 2:26 a.m. or p.m. in their own time zone OR at another time.  This is because the Special Session of General Conference will be held February 23 through February 26, 2019.

3. Pray using a weekly prayer calendar that will be posted on the UMCPrays.org website from June 2, 2018, through the end of February 2019. The calendar will list a unique cluster of names each week. The names will balance United States bishops and delegates with Central Conference bishops and delegates. It will also include General Secretaries, Commission on a Way Forward members, the Commission of the General Conference and the staff of the General Conference.

 “We urge every Annual Conference to use the video available on the umcprays.org website to promote Phase 3 of Praying Our Way Forward.  There will also be a local church media kit with downloadable resources including logos, social media posts, and bulletin inserts available by Memorial Day,” said Tom Albin, director of Spiritual Formation for The Upper Room.

Bishop Debra Wallace-Padgett, Council of Bishops Life Together chair, added: “We believe that the acts of weekly fasting and prayer will help us approach General Conference both individually and corporately in a posture of humility and receptivity to one another and to the leadership of God’s Holy Spirit,”

For more details, visit UMCPrays.org.

Commission on The Way Forward

Members of the Commission on a Way Forward ended their March meeting with a letting-go prayer event in which they gave up control of their final report to the Council of Bishops, who officially received the final report at an April/May meeting in Chicago.

By: Christa Meland

In February 2019, at a Special Session of the General Conference, United Methodist delegates from around the world will decide how to move forward as a denomination around the issue of human sexuality.

A diverse “Commission on a Way Forward” that was appointed by the Council of Bishops has spent the past two years working to address the denomination’s differences on this topic.

The Commission members are:

  • Jorge Acevedo, USA, Florida, elder, male
  • Brian Adkins, USA, California, elder, male
  • Jacques Umembudi Akasa, Africa, Democratic Republic of Congo, laity, male
  • Tom Berlin, USA, Virginia, elder, male
  • Matt Berryman, USA, Illinois, laity, male
  • Helen Cunanan, Philippines, elder, female
  • David Field, Europe, Switzerland, laity, male
  • Ciriaco Francisco, Philippines, bishop, male
  • Grant Hagiya, USA, California, bishop, male
  • Hortense Aka Dago-Akribi,,Africa, Côte d’Ivoire, laity, female
  • Scott Johnson, USA, New York, laity, mal
  • Jessica Lagrone, USA, Kentucky, elder, female
  • Thomas Lambrecht, USA, Texas, elder, male
  • MyungRae Kim Lee, USA, New York, laity, female
  • Julie Hager Love, USA, Kentucky, deacon, female
  • Mazvita Machinga, Africa, Zimbabwe, laity, female
  • Patricia Miller, USA, Indiana, laity, female
  • Mande Guy Muyombo, Africa, Democratic Republic of Congo, elder, male
  • Eben Nhiwatiwa, Africa, Zimbabwe, bishop, male
  • Dave Nuckols, USA, Minnesota, laity, male
  • Casey Langley Orr, USA, Texas, deacon, female
  • Gregory Palmer, USA, Ohio, bishop, male
  • Donna Pritchard, USA, Oregon, elder, female
  • Tom Salsgiver, USA, Pennsylvania, elder, male
  • Robert Schnase, USA, Texas, bishop, male
  • Jasmine Rose Smothers, USA, Georgia, elder, female
  • Leah Taylor, USA, Texas, laity, female
  • Debra Wallace-Padgett ,USA, Alabama, bishop, female
  • Rosemarie Wenner, Europe, Germany, bishop, female
  • Alice Williams,USA, Florida, laity, female
  • John Wesley Yohanna, Africa, Nigeria, bishop, male
  • Alfiado S. Zunguza, Africa, Mozambique, elder, male
  • The moderators of the Commission are:
  • Sandra Steiner Ball, USA, West Virginia, bishop, female
  • Kenneth Carter, USA, Florida, bishop, male
  • David Yemba, Africa, Democratic Republic of Congo, bishop, male

The commission forwarded two detailed plans to the Council of Bishops for their consideration: the One-Church Plan and the Connectional Conferences Plan. A third plan considered by the commission, the Traditionalist Plan, was later added by the bishops to the plans to be presented to the 2019 General Conference.

