Walking by faith: two new UMCSC mission initiatives

By Jessica Brodie

This year, United Methodists across South Carolina are gearing up to tackle two major conference-wide mission projects, and leaders are hoping everyone will get involved.

The South Carolina Conference of The United Methodist Church is committing to what they call the “Homeless Initiative,” partnering with Upstate-based organization Homes of Hope to build two to four houses for homeless families in Greenville, and the “Bikes for the World Project,” asking youth in each district to collect and donate 1,200 bikes (100 bikes per district) to help people who can’t afford a bike—many for basic transportation.

The missions projects are designed to reflect the theme of Annual Conference 2017, “A More Excellent Way: We Walk by Faith, Not by Sight.” Set for June 4-7, 2017, in Greenville, conference leaders are hoping their time in the Upstate will not just be one of conferencing but one of truly making a real impact in the community.

“It’s a good way to make a tremendous impact,” said Greenville District Superintendent Dr. George Howle.

“Annual Conference is more than just a business meeting, but an opportunity for United Methodists across South Carolina to experience ministry in the communities that host our Annual Conference event,” said South Carolina Resident Bishop Jonathan Holston. “Our 2017 annual conference Homeless Initiative is an opportunity for us to make a positive impact in the Greenville area that will last beyond our time of meeting there. The goal of our Bikes for the World project is to invite youth to be in mission in our state and around the world and that youth can make a difference in ministry at any age of life or stage of faith. My hope is that every church will commit to participate in these two initiatives. By doing so, United Methodists in South Carolina will learn the impact we make when we ‘walk by faith and not by sight’ in ministry.”

 

Homeless Initiative

This project asks United Methodists across the state to pledge $100 by the end of September to help the conference sponsor homes for homeless families in the Greenville area.

The UMCSC is partnering with Homes of Hope, an agency with a mission to transform lives and break the poverty cycle. The conference sponsors 25 percent of the cost, and Homes of Hope pays for the rest, Howle said.

In order to sponsor a home, the conference needs to sign a letter of commitment for $39,000 for each home. Two churches in the Greenville District—Buncombe Street and Covenant UMCs—have already committed to funding two of these homes, and the conference is hoping individuals across the state will chip in resources to help the conference sponsor two more homes.

“Our motivation is how do we reach those in greatest need, and we have a rather large homeless population here in Greenville,” Howle said. “We had the tent cities, which the city did away with, so now we have a lot of people who have no place to go.”

Indeed, the need is great, not only in Greenville but across South Carolina. Numbers show 787,788 people in South Carolina are living in poverty, and 268,467 (25.3 percent) of South Carolina children are living in poverty.

“What pulls at my heart is how many children live below poverty level‑32.4 percent in Greenville,” Howle said.

Statistics say at least 850 children in Greenville County schools are considered homeless.

Churches are asked to complete a pledge card at www.umcsc.org and return it to Conference Treasurer Beth Westbury by Sept. 30 committing to $100 or however much they or their church wish to contribute. Funds should be paid by Dec. 31 so the homes can be built by Annual Conference 2017. For those who wish to help with labor, leaders will be organizing volunteer teams to do painting, landscaping and other tasks prior to or the week of Annual Conference, Howle said.

The request is intentionally low, just $100 each, because leaders know many United Methodist are still paying on pledges they made to support the UMCSC’s Imagine No Malaria initiative, which pledged $1 million to the global UMC’s effort by 2018.

 

Bikes for the World

This projects asks youth to collect and donate 1,200 bicycles to Bikes for the World, an international bike charity that ships used bikes to low-income families across the world. Each district is asking youth to contribute 100 bikes. Of the 1,200 bikes collected, 200 will go to Triune Mercy Center in Greenville and the South Main Chapel and Mercy Center in Anderson to be given to children and adults who cannot afford a bike—many who need one for basic transportation.

They are also collecting $10 per bike for the shipping charge.

The UMCSC will celebrate this mission with a family bike ride on Greenville Health System’s Swamp Rabbit Trail the Saturday before Annual Conference.

“I think its important because it’s going to be able to allow folks in other parts of the world who don’t have transportation to have something we take for granted: a bicycle,” said congregational specialist Chris Lynch, who is coordinating the bikes project. “On a conference level, it gives the youth the chance to come together, work together, connect, accomplish something together and get young people involved in being the church. That’s not just important for young people but to young people, and gives them a tangible way to get involved and celebrate that.”

He said even though it’s being organized as a youth project, adults can help, too—particularly by donating the $10/bike needed for shipping charges.

Howle said Bikes for the World is a great program, and the bikes will be shipped to countries mainly in Africa. New and used bikes are welcome, both youth and adult sizes.

“In my experience a lot of people cannot afford automobiles or even a bike, a bike can be diff between getting a job or not get a job can make a huge difference,” Howle said.

Bike collections will be organized in each district. Those looking to get involved now or learn more should contact Lynch at 864-590-4628 or clynch@umcsc.org.

 

Tying in with conference goals

Leaders say the two mission initiatives tie in nicely with the UMCSC’s “bold goals” for 2017. Those goals are to reach out to those in greatest need, to break the poverty cycle, to make a difference in the lives of children and to share hope in our community.

“We are walking by faith and not by sight,” Howle said.

 

For more information: www.umcsc.org.

 

Beyond ‘se habla Español’: Latino in the UMCSC

Conference’s Hispanic/Latino task force hopes to move beyond awareness, focus on congregational development

By Jessica Brodie

National Hispanic Heritage Month begins Sept. 15, and United Methodists passionate about Latino advocacy are hoping to bring heightened awareness and advocacy to the conference, as well as new exposure for a Pentecost Journey training event later this fall.

Members of the South Carolina United Methodist Hispanic Latino Task Force have been hard at work since January 2015 to be in ministry with Latino people in this state, and they want the conference to know their work has only just begun.

With more Hispanics/Latinos living in South Carolina than there are United Methodists (235,682, compared to the estimated 232,000 United Methodists), the first prong of the task force’s work has been to make people aware of the need to reach out to this population and stand in solidarity, whether that is through immigration reform advocacy or teaching English as a Second Language classes at the local church.

But the Rev. Elizabeth Murray, task force convener and coordinator for Hispanic/Latino ministries for the conference, said awareness is only the beginning. The conference needs to be intentional about cultivating Hispanic/Latino pastoral leadership and worship experiences so all voices can be present.

“Having all voices, including Hispanic/Latino voices, at the table in our conference is going to be very important in Hispanic/Latino ministry,” Murray said, noting that the conference currently has only two pastors who are Latino—the Rev. Enrique Gordon, a provisional elder who is Afro-Latino and working toward ordination, and the Rev. Sonia Brum, a Latina member of the South Carolina Conference serving in Atlanta as part of the General Board of Global Ministries—along with one clergy candidate. “I would love to see the UMC be a place where Hispanic/Latino people felt welcome.”

Esperanza UMC in Greenville, which Gordon pastors, is the only active Hispanic/Latino congregation in the conference.

The Rev. Richard Reams, co-chair with the Rev. Emily Sutton of the task force, said anyplace a church can start with Hispanic/Latino ministry is a step in the right direction, as long as it is a concrete step and not merely wishful thinking.

“Wishing things will change and/or longing for any type of multi-ethnic ministry are great, but without action they will not amount to anything,” Reams said. “The question becomes what can we do now to effect change in our particular context? What work can we do now? That’s the question we want to help churches ask and answer. We want to be a resource that begins to move them into making dreams into reality. We want to encourage folks to start where they are and not be paralyzed by where they are not.”

 

One path: Engaging Hispanic/Latino community

Murray said one way the UMC can help make that happen is by more intentionally engaging the Hispanic/Latino community. Pentecost Journey, set for Nov. 18-19 at Aldersgate UMC, Greenville, is a good first step, she said. Reams agrees.

Pentecost Journey is a way for teams of pastors along with their laypeople to learn, brainstorm and ultimately come away with a strategic action plan for how to engage their local Hispanic/Latino communities.

The task force organized the event last year, and this year’s event carries on the initial work in a more meaningful and strategic way.

“It was a great event last time, but we realized the most effective thing for churches to go forward is to have the pastor and lay people come together so they learn the same information and they’re able to create a plan of action together and be able to start to implement that when they go back so they’re on the same wavelength,” Murray said.

The Rev. Kristin Dollar, who is helping to organize the event, said Pentecost Journey is a time of discernment for non-Hispanic/Latino churches who seek to be in relationship with Hispanic/Latino communities. Speaker the Rev. José Luis Villaseñor, church planter and pastor of Fiesta Cristiana in Apex, North Carolina, and president of the Hispanic/Latino Caucus of the Southeastern Jurisdiction of the UMC, will guide participants in creating an action plan for creating or developing Hispanic/Latino ministries within their own congregations.

“In God’s Kingdom, those of all tribes, all tongues and all nations will come together to worship the Lamb of God,” Dollar said. “If we seek to participate in God’s Kingdom, it is mandatory that we learn to live and worship together as the body of Christ.”

The cost is $40; register at https://www.umcsc.org/data/pentecostjourney.php.

 

Next steps: Congregational development

Murray said congregational development is next on the task force’s agenda. That means not only cultivating Hispanic/Latino people to serve in the UMC but also creating Hispanic/Latino places of worship.

“I think we’ve done a good job of helping people know we are here as a resource and helping people learn about why Hispanic/Latino ministry is important,” Murray said. “Now we’re moving toward creating worshipping Hispanic/Latino communities.”

For more information about the task force, click here. To register for Pentecost Journey, click here.

Bishop’s Forward Focus Tour: Coming to a district near you this fall

By Jessica Brodie

This fall, churches seeking a fresh way to look beyond themselves and be in ministry with their local community will get the chance to learn about a new “forward focus” process from Bishop Jonathan Holston.

Holston will hit the road beginning in October to travel to each of the 12 districts in the South Carolina Conference of The United Methodist Church. Called the Bishop’s Forward Focus Tour, the tour will feature Holston, congregational specialists and other conference leaders talking to laity and pastors about a new plan for church revitalization unique to the individual church.

Set for 9 a.m. to noon, the tours kick off Oct. 8 in the Columbia District. They wrap up in February. (See box for dates.)

“The idea of the tour is to introduce this process, the Forward Focus process, which is a new resource for the local church in South Carolina,” said the Rev. Jim Arant, congregational specialist for the Orangeburg and Greenwood districts. “What’s happening is the congregational specialists have been working on this program, adapted from a program in the North Georgia Conference called Facing the Mirror, and we have taken it and adapted it for South Carolina.”

Holston said the process will assist churches in taking a look at who they are and how to offer the Gospel of Jesus Christ in a fast-paced and changing world.

“The focus of our time in the districts is in modeling to congregations how to better engage their communities in mission and ministry as they seek to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world,” Holston said.

The Rev. Kathy James, Connectional Ministries director, said the tour provides an opportunity for a church’s pastor and leaders to step apart from the everyday business of the church and think together about what it means to be faithful in the midst of a rapidly changing culture and community.

“The 21st century proves to be changing rapidly, and most of our churches live with a 20th-century mindset,” James said. “We need to be intentional about looking ahead, rather than behind. Bishop Holston has a gift for inspiring leaders to take the next step with faith that God can work through us in ways we haven’t imagined before.”

Forward Focus is strictly voluntary, Arant said, but it is one that will have major impact for churches that sign on.

“The bishop sees it as a program having tremendous potential to help churches move beyond where they are to do something new, stop looking inward and start looking outward, and create vitality for the church and discern God’s will for the church,” Arant said.

To date, congregational specialists have spent more than 120 hours adapting the program for use in South Carolina. The process takes about three to four months per church, depending on the time of year and other factors. Each congregation will be assigned a “forward leader,” someone from the district trained as a coach by the congregational specialist, who will work with the church’s pastor and a church-appointed “forward team.”

They will spend time looking inward—analyzing finances, membership, attendance and facilities—as well as outward, trying to understand the current needs of the surrounding community and doing interviews with community leaders.

Every congregation determines its own plan, Arant said, and at the end, they will come away with specific action steps to revitalize their church and community in a way that is uniquely them.

The possibilities are limitless, he said, and exciting.

“Let’s say one church discovers in their research there’s a big need for help with school systems in the community,” Arant said. “That church might choose as one of their goals to be involved with the local school to do mentoring, backpacks, classroom leadership—a cadre of things they could do. I worked with one church one time that decided to adopt a teacher!”

Congregational specialists have already written the participants’ guide, and now they are working quickly to finish the leaders’ guide in time for the BFF Tour launch in October.

Registration will begin soon through district offices; each pastor attending is asked to bring five members of the church.

Dates for Bishop’s Forward Focus Tour:

  • Oct. 8—Columbia District (Shandon UMC, Columbia)
  • Oct. 22—Orangeburg District
  • Nov. 12—Greenwood District
  • Nov. 19—Marion District
  • Dec. 3—Hartsville District
  • Dec. 10—Florence District
  • Jan. 7—Walterboro District
  • Jan. 14—Spartanburg District
  • Jan. 21—Anderson District
  • Feb. 4—Greenville District
  • Feb. 11—Rock Hill District
  • Feb. 25—Charleston District

 

Myrtle Beach 10-year-old changing lives through backpacks

By Jessica Brodie

MYRTLE BEACH—Macie McMillan has been collecting backpacks and school supplies for needy kids since she was 5 years old. Now in her fifth year running, she shows no signs of slowing down, and her story is inspiring a church and a community to do more for Jesus.

The Myrtle Beach fifth grader helped three students in kindergarten. She stepped up her efforts and provided 12 backpacks in first grade, 35 in second grade, 76 in third grade, 108 in fourth grade and, this year, a grand total of 174—all for kids who otherwise cannot afford what they need for a successful school experience.

“It’s important to me because when I was in kindergarten, three kids in my class didn’t have a backpack or school supplies,” Macie said. “We realized it was not just my class but every class—and every school.”

Her mother, Holly McMillan, said after their first year of collecting backpacks, they realized their coastal community had great need. A transient area with far more have-nots than haves, the school system has a high poverty rate; more than 80 percent of students in kindergarten through high school are part of the free or reduced lunch program.

Macie and her mom can’t do much about her peers’ financial situation. But when it comes to helping fellow kids level the playing field in the classroom and have the tools they need to be strong learners, they can make a difference.

“Macie is a beautiful reminder that what we adults do at church and at home to teach children about Jesus actually matters,” said one of her church’s associate pastors, the Rev. Jonathan Harris of First United Methodist Church, Myrtle Beach. “She is also an inspiration to consider the possibilities of what God could be calling us to do as a church. There are several hundred children over the past few years who were able to have what they needed for school because a young girl knew the love of Christ and wanted to embody it in a way that touched the lives of others. Just imagine what we could accomplish if we all did that.”

 

An eye-opener

McMillan said the project started quietly and by chance, when she felt led to ask Macie’s kindergarten teacher to let her know if any students in the class needed anything for back-to-school. Sure enough, her teacher identified three children in need.

“Of course we did what anybody else would have done: went straight to the store and got what they needed,” McMillan said.

But as the year progressed and another student came in midyear without a backpack or supplies, McMillan and her daughter took pause. They did some research and discovered that poverty was a huge problem in local schools, not only in Macie’s class but also in every primary, elementary, intermediate, middle and high school in Myrtle Beach.

For Macie, it was her classmate Exziah, who was so proud of her brand-new purple backpack that she cried at the prospect of having to put it down on the dusty school floor, who really opened her eyes. She saw Exziah walk with her head held a little higher with that little purple backpack, and it warmed Macie’s heart.

“My child is very privileged,” McMillan said. “She gets what she needs and most of what she wants, throws her backpack down, gets a new one every year, but this child didn’t want to put hers on the ground and get it dirty. It really left an impression on Macie.”

That year when it came time for her birthday, Macie asked her mom to have her party guests bring a backpack instead of a gift. It was entirely Macie’s idea.

“A lot of kids are just not confident with their stuff in a Wal-Mart bag,” Macie said.

Later, as the new school year approached, Macie didn’t let up. She started going around to neighbors, close family friends, aunts and uncles and other family, asking for their change. The next year, her parents took to social media, and the project boomed. She was invited to speak at two different Rotary Clubs this year, plus her pastor lifted her efforts up at church, and everyone couldn’t help but donate to the cause.

“We had a lady in our church who handed her a check for $100 and said, ‘Macie, here’s for five backpacks; I want to get you going right,’” McMillan said.

 

Young change-agent

Her pastor said Macie’s cause has resonated with the people of First, who are inspired by the young Christian’s efforts and passion to help people in need.

“I have no doubt that Macie’s efforts to collect backpacks over the past few years have opened the eyes of adults both inside and outside of the church to see that they, too, can actually make a difference in people’s lives,” Harris said. “If a 5-year-old (which is what she was when she started this project) can do this, then surely we all have something meaningful to offer to God’s kingdom and to our brothers and sisters.”

Harris said Macie’s story demonstrates that children and youth are perhaps the greatest agents for positive change in the church.

“They are not merely the future of the church; they are already an important part of its present,” Harris said.

McMillan said her daughter’s compassion continues to amaze her.

“I can’t even describe it—I’m just so incredibly proud of her,” McMillan said. “She has the biggest heart, and she truly does think of other people.

“She’s made me a better person.”

She said the experience is a constant reminder for Macie that she is blessed with more than most, and with those blessings come great responsibilities to give back and help others—and to always look for new opportunities to be the hands and feet of Christ.

Macie said she hopes telling her story will motivate others to do just that.

“I want them to think, to look around,” Macie said. “If they see someone who looks needy or homeless, just buy them shoes, or coats, whatever they need. Just try to look for a need and help. No matter how old you are or how young you are, you can do it.”

 

The McMillans say that while anyone is welcome to donate to First UMC (see www.fumcmb.org; check memo should note “Macie’s Backpack Program”), they prefer that people step up and be personally challenged by reaching out to schools in their community to help address needs.

Freedom School: Fostering a love for reading, a passion for community

By Jessica Brodie

COLUMBIA—This fall, dozens of Midlands students are heading back to school as stronger readers and thinkers thanks to a summer enrichment program that is transforming lives and minds: Freedom School.

A nationwide program started 20 years ago by the Children’s Defense Fund at sites across the nation, Freedom School has been offered locally at Francis Burns United Methodist Church, Columbia, for the last three years. And as their third year wrapped to a close, leaders took a few moments to assess how this year went—and how students are blossoming thanks to an emphasis on a passion for reading and social advocacy.

“It’s been a good year,” said project manager John Dixon, who with executive director Carol Singletary and site coordinator Derrick Hearn ran the six-week program at Francis Burns for rising fourth to eighth graders.

Dixon is careful to point out that Freedom School is not a program to teach children to read. Instead, it’s designed to give children a better appreciation for reading through books and discussions that address real-world situations, from race relations and homelessness to child abuse or the Taliban. The stories selected all have a conflict resolution component built in, so students learn and engage on a variety of levels—such as one book that dealt with a grandparent facing Alzheimer’s and dementia and the ensuing conflict in the family.

“You hear about caregivers, the adults, but Alzheimer’s affects the whole family, not just adults. Here they can talk about it, talk about what they know about it,” Dixon said.

Regarding race relations, Dixon said, the talks this particular year were some of the best to-date given what’s currently occurring in the nation with the shooting of unarmed black men by some police and the rash of retaliatory violence and protests against law enforcement.

“We actually had a chance to talk about ‘black lives matter’ and ‘all lives matter,’” Dixon said—and about how saying “black lives matter” doesn’t mean “only black lives matter.”

“A lot of times parents try to shield kids from knowing things, and a lot of parents don’t talk about these things,” Dixon said.

But at Freedom School, talk they do—and sometimes, that talk sparks a desire for kids to bring about social reform.

 

A deeper intelligence

Held weekdays 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., most of the day at Freedom School is spent reading and discussing books and their themes in-depth. Freedom School is conducted by servant leader interns: students aged 19 or older who have completed their first year in college and have a 3.0 GPA and a voter registration card. Parents are also required to participate through volunteering and a weekly meeting. The school operates through grants and contributions from church members. A $10/week cost to families covers books, meals, staff training and several field trips.

Parents really appreciate the program, Dixon said. At parent meetings, several told him said they have seen their children’s confidence levels go up, and often they get full sentences instead of grunts or one-word answers when they talk to their children about how their day went. One shared that her daughter, an eighth grader, was actually watching the news with interest about current events and their impact on her life and her community.

“It’s about building up, fostering deeper intelligence,” Dixon said, noting he has seen the growth in the scholars firsthand. “It propels you to push on and not give up.”

Site coordinator Hearn, a Richland One elementary school teacher and a former servant leader intern, said three separate parents told him this is the first program they didn’t have to bribe their children to go to each day; the students are excited to come and learn.

“The thing I love is that the children can come and be themselves,” Hearn said. “They don’t have to come and be who they are in the neighborhood. They can experience a different way of being a kid, experience a different outlook, and that’s beautiful to me. ”

Hearn said so much of what they do is expose students to a positive dialogue about social issues, particularly when they are reading about more sensitive topics, such as Pakistan and the Taliban.

Parent Barbara Ann Jacobs said it has been a blessing having her son, Treshaun, attend; this was his third summer at Freedom School.

“It doesn’t cost much, and I love what he’s learning,” Jacobs said. “He looks forward to coming every day.”

And that’s the whole point, Hearn said: fostering a love for learning and a love for reading, something that will help these scholars become lifelong citizens and valuable, helpful members of the community.

To learn more about Freedom School and the Children’s Defense Fund, visit www.childrensdefense.org/programs-campaigns/freedom-schools/. To learn more about Freedom School at Francis Burns, call the church at 803-754-1760.

 

ChristWalkers: reaching the unchurched

The South Carolina Conference of The United Methodist Church has started a fresh expression ministry in the Rock Hill District known as ChristWalkers’ Ministries.

ChristWalkers celebrated its community launch Aug. 6 at the Wal-Mart in Indian Land with high success, meeting several hundred of their neighbors and generating requests for followup from 30 families.

ChristWalkers seeks to reach the 60 percent of their neighbors who will never enter a traditional church building. One reason for this rejection of traditional church is a disheartenment with organized religion. ChristWalkers goal is to “do church” differently—not by gathering in a building on Sundays, but forming groups who do life together. ChristWalkers meets people where they are, not where others think they should be.

Additionally, because Jesus prayed that we “might be one” (John 17:21), ChristWalkers is partnering with any local congregation and seeking to unite churches to fulfill Christ’s prayer. While ChristWalkers is a United Methodist ministry, they are intentionally inviting anyone to join them no matter the denomination. You’re in before you’re out, they say.

Within the upcoming months, ChristWalkers will be launching a nonprofit counseling network known as Chaplains on Call. Through this ministry, they will provide churches and pastors with a vetted, affordable referral network of licensed, trained counselors, therapists and psychologists, plus provide free counseling to pastors. Chaplains on Call is beginning a continuing professional education program in the Rock Hill area.

ChristWalkers is led by the Rev. Brandon Candee, an ordained elder in the UMC and an Army National Guard chaplain, and the Rev. Dr. Burnie Perry, an ordained Southern Baptist and Hospice clinical chaplain.

