Apart but still together: conference worships virtually
Apart but still together.
That was the unofficial theme of South Georgia’s 2020 Annual Conference session worship services as the conference celebrated virtually over the course of several days before culminating in the day-long Aug. 15 business session.
Virtual Commissioning Service
The Conference gathered Saturday, Aug. 8 for the virtual Commissioning Service. Along with their families, those being commissioned gathered at Vineville United Methodist Church in Macon. Masks were worn and family groups were distanced from one another by several pews. Thousands watched, but via livestream instead of in person this year.
Bishop R. Lawson Bryan, episcopal leader of the South Georgia area, preached the service. His sermon, “Commissioned to Wrestle,” drew from Genesis 32:22-31, when Jacob wrestled with God.
While the story is odd, it’s one that makes sense for the current times, he said. He also reminded those being commissioned that it’s similar to their stories of wrestling with God over being called into vocational ministry.
“This story seems so strangely appropriate because it’s actually your story,” Bishop Bryan said. “As strange as this story of wrestling with God may be, you don’t have any trouble believing it, do you? Because it’s really what happened to you.”
The next three years of ministry – the Resident in Ministry (RIM) process – is a gift and should not be a time of worrying, he said, but of wrestling and refinement.
Bishop Bryan urged those being commissioned to use their time to wrestle with Bible passages, to wrestle with their strengths and spiritual disciplines, to wrestle with an authentic response to the coronavirus, to wrestle with racial issues, to wrestle with the restart of churches and what the church will look like in the future, and wrestle with the fact that God is calling them to help envision and enter a new expression of church and be open to it.
“The one wrestling with us is the God who has come because He loves us and cares for us,” Bishop Bryan said. “In three years, when the ordination service is held, it will be a glorious sight if you come into ordination looking haggard and worn from wrestling, limping down the aisle, and able to say, ‘I have seen God face to face and lived to tell about it. Thanks be to God.’”
Bishop Bryan presided over the commissioning. He was assisted by Mrs. Gloria Morgan, Conference Lay Leader, representing the laity, and Rev. Scott Tucker, Chair of the Board of Ordained Ministry, representing the clergy.
The following individuals were commissioned as Probationary Clergy Members:
Joseph Isaac Carter
Shannon Clark Patterson
Jason Patrick Wade
Virtual Service of Ordination
On Sunday afternoon, Aug. 9, the Conference gathered virtually for the service for the Ordination of Deacons and Elders. Along with their families, those being ordained gathered at Vineville United Methodist Church in Macon. As with the Commissioning service, masks were worn and family groups were distanced from one another by several pews. Thousands watched and celebrated via livestream.
“You’ve been declared fit, ready, and effective,” said Bishop R. Lawson Bryan to the four ordinands. “So what’s that next powerful image to carry you forward?”
In his sermon, “Boat Church,” Bishop Bryan reminded the ordinands and those gathered that when Peter took his eyes off Jesus and began to sink, Jesus did not let him drown.
“Jesus will not let Peter drown. That’s what you take into ministry,” he said.
He reminded the ordinands that there will be days they get right and days they don’t, but no matter what, Jesus won’t let them drown.
“That’s the key. That’s how we do ministry. That’s what we want to hold onto.”
The story, from Matthew 14:22-33, is a picture of ministry, Bishop Bryan said. Ministry is often done in the midst of a storm.
“To know that Jesus will not let you drown. Wow. What a powerful thing to carry away with us and to be reminded that when you start sinking it doesn’t mean that God didn’t call you. It just means that you’re doing real ministry.”
“The boat is built to handle the wind and water. We are boat people.”
Bishop Bryan presided over the ordinal rites. He was assisted by Mrs. Gloria Morgan, Conference Lay Leader, representing the laity, and Rev. Scott Tucker, Chair of the Board of Ordained Ministry, representing the clergy.
The following individuals were ordained as Full Conference Members:
Gerald Ray Akin, Jr.
Jonathan Lee Brown
John Pierce Grantham
Scott Dozier Stanfill
Virtual Retiree Recognition
On Tuesday evening, Aug. 11, the Conference gathered virtually to honor these 18 pastors retiring this year:
Gary C. Brady
James A. “Jimmy” Cason
Donald C. Combs
William H. “Bill” Daniel
Lynn A. Drake
Edgar A. Eschmann
Sally K. Flowers
William G. “Billy” Hester
Charles A. “Sonny” Moon
Larry G. Rader
D. Craig Rikard
Jerry D. Sharpe
Richard F. “Ricky” Varnell
and J. Maddox Woodbery
It also celebrated with those pastors who have served 50 years in the ministry:
Eugene C. Cochran
Hugh L. Davis
Charles L. Houston
Richard E. Lanning
Richard F. Varnell
“Hold onto the vision God has given you, but look forward to how it will grow and flourish in fresh ways in all the years ahead," said Bishop Bryan during the service. Watch the Retirement Recognition service.
Virtual Memorial Service
A Memorial Service for those who have faithfully served the South Georgia Conference was held virtually Thursday evening, Aug. 13 at 7 p.m. Dr. Craig Rikard, retired South Georgia minister, reminded those watching that they are a people of promise who journey through life and grief together.
“We have been through persecutions, we have wiped the fevered brow of each other in plagues and illnesses, we have fed each other in famine, we have found every way possible to be the people of God in some of the darkest moments in life,” he said. “That’s the power that’s present. It’s more powerful than any power that tries to separate us. There is no power stronger or more powerful or loving on earth than the love of Jesus.”
And he reminded them that even in the midst of grief and a global pandemic, Jesus is always near.
“We can sit six feet apart and we can wear our masks, but together we can do the unbelievable,” he said. “Because Jesus never leaves us. And He’ll find a way through us to touch the world with redemption.”
Dr. Rikard closed by sharing a touching story about visiting Miss Nita, a resident in a nursing home he used to frequently visit. Always singing, always talking about Jesus, and always happy, she would clap and sing, “The Lord got me in His hand….”
“But all of us are in his hand, and nothing can separate us from the love of God and from the love we share together in heart,” Dr. Rikard said. “We are alive, and we are alive together, and we are alive together in Christ. Thanks be to God. Amen.”
Those being remembered who have passed away between April 1, 2019, and March 31, 2020, include:
James Jesse "Jim" McLendon
George Joseph "Joe" Leatherwood
Sanford Vandiver Brown, Sr.
Edward E. "Ed" Cadle , Sr.
Thomas L. Teate
Ruben Vance Riggins
Kenneth Reinhold Banker
George Lotsy Anderson
Claude Theo "Ted" Bass
James Allen Brooks
John Errell Horton, Jr.
James David Aycock, Jr.
Donald Charles Warren
Thomas Newton Pruette, Jr.
Betty Ann Flowers Driggers
Elia Josephine Lilley Dorsey
Patricia Allen Floyd Hazen
Tobye Ruth Bindes Watkins
Janice Evans Smith Henry
Velma Weismiller Foster
Inez Davis Cadle
Emma Ruth Bray Brown
Shirley Pike Turner Darden
Mary Elizabeth Carter Taylor
Belle Jones Cochran
Helen Claire Smith Rogers
Ann Paige Dampier Moore
For full Annual Conference coverage, visit www.sgaumc.org/annualconference.