The Council of Bishops is recommending the One-Church Plan, but all three plans reported by The Way Forward Committee were reviewed and ruled constitutional by the Judicial Council of the UMC, and will be brought to the conference being held in St. Louis, MO, February 23 – 26 2019. The complete report is some 93 pages long. (Click here to access the complete report with detailed information on all the plans.).

Bishop Bruce R. Ough of the Minnesota Annual Conference offers this wisdom to United Methodist churches and leaders – both clergy and laity –  as they await the Special Session of the General Conference:

  • Do not make decisions before they are made.
  • Lead out of a convicted humility.
  • Be a non-anxious presence.
  • Be relational in your leadership.
  • Affirm all the voices and values.
  • Speak to the anxiety and fear.
  • Strengthen congregational resiliency by building
    • MC identity
    • biblical and interpretive fluency
    • missional commitment
    • the practice of respectful conversation
    • and strengthening your leadership team using resources such as The Anatomy of Peace: Resolving the Heart of Conflict, Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes Are High, and God Unbound.

Bishop Sue Hauper-Johnson, North Georgia Annual Conference spoke about the upcoming General Conference at the 2018 North Georgia Annual Conference.  You are encouraged to listen to this as it outlines where members of the conference stand in general as well as her advice. View Video by Clicking Here.

The Three Plans

by Dave Nuckols a member of the Commission, and Rev. Judy Zabe. Both Nuckols and Abe members of the Minnesota delegation to General Conference.

One-Church Plan (recommended by Council of Bishops)

This plan would allow for contextualization in different parts of the world (adapting some non-essential practices to different mission fields to maximize our witness and success in each place). It is based on the belief that we can be a church with a large enough tent for people to disagree about homosexuality and yet remain together as The United Methodist Church. It allows us to affirm that our unity and mission are more important than our disagreements.

Some of the key components of this plan:

It will neither affirm nor condemn LGBTQ persons. It would remove the controversial statement that the practice of homosexuality is “incompatible with Christian teaching” that has been experienced as hurtful by gay persons and as alienating by younger generations.

It relies on pastoral discretion. Clergy would decide which weddings to officiate or not officiate. Clergy—through their normal Board of Ordained Ministry process—would discern who is fit and fruitful for clergy service in their annual conference. This plan would remove the current prohibitions without creating new obligations or affirmation. This plan should put an end to clergy trials that are damaging to individuals and to our public witness.

It respects local church wishes. As for weddings, no local church would be forced to vote. However, the church property would not be used in same-sex weddings unless the local church updates its local church policy to specifically allow it. And as for clergy assignment, bishops would take local wishes into account concerning who is or is not a good fit for their appointment. So, practically speaking, there would be gay weddings and gay ordination in some parts of the United Methodist world, but it would not be forced on local churches.

It protects clergy rights to individual conscience. The Book of Discipline would protect clergy who do not want to officiate same-sex weddings. Likewise, all would be allowed to follow their conscience in matter of ordination.

Pros of this plan:

  • Allows for contextualization in different parts of the U.S. (this already exists in Africa, Asia, and Europe).
  • More coherent theology for unity because it no longer assumes that human sexuality is the defining theological issue for The UMC.
  • No more clergy trials.

Cons of this plan:

  • Does not completely satisfy the progressives because it does not bar some kinds of discrimination against married homosexuals in some parts of the UMC.
  • Does not completely satisfy the traditionalists because allowing same-sex marriage in any form violates their particular interpretation of scripture.

Connectional Conferences Model (considered but not recommended by Council of Bishops)

The Connectional Conferences Model is grounded in a unified core that includes shared doctrine and services, and one Council of Bishops, while creating different branches that would have clearly defined values such as accountability, contextualization, and justice.

In the U.S., the five geographically distinct jurisdictional conferences would be replaced by three overlapping conferences: one traditional conference, one progressive conference, and one centrist or “uniting” conference. Each annual conference would choose to be a member of one of the three connectional conferences based on their affinity to the conference’s theological stance on homosexuality.  Any local church that disagrees with the annual conference decision could vote to join a different branch conference.

Pros of this plan:

  • Makes a place for all three viewpoints within the UMC and yet creates enough separation that there is clarity for each position.
  • Conferences and local churches could make a clear choice on human sexuality and yet enjoy some of the missional advantages of remaining a global church.