To find out more: www.christwalkers.org or 888-744-5248.

Lee, Holston to headline Summit on the Black Church focusing on health issues

COLUMBIA—Registration continues for next month’s Summit on the Black Church 2016, “Global is Personal: A Passport to World Health.”

Set for Oct. 13-15 at the DoubleTree Hotel by Hilton, the event will featured United Methodist Bishop Linda Lee, Bishop in Residence at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary, as keynote speaker.

Other speakers will include Bishop Jonathan L. Holston, resident bishop, South Carolina Annual Conference, along with Dr. Angela Coswer, assistant professor of sociology and religion, Garrett-Theological Seminary; Dr. Joseph Daniels, district superintendent of the Greater Washington District, Baltimore Conference, and lead pastor at Emory UMC; Dr. Daniel Hembree, pastor of Bluff Road UMC; the Rev. Jeanette Jordan, former national spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association; Dr. Caroline W. Njuki, former employee for General Board of Global Ministries with extensive work in global health; and Dr. Paula Dobbs-Wiggins, adjunct professor in the practice of pastoral care, Perkins School of Theology.

The Summit on the Black Church is sponsored by the South Carolina Conference of The United Methodist Church.

This year’s summit will focus on global health issues facing the church and its people.

“Diabetes, malaria, mental health, heart disease, HIV/AIDS, obesity, stroke, cancer and violence against women and children are some of the chronic conditions that affect many of our parishioners and persons in the communities where we minister,” summit leaders said. “Often, we have been silent on these issues and have failed to address or even attempt to minister to persons with chronic conditions. However, with the alarming statistics on health and well-being in the African-American community, we must become proactive and find ways to bring healing and wholeness to those who cope with chronic conditions in our churches, our communities and in the world as a whole.”

Plenary leaders will challenge participants to focus on chronic conditions that affect the life of the church and its communities. Chronic conditions will be examined on three levels: local, national and global. Participants will have opportunities to explore new and emerging methodologies and strategies to address and help meet the needs of congregants. A special session will focus on self-care among clergy. Lay persons will enhance their understanding of the urgency to help clergy live well in all aspects of life and how optimal health can be achieved through mutual support of one another.

The Summit on the Black Church will help laypersons and clergy find ways to help parishioners and communities lead healthier, safer, and longer lives.

Bishop Holston will speak at a special luncheon set for Friday, Oct. 14, from 12:15-1:45 p.m., “Creating Healthy Spaces for Worship.”

Cost for the Summit on the Black Church is $125; the luncheon featuring Holston is an extra $20.

To register: www.umcsc.org.

A fresh start

By Jessica Brodie

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.”— 2 Corinthians 5:17

It doesn’t matter how many years I’ve been out of school—I still celebrate back-to-school season. There’s something about the freshly gleaming pads of paper and neat little boxes of pencils at Target stacked carefully next to rows of neon-colored highlighters and binders that make my heart go pitter-patter.

At meet-the-teacher night at my kids’ elementary school, I was just as excited as my children—OK, maybe just a teensy bit more—to walk through the hallways once again, smiling at friendly faces, the scent of just-washed linoleum and just-copied welcome-back handouts wafting through the air. I think I might even have skipped down the hall once. Or twice.

Forget New Year’s Day or spring flowers. For me, fall is the fresh-start season. And it’s perfectly fitting that this month, we get to announce some exciting new opportunities for South Carolina United Methodists on our front page.

Bishop Jonathan Holston is getting ready to kick off his fall/winter Bishop’s Forward Focus Tour, where he’ll travel to all 12 districts once again, this time armed with great new information about a revitalization program for local churches. That’s right—a fresh-start kind of program, where churches get to brush off the old and take a look at new ways they can reach out to their communities and serve in a way that is uniquely them. Add some brand-new spiral notebooks and just-sharpened pencils to the equation and, well, let’s just say you’ll have a happy Advocate editor.

Not just that, but we’re also learning about two new mission initiatives we’re helping as we gear up for our 2017 Annual Conference: collecting bicycles for Bikes for the World and raising funds to build a handful of houses for homeless families in the Upstate.

It’s an exciting time for this conference, an exciting time to be a Christian and an exciting time to share the Good News and embrace the gifts and graces God grants us daily, big and small.

So celebrate with me, friends, as we kick off a fall filled with mission opportunities, learning programs and countless other ways to “be Jesus” to the world. It’s our privilege to do His work, and I look forward to sharing the experience with you.

A simple challenge

By Bishop Jonathan Holston

“For we walk by faith, not by sight.”—2 Corinthians 5:7

The 2016 Southeastern Jurisdictional Conference held at Lake Junaluska, North Carolina, is now history. Delegates representing 15 Annual Conferences across the Southeast met at this 21st session of the SEJ to elect five new bishops, as well as assign all of our episcopal leaders to places of leadership. Felecia and I were honored and humbled to receive our assignment from the SEJ Committee on Episcopacy to serve a second term in the South Carolina Conference (Columbia Area). We feel blessed to be assigned “back home again” and to continue our efforts to dream God-sized visions with laity and clergy across this wonderful state.

I also believe we have more work to do as we continue to “make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.”

Our vision to seek a more excellent way in mission and ministry remains the same.

We will begin the 2016-2017 conference year together as we live into the theme of “walking by faith, not by sight.” This fall the Bishop’s Forward Focus tour will continue our series of district meetings just as we’ve done each year since arriving in South Carolina. From road shows to barbecue bashes, we’ve always sought ways to share ministry together. This year will be no different as we continue to focus forward our ministry together in South Carolina. So look for the schedule with dates, times and locations as they are announced (see article Page 1).

As we continue to seek a more excellent way, I share with you words from a good friend and colleague indicating the best of devotion to God and community:

“A number of years ago, a young man stood before a group of leaders and indicated that history will not judge our endeavors merely on the basis of color or creed or even party affiliation. Neither will competence and loyalty and stature, while essential to the utmost, suffice in times such as these.

For of those to whom much is given, much is required…(and) our success or failure in whatever office we may hold will be measured by the answers to four questions.

First, are we truly people of courage … with the courage to resist public pressure as well as private greed?

Second, are we truly people of judgment … with the perceptive judgement of our own mistakes, as well as the mistakes of others, with enough wisdom to know what we do not know and enough candor to admit it?

Third, are we truly people who will not abandon the principles in which we believe or the people who believe in them?

Finally, are we people of dedication with an honor mortgaged to no single individual or group and compromised by no private obligation or aim but devoted solely to serving?”

It is my hope and prayer that God will enable us to truly be persons of courage, perceptive judgement, integrity and dedication. As we seek to walk by faith and not by sight, let us embrace the challenge that requires us to go to places we do not know—places that God will reveal to us as we walk in joyful obedience.

In the meantime, please know that we’re rejoicing in this wonderful opportunity to continue ministry in South Carolina. So let the journey continue!

Advocate S.C. Stories of Racial Awakening Project: Narrative 6

Racism is a human problem

By the Rev. Drew Martin

Editor’s note: The following is the sixth narrative accepted for publication in the Ad­vocate’s new South Carolina Stories of Racial Awakening Project. The Advocate will select as many as 10 narratives to be published in the Advocate, one a month for 10 months. See guidelines, here.

I am not racist; this was a basic assumption I had always operated with.

My parents taught me that racism was an ugly part of our past; but that now there was a consensus among all right-minded people that racism was wrong. For me, racism conjured up images of the Ku Klux Klan and people I am very different from.

I was born in 1979. Naturally, in my childhood and adolescence, having a warped sense of history and time, I imagined the Civil Rights Movement to be a part of our ancient past. I later received a liberal arts education, which expanded my horizons in many ways. Still, when the subject turned to racism, I never thought such a conversation applied to me.

As the years pass, though, I have begun to recognize, in myself and others, the extraordinary capacity to cultivate a positive self-worth by protecting ourselves from any negative self-awareness by simply defining undesirable terms in such a way that they don’t apply to us. As long as our operative definition “racist” is safely narrow, we can shield ourselves from our own racism. If I define a racist as someone in a hate group, then I am clearly not a racist. We subconsciously practice “justification by definition” as a defense mechanism. We may live our whole lives with such delusions unless something jars us enough to make us question this matrix.

I had an easy time of this because I had never disliked anyone or been mean on the basis of skin color. Moreover, as a football player, I always had a lot of black teammates. In fact, when I was in junior high, I was the only white kid that started. My parents teased that it was easy to spot me on the field.

In college, a disagreement erupted when a neighboring community refused the KKK the right to have a parade on the grounds that they are a hate group. One of their leaders wrote a letter to the editor of the local newspaper trying to justify their positions from Scripture. My zeal for the honor of God was aroused, and I wrote a letter contradicting his shoddy interpretation. I didn’t need proof I wasn’t racist, but if I had needed it, this would have provided it.

However, when I was in seminary a good friend of mine invited me to come to a Martin Luther King rally. I was in the middle of an intensive class, and the fact that everything shut down for the holiday was just a great opportunity to get caught up on reading as far as I was concerned. I had not even considered going to the rally. Without thinking, I declined.

I’ll never forget the disappointment in his eyes. I realized he had probably worked up the courage to ask me—in the same way we work up courage to invite non-Christians to church. I had let him down.

It wasn’t that I was opposed to the rally or to Martin Luther King Day. I was just wrapped up in my own little world. Too busy to think. This was the first time I realized it isn’t good enough to just be passively non-racist. Christ calls us to actively work against racism, to put ourselves in positions to see things from the perspective of other races and to champion the cause of justice.

A few years later I was running a Bible teaching ministry in my hometown, Spartanburg. Historically, most of the students had been black; most of the financial supporters had been white. The fact that we had a lot of black kids from inner-city neighborhoods was a selling point for our fundraising efforts. I had never given this a second thought.

One day I had the chance to talk with the pastor of one of the largest local black churches. I proudly showed him our nice new shiny brochure that I had worked so hard on. He took one look at the pictures of our all-white staff teaching black students and said, “To me this looks like the white people are going to save the black people.” Wow—how could I have been so obtuse?

But the real watershed in my journey came when I fulfilled my “black studies” requirement for the ordination process. The seminal book “Before the Mayflower,” which should be required reading for all Americans, became a touchstone for me. Suddenly I realized assumptions I had taken for granted needed to be questioned. I learned that racism is not simply an issue for those still living in the past or actively involved in a hate group. Racism is a human problem.

We all have a deeply seated existential insecurity. Thus we are always trying to define ourselves as better than anyone who is different from us. Skin color and the cultural differences associated with it provide an easily available option. Coming through that class was like waking up and realizing I never knew I was asleep because I had never been awake before.

I also began to see that the Civil Rights Movement is actually very recent history. Of course, the past few years have demonstrated that in many ways it is still going on. I now realize that the legacy of slavery is still very much with us. As William Faulkner famously said: “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”

I am now convinced that thinking in simple-minded binary categories, as in “some people are racist and some people aren’t,” is part of the propaganda that undergirds our construction of narrow definitions. It is far more accurate and helpful to think of racism as a continuum that the entire human race is on somewhere. Instead of asking ourselves, “Am I racist,” we need to be asking, “In what ways am I racist?” What lies do I tell myself that prop up the myth of my objectivity? What do I believe that is actually propaganda?

It is helpful to note that even the KKK does not think of themselves as racist. They think of themselves as right. We may be on the opposite end of the racism continuum from them, but the essential point is that the difference between us and them is one of degree, not category.

For most of us racism doesn’t present itself as overt hatred or even as unfair bias. It masquerades as truth, and its most common form is about assumptions, thought processes and subconscious givens that we’ve never even considered. Through His grace may God give us the experiences, relationships, life challenges and whatever else is necessary to cause us to question this. May He strip away all propaganda. May we come to view all members of the human race as He does.

Martin, a 36-year-old white male, pastors Lebanon UMC, Eastover.

Griffeth: Homosexuality and the UMC, Part 1

Anticipating the report of the UMC human sexuality commission

By James Ellis Griffeth

Editor’s note: This is part one of a three-part series on homosexuality and a way forward for The United Methodist Church, excerpted from Griffeth’s fuller paper, ”An Introduction to the Biblical Texts (Re. Homosexuality) with Insights from the Quadrilateral.” Part 1, here, talks about the context for such an exploration in light of the pending UMC Commission on Human Sexuality and the fear of a UMC split. Part 2 discusses specific Scripture as related to homosexuality. Part 3 discusses homosexuality and the UMC Quadrilateral. Read Griffeth’s full paper here, and read his paper on the Wesleyan quadrilateral here.

Can we talk? Better yet, can we listen? Specifically, can we intentionally decide to employ some good old Methodist “discipline” in order to listen, in the spirit of Christian brotherhood and sisterhood, to people with whom we disagree?

Disciplined listening seems necessary if we are to find a faithful resolution to the self-contradictory statements on human sexuality in our United Methodist Book of Discipline. And we are aware of the concerns that the issue threatens to split our denomination. The 2016 General Conference deferred any immediate resolution to the issue by approving a commission to be appointed by the Council of Bishops. The commission will review all the statements regarding human sexuality in the UMC Book of Discipline and make recommendations for change. Their report will be made to the 2020 General Conference, or possibly to a specially called General Conference in 2018 or 2019. The UMC has not had a special General Conference since 1970; that one completed the details of the merger of the Methodist and EUB denominations to form the UMC in 1968.

I am among those who hope for a special General Conference prior to 2020 for two reasons: 1) A special General Conference would focus entirely on a setting a policy for this issue and take that pressure off the 2020 General Conference, which could then focus on the mission and future of the church without the sexuality issue looming over the whole 2020 conference. 2) If the 2020 United States presidential election year is as divisive and disrespectful as the 2016 campaign has been thus far, it would be well to separate our UMC struggles with a difficult issue from the rancorous mood of the general electorate.

One thing is almost a certainty: whatever emerges from the commission will not make everybody in the UMC happy. In fact, it may make almost everyone at least a little bit unhappy. Hard decisions made on controversial topics are almost always that way. On the other hand, Methodist style “conferencing” often results in decisions that seem quite wise once they have been lived with for a little while but, initially, various people are often unhappy with particular details of the decisions.

My observation is that the majority of United Methodist churches and United Methodist people of whom I have some knowledge have been anxiously silent as they awaited whatever General Conference 2016 would decide and whatever consequences might fall out of that decision. The approval of the commission now gives us several months in which we can talk with (and, better, listen to) fellow United Methodists who have different perspectives on the issue.

As a prelude to conversation, I would hope every congregation would prepare itself for dialogue by being introduced to the Wesleyan “quadrilateral,” a method for thinking theologically by utilizing scripture, tradition, reason and experience. It is helpful to understand the four elements of the “quadrilateral” as being in a dynamic relationship (maybe even dynamic tension) with each other — and with each one contributing to the other. Although we Methodists have always affirmed the primacy of Scripture, we are aided in approaching theology by evaluating every theological idea via Scripture, tradition, reason and experience.

Once interested folks have achieved a basic grasp of how to utilize the quadrilateral, they can utilize it to guide their conversation in a room that includes people with various histories and various beliefs.

This will not be easy to do.

I know some people who want to stand by what they have been told Scripture says about homosexuality, with some of them a) admitting that they have not studied the passages that are in the Bible personally and b) admitting they do not know anything about the context in which the statements are made; but I know others who have studied the Scriptures afresh and seriously—some of them believe it is time for the church to be more welcoming.

I know some people who privilege tradition so much that they are not open to thinking about homosexuality in any way other than what they have always heard (and believed); but I know others who believe re-visiting the quadrilateral might teach us to endorse a new tradition regarding homosexuality.

I know some people who want to use their reason to “prove” homosexuality is sinful and to be condemned, but I know some others who use their reason to believe people are hardwired with their sexuality and should be free to “be who they are,” always guided by the precepts of Christian love.

I know some people whose experience with homosexual persons in their families, among their friends and as faithful members of their congregations cause them to long for the church to find a more welcoming policy toward them; but I know some others whose lives have been so disrupted because of homosexuality that they do not want any changes in church policy.

Talking— and listening— in Christian love will not be easy, but it can be done!

Can we talk? Better yet, can we listen? Specifically, can we willfully decide to employ some good old Methodist “discipline” in order to listen, in the spirit of Christian brotherhood and sisterhood, to people with whom we disagree? If there is a better way to do it than the quadrilateral approach, I hope someone will bring it forward. I think we need to talk—and listen.

If we do so, we will experience something like what the commission will experience as it meets in coming months, and we will come to appreciate the hard work they will be doing. If we do so, we are less likely to be surprised at what the commission recommends, even if we are not happy with all of it. If we do so, we will have spent the coming months preparing ourselves for a different set of statements in the Discipline. Surely the commission will not recommend that the two seemingly contradictory statements in the current Discipline continue to be there. If we do so, it may be that the Spirit will visit us with guidance for a faithful way forward.

If we do not, we will spend the next several months doing what we have done for the last several months, i.e. nothing, except staying in our own cozy corners and dreading what may happen—and fretting over what we’ll do if the church splits.

Can we talk—and listen?

Griffeth is a retired member of the South Carolina Conference of the UMC.

SEJ makes history, elects first female African-American bishop

Holston remains in S.C.; McClendon narrowly misses election

By Jessica Brodie

LAKE JUNALUSKA, North Carolina—The Southeastern Jurisdiction of The United Methodist Church made history this session, electing the Rev. Sharma Lewis as its first African-American female bishop.

Lewis, who hails from the North Georgia Conference, was one of five new bishops the SEJ elected when it gathered July 13-14. She was elected on the first ballot, garnering 258 of the 362 valid votes cast; 217 votes were required for election.

“I give honor to God, who is the head of my life,” a tearful Lewis said from the podium, then recognized her mother and two sisters who came onstage with her. “God has spoken, Southeastern Jurisdiction. God has spoken today through you and the affirmation of this election. This is not only a historic moment, and you all know this, but this is a God moment.”

Lewis lifted up by name all the SEJ clergywomen who have been elected as bishop.

“All of you cracked the door open for me to stand here today,” she said as applause filled Lake Junaluska’s Stuart Auditorium. “You were not afraid to say yes … thank you.”

South Carolina’s Resident Bishop Jonathan Holston, who had been the first person elected on the first ballot at the 2012 SEJ Conference and also hailed from the North Georgia Conference, presided over the morning session during which Lewis was elected.

The other new bishops are David Graves (Holston Conference, Ballot 4), Leonard Fairley (North Carolina Conference, Ballot 7), Lawson Bryan (Alabama-West Florida Conference, Ballot 10) and Sue Haupert-Johnson (Florida Conference, also Ballot 10).

South Carolina’s episcopal nominee, Delegation Chair Dr. Tim McClendon, narrowly missed election. McClendon was in the top tier for every ballot cast.

“Thank you, South Carolina United Methodists, for your confidence and support,” McClendon wrote on his Facebook page after the final elections. “It has been a privilege! God bless the UMC! I’m blessed to remain as pastor of St. John’s UMC, Aiken. God bless our newly elected bishops.”

The SEJ elections were notably fast; the body elected all five of its bishops before many other jurisdictions had elected a one. Other jurisdictions also made history on several fronts. The UMC this year elected the most women as bishop ever (seven total), including the election of four African Americans and, by the Western Jurisdiction, the election of Dr. Karen Oliveto, a self-avowed, practicing homosexual. Oliveto’s election has prompted controversy in the UMC, whose law currently bans self-avowed practicing homosexuals from ordination. (See related article here.)

Elections were just one of the duties SEJ delegates performed during their gathering. They also announced new episcopal assignments; passed a $1.77 million budget that was 60 percent lower than years past; unanimously approved a new missional initiative including dialogue on racism and human sexuality; and approved nominations for service on general and jurisdictional bodies of the UMC.

 

Holston remains South Carolina bishop

Bishop Jonathan Holston will continue as South Carolina’s episcopal leader another four years, his second quadrennium, while other conferences will get new bishops as some bishops retired, some moved and some were newly elected. Bishops, who are elected for life, typically serve an annual conference for two quadrennia (eight years).

“Thank you for welcoming us back,” Holston told a crowd of South Carolina delegates and others who gathered with him at a reception during SEJ. “We are just so glad to be home. We started talking about ‘a more excellent way,’ and we’re going to continue to do that, but for these next years we’re going to ‘walk by faith, not by sight.’

“You all are family to us and that’s important to us.”

McClendon thanked Holston and his wife, Felecia, for their service and gifts over the past for years.

“We cannot even imagine what God’s going to do through you over the next four years,” McClendon said to applause.

SEJ bishop assignments are as follows:

  • Alabama-West Florida: Bishop David Graves
  • Florida: Bishop Ken Carter
  • Holston: Bishop Mary Virginia Taylor
  • Kentucky/Red Bird Missionary: Bishop Leonard Fairley
  • Memphis/Tennessee: Bishop Bill McAlilly
  • Mississippi: Bishop James Swanson
  • North Alabama: Bishop Debra Wallace-Padgett
  • North Carolina: Bishop Hope Morgan Ward
  • North Georgia: Bishop Sue Haupert-Johnson
  • South Carolina: Bishop Jonathan Holston
  • South Georgia: Bishop Lawson Bryan
  • Virginia: Bishop Sharma Lewis
  • Western North Carolina: Bishop Paul Leeland

 

Lowest budget passed in years

SEJ also approved a $1,774,000 budget for the 2017-2020 quadrennium. That figure is a 60 percent reduction from previous years. The budget cuts are not controversial, several said; they reflect the end of debt owed for Lake Junaluska and Hinton Rural Life Center. The budget passed as recommended by the SEJ Committee on Finance and Administration.

The SEJ has been reducing its budget since 2008, when a restructuring was approved. The 2012-2016 budget cut operational funds going to agencies but continued to provide funds for debt service payments; those payments end in 2016, enabling the drastically reduced budget.

Jim Allen of the SEJ CFA said the budget reflects a faithful commitment to the ministries of the SEJ and is projected to be sufficient for the ongoing operational costs. It will also provide a cushion to fund emerging ministries or a special called session of Jurisdictional Conference if needed.

The body also approved the election of David Dommisse as SEJ treasurer for the 2017–2020 quadrennium.

Apportionment payments by Annual Conference will be as follows:

  • Alabama-West Florida: $110,543 ($27,636/year)
  • Florida: $211,194 ($52,799/year)
  • Holston: $99,930 ($24,983/year)
  • Kentucky: $78,132 ($19,533/year)
  • Memphis: $53,009 ($13,252/year)
  • Mississippi: $97,396 ($24,349/year)
  • North Alabama: $110,223 ($27,556/year)
  • North Carolina: $125,638 ($31,410/year)
  • North Georgia: $221,455 ($55,364/year)
  • Red Bird Missionary: $506 ($127/year)
  • South Carolina: $130,215 ($32,554/year)
  • South Georgia: $82,851 ($20,713/year)
  • Tennessee: $74,714 ($18,679/year)
  • Virginia: $190,636 ($47,659/year)
  • Western North Carolina: $187,558 ($46,890/year)

 

Missional initiative

The body unanimously approved a new missional initiative proposed by the jurisdictional College of Bishops. Bishop Bill McAlilly presented the initiative to the body on behalf of the COB, stating the proposal was the bishops’ effort at affirming a way forward for the church.

