Bishop James R. King, Jr. of the South Georgia Conference will preside over his first session of the South Georgia Annual Conference set for Sunday-Wednesday at the Columbus Civic Center. About 1,400 people are expected at the gathering, a mixture of worship services and business sessions.
King was appointed to this Conference last year. He previously served eight years as the bishop of the Kentucky Conference-Red Bird Mission.
Bishop King will be among clergy and laity from throughout South Georgia gathering around the theme “Seek Ye First.”
Annual Conference met in Columbus last summer as well.
“I want our focus to always build on the larger theme of ‘Glorifying God and Bearing Fruit,’ which continues to be the foundation for our work,” Bishop King said in a statement. “This year as we ‘Seek Ye First,’ our emphasis will be on the importance of prayer and loving relationships.”
The Conference begins at 7 p.m. Sunday. The laity will meet at the Civic Center for an orientation session. The clergy will meet in the St. Luke United Methodist Church sanctuary to conduct business related to clergy credentials.
Bishop King will preach at the opening worship service at 8:30 a.m. Monday at the Civic Center.
This year’s special offering has been designated to benefit the Central Conference Pension Initiative, which funds pensions for United Methodist clergy serving in third-world countries. Each church is encouraged to receive an offering in the weeks prior to Annual Conference and to then bring this offering to the worship service on Monday morning.
Among the other events:
ŸA worship service to mark the commissioning of new probationary clergy and the retirement of other clergy will be held at 2 p.m. Monday.
Bishop Marion Edwards, former pastor of St. Luke, will preach in the Ordination Service at 7:30 p.m. Monday at St. Luke, 1104 Second Ave.
ŸThe Memorial worship service begins at 2 p.m. Tuesday and will include the sacrament of Holy Communion.
ŸThe fourth annual Day of Service is Tuesday morning, at various agencies around the city.
During the week of conferencing, delegates will consider many items of business, among which are 32 Constitutional Amendments. All 32 amendments were approved by a two-thirds vote of General Conference last spring, and must be ratified by a two-thirds affirmative vote of the aggregate number of voting annual members. These amendments will be voted on at every annual conference session across the connection.
“The Constitutional Amendments are the most important piece of legislation coming before each Annual Conference not only this year but the entire quadrennium,” said Charlene Black, former conference Lay Leader who led the delegation to General Conference. “The changes being proposed will have far-reaching and long-term consequences for The United Methodist Church. The future direction of our denomination will be determined by the results of our voting.”
The Constitutional Amendments will be formally presented to the conference on Monday afternoon. On Tuesday, all delegates are invited to St. Luke United Methodist Church for a Question and Answer session during lunch. The Conference will vote on the amendments during the Tuesday afternoon session with results of the voting announced Wednesday morning.
The amendments are grouped in the following categories:
ŸReduces from two to one the number of years a person must be a professing member of a local church before he or she can be a member of an annual conference.
ŸAnnual conferences also will vote on proposals that provide for newly created conferences to be represented at general, jurisdictional or regional conferences on a non-proportional basis. The issue arose after the Côte d’Ivoire Conference was assigned two delegates for the 2008 General Conference.
ŸAnother amendment would enable local pastors, associate members and provisional members to join ordained ministerial members in full connection in voting for delegates to General and jurisdictional conferences. To vote, local pastors must have completed the Course of Study or master of divinity degree and have served under appointment for two consecutive years immediately preceding an election. Only ordained members in full connection with an annual conference may be delegates.
ŸIf annual conferences ratify another amendment, then local churches, jurisdictional and General Conference, “organizations, groups, committees, councils, boards and agencies” will have to adopt ethics and conflict-of-interest policies. These policies will apply to both members and employees to help them “embody and live out our Christian values.”
ŸAnother constitutional amendment would make it clear that all persons, regardless of age, gender and sexual orientation, shall be eligible to attend worship services and, upon taking vows, become church members. This stems from a 2005 case in which the Rev. Ed Johnson, pastor of the 600-member South Hill United Methodist Church in South Hill, Va., refused membership to an openly gay man who had been an active participant in the church. The man was involved in a relationship with another man.
Bishop Charlene Kammerer, Johnson’s bishop, told him church policy required that he not discriminate in his offer of membership on the basis of sexual orientation. Johnson refused, even after Kammerer’s decision was ratified by a lopsided vote of Johnson’s fellow Virginia Methodist clergy. Kammerer then placed him on involuntary leave.
The denomination’s Judicial Council overturned Kammerer’s action on a 5-3 vote in the fall of 2005, saying United Methodist ministers do have the power to decide who becomes a member of the local church, the denomination’s top court has ruled, supporting a pastor who blocked an openly gay man from joining the congregation.
The public is invited to these meetings and worship services but non-delegates may not vote on business matters.
The United Methodist News Service contributed to this report.