Cons of this plan:

  • Creates a complex structure that is more congregational than connectional.
  • It would take years of administrative work to put this in place—there would be many constitutional amendments that would be difficult to ratify in annual conferences around the world.
  • Churches may split as they try to determine which branch they will join.
    Some traditionalists would still be upset that LGBTQ people are being affirmed in some parts of the UMC
  • Some progressives would still be upset that LGBTQ people are being discriminated against in the UMC.

Traditionalist Model (not recommended by Council of Bishops)

The Traditionalist Model would affirm the current Book of Discipline statement that the practice of homosexuality is “incompatible with Christian teaching.” Boards of Ordained Ministry would still be prohibited from recommending LGBTQ candidates for ordination. Officiating same-sex marriages would still be a chargeable offense, and being a self-avowed and practicing gay clergy would continue to be a chargeable offense. 

The Traditionalist Model would demand increased accountability to the Book of Discipline—not only for individual pastors but also for churches, bishops, and even annual conferences, all of which could face punishment.

Pros of this plan:

  • Essentially preserves the status quo, which some want.
  • Requires no changes to our structure.

Cons of this plan:

  • It’s a plan for keeping the status quo; fighting will continue and it will compromise our mission with costly trials.
  • Plan is not a plan for unity; it tells the progressives to leave
  • We would likely lose most of our millennials and the next generations

Annual Conference 2018

During the conference, we were invited to go engage in spiritual disciplines. In four sessions across three days, experts from our Conference led teaching times on these practices. During these contentious times, when speaking truth to power is more dangerous than ever—but also needed more than ever—these disciplines are crucial to engaging in true dialogue. We can truly listen to others in love, and not anger or hate, if we practice these disciplines.

The sessions were:

Conversation with Country Dark with Gregory Ellison II, Associate Professor of Pastoral Care & Counseling, Candler School of Theology, Emory University 

Know Your Spiritual Type with Ellen Shepard, Senior Pastor of Stone Mountain First UMC and Director of Women, Theology & Ministry, Candler School of Theology, Emory University

My Life with Others Neighboring, Care of the Earth, and Hospitality led by Anjie Woodworth and Andy Woodworth, co-pastors, Neighborhood Church

Examen: Fasting led by Lahronda Little, M.Div. Ph.D student at The Laney Graduate School of Emory University

Fixed Hour of Prayer with Julie Boone, Senior Pastor, McKendree UMC

Lectio Divina with Millie Kim, pastor, Second Avenue UMC, Rome

Visio Divina with Tavares Stephens, Assistant Pastor, St. James UMC – Alpharetta


Four worship services anchored the conference, each planned by a different team of North Georgia United Methodists. 

Opening Worship

The North Georgia Conference opened with song, prayers, and praise. Worshipping in several of the languages of our diverse congregations, we heard Spanish, Swahili, Korean, English and ASL. We prayed out loud in the Korean tradition.

In the Opening Worship sermon, Bishop Sue gave the charge to “Go, be good Methodists!” Preaching from Luke 18:9-14, she called the North Georgia Conference to cross any boundary, go anywhere, desperate to love people. 

Acknowledging our shortcomings and natural tendency to categorize by who’s more righteous, more holy, more close to Jesus, she said, “We always want to measure up and put ourselves a little above. … But there is another way.”

“John Wesley realized there’s a method to break us out of this bondage,” said the bishop. “Prayer, reflection, time together in small groups and worship, all remind us that we are human and God is God. … We have the method, we just have to reclaim it.”

As Bishop Sue preached, local artist and United Methodist Sarah Glass began painting on an 8’x8′ canvas on the stage. She continued the work throughout the three-day conference, completing it just before the closing session.

Opening worship was planned by Rev. Eric Lee and Arturo Quintanilla of the Chapel Roswell congregation with music from Chapel Roswell Band and a choir of youth members.

Service of Remembrance

In a Service of Remembrance that was both solemn and celebratory, the conference remembered 27 clergy, 14 spouses, and 4 of the many North Georgia Conference laity who have faithfully served and taken their places in the cloud of witness.

“With great tenderness and tremendous joy we celebrate the many ways these lives have touched us,” said preacher for the service Rev. Elaine Puckett, retired. “Sometimes collectively as a part of this church that we all so dearly love.”