“As leaders of the church in the SEJ, we see a timely opportunity to increase our strategic thinking and action with regard to our context in the Southeast,” the initiative reads in part, noting it is the bishops’ hope to continue to focus on the mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. (Read the initiative in full here.)

The initiative specifically will focus on new forms of church beyond the walls; children and poverty; unity and human sexuality; making disciples; and structure, finance and the future church.

A sixth area, racism and white privilege—proposed from the floor by North Carolina delegate Laurie Hays Coffman—was included as a friendly amendment.

 

Nominations affirmed

Several South Carolinians were among a host of SEJ United Methodists elected to serve on UMC general agencies and SEJ committees, agencies and ministries.

For general agencies: The Rev. Ken Nelson will serve on the Connectional Table; Dr. Robin Dease on the General Board of Church and Society (also on GBCS nominations committee); Herman Lightsey on the General Board Pension and Health Benefits; and the Rev. Cathy Mitchell on the General Commission on the Status and Role of Women.

For SEJ committees, agencies and ministries: The Rev. Tim Rogers will serve on the Committee on Coordination and Accountability; Barbara Ware on Council on Finance and Administration; James Salley on the Gulfside Association Board of Directors; the Rev. Marion Crooks on the Hinton Rural Life Center Board; Holston and Ken Jenkins on the Lake Junaluska Conference and Retreat Center Board; the Rev. Roger Gramling and the Rev. A.V. Huff on the SEJ Commission on Archives and History and SEJ Heritage Center Board; and Holston on the Intentional Growth Center Board.

 

‘Focus on love’

Worship was a central part of SEJ, kicking off July 13 with a Holy Communion opening worship service led by Bishop James R. King Jr. with Bishop B. Michael Watson as celebrant.

King preached how the UMC needs to “Focus on Love,” telling a story about how he was in Nashville, Tennessee, one cold winter day when he happened to encounter a housekeeper in the elevator. The woman noticed his clerical collar and asked for him to pray for her sister, who was struggling with cancer. King noted the two of them had never met before. They didn’t spend any time talking about their status or their differences on faith; they only focused on her hope and what they had in common, which was Jesus Christ.

That’s exactly what the UMC needs to be doing right now, King preached—focusing on Jesus.

“Unity occurs when two separate parts find a favorable connection that holds them together more than the differences that can separate them,” King said. “Unity places the weight on what we have in common. So if you like red and another likes yellow and I like blue but we all like green, unity doesn’t ask us to give up our favorite colors. It just asks us to put our energy on what we have in common, which is green, and now we’re ready to go together.

“Our hope for unity in the church and in the world is based on our ability to focus our energy on what we have in common, and that is Jesus Christ, and Jesus Christ is love, so beautiful people, let’s focus on love.”

King and others lifted up that “focus on love” theme several times throughout the SEJ gathering.

 

Retirement and memorial services

SEJ also honored five retiring bishops, as well as six bishops and five bishop spouses who have died since the last quadrennium.

Retiring bishops honored were Lindsey Davis, Kentucky and Red Bird Missionary conferences; James King, South Georgia Conference; B. Michael Watson, North Georgia Conference; Young Jin Cho, Virginia Conference; and Larry Goodpaster, Western North Carolina Conference.

Bishops who died were Mack Stokes, Robert Morgan, Lloyd Knox, Roy Clark, Charles Hancock and William Morris, as well as spouses Mariam Hancock, Mary Ann Minnick, Eva Eutsler, Mildred “Tuck” Jones and Louise Short.

 

South Carolina delegates

South Carolina delegates to SEJ were elected at Annual Conference 2015. Sixteen are laity and 16 are clergy, plus four alternates (two lay, two clergy).

Lay delegates:

  • Barbara Ware
  • James Salley
  • Dr. Joseph Heyward
  • Herman Lightsey
  • Jackie Jenkins
  • Michael Cheatham
  • Martha Thompson
  • Dr. David Braddon
  • Lollie Haselden
  • Emily Rogers Evans
  • Donald Love
  • Jennifer Price
  • Chris Lynch
  • Dr. Carolyn Briscoe
  • Linda DuRant
  • Lou Jordan
  • Alternate: Cynthia Williams
  • Alternate: Marilyn Murphy

Clergy delegates:

  • Dr. Tim McClendon
  • Rev. Ken Nelson
  • Rev. Tim Rogers
  • Dr. Robin Dease
  • Rev. Tiffany Knowlin
  • Rev. Narcie Jeter
  • Rev. Mel Arant Jr.
  • Rev. Susan Leonard-Ray
  • Rev. Telley Gadson
  • Rev. Michael Turner
  • Rev. Kathy James
  • Rev. George Ashford
  • Rev. James Friday
  • Rev. Sara White
  • Rev. Emily Sutton
  • Rev. Jeff Kersey
  • Alternate: Rev. Connie Barnes
  • Alternate: Rev. Cathy Joens

 

For more on SEJ, visit www.sejumc.org.

Race2Rebuild: UMCSC partners with group to help woman get back in home

By Jessica Brodie

COLUMBIA—Nine months after the South Carolina floods, Annie Taylor still can’t go home.

The October floods devastated her modest three-bedroom home in the Highland Park community of Columbia, collapsing the ceiling in two bedrooms and ruining her flooring, insulation and drywall.

“I’m a widow, all by myself, and it’s been really hard,” Taylor said.

She’s been bouncing between her two sisters’ homes, praying for a miracle and waiting faithfully for the day she can finally go home.

Her miracle came in July courtesy of a partnership between The United Methodist Church and Race2Rebuild, which linked up with other groups to hold a major repair day. The work was performed by UMC disaster recovery volunteers with a team of 10 athletes July 9; the athletes then raced the XTERRA Harbison Trail Run the next morning, July 10. United Methodist Volunteers in Mission teams are working now to finish the rest of the repairs.

“I’m ready!” Taylor said, grinning as she scanned her property two days before the repair day, noting the first thing she wants to do when she gets in her home is relax in her own bed with her own television set. “And one thing I’m going to do right away is thank God and praise Him—He doesn’t ever let me down. I’ve just got to be patient and wait on Him.

“He always comes through, but He does it on His time.”

Taylor is one of two Columbia homeowners helped by the Race2Rebuild event that weekend. The other homeowner—known as Ms. Betty—was helped by a team of 10 athletes along with the nonprofit disaster response group SBP (formerly known as the St. Bernard Project).

Race2Rebuild formed in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy to bring a national team of volunteer athletes to raise private funds and provide hands-on home building to support projects across the country and around the world.

Race2Rebuild Vice President Kathryn Harvey, a New Yorker whose home church is Trinity UMC, Spartanburg, said the opportunity to come to her native state for a Race2Rebuild effort was extremely gratifying and a chance to come “full circle.”

“You’re helping people get back in their homes, and at the end of the day, that’s really what it’s all about,” Harvey said.

The fundraising is all done by the athletes, and all proceeds go to their rebuild partners, such as the UMC, who oversee the work and manage its completion. Harvey said she was heartened to learn Trinity UMC members raised a special $1,000 gift for the rebuild weekend.

“I’m a social worker, so helping people in need is what I’m drawn to,” said Ashely McCullough, an athlete from Atlanta who helped with the rebuild. She said being part of the team is exciting and rewarding.

Grayson Hopp, of the Columbia Regional Sports Council, helped organize and promote the XTERRA Trail Run. She said the opportunity to combine a race with a rebuild was a perfect fit and put a much-needed spotlight on flood recovery.

“It feels completely awesome to be a part of this and help get the word out,” she said.

The UMC’s Matt Brodie said the athletes did flooring, insulation and Sheetrock work, and UMVIM teams are now busy doing their part to get Taylor back home as quickly as possible.

“The United Methodist Church has a reputation of being an organization that stays in the disaster until the end, and we are entering a phase where people are starting to forget about the fact that there are still people who are displaced from the flood,” he said. “It’s great working with another national organization to help remind people there is still need and there are still people who are trying to get back to a normal life.”

As for Taylor, she feels “really happy” and blessed beyond measure.

“I moved in that house in 1974 and raised my three daughters and two boys and my grandkids there,” Taylor said. “I’m ready.”

For more on UMCSC disaster response, including how to help with the ongoing flood recovery effort, visit www.umcsc.org/screcovery. For more on Race2Rebuild, visit www.race2rebuild.org.

UMC reacts as most women ever elected bishop, plus first lesbian bishop

By Jessica Brodie

The United Methodist Church has elected the most women ever to serve as bishops—including the election of four African Americans and, by the Western Jurisdiction, the election of Dr. Karen Oliveto, a self-avowed, practicing homosexual.

Seven women were elected from four of the UMC’s five jurisdictions in the United States July 13-16. Fifteen bishops were elected total.

The Southeastern Jurisdiction, which includes South Carolina, elected the Rev. Sharma Lewis, who is also the jurisdiction’s first African-American female bishop, and the Rev. Sue Haupert-Johnson. The Northeastern Jurisdiction elected the Revs. Cynthia Moore-Koikoi and LaTrelle Miller Easterling. The North Central Jurisdiction elected the Revs. Tracy Smith Malone and Laurie Haller. The Western Jurisdiction elected Oliveto. The South Central Jurisdiction was the only jurisdiction not to elect a female this year.

Many are applauding the election of so many women (and women of color) into a position that once had none, especially during a year that also marks 60th anniversary of full clergy rights for women in the UMC.

However, Oliveto’s election is prompting much debate, and the South Central Jurisdiction voted July 15 to ask the UMC’s top court for a declaratory decision regarding same-sex church leaders. Currently, the UMC’s Book of Discipline (which constitutes the law and doctrine of the UMC) bans self-avowed practicing homosexuals from ordination, but many in the church are staunchly advocating for full inclusion of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer/questioning and intersex people, including being able to serve as clergy. The 2016 General Conference was set to address 56 legislative items on sexuality but voted 428-405 to shift sexuality discussion and all legislation to a study commission, plus possibly call a special General Conference in 2018 or 2019 to handle any proposals. The plan put forth by the Council of Bishops, “An Offering for a Way Forward,” means the UMC maintains its current stance that homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching while the commission takes a deeper look at the issues.

Since then, several annual conferences have passed resolutions not to conform with non-inclusive church laws.

Some in the church view Oliveto’s election as a violation of church law, while others see it as the first step toward the UMC being a more inclusive church.

Bishop Bruce R. Ough, president of the UMC Council of Bishops, issued a statement noting Oliveto’s election raises much concern and that the COB is “monitoring this situation very closely,” even though he said the COB does not have the constitutional authority to intervene in the election.

“As a council, we continue to maintain that the proposal for a way forward and the formation of the commission is the best path,” Ough’s statement reads in part (click here for Ough’s full statement).

In South Carolina, Bishop Jonathan Holston issued a pastoral letter to South Carolina United Methodists about Oliveto’s election, noting that the SEJ College of Bishops issued a letter at the beginning of the SEJ Conference calling for unity and prayer about deep divisions in the UMC over human sexuality and other issues.

“We recognize the pain felt both by those advocating for and those opposing change. We also view the acts of nonconformity as a violation of our covenant and as divisive and disruptive. As a College of Bishops, we are fully committed to keeping the promises we made at our ordinations and consecrations,” the SEJ COB statement reads in part.

Holston called for compassionate listening, gentle speech and prayerful discernment during this process as the UMC continues its work to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.

“Let us remember that God is with us in the midst of our deep divisions and will guide and direct us into a preferred future as we earnestly seek God’s will for God’s church going forward,” Holston said. (Read his full statement here.)

Limitless: Young United Methodist Women’s group helps youth stay strong in Christ

By Jessica Brodie

Samoria Jacquel Session, 18, knows how important it is to stay strong in the Lord and stay connected to her church.

Temptations and other evils of the world circle her and her friends daily, and Session said being involved not only in worship but in church groups helps them rise above trouble and keep their focus on God.

One of those church groups, Limitless, is a new way specifically for younger women like Session to walk more boldly with God and take a more active role in the life of the church. A sect of United Methodist Women, Limitless started a few years ago to help younger girls and women ages 14-30 get involved in United Methodist Women in a way that fits their generation.

“There are different things that can test you, and the enemy has so many plans that can hurt you,” said Session, a rising college freshman at Francis Marion University and a member of St. Mark United Methodist Church, Sumter. “But if you know your purpose and go to church and Limitless and do everything the Lord has planned for you, you can use that to protect you.”

That sort of fellowship and accountability is exactly what Limitless co-mentors Deaconess Selena Ruth Smith and Elizabeth Waters try to foster. Limitless offers young women a chance to connect with each other through online meetings, plus attend various conference and district events together such as Revolution, Come Together Be Together, Harambee, Mission u, district annual meetings and more. A diverse group that embraces the concept of ubuntu (which translates as “I am human because you are human”), Limitless tries to reach young women where they are and help them be the church in the world today.

“South Carolina young girls and ladies are the future of United Methodist Women, and we want to nurture them to carry on the legacy of mission and a love for God,” Smith said.

 

A fresh approach to United Methodist Women

Smith said Limitless introduces them to United Methodist Women but in a different way and with a fresher approach that appeals to the younger generation.

While it is not this way at every church, Smith said sometimes young women want to get more active with women’s groups at their church, but they look around and only see their mother’s group or their grandmother’s group. Limitless is a chance for them to engage with other United Methodist Women in their age range in a way that fits their styles and needs.

Meetings are a key difference, Smith said. Traditional United Methodist Women meetings usually involve going to the church at a set time to engage with other women face-to-face. But Limitless meetings might be on Snapchat or Skype or FaceTime. Missions are very hands-on, such as feeding the homeless or bringing clothes to the needy, and they also engage specifically with issues that young women of their generation are passionate about: teen pregnancy, college life, bullying, maternal health, gender wage gap, globalization, multiculturalism and more.

“I have a passion for Limitless because when I was in the 14-30 age range, I always saw United Methodist Women as the ‘seasoned women’ group,” Smith said. “That’s not a bad thing, but there are not a lot of younger women in it.”

And sometimes, Smith said, younger women feel they’re talked at but not talked to.

In her case, even though she was surrounded by mostly older women back then, Smith chose to stay involved in her church’s United Methodist Women. They embraced her and taught her, and she eventually developed a passion for United Methodist Women.

“That’s why I want a sect with the younger women—you’re not in the ‘old women’s group’ or the ‘seasoned women’s group.’ You have a space in United Methodist Women. We want you to come, want you to carry on the legacy.”

 

Opportunities and empowerment

Smith and Waters let the young women decide which topics they want to focus on and empower them to make decisions for the team.

Session said that’s a big draw for her, and she loves the opportunity to do new things and dream big.

“It presents a lot of different possibilities and a lot of different learning experiences for youth, and it prepares you to become a United Methodist Woman and go the extra mile,” Session said.

It also gives her the chance to make friends with other women her age, which helps her feel more comfortable when she travels to bigger events like Mission u.

Reagan Sharp, 15 and a rising high school sophomore, is a member of Lebanon UMC, Eastover. She has been involved with Limitless for about a year.

“I’m a member of Limitless because I love helping people and spreading God’s word,” Sharp said. “That’s my passion, and (Limitless) kind of helps you in that way to motivate you, and gives you opportunities to help people and share the Gospel. I think it’s important because every single person in this world needs help and needs to be motivated toward God, and that’s kind of what this group does.”

Sharp said she, too, loves the opportunities Limitless presents to her and other women her age. Church offers opportunities, but groups like Limitless offer so much more, including helping young women explore their passions and discover new ways to truly make a difference in the world.

“I think right now, in this day and age, what we need is for strong, powerful young women to step up and step out with their passions so that we can show other people that they can do the exact same thing,” Sharp said.

Smith couldn’t agree more and hopes many more young women will learn about—and connect with—Limitless.

“When you see these amazing, educated young girls and women who love God, you say ‘I want to be a part of that,’” Smith said.

Young women can connect with Limitless on Facebook at Limitless SC. Smith and Waters want to see a Limitless circle in every United Methodist Women group in South Carolina. To learn more about Limitless, contact Smith at selenaruth1@yahoo.com or Waters at elizabethwaters92@gmail.com.

Fitness for all

Pastor’s wife offers dance ministry to foster friendship, fitness, fun

By Jessica Brodie

GILBERT—Peppy Christian music plays from speakers in the fellowship hall at Beulah United Methodist Church, the room dim as a dozen or more women of all ages begin to take their places.

“Let’s get started!” says the instructor, pastor’s wife Mary Rowell, her long brown hair tied back in a ponytail as she smiles at all gathered.

Immediately, visitors get the vibe of a safe, no-frills, no-pressure space, the kind of come-as-you-are fitness zone that makes working out easy and fun. The clothing choices vary—salmon pink and electric-blue workout ensembles and neon athletic shoes blend seamlessly with women garbed in khaki walking shorts and crisp white sneakers. Everywhere you turn, someone is smiling or laughing at a joke or giving a quick hello-hug.

This is REFIT® at Beulah, what Rowell calls a “powerful and uplifting fitness experience” for every body regardless of age, experience or ability.

REFIT®, a nationwide “fitness with a purpose” program, fuses dynamic and positive music, both Christian and secular, with upbeat dance moves to raise the heart rate and build lean muscles. Family-friendly and value-based, the program emphasizes having fun while getting fit—and forgetting about perfection.

“It’s a chance to give your body, mind and soul a time to be challenged and recharged,” Rowell said. “We’re creating a fitness experience that changes people from the inside out.”

The classes focus on the heart as a muscle and a soul, and more than once during the class Rowell reminds participants to focus on the words of the song as they follow the moves.

One song, “Start Over,” tells people they don’t have to keep living with the regrets of the past; they are a new creation in the risen Savior: “Regrets, no matter what you’ve gone through; Jesus, He gave it all to save you. He carried the cross on His shoulders, so you can start over.”

Another song, “Alive,” lifts up God as our ultimate freedom and the light in the darkness: “You are alive in us, nothing can take Your place, you are all we need, your love has set us free,” the song proclaims as the women jump and turn, twist and sway, in time with the beat or not at all.

 

God’s persistent nudging

Rowell brought REFIT® to Beulah in fall 2014. A jazz, tap and ballet dancer since the second grade, Rowell minored in dance education in college and was a member of the Columbia College Dance Company; she also had her own dance studio for a number of years. But as the years passed and joint and other health issues increased, dancing took the backburner.

“For several years I had been saying, ‘When I lose weight, gain time and reduce joint pain, then I would teach dance,’” Rowell said.

But God had something else in mind. His nudging persisted, and one day when she was looking online for a program that would put together her love for the Lord with dance and contemporary Christian music, she came upon some REFIT® choreography on YouTube.

“I followed that to their website, saw the upcoming training and signed up before I could change my mind,” she said.

She attended the REFIT® training in August 2014 and “the pieces came together,” she said. She realized she couldn’t put conditions on God’s call to lead the classes at Beulah. So broken body and all, she started teaching six weeks later.

Of course, God knew what He was doing. People immediately responded, and the classes have today become a source of fellowship not only for Beulah’s women, but for other Christian women in the community—Presbyterians, Catholics, Baptists and “nones.”

Every Tuesday from 7-8 p.m., Rowell teaches the class. She charges $5; half goes to the church’s building fund, and the other half covers licensing, music and other expenses.

Rowell offers five playlists alternating 14 songs, nearly all of them Christian. Half of the choreography is from the REFIT® founders, and half Rowell makes up. Before every song, she shows participants the moves so they’ll be able to follow along easily. They all go at their own pace and skill-level; some hop, shimmy and pivot with ease. Others stay low-intensity, keeping a steady pace and their feet on the floor. All of it works, and all of it helps.

“The key is just to keep moving,” Rowell said.

 

‘Doesn’t matter what your hair looks like’

Participants say the classes are fun and helpful on a variety of levels.

“I think it’s great,” said Rosalie Stevenson. “You move parts of your body you haven’t moved before or haven’t moved in years. We get together in a circle and pray for each other at the end, and you feel comfortable, not like you’re at a gym. It doesn’t matter what you wear or what your hair looks like.”

Cindy Curtis struggles with back and neck pain, and she signed up to get a little exercise, plus maybe make some friends. A recent transplant from Connecticut, she said she found that and more.

“It really loosens my body up, and it’s good physical therapy for me, plus helps me lose weight. It keeps me more limber,” Curtis said, taking a swig of water during a break. “When I first started I couldn’t do some of the jumps, and now I can!”

Gayle Terrell signed up because she wanted something new to do. Her husband died two years ago, and she’d just joined Beulah after having been out of church for some time. She said the classes have been a balm for her body and her soul.

“Everybody has a good time—everybody. You just come and do it,” Terrell said. “It’s fellowship and fun and just getting out and about and forgetting about things.”

 

A big, loving family

Indeed, at the end of the day, Rowell said being able to come together, get fit and become friends with other Christian women is what it’s all about. Every class ends with a big group prayer and a positive sendoff—a big loving family, no matter what.

“We dance together, laugh and cry together and pray together,” Rowell said. “I am very blessed to be a part of this ministry.”

Rowell is willing to share what she’s learned about offering the classes with anyone interested. For more on REFIT®, visit www.refitrev.com. To talk with Rowell, contact her at 803-463-8974, 803-892-2842 or mkrowell@windstream.net.

UMs called to advocacy, prayer, peacemaking after officer-involved shootings

By Jessica Brodie

United Methodists remain in prayer this month after the July officer-involved shootings in Texas, Louisiana, Minnesota and elsewhere.

In South Carolina, Resident Bishop Jonathan Holston issued a statement on the shootings, which was read at a July 10 Columbia District prayer vigil at Francis Burns United Methodist Church, Columbia.

“As a people of faith committed to social justice and opposed to gun violence and racism, we grieve for the lives lost and destroyed by these acts of violence,” Holston’s statement, “A Response to a Tragedy in our Nation,” reads in part. “Even in the wake of the gun violence in Orlando, we come again to a time to examine and set for ourselves specific goals. These goals should be a faith statement of witness, advocacy and prayer.”

Among other things, he urges the people of the UMC to continue to pray and be committed to the hard work of peacemaking in our communities.

The July 10 prayer vigil was a Service of Hope, Healing and Release. Organized by the Revs. Tiffany Knowlin, Robert Walker and James Friday, the vigil was an open gathering for United Methodists across the Columbia District to remember and respond to the deaths of those slain and provide a space for prayer, grieving and conversation.

Bishop Bruce R. Ough, president of the United Methodist Council of Bishops, also issued a statement on behalf of the COB in the wake of shootings. Addressing what Ough called “a nation that is overwhelmed with anger, grief, frustration and despair,” the COB called upon the people of the UMC to enter into the “challenge and complexity of this present moment” through advocacy, prayer, dialogue and peacemaking.

“These deaths have left our hearts and voices crying for justice,” Ough wrote. “The preliminary evidence and the shocking video images are a convincing reminder that we have work to do. The deaths of young black males in encounters with white police officers call for the need of a bi-partisan political and legal response, beyond (but including) the statements and prayers of the church. The subsequent deaths of police officers remind us of the honorable service of the great majority of these public servants and the destructive cycle of violence and retribution. We pray for each family in their profound loss and grief.”

