Bishop Asserts His Own Rules of Order, Georgia Governor Speaks, Retired Bishop Speaks of Reawakening
The 1999 Session of the North Georgia Annual Conference
Monday After separate morning sessions for clergy and laity, delegates gathered in the Classic Center's exhibit hall for a 2:00 p.m. service of worship and Holy Communion.
The Reverend Carolyn Morris, retiring District Superintendent of the Athens-Elberton District, called on the delegates to focus on what they hold in common, rather than on their disagreements. "Could we come together in a family gathering (and) stop hashing and rehashing, chewing and re-chewing, on our differences?" she asked.
At 3:15 p.m., Bishop G. Lindsey Davis called the conference to order and explained the process for voting on delegates to both General and Jurisdictional Conferences. North Georgia will send 26 delegates, 13 clergy and 13 laity, to the General Conference, scheduled for May 2000 in Cleveland, Ohio.
The Southeastern Jurisdictional Conference will meet in July 2000, with 52 elected delegates from North Georgia, 26 lay and 26 clergy.
(A final list of those elected is available on the official conference Web site.)
The balance of the afternoon was consumed with balloting, and with reports from various committees, task forces, and commissions.
At the evening ordination service, four candidates were ordained as Deacons in Full Connection, 25 as Probationary Members, and 22 as Elders in Full Connection.
Tuesday A communion service was held at 7:30 a.m in the Classic Center Theatre. (These services, held each morning at 7:30, were lightly attended.)
At 8:30 a.m., the business session resumed with additional balloting.
Then came the daily Bible study time, this year lead by the Rev. Dr. David Jones, pastor of Trinity-on-the-Hill UMC in Augusta, who spoke about mending "broken bones" in the Body of Christ. The text was Ephesians 4:1-13. (Later, he said that much of the study was borne out of internal problems at his own church, where great strife has resulted after a decision by the Staff-Parish Relations Committee to remove a long-time staff member.)
After the study, the Rev. Dr. Joe Peabody, incoming pastor of Marietta First UMC, lead a session of prayer for healing in the body. Special music was provided by soloist Tim Burcham, who sang at services and sessions throughout the week.
At 10:30 AM, the conference recognized retiring clergy. Several retirees seized the opportunity to give testimony about Jesus, but, sadly, others used to occasion simply to tell funny stories.
After a lunch break, the conference reconvened for several reports, including one presented by the Long Range Planning Committee was given. The committee presented a plan to sell the United Methodist Center building in downtown Atlanta and relocate the Center to Simpsonwood, a popular UM retreat area north of the city. After considerable discussion, the plan passed.
The balance of the afternoon session was taken up with balloting and reports, including report on the new conference prayer ministry.
General Conference Lay delegates elected on Tuesday included evangelicals Joe Whittemore, Margaret Knight, Rubin Perry, Joe Wesley Kilpatrick, Betty Ellison and Hiram Bobo. Also elected was conference youth president, Matthew Pinson, reportedly the first high-school age delegate elected from the conference in 38 years.
Only two clergy delegates were elected Tuesday: the Rev. Martha Forrest, Atlanta-College Park District superintendent, and the Rev. Malone Dodson, pastor of Roswell UMC.
The Tuesday evening worship service, billed as a "camp meeting" service, was held in the air-conditioned Classic Center Theatre. The Rev. Dr. Alice Rogers preached a strong sermon on "Telling the Story of Jesus."
Wednesday The session began with balloting, followed by the daily Bible study, in which the Rev. Dr. David Jones focused on replacing ungodly qualities with godly ones by the power of Christ. He said we must be away anger and bitterness, even if we have been wronged by another. The text was Ephesians 4:25-32.
In the prayer time which followed, the Rev. Dr. Joe Peabody called for prayers of repentance over anger and bitterness, and asked any of delegates who might be harboring anger or bitterness toward any other delegate to seek that person out during the week to ask forgiveness.