The service closed with the ringing of a bell for each of the honored dead and a single bagpiper processing through the congregation.

The service was planned by Rev. Dr. Bill Britt and Peachtree Road UMC staff along with Rev. Dr. Dana Everhart of North Georgia Conference Ministerial Services and featured musicians and choir from Peachtree Road UMC in Atlanta.

Ordination Service

In the Service of Licensing, Commissioning, and Ordination, preacher Rev. Dr. Byron Thomas of Ben Hill UMC empowered the congregation.

“You are not here by accident. You are here on business,” he said. “And therefore your worth does not come from anyone outside yourself. You were born in this world with intrinsic worth or value. If you did not grow up in the best of circumstances, it’s alright. God already incorporated into your very fiber worth and value.”

He confessed that the stakes are high and that everybody is not going to welcome you, “but your very soul has business in this world.”

At the close of the service, Bishop Sue invited anyone feeling a call to ministry to come forward to meet with the Board of Ordained Ministry.

The service was planned by Rev. Dr. Dana Everhart of the Office of Ministerial Services and Melodi Lovely of St. James UMC Alpharetta and featured the St. James UMC Choir.

Service of Sending Forth

Closing worship and communion incorporated Korean, Czech, German, Spanish and English languages. The stage was set with six large, lighted letters: J-E-S-U-S. 

Rev. Dr. Rodrigo Cruz of The Nett UMC was preacher for the service.

Speaking to the disagreements in our denomination, he shared several touching stories about his children.

His family has learned that belonging together doesn’t mean they will always get along. “That is a microcosm of our conference and our connectional system,” he said.

Cruz pointed out that this is not the first time in history when a group of Christians is wondering about the future. This situation draws him to Acts 20:22-24, when Paul writes that he doesn’t know the future, but “nothing is more important than completing my mission.”

“As we face General Conference, let me tell you one more time: ‘I don’t know what will happen,'” he said. “Church, there is a future and I know nothing about it.”

What he knows is that his mission is to go out and finish the work that Jesus started.

As a pastor of a growing new church, people often ask Cruz “what’s the future.”

“We’re meeting in my living room and people ask, ‘what’s the future for this church?’ We move into a high school and people ask, ‘what’s the future for this church?’ We move into our first building and people ask, ‘what’s the future for this church?’ This year we’re going to a second campus. ‘Pastor, what’s the plan for the future of this church?'” he said.

“Here’s the plan for the future of the church,” he said. “We are going to be obedient today.”

He called on the congregation not to miss what God can do today because of what God may or may not do in 2019.

Paul didn’t have the perfect plan to move forward, Cruz continued. He had to be obedient.  “We don’t have to be a perfect church to share a perfect savior,” he said.

The service was planned by Michael Cromwell of Hillside UMC and Cruz and featured music from the Hillside UMC Worship Band. The service closed with Holy Communion.

 


Reports, Awards, and Presentations

Through reports to the Annual Conference, members saw the reach of the United Methodist connection from our local communities, across our Conference, and around the world.

The 60th mayor of Atlanta and active United Methodist, The Honorable Keisha Lance Bottoms, greeted the North Georgia Conference and later spoke at the annual Laity Dinner. Her faith story was a highlight of the Conference for many.

We heard from related-agencies about the collaborative mission and ministry happening across our conference including:

  • United Methodist Children’s Home
  • Murphy-Harpst
  • Wesley Woods
  • Aldersgate Homes
  • Housing and Homeless Council
  • Camp and Retreat Ministries
  • Georgia United Methodist Foundation
  • United Methodist Connectional Federal Credit Union
  • Georgia’s UM Commission on Higher Education.

Russell Pierce, on behalf of Global Ministries, presented Bishop Sue with plaques recognizing the North Georgia Conference for being in the top 10 conferences for giving in four of six mission areas. The North Georgia Conference gave $1.7 million to disaster response in 2017, the second highest amount in the denomination. 