(Read Ough’s full statement here.)

South Carolina stands with victims, survivors of Orlando shooting

By Jessica Brodie

Nearly six weeks after a lone gunman killed 49 people and wounded more than 50 others at an Orlando nightclub, South Carolina United Methodists are still standing in solidarity with the victims and survivors.

In the wee hours of Sunday, June 12, a well-armed 29-year-old Omar Mateen of Fort Pierce, Florida, stormed Pulse, a popular gay nightclub holding a “Latin flavor” event. The horrors ended after an hours-long standoff with police, ending when police barreled into the building and killed the shooter. Among the dead were lesbian, gay, bisexual and heterosexual men and women.

It was the deadliest shooting in United States history.

South Carolina Resident Bishop Jonathan Holston issued an immediate response to the Orlando tragedy.

“As a people of faith committed to social justice and opposed to gun violence and hatred, we offer our condolences for the lives lost and destroyed by this terrible act of violence in Orlando, Florida,” Holston said. “Acts of hatred in any form are contrary to the will of Jesus Christ for this world. May we commit to the hard work of peacemaking and continue to pray for those impacted by this terrible act of violence.”

Florida Area Bishop Kenneth Carter Jr. urged churches to share the message of God’s unconditional love, noting that as Florida United Methodists were about to gather in Orlando for their annual conference event, perhaps it could be an opportunity to live out that love to others in creative, pastoral and grace-filled ways.

“May you announce God’s unconditional love for all people and God’s desire for nonviolence through Jesus Christ, who is our peace,” Carter said.

President Obama called for flags to be lowered to half-staff because of the shooting. Florida Gov. Rick Scott called for a moment of silence across the nation at 6 p.m. June 12.

Across South Carolina, many UMCs held prayer vigils and other special prayer moments that day and throughout the week. Virginia Wingard UMC, Columbia, is one of those churches, holding a service June 15 that featured Columbia District Superintendent Dr. Cathy Jamieson, Virginia Wingard pastor the Rev. Scott W. Smoak and Jim Lane, the chair of Reconciling Ministries of South Carolina, a group that mobilizes United Methodists of all sexual orientations and gender identities in South Carolina to transform the UMC and world into what they call “the full expression of Christ’s inclusive love.”

“The prayer vigil was a sign of hope and healing in the face of evil, suffering and hate,” Jamieson said. “It was especially profound to see pastors and lay people come together across their differences on the issue of homosexuality. In times of tragedy, we realize we are all a part of God’s human family.”

During her June 15 message, Jamieson called for prayer that must turn to action.

“We cannot merely pray for an end to hate, an end to prejudice, an end to violence,” Jamieson said. “We must do something to promote respect and love across differences—racial, political, social, religious, gender, sexuality, economic, theological. We are all called to love our neighbor.”

Smoak, lifting up the song “Jesus Loves the Little Children” (“Red, brown, yellow, black and white, they are precious in His sight”), said those who attended the vigil gathered because they felt compelled to be available for those who mourn.

“By holding this prayer vigil we give voice to our love of God, love of the good land God has given us, the freedoms we enjoy, and we lament our innocence lost,” Smoak said.

Bishop preaches on healing, hope as four UMCs gather to honor Emanuel 9

By Allison Trussell

EASTOVER—In a service honoring the one-year anniversary of the Emanuel Nine massacre, four United Methodist churches in lower Richland County came together to hear Bishop Jonathan Holston proclaim, “Failure is not an option. … It’s never an option in God’s economy.”

Bluff Road, Lebanon, McLeod and Mill Creek UMCs brought together pastors and congregations for the June 12 service held in Lebanon’s sanctuary.

With the lesson being the feeding of the 5,000, Holston noted that “When we are here (in church), it’s good. When we go out into the community, it’s better.”

When the disciples came under scrutiny, they focused on their limitations and saw a crisis, Holston preached. The disciples responded to Jesus’ order to give the people something to eat with their lack and what they could not do.

“They’ve been imprisoned by practicality and reasonableness,” Holston said. “Think about this: When do we say not enough? When do we allow our mistakes and hurts to limit us?”

While the service was to remember the Emanuel Nine, it occurred the morning of the Orlando shootings at a gay nightclub. If we want a different world, they we must allow God to use us, Holston said.

“A year ago, I was in the Atlanta airport when I heard the news. I waited for my friend, Clementa Pinckney, to address reporters. And then it became personal when I realized that he was a victim. Even in this moment, Jesus Christ is still saying, ‘Failure is not an option.’”

Holston exhorted the congregation to get rid of excuses—“They are reasons not to do (something).”

“When Jesus tells the disciples to bring everything you have, they did and 5,000 were fed. … What could he do with me, with you, with our church?”

The Revs. Daniel Hembree and Shay Long assisted Holston and the Rev. Cathy Jamieson, Columbia District superintendent, with communion. Hembree, pastor of Bluff Road UMC, read the responsive reading, and Long, pastor of the Mill Creek-McLeod Charge, did the Children’s Time. The Rev. Drew Martin is the pastor of Lebanon UMC.

From Woman at the Well to well woman

Rhodes’ testimony takes readers from hurt to wholeness in Christ

By Jessica Brodie

EASLEY—To spend time with her now, one would never imagine the kind of horrors Donna Rhodes once lived every day.

Today, Rhodes is a woman embracing wellness, from healthy cancer-free living to a thriving marriage and a deep, connected relationship with Jesus. An author, Christian speaker and Bible study teacher at United Methodist and other churches in the Upstate, Rhodes lives her life to help others see the light and hope of Christ alone, our risen and only savior. Poised and well dressed with a gentle smile, she exudes an immediate willingness to share her heart and her Lord with strangers and friends alike, inviting the sort of trust and kindness you’d expect from a woman who has always been at peace with God.

But it was not so long ago that Rhodes was not well at all. In fact, when she read the account of the Woman at the Well in the Gospel of John—a woman floundering in a life of sin and pain, who’d been married five times and was currently living with a man not her husband—Rhodes instantly recognized herself.

“I’d had a child out of wedlock, four kids from three different fathers, and was in poverty. I’d walked the streets; I was alone,” Rhodes said, ticking off the stings of her past.

The conversation between Jesus and the woman is the longest Jesus has in the Bible, and as Rhodes read it, tears rolled down her face. Jesus knew everything the woman had done, yet He was ready to offer her grace and a new life in Him. If Jesus would do that for the Woman at the Well, Rhodes thought maybe He could do that for her, too.

Reading that passage was a turning point in her life, one Rhodes said ignited a spark within her. And later, when Rhodes set out to write her testimony and offer that same kind of transformative hope for others, she knew her story needed to reflect the truth she read in the Gospel.

Her testimony, “How the Woman at the Well Became the Well Woman: A Memoir of an Extraordinary Ordinary Life,” is now a book launched this spring and making its way into the hands of men and woman alike through book signings, speaking engagements and other author events across the nation.

“It’s just been a journey,” Rhodes said. “God has placed people in my life, encouragement, health, finances, all of it, to get out the message of hope.

“That’s my ministry.”

 

A long road

But the journey has been a long one, and for many years, Rhodes didn’t think she’d ever make it out whole, healed and happy, let alone become the kind of person who could offer others a new life in Christ.

The daughter of an alcoholic, Rhodes spent years in a difficult foster home beginning at the age of 7, desperately craving a return to the mother she idolized and dreamed about. But when she finally returned home to her mother at the age of 16, reality was nothing like she’d expected. Instead, her dream became a nightmare. Her mother was so consumed with the disease of alcoholism that she couldn’t give Rhodes the love she needed. In an off-kilter home complicated by an abusive stepfather, Rhodes got out as quickly as she could.

She catapulted headfirst into marriage with a broken man. While her daughter was still an infant, they split and she fell into her next failed relationship—and the birth of her son. When that relationship also failed, she was swept up in a third relationship. Poverty was a constant thread, forcing Rhodes to make choices out of hunger and despair. Hard times and brokenness teamed with the birth of two more children, another daughter and son, left Rhodes alone, penniless and more than susceptible to the next nightmare, which came in the form of a wolf in sheep’s clothing—a twisted, manipulative, abusive man who almost took her life even as he provided financial support and a seemingly stable home for her children.

“It was really, really hard to survive,” Rhodes said.

Her way out—religion—proved to be yet another test. While she’d turned her life around and focused her heart, mind and soul on the Lord, it turned out her new church family was actually a cult. But the cult was family, and it was far better than the poverty and horrors she’d experienced prior. She spent 17 years in the cult making over her life, eventually falling in love with and marrying the man who has been her husband for the past 30 years.

When the cult dissolved, Rhodes and her husband slowly began their journey toward spiritual freedom, finding Christ and biblical truth for the first time. Their hunger for Jesus and Rhodes’ desire to leave a legacy of hope and light for her grandchildren led her to her next quest: writing the story of her life.

 

Encouragement and hard work

“How the Woman at the Well Became the Well Woman” was a 15-year process spurred on by plenty of encouragement from just the right people at the right time, Rhodes said. Back in the early 2000s, her daughter was the head of women’s ministry at a church, and she hosted an event featuring Debbie Stack as speaker. During that weekend, Rhodes spent some time with Stack and shared her story, and Stack urged her to write it. But Rhodes wasn’t ready.

“I told her, ‘I dropped out of high school. How can someone like me write?’”

But God nudged her, and she attended a CLASSeminars event to help her take next steps as a Christian author, speaker and leader. She felt incredibly out of place; to her, everyone else seemed so polished and professional, and she felt like an amateur. But to her surprise, she was met with strong reassurance—and a suggestion to get needed practice through her local Toastmasters group.

She took all the advice she got. Toastmasters led to joining a writers group, which led to taking a writing class, which led to more conferences. Over time, her work began getting accepted for publication, and she slowly started to freelance. She took an intensive mentoring session with CLASSeminars founder Florence Littauer. For Rhodes, who’d spent nearly her whole life in desperation scrounging for the next way out and up, Littauer’s words gave her the final boost she needed.

“(Littauer) said, ‘I believe this is what God has planned for you, so go home and write your book,” Rhodes said, smiling.

Rhodes did.

 

From dream to reality

But Rhodes had another milestone she needed to achieve first: finally achieving her high school diploma. At age 64, she went back to school and took six months of intense adult education classes, and she was at the top of the first graduating class at the new high school in Easley.

“In my speech, I said there are two things that cannot be taken away from you: your faith and your education,” Rhodes said. “All of us on that stage could never, ever be known again as quitters.”

She continued to write, taking a long break for a time when she was hit with a cancer diagnosis. But with the return of her health came the return of her drive to write the story of God at work in her life. And the encouragement of others continued to motivate her.

One of those moments turned into an invitation from speaker and writer La-Tan Murphy that would change her life: giving her testimony at a Christian women’s conference in Virginia. Not only was that conference helpful in itself, but she also met two other women there who would also change her life: Cynthia Fralin and her mother, Joan Bowers, who were so inspired by Rhodes that they offered to put her up in their home for three weeks so she could finally finish her book.

Fralin then invited Rhodes to launch her book at Fralin’s Hope Floats 2016 conference in April. Rhodes did, and that’s when her dream became reality.

 

God has always been there

Since then, Rhodes has been busy speaking and doing book signings. Local readers will have the chance to meet her Aug. 6 during a signing at the K-Mart in Anderson. As for what’s next, Rhodes is exploring themes of Christian life by design, particularly how to gain access into the various rooms of our heart, reconstruct them and rearrange them in a way that pleases God.

Today, she’s in a good place, and she thanks God daily for always loving her and always being there for her.

“There are lots of reasons to keep me on my knees, and so much hope,” Rhodes said. “Always hope. I pray every single day. We don’t do this by ourselves.”

She pointed to a Bible she received when she was a little girl in foster care, when she went through confirmation at Trinity UMC in Windsor, Connecticut, and opened it to Psalm 23, which was a passage she was required to memorize in order to be confirmed in the church. Somehow, that Bible remained with her through foster care and when she returned to her mother’s home, but it was left behind and lost in the shuffle of her life.

A few years ago, when she reconciled with her sober mother, her mother went to her closet and pulled it out, presenting it to Rhodes. The pages were marred and decayed with age, and in places she could tell the edges had been nibbled upon by rats. But the marker still held the place at Psalm 23 and the words she’d recited so long ago: “He guides me along the right paths for his name’s sake. Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me.”

Reading those words again years later hit her hard.

“It was an affirmation—God has always been there,” Rhodes said. “The Lord is my shepherd, and you go through the valley. You go through it. It floored me! I could hear God say, ‘I have been with you through it all.’”

All these years later, Rhodes finally believes those words and God’s promise—and His invitation—for her and for all people. We are loved because Christ loved us. It’s not about us. It’s all about Him.

And she’s going to do everything she can to make sure she tells that story.

Rhodes’ book is available on Kindle, Amazon, Barnes and Noble and her website, www.onewellwoman.com.

Two clergy to have new roles as congregational specialists

By Jessica Brodie

Two United Methodist clergy members have new roles as congregational specialists.

The Rev. Millie Nelson Smith has been named the congregational specialist for African-American ministries and for the Columbia and Hartsville districts, replacing the Rev. Jeffrey Salley, who has been appointed to pastor the Canaan-Sand Hill Charge in Ridgeville.

Dr. Reginald Lee replaces Smith as the congregational specialist for the Marion and Florence districts.

Both began their new assignments July 1.

Smith said in her new role she hopes to continue to help local churches realize their potential to be change agents in the lives of the people in the congregation, the community and around the world.

“Helping churches become all that God would desire for them to be is my goal,” Smith said. ”I don’t have the answers, but God certainly does. My job is helping them to discern what God is calling them to be and to do. Doing that requires taking a look at our history, current reality, the needs of the community around us, and then determine what our next steps could and should be. It is a big undertaking, but is there anything too hard for God? Certainly not! I am hopeful.”

Lee said he is excited to join the people of the Florence and Marion districts in seeking to find “a more excellent way.”

“I have come to live and serve as a friend, encourager and coach, joining with pastors and lay persons as we announce the Kingdom of God,” Lee said. “My guiding Scripture for my ministry as a congregational specialist is Ephesians 4:12, ‘For the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ.’”

The six men and women known as congregational specialists are tasked to help United Methodist churches across South Carolina figure out what they need for programming, as well as how they can turn ministry dreams into realities. Congregational specialists help local congregations determine their needs for programming, then assist in finding ways to meet those needs and evaluate their effectiveness. While they do not help with personnel, they can help churches struggling with staffing issues find resources where they can get the help they need. They do everything from leadership and stewardship training to Natural Church Development and even how to get more youth in Sunday school.

Congregational specialists are assigned two districts each. In addition to Smith and Lee, the Rev. Jim Arant works with the Orangeburg and Greenwood districts and specializes in leadership and strategic planning, the Rev. Cathy Joens works with the Anderson and Greenville district and specializes in Christian education, Chris Lynch works with the Rock Hill and Spartanburg districts and specializes in young people ministries and the Rev. Genova McFadden works with the Charleston and Walterboro districts and specializes in congregational revitalization.

Find contact information at www.umcsc.org/data/wp_confdir.php.

Faith, Activity, Nutrition: 24 community health advisors sought

By Andrew Brown

South Carolina United Methodists who are passionate about exercise, nutrition and faith are being sought as lay leaders for a new partnership program offered by the South Carolina Conference of The United Methodist Church.

The UMC is teaming up with the University of South Carolina Prevention Research Center to enable churches across the state to create healthier church environments through a new Faith, Activity, and Nutrition—or FAN—program.

Two people from each of the 12 districts in South Carolina (a total of 24 people) are needed to serve as community health advisors before the program gets started in local churches.

FAN is a faith-based program to help church leaders create a healthier church environment. Goals include becoming more physically active and eating more healthily, particularly eating more fruits and vegetables, eating whole grain foods instead of white rice and breads and eating less fat and less sodium. Funded by a grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, FAN will be open to any South Carolina UMC.

The project is led by Dr. Sara Wilcox, a professor at USC and a member of Washington Street UMC, Columbia.

“South Carolina has some of the highest rates in our nation of health conditions like hypertension, diabetes, and obesity,” Wilcox said. “But these conditions can be prevented or controlled through physical activity and healthy eating. The UMC, due to its size and focus on community outreach, has great potential to improve the health of members and communities in our state.”

Community health advisors will complete several self-paced training modules and participate in a daylong in-person training to learn how to work with churches in their district. Then they will schedule church trainings in a central district location and train local churches how to implement the program and tailor it to their congregations. Community health advisors will also make monthly calls to key church leaders and serve as a resource to churches.

Wilcox said a health-related background is not required, but being passionate about a healthy lifestyle is essential.

“A holistic approach to health that includes spiritual, mental and physical health is consistent with Scripture and also with John Wesley’s teachings and practices,” Wilcox said. “FAN’s approach of training community health advisors from within each UMC district to help other churches in their district seems like a natural fit with Methodism.”

FAN community health advisors will be trained in late fall, and the program will begin in churches in the spring.

A stipend of up to $1,000 per community health advisor will be provided based on the satisfactory completion of required documents and activities.

To learn more or get involved, contact Deborah Kinnard, FAN program manager, at kinnardd@mailbox.sc.edu or 803-777-6292.

Keeping it about Jesus

By Jessica Brodie

The most important thing about The United Methodist Church is not homosexuality or inclusion or who gets elected bishop or anything else we feel passionately about. Not that any of those things are unimportant or should not be addressed.

But we need to remember that the most important thing about our faith is who we follow: Christ.

It’s not about us. It’s not about our feelings or our fears or anything else. It’s about loving and honoring and serving the only reason we even stand a chance of getting to live forever in God’s Kingdom.

As Christ-followers, we need to remember that, especially as we engage in heated and heartfelt dialogue and debate about sexuality and the UMC. As we went to press on this edition, news broke about the election of the UMC’s first lesbian bishop, Karen Oliveto. Currently, the UMC forbids the ordination of “practicing self-avowed homosexuals,” and one jurisdiction has already asked the UMC’s top court to step in with a declaratory decision. The reaction, both good and bad, has been dizzying.

As we get more and more caught up in anger and sadness and joy and any of the other emotions we feel about sexuality and the church, I fear we’re making this issue the center of our church.

But our church is and always will be about Jesus.

And as we muddle through difficult decisions about inclusion and obedience and what Jesus did or did not say about sexuality, I urge United Methodists to stop, take a breath and focus on Him.

He will guide the way. He will show us what to do. It’s time we got out of His way, turned the Holy Spirit loose and stopped thinking we know best about the church.

It’s His church. We’re just lucky enough to be a part of it.

Bishop James King spoke wise words during the opening worship of the 2016 Southeastern Jurisdictional Conference on July 13. He said if one person’s favorite color is red and another’s is blue and another’s is yellow, but everyone likes green, clearly we must focus on the thing all have in common and rally around that.

Let’s focus on Jesus, doing His work and making disciples. He’ll sort out the rest.

Advocate S.C. Stories of Racial Awakening Project: Narrative 5

Transformation of a racist

By Stephen A. Graham

Editor’s note: The following is the fifth narrative accepted for publication in the Ad­vocate’s new South Carolina Stories of Racial Awakening Project. The Advocate will select as many as 10 narratives to be published in the Advocate, one a month for 10 months. See guidelines, here.

I was born in Florence in 1944. I grew up in a white middle-class family and was, like my peers and the adults I knew, a racist.

If someone had asked me when I was old enough to understand the term “Are you a racist?” I’m sure I would have strongly denied it. But the truth is that I lived in a community whose very existence and survival depended on racial inequality and discrimination. Moreover, I enjoyed a lifestyle and took advantage of opportunities that were available almost exclusively to whites. In fact, one of my earliest memories of the personal impact of racial inequality was being shocked at the possibility that my only sister might marry an African American.

On the other hand, I also remember being disturbed by stories told by coworkers when I was in high school and did summer fieldwork on an agricultural experiment station. One of the boys who lived on a farm and whose family had black tenant farmers related to me how his father habitually read a Christian meditation with his wife and children at the breakfast table and then, once he was outside with his black tenants, swore at and verbally abused them. Such raw hypocrisy was not lost on either of us. My friend knew instinctively his dad’s vile bigotry was wrong and suffered embarrassment that begged to be shared.

As a naïve boy myself raised by overly protective, conservative Christian parents, I felt threatened and disconcerted by such disclosures. Moreover, I knew instinctively that an air of civility and moral rectitude can easily mask dubious and unexamined views at best and entrenched prejudice at worst.

I also remember as if it were yesterday the South Carolina history class I took in junior high. When we studied the Civil War, our teacher did not present an objective account of the conflict. She fought the war, which for her would be more accurately called the War of Northern Aggression waged by vindictive and merciless Yankees against the innocent South that was trying to preserve its customs and traditions. Doubtless today, stories tinged with still-smoldering anger, about women in Columbia hiding valuables in long hairdos to protect them from Sherman’s troops when they burned the city, are passed down from generation to generation.

On the basis of these experiences, God first enlightened my mind and then changed my heart. Through a series of events that at the time I thought were coincidental but know now were providential, I taught for two years in the early 1980s at a small historically black college in South Carolina. There in the classroom among young men and women from rural areas and small towns, I saw the human face of racism. Civil rights became for me not just a subject to be studied or a cause to be championed, but an opportunity to connect with young people whose dreams and hopes for acceptance, accomplishment and approbation were no less real despite having to overcome disgraceful social, economic and educational disadvantages. Although these black students were very poorly prepared and equipped for college in comparison with students from more privileged backgrounds, I genuinely felt somehow God could use me to make a real difference in their lives.

The experience of teaching at a black college in the 1980s continued to impact my teaching at other colleges and universities, first within South Carolina and then for 25 years at the University of Indianapolis, a United Methodist institution. Because of my background with racial issues in South Carolina, I was always sensitive and responsive to the personal needs of all students, regardless of their racial, ethnic or national background.

After retirement, my wife and I moved back to South Carolina in 2012 and joined New Beginnings United Methodist Church, Boiling Springs. In 2015, we were privileged to participate in the Racial Reconciliation Pilgrimage at South Carolina State University in Orangeburg. Also in 2015, my wife and I published “Shattered Dreams: Stories of the South We Knew” (Lighthouse Christian Publishing). One of the stories in the book, the “Wrath of the Lamb,” is a fictional account of the Orangeburg Massacre. This story reflects my enduring passion for racial justice and my hope for spiritual revival and transformation.

Graham, 72, is a white male and a member of New Beginnings UMC, Boiling Springs.

 

ESL classes connect church to community, Christ’s mission

By the Rev. Michael Hood

WEST COLUMBIA—This spring, a new sound was heard in the halls of Platt Springs United Methodist Church. It was heard in the sanctuary, the classrooms and the fellowship hall. It was the sound of native-born Spanish-speakers, trying to learn a new language.

Starting in January and going until the school’s summer break, Platt Springs and Lexington County School District 2 teamed up to teach English as a Second Language to people in the area who wanted to improve their English skills.

