UMW host Spiritual Growth Retreat, consecrate new communion sets


In Isaiah, chapter 43, God offers promises of restoration and redemption, and hope of new life.

“Behold! I will do a new thing,” proclaims Isaiah 43:19.

The United Methodist Women used that verse as the theme for their annual Spiritual Growth Retreat, held March 20-22 at Epworth By The Sea on St. Simons Island.

“Our theme was about starting new again,” said UMW Conference President Mary Exley.

After more than a year of meetings, planning, and the hard work of redistricting as the Conference reduced from nine districts to six, the South Georgia United Methodist Women gathered to worship, fellowship and celebrate their new life as a six-district organization.

“It was a really good, uplifting Spiritual Growth Retreat,” Exley said. “It was good to … motivate our membership and rekindle the desire of women across the Conference to join UMW in our endeavors for mission for women, children and youth.”

A special highlight of this year’s Spiritual Growth Retreat was the consecration of 14 new handmade communion sets, two for each district and two for the Conference.

Commissioned by former UMW president Sara Bankhead and made by potter and retired South Georgia pastor Rev. Tom Johnson, Jr., the chalices and plates were a gift from Bankhead to the UMW to replace the 37-year-old former sets, several of which were broken.

“No piece of pottery is exactly alike … just like all of the districts are different,” Bankhead said. “Things have changed and we have new people, and I thought this would be unique because each district is unique in their formation, made up of different people, different races, different ages … but we’re all similar. I thought it would be very nice for them to start new with something that was similar but unique to that district.”

Rev. Marcia Cochran, pastor of St. Simons United Methodist Church and an ardent and longtime supporter of the UMW, led the consecration service.

When creating a piece of pottery, a potter uses clay, which comes in a variety of colors. During the molding and shaping and baking processes, hot temperatures and cooling off periods are involved, Rev. Cochran said.

“And with really good pottery, no two creations are just alike,” she said during the consecration service. “Sounds an awful lot like life, doesn’t it?”

Communion brings people together, she said. People with different personalities from different economic and social backgrounds with differing views on theology and politics are drawn together by their faith in and love for Jesus Christ.

It is the same for the women of the UMW.

“The truth is that what makes the organization of United Methodist Women so influential is that we are not identical persons – we bring our strengths and our weaknesses into our group.”

The communion sets are an especially meaningful gift for Bankhead to give. She considers communion as one of the most important elements of worship.

“We come as sinful people realizing that God makes all things new,” she said. “His gift of his Son for us helps me to realize that, though I am a sinner, I can come before him and ask for forgiveness and get that when I take communion. It’s like making me new again.”

Even with the change, upheaval and new things God is doing, His character remains steadfast and unchanging.

“Now that we are in new districts, we find ourselves needing to be like the clay in this pottery – recognizing that we are a blending of all sorts of colors and ages and personalities – and that sometimes we have to go through the fire before we become who God wants us to be,” Rev. Cochran said. “So as we all go through the challenges ahead of blending into these new districts, let us all be mindful of what binds us all together – our love for Christ.”