The North Georgia Conference Churches of Excellence in Outreach awards were presented to:

  • Carrollton First, Rome-Carrollton
  • Cornerstone, Lagrange                       
  • Douglasville First, Rome-Carrollton 
  • Jackson, Griffin
  • Northside, Atl-College Park                             
  • Oak Grove, Atl-Emory                         
  • Vinings,  Atl-Marietta

    The Harry Denman Evangelism Award was presented to:

  • Youth – Addison Franklin of Barrow Community Church in the Atlanta-Marietta District
  • Laity – James “Jim” Davis of Dalton First in the Northwest District
  • Clergy – William Seihwan Kim of The Korean Church of Atlanta in the Atlanta-Roswell District 

Chris Karabinos, the North Georgia Conference Scouting Coordinator, was presented with The Silver Torch Award. This high honor is awarded to an adult for exemplary service in scouting ministry. 

The Conference celebrated three young adults who will serve as Global Missions Fellows:

  • Kristi Painter of Hickory Flat UMC, Asti White of Trinity on the Hill UMC in LaGrange, and Julia Falgout of North Decatur UMC.

“These are shining examples of our young people, and our institutions of higher learning that form and shape our young people,” said Bishop Sue.

The North Georgia Conference had the honor of commissioning:

  • Global Ministries Missionary Didier Monga Wa Shakapanga of the North Katanga Conference.
  • Deaconess Cynthia D. Campbell of Bethel UMC in Smyrna. 

Generosity and Vitality

The Annual Conference celebrated and practiced generosity. 

The 5K run/walk was sponsored by the Conference Council on Youth Ministries. Proceeds went to the Youth Service Fund, a fund raised by youth, administered by youth, to support youth-led mission projects in our Conference.

Gifts to our Annual Conference special offering for the Ministerial Education Fund totaled more than $74,000. Donations are still incoming.

More than 4,000 UMCOR Kits were donated primarily by local UMW units in the Conference.

The Annual Conference Red Cross Blood Drive had 71 donors.

The total amount given for Special Sundays, General Advance Specials, World Service Specials, and other forms of directed benevolence (second-mile giving) in 2017 was $9.37 Million, up from 2016. 

The North Georgia Conference ordained 8 elders in full connection, 2 deacons in full connection, and commissioned 15 provisional members.

The Annual Conference passed a budget of $21,920,651 for 2019.

2017 Statistics

  • Membership: 357,015, a 1% decline from 2016. (7 of our 12 districts had increases in 2017.)
  • Worship attendance: 107,000 (average per Sunday).
  • Professions or reaffirmations of faith: 4,627 total.

Keith Cox, Conference Treasurer/Director Administrative Services shared that in 2017, North Georgia United Methodist churches had paid 94.7 percent of the apportionment budget, the highest percentage of apportionments paid in 16 years.


Continuing the Conversation: A Way Forward

The Conference heard several times about the Special Session of General Conference in 2019. Delegation chair Mathew Pinson shared that our delegation has been diligently preparing for the 2019 Special General Conference. Pinson’s prayer is for unity. “I pray for the unity of the church. Not unity for unity’s sake, but for Christ’s sake. Because I pray for the unity of Christ’s body in the world,” he said.

On Wednesday, members of the Annual Conference took a poll to gauge the feelings of the body as we look toward the special General Conference next year. The results showed both hope and concern about the future of the church, but a desire for unity from 70% of the attendees. Rev. Dr. Byron Thomas closed with his thoughts on the future. “There is nothing we can’t overcome through Christ.”

Bishop Sue addressed the Conference on Thursday, speaking from her heart about the future of the church. She began by asking all to consider how our decisions will affect people not yet in the church.

“Being conformed to Christ is my life’s goal and I hope your goal,” she said. “The church is to be a place where all gather in the grace of God and work together companions on the journey.”

We know that the church is not of one mind on the matter of human sexuality, explained Bishop Sue, and there is not a clear answer to this challenge. But, she continued, “There’s too much at stake to draw battle lines. I urge every church to be in conversation. To presume any sort of consensus or presume everyone in any church believes one way, I think, is naïve.”

She spoke to the unfortunate history of division in the church. More than 100 years ago we had disagreement over slavery and the church split. We had disagreement over segregation and created a whole Methodist polity around segregation for which we are still paying the price. For years the church struggled over divorce and remarriage, Bishop Sue said,

Our decisions over the next year are incredibly important. My request is, please start a conversation and discuss this and gain understanding. To really see the image of God in every human being requires us to see the image of God in every human being. That is the role of the church.