One of our members, a volunteer teacher in the ESL program, told us, “I used to be one of those people who said, ‘If they want to live in America, they should learn English.’ Then one day I realized I should be helping them learn.”

The great thing about the ESL program, from Platt Springs’ perspective, is that the school district takes care of providing teachers and materials and advertising the classes. The only thing officially required of the church is that we provide space for the classes, and during the spring we chose to provide childcare and mid-class snacks for the students, as well.

Over the course of the program, we had 35-40 adults participate in learning English or adding to what they already know, and nearly as many children attended our childcare. We had three classes for beginner, intermediate and advanced levels, and childcare was divided between children 4 and younger and those from 5 to 11.

To participate in the classes, the adults had to be at least 17 years old. The majority of our students were Spanish-speakers, and they came from several Latin American countries.

Looking toward the fall, we anticipate continuing the program with more help from nearby churches. We used several volunteers from local UMCs and the University of South Carolina’s Methodist Student Network to help with childcare, and we hope that in the fall we can get help and participation for more churches with snacks and childcare.

One of the benefits of this opportunity, surprising in some ways, is that language hasn’t proven to be a big barrier to doing this particular ministry. Our volunteers who’ve helped with childcare quickly realized that school-age children speak English already, so helping with the kids has proven to be something anyone can do. Likewise, because the purpose of these classes is teaching English, even the adults are encouraged to speak English as much as possible. Many volunteers’ initial fears have been soothed by the realization they are already gifted with the ability to do this ministry.

Over the past year at Platt Springs, in addition to English classes, we’ve hosted a Quinceañera (a traditional church service for a young girl turning 15), a health fair geared toward Latinos and a birthday party for a Latina girl. ESL classes have given participants a chance to spend time at our church and even interact with some of our members. We are hopeful that ESL will serve as an opening for Hispanic/Latino community, helping these individuals feel comfortable at Platt Springs and, eventually, leading to them worshipping alongside us because they know they are welcome.

We are called, by Jesus Christ, to proclaim the availability of God’s grace to all the world, and our denomination reminds us the job of the church is to “make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.” ESL classes at Platt Springs have proven to be an excellent way to proclaim God’s grace and make disciples, forming new relationships in our community.

Hood pastors Platt Springs UMC, West Columbia.

Africa University golf tourney set for September

BLYTHEWOOD—Registration is going on now for an Africa University Golf Outing, set for Monday, Sept. 26, at Cobblestone Golf Course.

The tournament will raise funds for student scholarships at Africa University, which is the first fully accredited United Methodist-related educational institution on the African continent. AU opened in March 1992 with 40 students from six African countries. Currently, there are 1,480 full-time students enrolled representing 25 African countries. The vast majority of AU’s 5,000 alumni are first-generation college graduates. Many are orphans and the children of pastors, farm workers, teachers, nurses and others whose incomes are barely enough to provide for their families’ basic needs.

Registration for the golf tournament begins at 10 a.m. with a shotgun start at 11 a.m. Cost is $100 and includes entry into all events, 18 holes of golf, riding cart, snacks, lunch, dinner and various awards.

There will be a maximum of 35 teams, and the format is four-person captain’s choice. The tournament will feature two longest-drive contests, two closest-to-the-pin challenges and door prizes.

Tournament organizers, led by tournament director Ronald D. Friday along with the Rev. John Culp and James Salley, said attending AU costs around $5,700 a year and seems relatively inexpensive by American standards. Yet very few African students can afford to pay the fees on their own. About 90 percent of the students enrolled at AU are receiving some form of assistance with their fees. The scholarships this tournament supports will ensure these students can continue their education and have a successful future.

Sponsorships are also available: Patron $50, Bronze $100, Silver $300, Gold $500 and Co-Sponsor $1,000. These will support not only scholarships but also health services at AU, as well as care for orphaned children and persons living with HIV/AIDS.

To pre-register or for more information: 803-210-6103.

SEJ Day 2 wrap-up: Holston remains in S.C., other conferences get new bishops

For more Advocate coverage of SEJ2016, click here!

By Jessica Brodie

LAKE JUNALUSKA, North Carolina—Bishop Jonathan Holston will continue as South Carolina’s episcopal leader another four years, the Southeastern Jurisdiction is embracing a new missional initiative and several from South Carolina have the honor of serving on general and jurisdictional bodies of The United Methodist Church.

These were the biggest affirmations South Carolina United Methodists got July 14 as Day Two of the 2016 SEJ Conference came to a close.

The second day of business was slender on news, as the bulk of delegates’ work—passing the budget and electing five new bishops to lead annual conferences across the SEJ—was completed the day prior. But work was done, including the much-anticipated announcement of episcopal assignments.

 

Bishops get their assignments

SEJ learned episcopal assignments for the new quadrennium at the close of business Thursday night.

While Holston will remain in South Carolina for his second quadrennium, other conferences will get new bishops as some bishops retired, some moved and some were newly elected. Bishops, who are elected for life, typically serve an annual conference for two quadrennia (eight years).

SEJ bishop assignments are as follows:

  • Alabama-West Florida: Bishop David Graves
  • Florida: Bishop Ken Carter
  • Holston: Bishop Mary Virginia Taylor
  • Kentucky/Red Bird Missionary: Bishop Leonard Fairley
  • Memphis/Tennessee: Bishop Bill McAlilly
  • Mississippi: Bishop James Swanson
  • North Alabama: Bishop Debbie Wallace-Padgett
  • North Carolina: Bishop Hope Morgan Ward
  • North Georgia: Bishop Sue Haupert-Johnson
  • South Carolina: Bishop Jonathan Holston
  • South Georgia: Bishop Lawson Bryan
  • Virginia: Bishop Sharma Lewis
  • Western North Carolina: Bishop Paul Leeland

 

New missional initiative approved

Also Thursday evening, the body unanimously approved a new missional initiative proposed by the SEJ College of Bishops. Bishop Bill McAlilly officially presented the initiative to the body on behalf of the COB, stating the proposal was the bishops’ effort at affirming a way forward for the church.

“As leaders of the church in the SEJ, we see a timely opportunity to increase our strategic thinking and action with regard to our context in the Southeast,” the initiative reads in part, noting it is the bishops’ hope to continue to focus on the mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.

The initiative specifically will focus on new forms of church beyond the walls; children and poverty; unity and human sexuality; making disciples; and structure, finance and the future church.

A sixth area, racism and white privilege—proposed from the floor by North Carolina delegate Laurie Hays Coffman—was included as a friendly amendment.

 

Nominations affirmed

Several South Carolinians were among a host of SEJ United Methodists elected to serve on UMC general agencies and SEJ committees, agencies and ministries.

For general agencies: The Rev. Ken Nelson on the Connectional Table; Dr. Robin Dease on the General Board of Church and Society (also on GBCS nominations committee); Herman Lightsey on the General Board Pension and Health Benefits; and the Rev. Cathy Mitchell on the General Commission on the Status and Role of Women.

For SEJ committees, agencies and ministries: The Rev. Tim Rogers on the Committee on Coordination and Accountability; Barbara Ware on Council on Finance and Administration; James Salley on the Gulfside Association Board of Directors; the Rev. Marion Crooks on the Hinton Rural Life Center Board; Bishop Holston and Ken Jenkins on the Lake Junaluska Conference and Retreat Center Board; the Rev. Roger Gramling and the Rev. A.V. Huff on the SEJ Commission on Archives and History and SEJ Heritage Center Board; and Bishop Holston on the Intentional Growth Center Board.

Retirement service

SEJ also honored five retiring bishops Thursday night: Bishop Lindsey Davis, Kentucky and Red Bird Missionary conferences; Bishop James King, South Georgia Conference; B. Michael Watson, North Georgia Conference; Bishop Young Jin Cho, Virginia Conference; and Larry Goodpaster, Western North Carolina Conference.

 

Service of remembrance

In a service preached by Bishop Cho Thursday morning, SEJ honored six bishops and five bishop spouses who died since the last quadrennium: bishops Mack Stokes, Robert Morgan, Lloyd Knox, Roy Clark, Charles Hancock and William Morris, as well as spouses Mariam Hancock, Mary Ann Minnick, Eva Eutsler, Mildred “Tuck” Jones and Louise Short.

 

Up Friday: Consecrating new bishops

SEJ Conference will end Friday morning with a consecration service for the five new bishops elected July 13: Sharma Lewis, David Graves, Leonard Fairley, Lawson Bryan and Sue Haupert-Johnson.

 

The front page of the August Advocate will have a full SEJ wrap-up article; check back at www.advocatesc.org July 21 for the full overview. If you’re not an Advocate subscriber and wish to subscribe to the full print or online edition of the Advocate, visit www.advocatesc.org/membership-account/subscribe.

SEJ elects five new bishops

Jurisdiction elects first female African American bishop, narrowly misses electing S.C.’s McClendon

For more Advocate coverage of SEJ2016, click here!

By Jessica Brodie

LAKE JUNALUSKA, North Carolina—The first day of business at Southeastern Jurisdictional Conference July 13 saw all five of its new bishops elected—including the historic election of the SEJ’s first African-American female bishop, Sharma Lewis, on the very first ballot.

South Carolina’s episcopal nominee, Delegation Chair Dr. Tim McClendon, narrowly missed election. McClendon was in the top tier for every ballot cast.

“Thank you, South Carolina United Methodists, for your confidence and support,” McClendon wrote on his Facebook page after the final elections. “It has been a privilege! God bless the UMC! I’m blessed to remain as pastor of St. John’s UMC, Aiken. God bless our newly elected bishops.”

 

Lewis is SEJ’s first African-American female bishop

Lewis, of North Georgia Conference, garnered 258 of the 362 valid votes cast just before noon on the first ballot of the conference; 217 votes were required for election.

“I give honor to God, who is the head of my life,” a tearful Lewis said from the podium, then recognized her mother and two sisters who came onstage with her. “God has spoken, Southeastern Jurisdiction. God has spoken today through you and the affirmation of this election. This is not only a historic moment, and you all know this, but this is a God moment.”

Lewis lifted up by name all the SEJ clergywomen who have been elected as bishop.

“All of you cracked the door open for me to stand here today,” she said as applause filled Stuart Auditorium. “You were not afraid to say yes…thank you.”

South Carolina’s Resident Bishop Jonathan Holston, who had been the first person elected on the very first ballot at the 2012 SEJ Conference and had also hailed from the North Georgia Conference, presided over the morning session during which Lewis was elected.

 

Graves elected on ballot four

The afternoon saw the four other bishops elected. In an afternoon session presided by Florida Bishop Ken Carder, the body elected the Rev. David Graves, of the Holston Conference, on ballot four Wednesday around 3:25 p.m. Graves garnered 221 of the 345 valid votes cast; 207 were required for election.

Graves gave thanks for so many instrumental episcopal leaders who guided him and shaped him over the years, from Bishop Linda Lee who ordained him to Bishop Ray Chamberlain who believed in him, Bishop James Swanson who gave him an opportunity to be a district superintendent and Bishop Mary Virginia Taylor, his current bishop, who he has known for 40 years and who once served as his associate pastor.

“I want to thank you for putting your faith in me, and so we go forth to win people to Christ, see the unseen, transform lives and change the world,” Graves told the body.

 

Fairley elected on ballot seven

The Rev. Leonard Fairley, of the North Carolina Conference, was elected on ballot seven, held around 4:30 Wednesday afternoon. Fairley garnered 246 of the 369 valid votes cast; 221 were required for election.

Fairley, a widow, lifted up two women he said the body should know and hear about: his late wife, Priscilla, who died of sarcoidosis three years ago, and his grandmother Gladys, who Fairley said couldn’t write her name but was the greatest theologian he’s ever known. He also thanked his family in the North Carolina Conference, as well as Bishops Hope Morgan Ward, Alfred Gwinn and Paul Leeland.

“My request of you, my brothers and sisters, is to pray for me that I might live into the fruit of the Spirit, for I believe in seeing the possibilities and living the promise,” Fairley told the body in his acceptance speech. “I believe that the best years of The United Methodist Church are not behind us, they are in front of us, and so God bless each one of you and, like my grandma used to say, pray my strength in the Lord.”

 

Ballot 10 elects two: Bryan and Haupert-Johnson

Ballot 10 saw the election of the two final SEJ bishops: the Rev. Lawson Bryan, of the Alabama-West Florida Conference, as the fourth elected, and the Rev. Sue Haupert-Johnson, of the Florida Conference, as the fifth.

Bryan garnered 256 of the 369 valid votes cast.

“What a great privilege to stand before you,” Bryan said, praising the strong support of his annual conference and jurisdictional family and urging all to hold fast to a desire to be unified in Jesus Christ. “That’s all I want to do, that’s all you want to do and that’s what the world needs—immediately.”

Haupert-Johnson garnered 230 of the 369 valid votes cast and took the stage filled with emotion over her election as she lifted up mentors, family and friends who helped carve her path toward the episcopal office.

“Twenty years ago another one of my mentors…called me and said I have a woman you need to meet, she was the district superintendent for Tallahassee and the first clergywoman I’d ever met,” Haupert-Johnson said. “She heard my story, knelt in front of me and prayed for me and prayed grace upon grace, which I had no idea what that meant.”

That woman was Bishop Charlene Kammerer, the first woman elected bishop by the SEJ, who now stood onstage applauding Haupert-Johnson’s election.

“Thank you all,” Haupert-Johnson said. “I hope you will go and spread a broad and vast table with a sumptuous Gospel feast.”

 

Love and money

The day included other highlights beyond episcopal elections.

Because the episcopal elections happened so quickly, SEJ was able to tackle other business, including approving a budget Wednesday evening for the coming 2017–2020 quadrennium of $1,774,000, a 60 percent reduction from previous years. The budget cuts are not controversial; they reflect the end of debt owed for Lake Junaluska and Hinton Rural Life Center. The body also approved that the $1,774,000 be apportioned to the annual conferences per an approved budget; South Carolina has 7.3402 percent, which is a total of $130,215 or $32,554/year.

The body also approved the election of David Dommisse as SEJ treasurer for the 2017–2020 quadrennium.

Worship was also a central part of the day. In a Holy Communion opening worship service that included the hymn “Make Us One” and led by Bishop James R. King Jr., with Bishop B. Michael Watson as celebrant, King preached how the UMC needs to “Focus on Love.”

King told a story about how he was in Nashville, Tennessee, one cold winter day when he happened to encounter a housekeeper in the elevator. The woman noticed his clerical collar and asked for him to pray for her sister, who was struggling with cancer. King noted the two of them had never met before. They didn’t spend any time talking about their status or their differences on faith; they only focused on her hope and what they had in common, which was Jesus Christ.

That’s exactly what the UMC needs to be doing right now, King preached—focusing on Jesus.

“Unity occurs when two separate parts find a favorable connection that holds them together more than the differences that can separate them,” King said. “Unity places the weight on what we have in common. So if you like red and another likes yellow and I like blue but we all like green, unity doesn’t ask us to give up our favorite colors. It just asks us to put our energy on what we have in common, which is green, and now we’re ready to go together.

“Our hope for unity in the church and in the world is based on our ability to focus our energy on what we have in common, and that is Jesus Christ, and Jesus Christ is love, so beautiful people, let’s focus on love.”

In other business, the body heard from a number of groups and videos lifting up programs and items of interest to SEJ United Methodists: videos on Hinton Rural Life Center, Lake Junaluska and Lake Junaluska Assembly, Gulfside Assembly, Archives and History and the Intentional Growth Center; a celebration of 150 years of United Methodist Women; the laity address; videos on Emory University and Candler School of Theology; information about the UMC’s new Abundant Health initiative; a report on the move of the General Board of Global Ministries from New York to Atlanta; a report on the United Methodist Men; and more.

Check back Thursday night for the July 14 wrap-up.

South Carolina at SEJ: July 12 wrap-up

For more Advocate coverage of SEJ2016, click here!

By Jessica Brodie

LAKE JUNALUSKA, North Carolina—Delegates to Southeastern Jurisdictional Conference got the chance to meet and hear directly from episcopal nominees July 12, the day before the conference officially started.

SEJ Conference 2016, July 13-15, is the jurisdiction’s quadrennial gathering, where every annual conference in the SEJ comes together to elect new bishops, approve the budget for the next four years and conduct general business.

South Carolina’s 32 delegates and four alternates (see names at bottom) joined their counterparts Tuesday morning in hearing a five-minute short speech from the 13 nominees for bishop, then spent the afternoon in “round robin” sessions, where each nominee rotated from room to room conducting an individual question-answer session with each annual conference delegation.

Five bishops will be elected this year.

South Carolina’s nominee for bishop, Delegation Chair Dr. Tim McClendon, was among the 13 nominees, and Delegation Vice Chair Barbara Ware lifted him up in prayer that God will be with him and his wife, Cindy, as they speak to the various delegations.

If elected, McClendon will be South Carolina’s first in many years; the last was Will Willimon, who was elected bishop in 2004. This is McClendon’s third time as South Carolina’s episcopal nominee; he ran for bishop at SEJ 2012 and 2008. In 2012, he was the top vote-getter on 14 ballots—every ballot following Ballot #11 until Ballot #26—but stepped down just after Ballot #28 after Virginia nominee Young Jin Cho took the lead. South Carolina delegates said they hope McClendon gets elected this year.

The nominees include 11 men and two women. Three are African-American; McClendon is Native American.

Virginia’s Shirley Cauffman, of the Committee on the Episcopacy, introduced the episcopal nominees Tuesday morning in Stuart Auditorium and said the 13 before the body “have remained true to their calling and even kept a sense of humor” throughout the process.

 

Highlights from the episcopal introductions

Lawson Bryan (Alabama-West Florida Conference) lifted up the word “immediately” in addressing the body, particularly given the violence and other societal strife occurring on a daily basis. “From Louisiana to Dallas, Texas, we see the world desperately needs what The United Methodist Church knows how to provide. The nation and the world need us immediately,” Bryan said noting the word immediately is a Bible word. “It occurs more than 40 times in the Gospel of Mark. Jesus acts immediately. People respond immediately. Lives are changed immediately. And The United Methodist Church is the agent that can deliver that word.”

Leonard Fairley (North Carolina Conference) focused on having a leader’s heart especially during trying times. “The Spirit is found when the going gets tough. Jesus said for there you will know where a person’s heart is and where their treasure is,” Fairley said, noting that in all his actions, decisions and discernment, he strives to do no harm, do good and stay in love with God. He said these are the times “where great leadership and creative vision are forged in the crucible of our people.” “We are a part of an unshakeable kingdom—not static, but possessing an incredible creative power,” Fairley said.

David Graves (Holston Conference) used his five minutes before the body to talk about his priorities when it comes to faith and leadership. “At the core of my being is about winning people to Christ, seeing the unseen, transforming lives and changing the world,” he said. “That is my agenda and that’s what I’m passionate about.” Calling himself an encourager, he said he believes in team ministry and being a bridge-builder. “Developing relationships is my strength,” he said.

Tom Grieb (Kentucky Conference) talked about how, in the midst of so many divergent opinions in the world today, the responsibilities of the role of bishop have never been greater. Grieb said discipleship is key. “From very beginning of our movement, discipleship has been front and center,” he said. But while we exist to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world, he said, “Sometimes I wonder if we are as into making disciples as we should, if we are doing nothing more than paying lip service.” He firmly believes making disciples will pull any church out of its malaise.

Sue Haupert-Johnson (Florida Conference) talked about the importance of evangelism, especially after horrible events such as the Orlando mass shooting. Quoting the hymn by Charles Wesley, “Come sinners to the Gospel feast let every soul be Jesus’ guest, ye need not one be left behind, for God hath bidden all mankind,” she said the UMC needs to be intentional about broadening the table and inviting all to Christ. “As long as the servers are arguing in the kitchen …we are wasting an opportunity to bring people to the table of God,” she said, calling on the Holy Spirit to “help the servers get their act together.” She said the Bible calls us to offer a sumptuous feast, but “I see too many churches serving happy meals at a dinette set.”

James Howell (Western North Carolina Conference) talked about the importance of joy in ministry and leadership and how it is more necessary to have accessible, people-oriented leaders than “titans on Mount Olympus.” “We forget this—there is joy in the Gospel,” Howell said. “We Methodists are so anxious and so serious about everything, and we forget about the joy.” He said if the church divides, it’s like saying the church is bickering just like you and has nothing to offer. “There is a center and we can find it. I’m confident in that.”

Sharma Lewis (North Georgia Conference) lifted up the importance of offering Christ in a world where God’s message has often gone quiet. “General Conference confirmed to me how critical current decisions are for our United Methodist Church. I believe with steady hands, level heads and, most importantly, bended knees God will show us a way.” She said she has a passion for unity, transformation and vision-casting. “I have a deep and abiding passion for sharing the good news of Jesus Christ with others,” Lewis said, noting we have a biblical mandate in the Gospel of Matthew (28:19) to make disciples. “When we truly believe and practice John Wesley’s famous phrase, ‘the world is my parish,’ we know we as Methodists have a responsibility to (spread) these mandates to the world.”

Tim McClendon (South Carolina Conference) spoke about living hope and fostering relationship in spite of the ominous voices that are already preaching our denominational funeral. “We must not define ourselves as church dying or even declining,” he said, noting that when we focus on discipleship and on being a people “in the making” we can find a way forward. He lifted up one of the most important ways to foster a strong, excellent church: relationships. In his time as the Columbia District superintendent, he spent hours with every one of his pastors cultivating strong relationships and mutual understanding. “I went to the zoo so many times the animals knew me by name,” he quipped, noting that fruitful relationships do so much, from good apportionment-making to shared strategic vision. “I ask for your prayerful support,” he said. “God bless The United Methodist Church and God bless each of you.”

Sky McCracken (Memphis Conference) talked about how the UMC is facing a great challenge right now, and he said we need to admit we have not always been graceful to each other and not always loved our neighbor as ourselves. “We cannot tell others about the transformative power of God through Jesus if the transformation we preach is not demonstrated in what Wesley called ‘our tempers and affections with each other,’” McCracken said. He said the church needs to start taking some risks and truly listening to each other instead of speaking over each other, particularly after the Dallas shootings and other violence nationwide, plus continue to strive toward excellence in every aspect of our ministry. “New wine calls for new wineskins,” he said. “We can do all these things and not sacrifice Methodism. Indeed, I’m convinced Methodism gives us our way forward.”

Robin Scott (North Alabama Conference) spoke directly about what he called the “elephant in the room: the polarization of the human sexuality issue and the church’s potential split over the issue. “My intent in no way to sway your opinion—what you believe you believe for how you discern God’s will. But my deep concern is there are those who have decided their individual discernment is greater than the General Conference.” He said the only entity that can speak for the general church is General Conference, and he thinks bishops have a duty to follow and lift up the Book of Discipline and Book of Resolutions. “We do not have unity regarding human sexuality but we do have unity about the Discipline,” he said.

Ted Smith (BMCR of Virginia Conference) used his time to lift up the importance of best practices when it comes to the church. “Today in the world we’ve lost trust and credibility in the church, and within, we’ve lost trust and credibility with each other,” he said, noting the world needs deeper theology, spiritual transformation and episcopal leaders who exhibit best practices. Right now, there is a still, quiet voice we might be ignoring, he said, then sang before the body the chorus to A Great Big World’s ballad, “Say something I’m giving up on you, say something I’m giving up on you, anywhere I would have followed you, say something I’m giving up on you.” He implored the crowd to elect episcopal leaders who will say to the world “Christ is alive; Christ is here.”