Rubin Perry, conference lay leader, presented the report of the Board of Laity, calling on delegates to spend time in prayer and to be open to the power and leading of the Holy Spirit. He also urged lay people to work actively toward racial reconciliation and to embrace new technology for use in evangelism and discipleship.
After a break for lunch, the conference resumed with a Service of Celebration and Remembrance, remembering clergy who died during the past year.
The rest of the day was filled with reports and balloting. Conference treasurer Clyde McDonald reported that conference membership was up by 6,373 over the previous year, with 7,559 professions of faith. Average worship attendance was 2.2 percent. Most of the growth came from children. Adult growth was less than 2 percent.
General conference lay delegates elected Wednesday: Chuck Lanier, Tom Jackson, Claudette Bryson, Marget Sikes, and Paul Ervin. Clergy delegates elected Wednesday: the Revs. Jonathan Holston, Jamie Jenkins, Warren Lathem, James Mooneyhan, Joe Peabody, Ed Tomlinson, and MacCallister Hollins.
By adjournment late Wednesday afternoon, 12 lay delegates and 9 clergy delegates had been elected to General Conference.
At the evening worship service, Bishop Edward W. Paup of Oregon preached, with music from The Junaluska Singers.
Thursday After David Jones' morning Bible study (focusing on the armor of God in Ephesians 6), prayer leader Joe Peabody asked delegates to kneel, if they were able, and pray.
Clergy were asked to pray that God would give them a lay person willing to speak the truth about any area of their lives in which they were failing to put on the full armor of God. Lay people were asked to pray that God would give them the boldness to speak the truth to their pastors in love.
Afterward, business resumed with more balloting and reports.
The conference approved the proposed sale of Camp Wesley, run by Wesley Community Centers, which provides a wilderness experience for inner-city children. A developer has purchased the land near the existing camp and plans to build at least 1,000 homes in the area. Another, more rural, tract of land will be located on which to rebuild the camp.
The conference decided to receive an impromptu offering for New Salem UMC. The church's building was destroyed by arson on New Year's Eve 1998. The total for the offering was $9,540.45.
The conference began voting on several resolutions Thursday, approving a recently written resolution commending Georgia Gov. Roy Barnes for his stand against casino gambling.
A resolution denouncing persecution of Christians around the world passed the conference, but two other resolutions on the same topic were defeated, largely over concerns about wording.
At about noon, a resolution calling for a change in the Book of Discipline to allow local churches to "redirect" apportionment funds was defeated, despite a 6-to-1 recommendation of approval by the conference Resolutions Committee.
Under the resolution, redirection of funds would have been allowed only after a local church had carefully investigated and documented unscriptural board/agency uses of apportioned money and had notified the District Superintendent of the intent to redirect. The proposed Discipline language would have required that all redirected funds be sent to other UM-related ministries.
Defeat of the resolution occurred after Bishop Davis, deviating from normal parliamentary procedure, cut off debate after only one speaker on each side. His stated reason for shortening the debate was that lunch time was approaching.
A speaker opposing the resolution was allowed to speak first. He was Dr. Herchel Sheets, head of the conference Board of Ordained Ministry. Dr. Sheets is retiring this year after 55 years in the conference.
The author of this report, a local church lay leader, spoke in favor of the resolution, which was defeated on a show of hands.
(On Friday, an attempt was made next day to rescind the "nay" vote and resume debate. See below.)
The afternoon session consisted of balloting and reports, including one from Andrus Norvak, Dean of Baltic Methodist Theological Seminary in Estonia. The seminary had 19 graduates last year. Nine of the graduates were supported by funds from the North Georgia Annual Conference.
The laity elected a final delegate to General Conference (evangelical Dick Williamson), plus ten of the 13 additional delegates to Jurisdictional Conference: Doris Paul, Betty Whitten, Ida Jones, Jo Dinkins, Judie Wendt, Shan Yohan, James Smith, Virginia Drewry, Vikki McVay and conference United Methodist Men President Norman Johnson.
