Visitors to the annual North Georgia Conference of the United Methodist Church met this week to pray, talk and discuss the business of the church.
Hundreds of churchgoers gathered at the Classic Center on Tuesday for the three-day conference, which will alternate between business and worship.
“God is bigger than this general conference,” Bishop William McAlilly said during the opening worship for the conference.
McAlilly, of the Nashville Episcopal area, said the two tenets he lives by are “love God and love thy neighbor.”
He asked the crowd at the service to think about how they could do greater things, which is the theme of this year’s 150th conference session.
“Jesus is local,” he added.
McAlilly asked the crowd to do thoughtful and caring things for the people in their community who are struggling.
“Our neighborhoods need to be transformed. Our mission field today is our neighborhood. Every congregation is a mission station. Every pastor, every layperson is a missionary, and if we don’t get our minds around that right now on this day, then we are going to wake up 10 or 15 years from now and we are going to wonder what happened to the United Methodist Church,” McAlilly said to cheers from the audience.
One pastor at the conference, Jarmaine Elder, said he gets new ideas about how to grow his church from people he meets at the conference each year.
“We feed off that, and we hear new things about what others are doing and we implement that at our own churches,” Elder said.
Elder, who is the pastor of Jones Hill United Methodist Church in Newnan, said he’s been to the conference for the past eight years.
Volunteer Marlene Bryan has helped the conference run smoothly since it was first held in Athens 16 years ago. She is the a member of the local host committee and the conference’s volunteer coordinator.
“I’m a Methodist, so I feel like it’s something we need to do is come to the conference. I enjoy getting to see former congregation members,” Bryan said.
It takes more than 100 volunteers each day to keep the conference running, Bryan said.
This year at the conference, members are honoring the retirement of Bishop Mike Watson, who presided over the North Georgia Conference for the past eight years and served as a minister since 1973. A special service honoring Watson and his wife is set for 7 p.m. tonight.
The conference continues through the next two days with meetings to discuss the ordaining of new ministers and the retirement of others along with discussions about the rules of the church. For a full schedule, visit ngumc.org.
Follow reporter Hilary Butschek on Twitter @hilarylbutschek or at https://www.facebook.com/hbutschek.