Stephen Sparks (Mississippi Conference) said that disciple-making is the most critical thing the UMC can focus on. “I believe if we can get our theology and our practice correct around this one thing it would result in a unified spirit filled church,” Sparks said. “The greatest challenge we face is empowering each local church to (do this). It’s part of our identity as Methodists, and we need to remember who we once were.” He said we need to put greater focus on planting new churches and also unshackling creative energies of local churches who are already leading in these areas. “Every church must ask who we are and why we exist,” he said. We also said we need to change how we call train, educate, ordain and deploy our clergy and lay leadership, as well as rethink our strategies overall. “The United Methodist Church is indeed at a crossroads,” he said. “To ignore the elephant in the room is to shirk our task as leaders. To lead a divided church to a place of resolution and peace is going to require great leadership from our bishops.”

Farley Stuart (Red Bird Missionary Conference) spoke about being anchored in the word of God and being a vibrant, visible church that gets off the back streets of a community and back into the heart of the community. “We need to move from doing maintenance work in our churches to doing kingdom work,” he said, noting we must go where hurting are and where the broken hang out to make that happen. Stuart also lifted up the importance of holding each other accountable and doing our work with passion and commitment. “We must proclaim the Gospel of Christ,” he said.

Jorge Acevedo of the Committee on the Episcopacy closed the session by inviting the Holy Spirit to come do its work.

“The Holy Spirit is the one that needs to flood our hearts and our lives as it did at Pentecost,” Acevedo said. “We Methodists were Pentecostal before Pentecostal was cool. We are the movement of the warmed heart.”

 

South Carolina delegates

South Carolina delegates to SEJ were elected at Annual Conference 2015. Sixteen are laity and 16 are clergy, plus four alternates (two lay, two clergy).

Lay delegates:

  • Barbara Ware
  • James Salley
  • Dr. Joseph Heyward
  • Herman Lightsey
  • Jackie Jenkins
  • Michael Cheatham
  • Martha Thompson
  • David Braddon
  • Lollie Haselden
  • Emily Rogers Evans
  • Donald Love
  • Jennifer Price
  • Chris Lynch
  • Dr. Carolyn Briscoe
  • Linda DuRant
  • Lou Jordan
  • Alternate: Cynthia Williams
  • Alternate: Marilyn Murphy

Clergy delegates:

  • Dr. Tim McClendon
  • Rev. Ken Nelson
  • Rev. Tim Rogers
  • Dr. Robin Dease
  • Rev. Tiffany Knowlin
  • Rev. Narcie Jeter
  • Rev. Mel Arant Jr.
  • Rev. Susan Leonard-Ray
  • Rev. Telley Gadson
  • Rev. Michael Turner
  • Rev. Kathy James
  • Rev. George Ashford
  • Rev. James Friday
  • Rev. Sara White
  • Rev. Emily Sutton
  • Rev. Jeff Kersey
  • Alternate: Rev. Connie Barnes
  • Alternate: Rev. Cathy Joens

 

Making Space for God to Work: Annual Conference 2016

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By Jessica Brodie

FLORENCE—Calling on United Methodists to push their personal messes aside and let Christ use them in bold new ways for the Kingdom, Bishop Jonathan Holston preached an opening service of Annual Conference that fired up four days of worship, prayer, fellowship and the business of the church in South Carolina.

By the time work ended June 8, Annual Conference 2016 had passed a $16.79 million ministry budget for 2017, ordained and commissioned 32 clergy, licensed 42 local pastors, offered three disaster trainings, celebrated South Carolina’s efforts to eradicate malaria with a concert featuring popular Christian band The Digital Age, passed or referred six resolutions and authorized intentional human sexuality dialogue in districts and churches across South Carolina.

“We’ve got to get some stuff out of our system to put God’s love in our hearts,” Holston said, urging the body to heed the theme of this year’s Annual Conference, “Making Space for God to Work,” and do just that in their own hearts, minds and souls.

Annual Conference also featured a Bible study by Dr. Luther Smith; ordination preaching by former South Carolina Bishop J. Lawrence McCleskey; a memorial service preached by the Rev. Patricia Parrish that remembered 38; a celebration service honoring 26 retiring clergy; awards; a Mission Fair showcasing ministries of local churches across the state; health benefit rate changes; election of quadrennial conference officers; approval of a jurisdictional pool of South Carolinians for United Methodist boards and agencies; election of a slate of nominees to the 16 quadrennial and non quadrennial boards, commissions and councils; election of the conference’s episcopal nominee, Dr. Tim McClendon; and more.

Held June 5-8, this year’s Annual Conference focused on celebrating and developing new ways to let God use us to further His Kingdom on earth.

 

$16.79M budget approved

South Carolina United Methodists approved a $16.79 million ministry budget for 2017 June 8 as the four-day Annual Conference wrapped to a close.

The Rev. David Surrett, chair of the Conference Council on Finance and Administration, presented a budget slightly lower than the $16.84 million budget included in preconference materials because of budgetary actions taken during the UMC’s General Conference. The first section of the budget, amounting to $12,717,700, encompasses in-conference responsibilities and is an increase of 0.1 percent over last year. The second section, $4,071,958, encompasses the General and Jurisdictional budget and is a decrease of 0.5 percent as approved by General Conference.

Surrett said the council carefully considered ministry needs from the seashore to the mountains and produced a budget the council feels reflects those needs.

CF&A spent long hours crafting the budget, which enables the conference to pay for everything from global funds like Africa University to South Carolina campus ministries, congregational development and camps and retreats.

The 2017 budget is just $272 more than the 2016 budget passed last year (no actual percentage increase). Surrett said it continues the council’s target goal of at or around 15 percent of the cumulative average of all the churches’ net funds.

After the budget was approved, Surrett thanked the body for their support of him and other CF&A members; he is stepping down as chair after completion of his eight-year term. He said the conference can be proud of its work over the two quadrennia, from surviving the recession to increasing the permanent reserve to establishing a direct bill forgiveness plan to assist congregations in working on their long-term debt.

 

Body OKs health rate jump

Annual Conference also approved the reports offered by the South Carolina Conference Board of Pension and Health Benefits, including a 12.4 percent increase in health insurance rates.

Herman Lightsey, chair, and the Rev. David Anderson, benefits officer, gave the reports, noting that while pensions are not changing, active health plan rates will see a 12.4 percent increase for plan participants and a 15 percent increase for churches for 2017 because the claims rate spiked last year to 142 percent.

“That’s basically a loss ratio of 142 percent,” Anderson said.

He said so far this year, claims look promising.

“I’ve often said that we don’t set the rates. We do approve them, but the rates are set by the claims we pay. We’re doing all we can with health screenings and health plan, and I ask every clergyperson to take advantage of the health initiatives,” Anderson said.

Lightsey said, “We are much stronger in our pensions and insurance programs than probably most of the private and public sectors around us, and one of the strongest conferences (in the UMC) when it comes to pensions and insurance.”

“Over the past 10 years overall, your insurance premiums have only increased 4.9 percent; not another entity can really say they’ve kept costs down that much,” Lightsey said.

 

Jurisdictional pool approved

Annual Conference approved a jurisdictional pool of South Carolina United Methodists to serve on various boards and agencies.

South Carolina voted to put forth 45 names of various ethnicities. In addition to General and Jurisdictional delegates and alternates, the pool will include laity Cynthia Williams, Marilyn Murphy, John Redmond, Tracy Pender, Ashleigh Booker, Will Randall, Iris Gadsden, To’mas Stephens and Abigail Wiren. It will also include clergy Cheryl Toothe, Miyoung Paik, Richard Reams and Karen Jones.

 

Body elects conference quadrennial officers

Annual Conference elected conference officers for the quadrennium, plus a slate of nominees to the 16 quadrennial and non-quadrennial boards, commissions and councils, as well as members of conference-related boards of trust, Wesley Foundations, district boards and committees, and the Board of Ordained Ministry.

Elected as quadrennial conference officers were Parliamentarian W. Timothy McClendon; Chancellor Kay Gaffney Crowe; Conference Secretary Kenneth L. Nelson; First Assistant Secretary James C. Lane; and Assistant Secretaries Angela Ford Nelson, Mary Johnson, Jeri Katherine Warden Sipes and Mel Arant Jr.

Beth Westbury was elected conference treasurer.

Three were elected to a second quadrennium of service in the Lay Leadership area of Connectional Ministries. Barbara Ware was elected conference lay leader, Donald Love was elected associate conference lay leader and Jenny Rawlings was elected secretary.

 

‘Just One More Thing’

Beyond business, malaria and disaster response, worship was a key part of Annual Conference. Opening worship Sunday night, June 5, drew on Romans 8:31-39 (where the Apostle Paul urged early Christians to be more than conquerors) as Holston offered a sermon on “Just One More Thing.”

“We are seeking a more excellent way,” Holston told the thousands gathered in the Florence Civic Center. “God has blessed us, and we are recipients of His grace and His mercy. Even tonight, after we have come through another year of work together, the Lord is asking us for one more thing.”

But in all these things, Holston preached, we are more than conquerors, more than overcomers. Through Christ, we can do and be so much more.

“Through Christ, we can find the courage and the confidence,” Holston said. “My friends, I believe God is calling us to dream big dreams. He is calling us to have grand visions. He is calling on us in South Carolina to trust him and believe.”

As Holston said, if in fact God is for us, then there is nothing that can stand against us.

“He is standing up for you and me,” Holston said. “What gets in our way is our unwillingness not to follow the way.”

Often, we make idols of things in our lives, even idols of the church itself, which steers us astray, he said.

“God promises to make all things good, but sometimes we make idols of the very thing God has given us, and we wonder why God is looking at us and wondering, ‘Where are the people called by my name? … Are they just people looking for entitlement?’”

Christ died for us while we were in our sinful nature, and that proves God’s love for us, Holston told the crowd.

“My friends, we are more than conquerors. God promises. Even in the difficult times, he says, ‘I will be with you. You can count on this.’ Hasn’t he done that in South Carolina?” Holston asked as applause filled the room. “No matter what mess we’ve gotten ourselves into, God will never stop loving us.”

 

‘It’s What’s Inside that Counts’

Annual Conference closed Wednesday afternoon with a Sending Forth Worship and Fixing of Appointments, including by a closing message by Holston on “It’s What’s Inside that Counts.”

Holston said that so many times, we look at the surface and label people, churches and pastors without looking at the inside.

“Remember, it’s what’s inside that counts,” Holston preached—not about pleasing others or receiving praise, but about authentically showing God’s love. He said we are living in a world of broken relationships, where the daily news of shattered lives is all around us. Against this backdrop, he said, we begin a new conference year.

“My friends, there are people out there who want to know that God cares, God loves and God appreciates who they are. There are people out there who want to know that their lives matter. There are people out there who want to know that someone cares,” Holston said. “Can we stop for one moment and look at each other, and instead of seeing what’s on the inside and embrace what’s within?”

Annual Conference ended with the hymn “Let There Be Peace on Earth” and the fixing of appointments.

For more on Annual Conference 2016, including photos and how to order DVDs of parts of the event, visit www.umcsc.org/ac2016.

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UMW: A fresh wind blowing

S.C. hosts jurisdictional United Methodist Women meeting

View photos from the event on the Advocate’s Facebook page. Click here!

By Jessica Brodie

NORTH CHARLESTON—“A fresh wind is blowing, y’all—you either go with it or you miss it. You either go with it or you’re left behind. As Jesus said, you must be born again.”

That was the word from the Rev. Jasmine Smothers, preacher, teacher, author and coach, as she kicked off the opening message for the Southeastern Jurisdiction’s quadrennial United Methodist Women meeting June 3-5. Echoing the theme of the weekend, “A Fresh Wind Blowing,” Smothers brought a word on abandoning fear to seek out transformation and a passionate encounter with the Holy Spirit.

More than 700 people packed the North Charleston Convention Center for the event, which was the first time South Carolina had hosted an SEJ event for the group.

Smothers was one of several on the weekend’s lineup, including Harriett Jane Olson, chief executive officer of the national United Methodist Women; North Carolina Bishop Hope Morgan Ward; Dr. Robin Dease, Hartsville District superintendent; Yvette Richards, president of the national United Methodist Women; South Carolina’s own Bishop Jonathan Holston; and a host of others including leaders of a dozen focus groups on everything from racial justice to immigration to human trafficking. SEJ President Patty Strickland presided over the weekend’s events, which also included the election leaders for the next quadrennium and plenty of time for strong sisterly fellowship.

South Carolina United Methodist Women President Marlene Spencer said she was honored to stand at the podium and welcome such a crowd to her home state.

“There is a fresh wind blowing in South Carolina,” Spencer said. “As we gather this weekend, let the wind begin to blow and refresh your spirit.”

Olson took a moment to lift up the work that United Methodist Women do in their name of their risen savior.

“You pay attention, you get involved, you ask why things are the way they are, you make a difference—United Methodist Women, you are amazing!” Olson said to wild applause, noting their efforts are critical because there is so much to do from advocacy to hands-on help. “The world needs women in mission now more than it ever has.”

 

‘Risking a Fresh Encounter’

Smothers, associate director for congregational vitality in the North Georgia Conference, brought the opening message Friday night from John 3:1-8, using Jesus’ teaching of Nicodemus to illuminate ways United Methodist Women can transform their churches and the world today. In her sermon, “Risking a Fresh Encounter,” Smothers said that Nicodemus is one of her favorite people in the Bible, and he is not much different from church leaders today.

“Nicodemus’ whole life was about getting it right,” Smothers said—he studied, he judged, and he made it known there was only one way to live, the way of the Sanhedrin. But he was bound by fear, particularly of what people would think of him if he sought out wisdom from Jesus. Under the cover of night, Nicodemus went looking for Jesus to find answers to his questions. And he found was he was seeking.

Today, Smothers said, we know what Jesus wants us to do: love our neighbor better than ourselves. The question is whether we would prefer to admire Jesus from afar or truly follow Him.

“I think the whole thing is an issue of discipleship,” Smothers said, “of whether or not we are willing to be transformed, of whether or not we are willing to go and do and say what the Holy Spirit wants us to go and do and say.”

The people of God have questions just like Nicodemus had questions, she said.

“But we can’t have those answers if we’re fear-bound, if we’re just sitting on the sidelines being admirers,” Smothers said.

She said there are four key things this passage teaches us: to be intentional about finding the “living water” we so desperately need; to be inclusive and collaborative about leaving our comfort zones to do the sometimes difficult and scary work of Jesus; to be passionate about the important things of our faith; and to embrace a fresh encounter with the Holy Ghost.

The Holy Ghost is scary, Smothers said—you can’t control it, it might change you, it might mess up your faith and cause you to lose friends or question things, and most of all, it might transform our beliefs and priorities.

“But Jesus is saying doing everything right is not enough. You are required to be transformed,” Smothers said.

She urged the women to embrace a new encounter with the Spirit so it can take over and do amazing things in the world.

 

Officers, directors elected

Election of officers was the focus of Saturday’s business, though the day also featured wisdom from Dease, who led a Bible study on “From a Church-Goer to a Christ-Follower” (click here to read article about her study), plus a banquet featuring officer installation and entertainment by comedian and author Cathy Lee Phillips.

The United Methodist Women spent much of Saturday voting in new officers and directors for the next quadrennium.

Two South Carolinians were elected to serve in leadership positions. Deaconess Selena Ruth Smith was elected on the first ballot to serve as a national director for United Methodist Women, and Rebecca Eleazer was elected to serve as a member of the Committee on Nominations for the jurisdiction.

Betty Helms (Alabama-West Florida Conference) will be the new president of SEJ United Methodist Women, with Joy Lewter (Tennessee) as vice president, Gertrude Stewart (Florida) as secretary, Kay Phillips (Holston) as treasurer, Patsy J. Thomas (South Georgia) as Committee on Nominations chair, and Committee on Nominations members Eleazer along with Suzanne Boltz (Virginia), Linda Sanford (Kentucky) and Teresa Wynn (North Georgia).

The body also elected six directors to serve on the national United Methodist Women: South Carolina’s Smith along with Ann Davis (North Carolina Conference), Carol Toney (North Alabama), Sue Raymond (North Georgia), Miran Kim (Virginia) and Clara Ester (Alabama-West Florida).

Attendees also spent two hours on Saturday engaged in focus group in-depth studies.

Bishop Hope Morgan Ward brought the Sunday morning message, which culminated in a service of Holy Communion.

Holston, South Carolina’s bishop, called himself “a proud member of the United Methodist Women.”

He urged the crowd to be open to a spirit of transformation and new awareness about what they can do to help the world.

“Peace and love are not the absence of tension but the presence of justice,” Holston said. “My friends, often we have the tendency to close our eyes to the world around us and miss the opportunity to make a difference.”

He encouraged the women to dream big, even when it seems like an overwhelmingly huge leap of faith.

“Following God is simply deciding to go for it,” Holston said. “If we truly trust God, take a deep breath and go for it, we would be truly amazed by what God can do.”

 

‘A huge success’

Rounding out the weekend were a host of other events, from a mission project at Rural Mission (read the story here) to special worship dance performances by the Glorify Dance Company from North Charleston UMC, led by director Ruth Singletary.

Many said the three-day event was a huge success and could not have happened without the help of many who lent their time and talents. In addition to Strickland and the worship leaders, giving their expertise were focus group leaders including deaconess Carolyn Lawhorn (the church and people with disabilities), Ann Bryan (fresh spirit, body and mind), Rosemary Uebel (immigration), Kim Ford (elder abuse), Marissa Castellanos (human trafficking), deaconesses Emma Sampson and Selena Ruth Smith (going green), Dr. Bernice Duffy Johnson (racial justice), Linda Gadson (a mind for missions), Rebecca Rochester (line dancing), Ann Davis and Lynne Gilbert (rock the future) and Tammy Hauser (social impact issues).

Other program participants included Mary Johnson, song leader; Jeanette Westerfield, pianist; Charleston District Superintendent Patti Parris; Mary Lou Wurth; Paulette Monroe; Dianne Springer; Pat Boatwright; Charlotte Smith; Sue Owens; Janice Eaddy; Dr. Melba McCallum; and more.

 

Our God is Able: The Digital Age concert celebrates S.C. work to Imagine No Malaria

Bishop issues $1,000 challenge to UMCSC

By Jessica Brodie

FLORENCE—Hundreds packed the Florence Civic Center June 7 for a concert featuring The Digital Age and celebrating all that South Carolina United Methodists are doing to fight malaria across the globe.

“Thank you, South Carolina, for being faithful disciples and faithful partners in God’s awesome work all over the world,” Imagine No Malaria Field Coordinator the Rev. Jeri Katherine Sipes said earlier that afternoon, when she and the INM steering committee lifted up the work churches have done throughout the state for the campaign. “Together we the church are changing our world for the glory of God.”

Calling this a very generous, mission-minded conference, Sipes praised the fact that in spite of the October floods that devastated so many, the conference has still managed to raise more than hundreds of thousands of dollars for the campaign—in addition to the $500,000 it has donated for flood relief.

The Rev. Gary Henderson, executive director of the Global Health Initiative, said much the same.

“You understand the power and the unity of our connection and our shared humanity,” he said, noting the UMC has raised $68.5 million in gifts and pledges to date. “We are in the home stretch.”

The South Carolina Conference has pledged $1 million toward the INM campaign. The June 7 concert celebrated all the conference has raised so far, plus served as a conduit to collect additional pledges from churches and individuals.

The conference has two more years to raise the remaining funds and make its goal.

Bishop Jonathan Holston applauded the work done and pledged an additional $1,000 June 7 toward INM.

“I challenge you to meet my challenge of 1,000 tonight!” he said to wild applause. “We want to make this goal happen.”

Later that evening, The Digital Age lead singer said he was inspired by Bishop Holston’s challenge and South Carolina’s commitment to eradicating malaria. He agreed to make a personal donation of $1,000 to Imagine No Malaria and urged concertgoers to do the same.

“What is ours is His,” he told the crowd.

Also at the concert, Sipes praised the great strides the campaign has made to save lives since work began in 2010; back then, a child died every 30 seconds. Today, it’s every two minutes. More work needs to be done so that one day soon, no one will die from malaria.

“There are children who live in sub-Saharan Africa who live in fear of a tiny mosquito bite,” Sipes said. “We know mosquitos in South Carolina … and we wouldn’t want our children afraid of a mosquito. Think of those children in Africa as our very own children.”

Sipes said that in every bed net distributed and every assistance given, the UMC is spreading the name of Jesus who is truly at work and alive in the world.At the close of the concert, Holston praised the number of people who matched his donation challenge.

“We serve a God that says, ‘Ask and it shall be given, seek and you shall find, knock and the door shall be opened,’” Holston said. “My friends, God is calling for greater—greater faith, greater love, greater appreciation of who God is and what we can do when we allow the feet within us to work.”

Before the concert, Sipes told the body it had given more than $400,000 for the INM campaign. After the concert, Holston announced Annual Conference had collected $663,804 for INM including cash, checks and pledges.

Pledge cards are available at inm.umcsc.org, and the conference can also provide resources to help with local fundraising efforts.

Walking in faith: Ghana tech center surpasses original goal, sets sights on solar power

By Jessica Brodie

ORANGEBURG—Orangeburg District United Methodists are cheering this month after learning they have surpassed their $80,000 goal, raising $89,000 for a new information technology center they are building in rural Ghana.

Now they are setting their sights on a new goal: $120,000 so they can install solar power for the whole center.

“We’re just walking in faith right now,” said Jim Arant, congregational specialist and team leader. “We never expected to get to $89,000. People kept saying, ‘Orangeburg is a poor district; they don’t have any money,’ but there’s been an incredible amount of support from the district, with small churches giving more than they thought they could. No really big, big gifts, just a lot of people giving.

“It’s just been amazing.”

The district is partnering with The Methodist Church of Ghana to raise $80,000 to build the 6,000-square-foot technology center and library in Abesewa, which is in the Ashanti Region of the northwestern African nation. Roofing has begun, and when finished, the center will include 50 computers, Internet access, books, tables and chairs and more.

Arant said they decided to prioritize solar power in the technology center because the power in that area is considered “dirty power”—very irregular. It would also eliminate electricity costs for the center.

“There are horror stories of computers getting fried after six months because the power is so erratic,” Arant said. “In America, the power has a constant flow, but over there, my understanding is they have surges, and when those surges hit electronic equipment, they can blow them out. We don’t want to spend a bunch of money on computers we have to replace after a short time.”

Once they have the money, Arant said, they will buy the panels, which collect light, transform it into electricity and put it into batteries, which run all the computers. The batteries last about 10 years, Arant said, and the panels last even longer.

They hope to be able to celebrate the opening of the center by the first of the year.