The clergy finished electing its General Conference slate, sending Wiley Stephens, Mac Brantley, Alice Rogers and Walter Kimbrough.
Just before afternoon session closed, Gov. Roy Barnes, a member of the troubled Marietta First UMC, addressed the conference. (The Marietta church recently split, following Bishop Davis's decision to reappoint its pastor, Charles Sineath, who had been at the church for more than two decades.)
Mr. Barnes, also was the keynote speaker at the United Methodist Men's dinner Thursday evening, said "I'm not here this afternoon as your governor. I'm here as a Methodist but most of all as a follower of Jesus Christ."
He noted that every believer has the responsibility to act as a Christian in both their private lives and in the offices they hold.
After Gov. Barnes spoke, Bishop Davis led the delegation to share in a prayer for the governor.
Friday In the morning session, singer Tim Burcham sang "The Blood Will Never Lose its Power." Bible teacher David Jones led a study titled "Something to Sing About," emphasizing the Scriptural basis of many of our hymns and songs. Afterward, prayer leader Joe Peabody asked members of the delegates to form prayer triplets and pray for one another.
Bishop Davis then announced that work would continue on resolutions. Immediately, the author of this report rose "to a question of privilege" to register dissatisfaction with the shortened debate preceding the previous day's vote on the the apportionments resolution (see details in Thursday's report above).
Citing the Robert's Rules of Order provision (Rule 34) which says the "chairman cannot close the debate as long as any member desires to speak," I offered a motion to rescind the vote and reopen the debate. The cited the discretion allowed the chair in applying the rules and set aside my question of privilege. I appealed his decision to the delegates, who supported the Bishop's view that the rules need not be followed in all cases.
Debate then proceeded on other resolutions.
A resolution, from McEachern United Methodist Church, calling for deletion of Discipline language (66H) which appears to support out-of-wedlock unions was defeated. The Bishop allowed three speakers on each side of the question. Opponents of the resolution said it would be perceived as hateful. Supporters said the Church must offer a clear witness that out-of-wedlock unions are Scripturally wrong.
Then came the final resolution -- one supportive of homosexual unions but not calling on the conference to actually take any action. Immediately after the resolution was announced by the chair of the resolutions committee, the author of this report raised an objection "to consideration of the question."
Called upon by the Bishop to explain my objection, I noted that such an objection is permitted under the rules regarding any motion deemed "irrelevant, unprofitable or contentious."
I explained that the resolution on homosexual unions failed all three tests. "It is certainly contentious. It calls for no action on the part of the conference, therefore it is irrelevant. And I would submit that it most certainly unprofitable to debate that which God already has decided."
The Bishop called for vote on the objection, which was sustained by more than two-thirds of the body. This kept the resolution from the floor. (For the story from the Athens Daily News/Banner-Herald, click here.)
The rest of the day was consumed with budget matters, property resolutions, and balloting.
Lay delegates elected the rest of their Jurisdictional Conference delegation (Jo Ann Bookout, Gus Gustavson, and Dorothy Edmund) and chose five alternates (Lyn Powell, Marian Wilder, Virgil Eady, Dino Wesley, and Deborah Marlowe).
As the hour for adjournment approached, the clergy continued struggling to fill out their slate of Jurisdictional delegates.
The Bishop proceeded to read the new appointments, officially adjourned the session, and held the clergy past adjournment to continue balloting.
On the threshold of awakening? One particular hopeful moment in the conference come on Wednesday, when Bishop Davis recognized retired evangelical Bishop Mack Stokes.
Rather than simply wave at the crowd and acknowledge the applause, Bishop Stokes grabbed a microphone and proclaimed that a "historic moment" was upon us. He said that the United Methodist Church was approaching a time of "reawakening."
Bishop Davis responded, saying, "Let us pray that is so."
Many delegates agreed with a hearty, "Amen."
Joseph Slife (Lay Delegate, Gateway UMC-Athens) reporting from Athens, Georgia
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