Bishop Sue shared an article from theologian Thomas Oden, “Do Not Rashly Tear Asunder.” The title comes from a John Wesley quote, “Do not rashly tear our United Methodist connection asunder.”

We don’t know what exactly the future holds, but Bishop Sue sees great hope in the large majority who desire to go forward together. 

 

The Good News

When John & Charles Wesley took the Good News to the working poor of England, they received no encouragement or support from The Church.  Good church people and church authorities thought that preaching in the fields and in mining villages was vulgar and inappropriate. The word of God, according to proper church folks, should only be preached from a pulpit in a church. Official reprimands were issued. John and others among these “field preachers” were barred from many pulpits for these practices along with their unpopular messages.

Regrettably part of their opposition was based on an aversion to “those people,”  referring to people who had migrated from the country Side. There the village church was in the center of town life, literally and figuratively, In London where the churches were cathedrals, their shabby clothing and limited financial resources simply did not fit in with the educated, wealth church goers.

These migrants entered an entirely different economy when their arrived in these cities and mining towns. In the countryside, they grew or raised a significant part of what they needed and bartered for others things. Selling something they produced or made earned them money to buy the few things they could not grow, made or barter. Once in the city, their earnings from a factory or mining job was what they had to live on.

In those days, there were no laws to prohibit extremely long working hours.  A 40-hour work week and weekends off were unknown.  Even young children worked to help support their families, and education was a luxury. Debtors’ prisons were a reality for many.

All of this meant that the growing population in the cities were unchurched, uneducated and unable to rise above the poverty level.  In those days, health care in these communities was scare, and there were no protections for workers from dangerous environments or duties. Life spans were short.

The Wesley brothers and other members of the Holy Club they organized at Oxford did not limit themselves, therefore, to the care of souls.  They knew that physical needs and hardships made hearing the gospel as good news rather unbelievable. So, their ministry was to the real material needs of the people they served as well as what we would call evangelism and Christian education.  Thrift institutions were established to help them learn how to manage their money.  John Wesley even wrote a book of medical and healthy living advice. They also visited people in prison, providing prisoners and their families with help.

The bands and classes they established (what would be called small groups or covenant discipleship today) taught literacy as well as scripture. In these small groups people were prepared to go to church: spiritual preparation along with what we might call basic hygiene and etiquette.

The Wesleys and those who joined their Methodist movement were not popular among people who exploited the working poor either. They were attacked by tavern owners and others who profited from the hopeless situation of the poor, encouraging them to “drown their sorrows” in alcohol, and flaming the hope of increasing their wages through gambling. And when I say attacked, I mean with fists and rocks. Being run out of town was common with or without a beating first.

When the Methodist movement came to the US, there were similar issues among the general population.  To be sure, churches were  uncommon outside the cities, and circuit riders covered dozens of churches spread across hundreds of miles.  Lay preachers (both men and women), called exhorters, kept the preaching going; but communion was only possible when an ordained priest (who we call elders today) were present.  As a result, the sacrament was offered quarterly, or even less often. Camp meetings were a major evangelism tool across the country side.

It may seem that we are light years away from the birth of Methodism, but today there are a many people in the communities that surround NFUMC who have are without means and have no relationship with a faith community. The church is rarely at the center of a community’s life.  And, that is true for many churches.

Our Global Board of Discipleship has focused attention on the fact that there are many people just outside our campus with the #SeeAllThePeople initiative. Dr. Junius Dotson who heads the board has assembled some outstanding materials to help churches see all the people that are around them, and make disciples of Jesus Christ.  A number of you picked up some of these materials from the North Georgia Conference table that we had in the sanctuary last month.

In conjunction with this, you may have heard of Fresh Expressions, a movement that began in the UK in the Anglican church, and was introduced successfully in the US in the Florida Conference.  Much like the early Methodist movement these fresh expressions of church, take the gospel out to people where they are.  These non-typical settings, bring church to places that are as different as the fields of Wesley’s day. The point is to gather with people at a point of need or around an activity or interest that important to them. The goal is to bring people into relationship with each other, with Christ, and eventually to lead them into a life of discipleship. The success of these efforts is amazing and inspirational. Some examples have been shared on our UNFUMC Facebook page. Both these initiatives provide an avenue for evangelism for our times.

The question for us is simple. Will we be a part of this great awakening!