“What’s really been fantastic is these churches have come together and worked together and many probably have never worked together before,” Arant said. “It’s been a great experience in terms of showing how we can work together to make things happen, and Orangeburg has done a tremendous job. No individual has given a great, huge amount, but everyone has given something. That’s a great story of how we work together to make things happen. It’s about God, not us; about God working in us.”

The center is being constructed using local materials and labor. They have ordered solid-state computers, which have no fans or other movable parts so no dust can get inside.

Arant said they were able to raise the money thanks to a series of fundraising dinners the district hosted, along with individual donations.

To learn more about the project and see photos: UmcscInGhana.org.

From education to nondiscrimination: Six resolutions pass Annual Conference

By Jessica Brodie

Annual Conference has approved or referred six resolutions dealing with everything from racism and discrimination against transgender people to education, history and the uninsured poor.

On the final morning of the four-day gathering, clergy and lay members of Annual Conference spent hours debating, amending and then ultimately passing three of the more contentious resolutions. They spent just minutes on the other three, one of which they passed and two of which they referred to other bodies in the conference for review and decision.

 

Resolution on Changing South Carolina Department of Education Social Study Standards Regarding Native Americans (Passed)

Only one of the six resolutions was submitted early enough to be included in preconference materials: the Resolution on Changing South Carolina Department of Education Social Study Standards Regarding Native Americans.

Dr. Marvin Caldwell, chair of the conference Committee on Resolutions and Appeals, said the committee recommended concurrence with the resolution.

Current education standards require that students are educated about only three Native American tribes: the Catawba, Cherokee and Yemassee. Of these, the Catawba is the only South Carolina tribe that is still extant and has federal recognition (the Cherokee are located in North Carolina and the Yemassee are no longer an organized tribe). The Native American Committee, which submitted the resolution, would like education standards to also include the nine state recognized tribes, as well as the fact that the Catawba were terminated by the federal government and they had to work hard to regain their federal recognition. Additionally, the standards teach Indian history from the past, with no mention of modern issues. They also leave out mention of Lady Cofitachequi, an important Native American female leader, as well as the three school systems during South Carolina’s “separate but equal” period—not only black and white but also red—further illuminating what the NAC calls the invisibility of Native people.

“Our rationale is the South Carolina history books are inadequate in (identifying) the tribes in South Carolina,” Caldwell said.

No one spoke against resolution, which passed overwhelmingly.

 

Responsibilities for Eradication of Racism Resolution (Passed)

Three of the resolutions sparked far more debate, particularly the Responsibilities for Eradication of Racism Resolution. Questions, debate, amendments and amendments to amendments meant the body spent close to an hour hashing out the proper wording on this resolution, which ultimately was amended three times and approved in a close vote.

Among other things, this resolution asks every district and local congregation within the Annual Conference to have a strategy and program that educates and supports systemic and personal changes to end racism and develop interculturally competent leaders.

The Committee on Resolutions and Appeals recommended concurrence on the resolution.

“Our rationale is we are not complete with the work of eradicating racism and need to be more diligent in doing so,” Caldwell said.

Ultimately, the body agreed, but it took much finagling with the terminology to get the resolution right before passage.

(See full story here.)

 

Resolution to Oppose Discrimination Against Transgender People (Passed)

The committee also recommended concurrence on this resolution, which asks the conference to vow, as churches and people of faith, to no longer be silent about the value of each and every life; to categorically oppose discrimination against transgender people in all its forms and, in the spirit of advocating for safe sanctuary, to respond to acts of discrimination against transgender people with acts of compassion; and to take a public stand against speeches of hate, exclusion, harassment and acts of intimidation and violence filled with long-held prejudices.

In a vote too close for a raised ballot, Bishop Jonathan Holston called for a second, standing vote. The resolution was approved.

Much discussion centered on some of the background of the resolution, which referenced the nation’s ongoing debate about transgender people and the use of public bathrooms. Several wanted language to be deleted from the resolution that noted South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley and major business organizations in the state have publicly opposed laws that required transgender people to use the public bathroom that corresponds to the gender on their birth certificates. However, deletion of that language failed.

Lay member Michael Cheatham moved that the body refer this resolution to the Advocacy area of Connectional Ministries, but after a vote that motion failed.

Debate then turned to the resolution as a whole.

John Gibbons of Salem UMC, Irmo, said he felt the resolution was unnecessary because the UMC already opposes discrimination and the resolution is possibly discriminatory itself because it singles out one group over others.

The Rev. Webb Belangia V, pastor of Aldersgate UMC, Sumter, said he didn’t want to see discrimination against anyone, but he wondered whether the resolution might open the door for a “pervert claiming to be transgender going in the bathroom with my daughters.”

“Why don’t we prayerfully just wait and see where society comes down?” Belangia asked the body.

The Rev. Keith Ray spoke in favor of the resolution, noting he has another word he often uses for transgenders: healed.

“We are often afraid of those who are different, and it’s easy to pitch this fearful, ‘they’re going to come after us’ kind of thing, but we don’t have any evidence of transgender persons harming us,” Ray said. “I think it’s important for us to say we care for this community.”

Ray lifted up a letter the sheriff of Richland County wrote this year to state legislators urging them not to pass the so-called bathroom bill.

“‘In the 41 years I’ve been in law enforcement,’ he wrote, ‘I’ve never heard of a transgender person attacking or otherwise bothering a person in a bathroom; this is a non-issue,” Ray said, reading the sheriff’s letter. “You would not know you are using the bathroom with a transgender person. You would not if he came into the room.”

 

Resolution to Support the Nature of High Quality Public Education South Carolina (Referred)

The Committee on Resolutions and Appeals recommended referral of this resolution to the conference’s Children in Poverty Task Force, and the body overwhelmingly approved the referral with no discussion.

This resolution asks the conference to meet the needs of all children and working families by advocating to ensure that all children have the opportunity to attend great schools; educating congregations and members about the importance of engaging curriculum; mobilizing members to advocate for implementation of fair standards; raising awareness about high-stakes testing and the negative effect it is having; advocating for investment in the teaching profession to ensure that teachers are well-prepared and supported; advocating for a comprehensive, multi-provider system that ensures voluntary access to high-quality, affordable early childhood; mobilizing members to fight for legislation, policies and funding that ensure children have strong public schools; and encouraging all churches to support provisions that enable parents and guardians to participate fully in their children’s education.

 

Resolution for Uninsured Poor Adults in South Carolina (Referred)

The committee recommended referral on this resolution to Connectional Ministries because, as Caldwell said, “more specific details are needed on how we offer healthcare to adults.” As with the previous resolution, body approved the referral with no discussion.

This resolution asks South Carolina United Methodists to accept responsibility for modeling health in all its dimensions and calls upon entities within the United Methodist connection to take steps toward health and wholeness and encourage the conference to continue their support and provision of direct-health services; a comprehensive health system with equal access to quality health care; the passing of Senate Bill 845, which will enable 123,000 South Carolinians who currently fall into the insurance gap to purchase health insurance; and private market proposals for expanding health insurance coverage.

 

Resolution for an Assessment and a Plan of Action for the African-American Historical Methodist Flagship Churches of the South Carolina Annual Conference (Passed)

The committee recommended concurrence on this resolution, and the body passed an amended version. The resolution asks the conference to use an assessment method to evaluate the past, present and future worth of the South Carolina 1866 “flagship” churches and each African-American United Methodist Church in the state, plus direct congregational specialists and others to implement an assessment and plan of action for the historical black churches of this conference and further determine if family centers, community centers or historical sites have possibilities.

“The committee sees the need to preserve the historical African-American flagship churches and the need to assess potential for future ministries,” Caldwell said about the concurrence.

Many on the floor had questions about the meaning of flagship, which ultimately was defined as African-American cornerstone churches dating to 1866 that had at least 300 members at the time and that proved themselves to be influential in terms of ministry and in producing future clergy and bishops for the denomination.

“This is a celebration, and what I mean by celebration, from 1866 to 2016 is 150 years of these churches and the contributions they’ve made to United Methodism,” said the Rev. Norman Brown, who wrote the resolution that was also supported by Black Methodists for Church Renewal.

Two people spoke against the resolution, stating they felt celebrating specifically African-American flagship churches would reinforce a division of races during a time when many seek to reconcile and unite.

“I would encourage us to support this conference as one, not two,” said Frances Hill, lay member from the Emmanuel-Mount Zion Charge in Sumter.

Paula Ford, lay member of the 231-year-old Duncan Memorial UMC, Georgetown, the first Methodist church in the state, agreed with Hill.

“I’m against this resolution because it does divide the church,” Ford said.

But others said it’s about honoring history, not creating division.

“A lot of history in our churches is not known, and I believe given the opportunity, the data could be collected and we could identify … the legacy of these churches,” said the Rev. Carleathea Benson, pastor of Fairfield UMC, Piedmont.

The Rev. Willie Dicks, pastor of the East Camden Charge, Camden, asked how anyone could look at this as separating the church.

“This has nothing to do with us being separated,” Dicks said. “This is dealing with history, the historical value and the present-day and future value of these churches, which speaks for itself.”

The resolution passed.

 

After the votes, Caldwell thanked all who served on the committee for their hard work at a job that can be tedious.

Committee member the Rev. Rett Haselden said the morning’s lengthy debate underscored the importance of planning early so their resolutions get in preconference materials and can be reviewed by the body well in advance.

“The Committee on Resolutions and Appeals wants to remind the Annual Conference that in order to avoid lengthy and last-minute discussion and amendments …, it is vital that (resolutions) be turned in before the March 15 deadline,” he said to much applause.

Motion passes on intentional human sexuality dialogue in South Carolina districts, churches

By Jessica Brodie

FLORENCE—United Methodists will intentionally be discussing sexuality, identity, Scriptures and the church in every district in South Carolina.

Annual Conference passed a motion June 8 that asks Bishop Jonathan Holston and district superintendents to hold conversations about human sexuality at the local level so churches can have thoughtful dialogue and build better relationships.

Proposed by the Rev. Wendy Hudson-Jacoby, pastor of North Charleston United Methodist Church, North Charleston, the motion was inspired by General Conference and the Council of Bishops’ “way forward” for unity in the church regarding issues of human sexuality. General Conference in May approved a proposal by the Council of Bishops to defer all petitions on human sexuality (a total of 56) and refer the entire subject to a special commission, named by the COB, to develop a complete examination and possible revision of every paragraph in the UMC Book of Discipline regarding human sexuality.

“In light of the unprecedented action taken by General Conference and the Council of Bishops, I would like to move that we in the South Carolina Annual Conference also engage in intentional and thoughtful dialogue and conversations on human sexuality at the local level,” Hudson-Jacoby said. “Our General Conference through the Council of Bishops is engaging in important and essential conversation regarding sexuality, identity, Scriptures and the church. We believe we are called to engage in important conversations on the local level in our districts and churches. These conversations are already taking place in our society, and we want to be … with them. The heart of the Gospel is built on relationship, and relationship is built on trust and conversation.”

Regardless of the commission’s outcome, the UMC needs to engage in these conversations, Hudson-Jacoby told the body.

Columbia District Superintendent the Rev. Cathy Jamieson noted that her district has already hosted a clergy meeting discussing these issues.

“We have begun not only in the Columbia District but in other districts to address these issues,” Jamieson told the body.

The motion passed overwhelmingly with no debate.

Earlier during Annual Conference, on Monday in a point of personal privilege, Stanton Adams had addressed the body, identifying himself as an openly gay United Methodist serving a local church in the South Carolina Annual Conference.

On behalf of the South Carolina Reconciling Ministries Network, Adams expressed appreciation to Holston and others on the COB for trying to find a way forward for the UMC over the difficult issue of human sexuality. Adams read a letter signed by 68 people at an Reconciling Ministries breakfast Monday offering gratitude, encouraging the bishops to, among other things, include experts and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer/questioning people on the commission and offer frequent reports to Annual Conferences on their progress (read the letter here). The letter offered the South Carolina RMN as partners and active participants.

“On behalf of Council of Bishops, we acknowledge deep divisions exist in the church about human sexuality, and we believe there are options beside restructuring and we do not seek to split,” Holston told the body after Adams read the letter on Monday, noting the COB will lead the church in a way forward. “We are committed to a different kind of conservation. The process is one which is new to all of us, and we will seek to do our best.”

RMN is an organization working for full participation of people of all sexual orientations and gender identities in the life of the UMC. It is committed to policy change and the creation of long-term solutions and practices that create full inclusion in the church and the broader society. It works for full equality in membership, ordination and marriage for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.

AC approves much-debated, much-amended resolution on eradicating racism

By Jessica Brodie

FLORENCE—Annual Conference now has new marching orders when it comes to its responsibilities for eradicating racism.

After close to an hour of questions, debate, amendments and amendments to amendments at Annual Conference June 8, the body ultimately passed a resolution asking every district and local congregation within the South Carolina Conference of The United Methodist Church to have a strategy and program that educates and supports systemic and personal changes to end racism and develop interculturally competent leaders.

“Our rationale is we are not complete with the work of eradicating racism and need to be more diligent in doing so,” said Dr. Marvin Caldwell, chair of the conference’s Committee on Resolutions and Appeals, which recommended concurrence on the resolution.

The Responsibilities for Eradication of Racism Resolution also asks the conference to offer a yearly educational program on working toward becoming an inclusive church, plus encourage clergy and lay leadership to participate in such programs. It asks that predominately white and predominately black UMCs in each district be intentional in planning services, activities or missions together, plus asks that churches report their strategies for eradicating racism to their charge conference.

 

The amended version

It took much finagling with the terminology to get the resolution right before passage.

Jane Robelot, member of Advent UMC in the Greenville District, moved that the resolution include a line encouraging “predominately white Methodist churches and predominately black Methodist churches within each district to be intentional in planning services or activities or missions together from time to time during each calendar year.”

The motion was approved.

Lifting up the lessons she learned from the Revs. Eben Taylor and Gene Bedenbaugh in her youth, she said unity comes through worship and relationship.

“We will only really overcome racial prejudice when we know each other face-to-face and sit and praise the Lord together and minister in our communities together,” Robelot said.

The body also approved—with some debate—a motion by Congregational Specialist the Rev. Jim Arant to delete the final paragraph of the resolution, which would have required churches to include a review of their strategies for eradicating racism in their annual report; Arant said that requirement is redundant because churches must report that information in charge conferences.

And the body also approved a motion by the Rev. Drew Martin, pastor of Lebanon UMC, Eastover, to delete a sentence requiring not only all clergy but specifically newly ordained clergy to participate in intercultural competency programs such as a racial reconciliation pilgrimage. He said the term “newly ordained” is too vague and also implies that it is not as important for those who are longtime clergy to attend. He also said that sort of requirement should come from the Board of Ordained Ministry, not a resolution.

 

Out of order: disbanding groups

Other amendments did not pass but stirred much debate, such as a move to disband all groups that divide people into racial and/or ethnic groups. Several spoke for and against this,

The Rev. Shawn Weeks, pastor of the Bennettsville Circuit, said she is against the amendment because there are always going to be groups of different cultures and ethnicities that need to meet because of the plight of that people, but it does not need to mean those groups cannot be unified.

“Until the playing field is level you’re always going to have groups that need to deal with individual issues,” she said. “You can still love and respect one another as people of God.”

Connectional Ministries Director the Rev. Kathy James said much the same, lifting up as an example the need for groups like deacons to meet separately.

“I believe whenever there are disproportional numbers of groups, just like fewer deacons in the conference than elders, that it’s helpful to have time together to support and encourage one another,” she said.

Orangeburg District Superintendent the Rev. Fred Yebuah spoke for the amendment, noting that separatism is an appearance of suspicion, which breeds distrust.

“If the Kingdom of God is to be unified, we need to sit at the table together and ask hard questions and come up with solutions together,” Yebuah said. “If our brothers and sisters are bleeding, we must all bleed together.”

However, the Rev. Charles Johnson raised the point that an annual conference might not be able to disband meetings of these groups when there are official entities within the UMC that allow these various groups.

Bishop Holston ultimately ruled the amendment out of order because of this truth, and there was no vote.

 

Debate over white supremacy, Civil War

Renee Gallien, lay member of First UMC, Clover, proposed two amendments that prompted much debate but were ultimately rejected. In the “whereas” section, she took issue with the term “war fought to remove slavery” and “white supremacy community,” noting the former was historically incorrect and the latter is a racist term that gives a negative connotation to the entire resolution.

Regarding the white supremacy community, many said even though it might be considered negative, it is a reality.

“There is white supremacy in some pockets of South Carolina,” said the Rev. Benjamin Burt of Epworth UMC, Charleston, noting the body should not delete that term.

The Rev. Terry Fleming, pastor of New Beginnings UMC in the Spartanburg District, recounted how at a previous church appointment, he learned some of his parishioners met African Americans at the door and told them they were not welcome.

“To pretend white supremacy doesn’t exist is foolishness.”

Others felt the term was antiquated.

Edward Kennedy, member of Pinopolis UMC, pointed out that it’s no longer 1964 and the term is no longer needed.

Sylvia Zeigler, member of the Elloree Charge, said she feels very strongly that the term needs to be deleted.

“It makes it sound like every white person in South Carolina is a white supremacist,” Zeigler said. “This statement tars and feathers every white person in the state.”

The amendment failed.

Regarding the “war fought to preserve slavery” language, Gallien and others noted the Civil War was not just about slavery but also the preservation of states rights, Northern aggression and the oppression of the South.

But Dr. Phillip Stone, conference archivist, spoke against the deletion.

“No American historian right now would argue the South seceded over any issue but slavery,” Stone said.

The Rev. John Adams III, of St. Mark UMC, Columbia, also spoke against it, noting it is time to acknowledge hard facts.

“Alexander Stephens (Confederate vice president) said in his own words the war was about slavery,” Adams said. “Despite the fact that we find this a painful time in our history, it’s time to face our history.”

The motion failed.

Holston then called the full, amended resolution to a vote; it passed.

“Now, my friends, I don’t know about you, but I think I deserve a 15-minute break,” Holston said to laughter and applause.

Advocate S.C. Stories of Racial Awakening Project: Narrative 4

Becoming aware

By Barbara Gentry

Editor’s note: The following is the third narrative accepted for publication in the Ad­vocate’s new South Carolina Stories of Racial Awakening Project. The Advocate will select as many as 10 narratives to be published in the Advocate, one a month for 10 months. See guidelines, here.

When I was around 12 years old, I was first allowed to go out trick-or-treating by myself at night. We lived on a dead-end street where there were only “us” and an elderly couple from England. I knew them to be generous but, of course, I just wanted to get as much candy as I could within the shortest period of time. So I headed out to Hickory Avenue, which was a fairly main road with lots of houses. We knew everyone on either side of the street for quite a distance, so I did not feel unsafe in any way.

I thought I was doing great until I reached the corner of Hickory and First streets. There was a tiny delicatessen that sold everything from meats, bread and candy to magazines and newspapers. The owners lived upstairs. Unfortunately for me, the store was closed for the night, and the owners’ entrance was on the backside of the building.

There I was approached by two boys, a little taller than me but about my age. They kept calling me, “Clarence.” I did not recognize them. I thought, “Why are they there and not in costume?”

The thing I neglected to say earlier was that I was dressed as a black man—or boy, because of my size. We did not have much money in those days, so you were expected to just disguise yourself some way with whatever you had at home. I was wearing my dad’s old pants with suspenders, his old shirt and his old hat. I had blackened by face, hands, ears and neck with burnt cork. I thought I did a pretty good job.

What I didn’t know was just how good a job it was.

Clarence was a boy whose family lived not far from us and, surprisingly, he was black. These two boys were white. They started punching and kicking me, all the while calling me “Clarence.” I was too frightened and shocked to even speak. I just wanted them to stop.

When I finally fell to the ground, they did stop and ran off. I sat for a minute or two until I felt they were truly gone. Then I got up and slowly walked home.

I could not believe what just happened to me. Were they just kidding about who they thought I was? Did they just need an excuse to beat on someone? Did I really do such a good job of hiding who I was?

I did not know who these boys were. They were not from our neighborhood. I started to think of what I was going to tell my parents. I did not want to not be able to go trick-or-treating by myself. I did not want to get my big brother involved because he might try to find and hurt these boys. He was very protective of his sisters.

The other thing that I was left with was that it was not much fun being black—the thought that you could get beat on for just being yourself. That thought stayed with me probably forever.

I never did tell anyone what happened that night until many, many years later. I have had several experiences since then where I have been given the opportunity to meet and become friends with black people. I now have a few longtime friendships and feel that I am the luckiest person alive.

Gentry, 74, is a white female and a member of Inman United Methodist Church, Inman.

Some hard truths

By Jessica Brodie

Annual Conference 2016 has come to a close, and as we prepare to go to press on this edition just one day later, I have to say it was a beautiful, funny, sometimes exhausting and altogether inspiring experience. This year marked my six-year “workiversary” as editor of the Advocate, and my love continues to grow stronger and deeper for this denomination and this conference and all the wonderful things we are doing to further God’s Kingdom on earth.

But I can’t seem to get off my mind one statement made during the final day’s proceedings. The statement, made by the Rev. Larry McCutcheon, came during a lengthy debate of the Responsibilities for Eradication of Racism Resolution that featured questions, points of order, amendments and amendments to amendments as the body worked hard to finesse language that submitters hoped would one day bring about an end to racism.

Standing before the body, McCutcheon said the time it was taking to vote on the resolution underscores the very need for such a resolution.

“Let’s not try to blackwash the issue or whitewash the issue—racism is alive and well,” McCutcheon said. “The fact that we’ve taken almost an hour to pass what I think is a simple amendment proves it is alive and well.”

Indeed.

The hard truth is that racism is still out there, and sometimes it smacks us right in the face. I wish it were not so, and I can’t pretend to know the magic answer. I do believe from the bottom of my heart that by talking about and writing about our stories, our pain and our awakenings, by building bridges and friendship and understanding, we are making dent in the problem. I hope that by the time my elementary-school children become my age, they’ll look back at some of the things said in 2016 and marvel at how bad things used to be—and be grateful at how far we’ve come.

And I believe that passing resolutions like this, where our conference takes yet another public step toward reconciliation and healing, helps in a big way.

I invite you to take a look at the Advocate’s South Carolina Stories of Racial Awakening Project on Page 5 (you can read previous narratives under the Views tab at www.advocatesc.org). Think about sharing your story.

And I pray we will all continue to accept the hard truths and do whatever it takes to build bridges of love in the name of our risen Savior.

 

McCleskey to ordinands: Heed Paul’s advice

AC2016 commissions, ordains 32

By Jessica Brodie

Ordination2FLORENCE—Former South Carolina Bishop J. Lawrence McCleskey returned to the Palmetto State with some strong advice for new clergy: always be sober, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist and carry out your ministry fully.

The advice, taken from 2 Timothy 3:10-4:8, were the Apostle Paul’s identical charge to Timothy, whom many considered to be Paul’s spiritual son. The responsibility is hard work, McCleskey cautioned the ordinands, but if called, it’s a responsibility one must accept.

“You’re charged to carry out demands beyond your strength,” McCleskey told the clergy. “So how do we do it? We do it with help. We do it by grace. We do it because God empowers you.”

In a service preached by McCleskey, joined by South Carolina Resident Bishop Jonathan Holston, Annual Conference ordained or commissioned 32 men and women Monday night, June 6, as deacons, elders or provisional elders.

Five were ordained as deacons in full connection: Eric Philip Hendrickson, Andrew Thomas Jones, Bernett William Mazyck, Elizabeth Adams Murray and Martha Ann Timmons. Thirteen were commissioned as provisional elders: Anthony Griffith Carosiello, Beverly CroweTipton, Shawna Michelle Darnall, LaTonya Monique Dash, Eleanora Coaxum Ellington, Katherine Marie Haselden, Bette Ann Hedden, Jon August Hoin, James Stewart McDowell, Brian Edward Preveaux, Sara Elizabeth Relaford, Sylvia Freeman Watson and James Timothy Whited. And 14 were ordained as elders in full connection: Doris Regina Bright, Meghan Lindsey Sweeney Cook, William Wallace Culp III, Lillie Kerns Davis, Zachary Harmon Dillard, Sharon Spann Gamble, Michael Eugene Goldston, Erik Kenneth Grayson, Kayla Brooke Harward, Miriam Wilson Mick, James Lawson Morgan, Charlie Thomas, Carly Kirsten Wicklund and James Elbert Williams.

McCleskey told the ordinands that at the time Paul wrote this letter to Timothy, the church was becoming an institution, more of a formal structure, and part of Paul’s concern was the integrity and faithfulness of the church and its leaders. Paul talked about the challenge to the church, then urged Timothy to “always be sober, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, carry out your ministry fully.”

The sobriety aspect of his advice is easy in some regards, McCleskey said—intoxication is certainly to be avoided. But he noted the Greek word for sobriety means more than avoiding drunkenness, and other translations have Paul cautioning him to be sensible, temperate, thoughtful, controlled and steady.

McCleskey quoted the theologian William Barclay, who wrote, “The Christian is not to be the victim of crazes; stability is his badge in an unbalanced and often insane world.”

And when it comes to evangelizing, he said, do the work of the preacher of the good news—especially given that “insane world.”

“If you don’t preach the good news, your people will get what theology and ethics they get from someone else,” McCleskey said. “Many people in our time draw from a political culture that promotes a distorted version of theology as if it were the heart of the Gospel, and from an economic culture that promotes a selected position of ethics as if it were the good news.”

Just take a look at the current political cycle, he said.

“Too many politicians are willing to co-opt Jesus … a bigoted, mean-spirited, unforgiving Jesus who promises prosperity and security if you’ll just ‘Vote for me!’” he said.

He urged the ordinands to remember: Jesus was not a Republican or a Democrat or an Independent. Jesus was not a conservative or a liberal, not a Tea Partier or a Libertarian.

“Jesus, the made-flesh crucified savior and risen Lord, that Jesus, was a Palestinian Jew who was saved as a child by a sojourn into Egypt who took the initiative in building relationships with foreigners like Samaritans … and spent far more energy being gracious than judgmental,” McCleskey said. “But too many good Christians in our country today don’t know enough Bible or theology to tell the difference between the real Jesus and the political version.”

That is why it is critical to “do the work of evangelists,” he told ordinands—spreading the good news, promoting dialogue, building bridges and not walls.

Next is the concept of carrying out one’s ministry fully. McCleskey said people in congregations are counting on their pastors to always give their best. Pastors are there for people in their biggest moments: births, baptisms, funerals, marriages, even when marriages are crumbling.

“It’s a call you can never fully live up to, but it’s there,” McCleskey said. “If that doesn’t make you humble there’s no hope for you.”

And along with that is the concept of enduring suffering. God never promised any of this would be easy. And he urged ordinands to remember the humility and beauty of the itinerancy, which is both a blessing and a difficulty.

“All of us are just stewards of the ordained ministry of the church for awhile,” he said. “When we go to a new appointment, we inherit its history. While there, we add to the story. When we leave, we pass it on to someone else to add to the history. That’ll keep you humble.”

The offering taken at the Service of Ordination and Commissioning will go to The J. Lawrence and Margaret F. McCleskey Scholarship Fund of the South Carolina United Methodist Foundation.

Prior to the collection, the Rev. Jeffrey Salley spoke about the need for the scholarship fund, noting seminarians graduate with an average debt of $66,000.

The Chapin UMC Orchestra and Choir provided music for the evening.

Parrish preaches memorial service on God’s ‘remarkable words of promise’

By Jessica Brodie

FLORENCE—Lifting up 38 saints who have gone before us into God’s eternal Kingdom, the Rev. Patricia J. Parrish brought a word about remembering God’s “remarkable words of promise” even in our grief.

“Today we are so very thankful that God has shared these saints with all of us and that we are the church together,” Parrish said, drawing from John 14:1-3 in her message. “We will not forget their stories; their names are inscribed upon our hearts. And we will not forget God’s story, the story that reminds us what God has done for us in Jesus Christ.

“We remember.”

Thirty-eight clergy, spouses, surviving spouses and others were honored during the Tuesday afternoon service during Annual Conference at the Florence Civic Center.

Parrish, outgoing Charleston District superintendent, spoke about how, when she learned she would be preaching the memorial service, she began to think about the power of words and which word she would choose to bring.

“I began to search for some remarkable words, a word that would somehow wash over all of us like a healing bath, some word that would enable us to feel the weight of grief just being lifted away, some remarkable way to express the deep appreciation of this body for those we have come here to remember and honor today,” Parrish said. “I do not have such words.

“But I will tell you that God has those words.”

Then she shared the story of a Liberian warrior who left his pregnant wife and four sons and went off to fight, spear and shield in his hands. Time passed, and the unborn baby was born and grew into a 4-year-old boy, and still his father had not returned. Finally, that child began to ask repeatedly where his father was, and his older brothers organized a lengthy search. When they finally found his lifeless form, they began to pray, and as they clasped hands and their prayers deepened and intensified, their father’s body miraculously began to take shape again, and then their father’s reshaped form breathed, and he stood and greeted his sons.

A week later, at the village celebration, the father presented his youngest son with a special gift in gratitude for his restoration.

“You, my child, have restored my life because you are the one who asked the question, ‘Where is my father?’ It was you who would not forget,” Parrish said.

Parrish told the body the people of Liberia believe no one is really dead as long as they are remembered—and the 38 saints honored at the Annual Conference Memorial Service today will never be forgotten.

“Their stories connect us. They take us back to God,” Parrish said—like the laugh of one that will never be forgotten, or the letters to the editor and prophetic voice for racial reconciliation of another

“We are here today because we are all a part of God’s family,” Parrish said. “We are the church. And we are here today to acknowledge what it means to grieve and what it means to believe in the resurrection of the dead.”

Parrish said someone who had lost her husband once described grief as losing all her air—but that very same woman said she also learned that when life sucks you under, you can kick against the bottom, break the surface and breathe again. Stories and memories help, and the promises of God help most of all.

“For me, grief is like walking through the valley of the shadow of death,” Parrish said. “It’s the season in our lives when we move from the depths of darkness into varying shadows of light. … As we move through the days of our lives, through days that are perfunctory, when all we can feel is numbness and pain, but when we go into that valley we carry those stories with us, don’t we?”

We are the church, and we are students of the Scripture, Parrish told the body.

“Wherever we go, the story of God’s love goes with us,” she said. “And that story speaks words that comfort beyond human ability. Words that remind us over again … God is with us. We are not alone.”

Choosing Jesus is choosing life, choosing to go on. And as we go on, we remember,

During the service, the Clergy Choir of the South Carolina Annual Conference lifted the Lord and His promises in song. The Rev. Neil M. Yongue read Psalm 116:12-19 and Revelation 7:9-17 as Scripture lessons. Bishop Jonathan Holston led the body in the affirmation of faith, the Apostles Creed.

Then, at the close, a bell rang and loved ones stood as Bishop Holston lifted each saint’s name before the body.

Active ministers honored during the service were Robert Christopher Barrett and Edwina Juliette Williams.

Retired ministers honored were Eugene Holland Bedenbaugh, Douglas Arthur Bowling, George Raymond Cousar, Harry Mulford Goewey, Betty Sue Griffin, Franklin Herman Johnson, William Randolph Kinnett, George Alfred McClenan, Edward Donald McKinney, Joseph Robert Nicholson Sr., Lewis Carroll Pope Jr., Fred Mortimer Reese Jr., Dwight Moody Smith Jr., Woodrow Marshall Smith, Norris McDonald “Don” Swett, William Joseph Vines and Seth W. Williams.

Spouses honored were Betty Wilson Alewine, Judy Risinger Benton, Iris Faye Cothran, Patricia Jenkins Cross, Barbara Rate Davis, Betty Howell Ratliff Lewis, Jackie Jennings Morris, Sherry Prater Murphy, Alice Patricia “Patty” Padgett, Hazel Marie Abercrombie Templeton and Bernard Issac Timmons.

Surviving spouses honored were Helen Hutto Brabham, Carolyn Crenshaw, Olivia Rayfield Davis, Mildred Kennerly Hendrix, Agnes Dawsey Rogers, Dorothy Coker Way and Bernice Martin Wright.

Mary Jo Chreitzberg Reese Brodie was also honored during the service.

AC honors 26 retirees

By Allison Trussell

FLORENCE—Annual Conference recognized 26 retiring pastors in a service of recognition and celebration June 7.

While being celebrated, the 26 offered advice for the incoming class of ordinands and recalled memories for the conference.

“Preach, teach and visit your people,” said the Rev. Roger Gramling. “I think there is still a great need for pastoral leadership.”

The Rev. James Counts urged pastors to realize what a gift they have been given: the opportunity to serve God and bear witness. And the Rev. Jeannetté Cooper warned against burning out—“Make time for yourself, for the Sabbath, for rejuvenation.”

“Learn to laugh at yourself and let people laugh at you was sage advice I was given in seminary,” recalled the Rev. Ernest Etheredge.

Whether going down waterslides with children, baptizing babies or choir tours, nearly every pastor recalled the blessing of working with and knowing individuals in the churches they served.

Counts recalled a little boy running to him shouting, “It’s Jesus! It’s Jesus!” The Rev. Tina Thomas always told her congregation that the bulletin was a “suggested” order of worship.

All of them thanked the annual conference for allowing them to do a job that while sometimes hard was always a blessing.

“In gratitude we celebrate their shared ministry and in anticipation with them turn toward days of new call and response,” Bishop Jonathan Holston prayed during the service.

The Passing of the Mantle is always a highlight of the service. This year, the Rev. Ernest C. Etheredge passed the stole from his shoulders to those of the Rev. Erik K. Grayson, representative of the 2016 ordination class.

Those recognized were Carole Dianne Allison, John Mayford Altman Jr., Lee Curtis Bines, Joethel Jeannetté Cooper, James Henry Counts Jr., Ernest Calvin Etheredge, Harry Kyle Gindhart Jr., James Kevin Gorry, Roger Michael Gramling, Mary E. Green, Michael Loyd Guffee, Robert Wayne Horne, Elizabeth McKay Hudson Timms, Robert Eugene Lee, Stephen Ray Gordon, Pamela Gail Ledbetter, Bonnie Farias Miller, Jacki Sue Mitchel-Ratledge, Marie Elizabeth Ray, Jonathan Edward Smith, Deborah Ward Taylor, Jerry Eugene Temple, Tina Anderson Thomas and Mark Anthony Williams. Robert Lee Allen and Franklin Elbert Copeland also were honored as ad interim retirees, effective Jan. 1, 2016.

AC Bible study on Luke explores spaces of prayer, hospitality, sacred work

By Allison Trussell

FLORENCE—Working with the theme of “Making Space for God to Work,” Dr. Luther Smith led a Bible study on Luke each morning of Annual Conference.

‘Let the little children come to me’

Monday’s Scripture was Luke 18:15, the well-known rebuke of the disciples concerning children: “Let the little children come to me and do not stop them,” Jesus tells them.

The disciples didn’t want the children to interrupt the important work of Jesus, and don’t we all make those kinds of judgments, Smith asked. Just as the disciples were marginalizing children, so we marginalize those who come seeking.

“We all decide who gets to come into our space. Are they influential? Are they respected? What financial resources do they bring? How impressive is their resumé?”

But the lesson to take from this is not to act as children, to be free from concerns and responsibilities, Smith warned.

Jesus receiving children of how God is at work. Luke, unlike Mark, reveals that the coming and acceptance of children as a revelation that God receives us, not because we have merited God’s grace. We are received into his presence, into God’s work because we are cherished by him, Smith said.

“To interrupt God at work, sacred work, is to interrupt the sacred space of what God is doing through Jesus.”

How, Smith asked, are you and your church demonstrating this text by witnessing to all persons? How committed are you to making space for God to work within your life, your church and your community? “It’s not a challenge; it is an opportunity and our calling.”

Spaces of hospitality

Tuesday’s lesson dealt with spaces of hospitality illustrated by the feeding of the 5,000, Luke 9:1-17. The Scripture begins with Jesus giving the disciples power and authority and sending them out with nothing but faith and reliance on others’ hospitality.

Jesus recognizes that communities await the disciples, but the disciples must learn to depend on the community and engage it.

Smith noted that he doesn’t buy a lawn seeder because he’d only use it once a year and his neighbor has one. He doesn’t have a ladder, but his neighbor has one. If he bought either one, he would be depriving his neighbor of the opportunity to give, he joked. But what Smith also gains is conversation. Bonds are established, which is far better for the community.

Later in the Scripture comes the account of the loaves and fishes. Now, the community must rely on the hospitality of the disciples and Jesus. “The care of the disciples on the road is as much a mystery and miracle as the feeding of 5,000,” Smith said.

He quoted St. John Chrysostom, “Feeding the hungry is a greater work than raising the dead,” and then commented that poor people survive every day because of other poor people.

What might we behold when we give ourselves the living God’s desire to care for one another? What does it mean to be a church equipped with power and authority, which God has given us, and then sit on it? A Holocaust survivor once said, “Fear not your enemies, they can only kill you. Fear not your friends, they can only betray you. But fear the indifferent ones because they allow killers and betrayers to roam the earth.”

“Why are we waiting for more instead of using what God has given us?” Smith concluded.

Space for prayer

Wednesday’s focus was on prayer (Luke 11:1-13): How are you making space for prayer? Smith asked.

The disciples ask Jesus to teach them how to pray, and he begins with the word, Father. Smith notes the significance of this word because it shows the relationship between God and Jesus. God is a tender, loving parent. He waits and yearns for our prayers, but he is not some heavenly bellhop rushing hither and yon to give us things.

However, if we are persistent in our prayers then God will be responsive. Smith likened it to a child not coming home on time. We would ask the neighbors, and if the child wasn’t found, we’d ask strangers and call the police and we’d search until the child was found. “That’s the kind of seeking that prayer should be.”

How do you make space for praying? Some days, everything you do—eating, sleeping, working—is a prayer. “Prayer isn’t about coming up with elaborate speeches. I pray out of gratitude and need,” Smith said.

“It is my prayer that as we have studied together, we will also pray together, that we have wisdom and courage to live as a people of prayer. How dare we say that we are disciples of the one who could not live without prayer if we do not?”

McClendon is official S.C. episcopal nominee

By Jessica Brodie

FLORENCE—Annual Conference has approved the nomination of Dr. Tim McClendon—delegation chair, former Columbia District superintendent and current senior pastor of St. John’s UMC, Aiken—as South Carolina’s episcopal nominee.

The delegation had tapped him as their nominee months ago, and their selection got official approval of the full Annual Conference in Florence June 6.

“We’re going to Jurisdictional Conference behind Tim 100 percent,” said Lay Leader Barbara Ware. “Not been since 1992 have we had a nominee from South Carolina become bishop.”

After his approval, McClendon expressed deep appreciation to Annual Conference. “You have shaped me and made me who I am; you have made me better than I am,” McClendon said. “I’d be most happy to be here till I draw my last breath, but if God so chooses, I will serve and I will give it my all, and I thank you.”

 

AC closes three churches, approves charge line changes in nine districts

By Allison Trussell

FLORENCE—The Annual Conference paused for moments of silence following the adoption of three resolutions discontinuing churches across the state.

The Rev. Cathy Jamieson, secretary to the Cabinet, brought the resolutions to the floor Wednesday morning as part of her report on charge line changes. Mount Tabor UMC, Chesterfield County, Hartsville District; Charles Wesley UMC, Aiken County, Orangeburg District; and Bethlehem UMC, Greenwood County, Greenwood District, consented to be discontinued, and congregational membership and property will be transferred to neighboring churches.

Bishop Jonathan Holston offered a prayer for each of the discontinued churches while those connected to the churches stood.

“For the ministry, for the mission, for the laity and clergy (of these churches), a part of this body, we pray for them who have gone before us and the work that has been done through them. We at this time, Lord, acknowledge those who have been blessed by this ministry and we give you thanks. In your name we pray, Amen.”

Nine districts had charge line changes brought before and approved by Annual Conference Wednesday morning. Those changes created 14 station churches.

In the Anderson District, the North Anderson Charge was rearranged, making Toxaway a station church and allowing John Wesley and Sandy Springs to continue as the North Anderson Charge.

The Ebenezer-Hood’s Chapel Charge in the Charleston District was dissolved, creating a station church of Ebenezer and attaching Hood’s Chapel to the Berkeley Circuit Charge.

Wesley Memorial UMC, Columbia District, has changed its name to Heyward Street UMC.

Greenville District dissolved both the Grace-Zoar and Gray Court-Trinity charges, creating four station churches.

In the Greenwood District, the O’Neal Street-Ebenezer Charge was dissolved, making O’Neal Street a station church and attaching Ebenezer to Lewis Memorial to form the Lewis Memorial-Ebenezer Charge. Also, Ebenezer, Greenwood, was attached to Panola to form the Ebenezer-Panola Charge. Mount Carmel, Ninety Six, was attached to the Greenwood Ninety Six Charge. Bethlehem, Greenwood, was discontinued and its property was transferred to St. Mark, Greenwood.

Hartsville District had four changes. The Jefferson Parish was dissolved, creating the Sandy Grove-Mount Elon Charge and the Hopewell-Wesley Chapel Charge. The Emmanuel-Mount Zion Charge was dissolved, making both churches station churches. The Wilkes-Bethesda Charge was dissolved, with Bethesda becoming a station church and Wilkes Chapel being attached to Wesley Chapel, Chesterfield, forming the Chesterfield Parish. Mount Tabor was discontinued from the Chesterfield Parish.

The Hopewell-Union Charge, Marion District, was dissolved, leaving both churches as station churches.

The Rowesville Parish, Orangeburg District, was dissolved, making Prospect a station church. Mayes Chapel and Central will continue as the Rowesville Parish. Charles Wesley, Aiken, was discontinued.

In the Walterboro District, the Hardeeville-St. Luke Charge was dissolved, creating two station churches.

New Mother Emanuel pastor preaches at UMCSC African-American clergywomen luncheon

By Allison Trussell

FLORENCE—God will empower each generation to do what He has called them to do. That was the message given to the United Methodist African-American clergywomen during their Annual Conference luncheon Monday, June 6.

Dr. Betty Deas Clark, pastor of Mother Emanuel AME Church, Charleston, was the guest speaker, and she challenged her fellow clergywomen to learn the lessons offered to Joshua when he took over for Moses.

“Be strong. Be courageous,” Clark said, noting that Joshua is told this three times in the Scripture of Joshua 1:1-18.

Clark, the first woman to lead Mother Emanuel, said there are three lessons to take from Joshua’s assumption of leadership. First, you must be a follower before you can answer the call to be a leader. There are things to be learned at the back of the line that you’ll need at the front of the line, she said.

Second, before you can lead others to change, God wants you to change. If you haven’t made the commitment to God’s ministry, why should anyone follow you?

Clark’s third point was that you must remember the past in order to lead forward. But she cautioned against putting all your trust in mankind.

“God gave Joshua the challenge to accept the reality of the moment. … Moses is dead. Let him stay dead,” she said. “You’ve got to lead through the vision given to you by God.” While Joshua received the challenge to lead, he was also given a promise and the assurance that God would be with him as well as a choice of what kind of leader he would be.

“If God has called you to be a leader,” Clark challenged the women, “then you’ve got a charge to keep. Sometimes to move forward on that charge, you must be strong and courageous. You’re required to look above and around those who want to lead you in the wrong direction,” she said.

More than 260 clergy and laity—the largest gathering in recent years—received Clark’s message with enthusiastic exclamation.

The clergywomen recognized retiring pastor the Rev. J. Jeannetté Cooper, as well as those commissioned as provisional elders (Eleanora Ellington and LaTonya Dash) and ordained as full elders (Lillian Davis, Sharon Gamble and Doris Bright).

The Rev. Redonia Thomas offered special music.

Annual Conference awards lift up churches, UM individuals

By Jessica Brodie

FLORENCE—The ministry and evangelism efforts of laity and clergy across South Carolina were honored during Annual Conference at an annual awards breakfast.

“We are grateful for what you are doing,” Bishop Jonathan Holston said after presenting the awards to all the winners. “For one more year, think grander, bigger than you’ve ever dreamed before. … Think grander, bigger about going places where people have yet to hear God’s voice. If we do that, then we will make disciples for the transformation of God’s world.”

The award winners are as follows:

 

Joseph B. Bethea Distinguished Service Award

Rev. Kenneth L. Nelson is the 2016 recipient of the Joseph B. Bethea Distinguished Service Award, given to a person who has outstanding service in working for racial justice. Nelson was honored because, as his letter of nomination read, “He reminds us so much of Bishop Bethea in stature, vision, giftedness, experiences and heart.” He overcame adversity as a child to embrace “the more excellent way” of living for Christ. Nelson is the conference secretary and coordinator of clergy services. He has served as assistant dean of the chapel and director of religious life at Duke University; served as the South Carolina Conference’s African-American ministries coordinator; served in one of the conference’s first cross-racial appointments; has pastored large and small churches across South Carolina; and is a delegate to General and Jurisdictional conferences.

 

Barbara Boultinghouse Bridge Builders Award

The Barbara Boultinghouse Bridge Builder Award is presented to a person or organization who has built bridges of understanding by promoting equity and inclusiveness of all persons. This year’s award was given to two Camden pastors: the Rev. Angela Ford Nelson, pastor of Good Hope Wesley Chapel United Methodist Church, and The Rev. Steve Patterson, pastor of Lyttleton Street UMC. After the October floods, Nelson and Patterson worked together to build a bridge between their two congregations in, as their letter of application put it, “a town divided in many ways.”

 

The Michael C. Watson Volunteer in Mission Award

The Michael C. Watson Volunteer in Mission Award is given to clergy and laity who exemplify extraordinary mission service. This year’s clergy recipient is the Rev. George Olive, pastor of Joseph B. Bethea UMC, Myrtle Beach, who has been involved in South Carolina disaster response for 10 years and served as a past disaster response coordinator for the conference. After the October floods, Olive stepped up in the early response phase, served as a regional coordinator and in many other capacities.

This year’s lay recipient is Jim Salley, described as “Mr. United Methodist” in his letter of application. Salley serves on numerous boards throughout the connection and is vice chancellor and chief development officer for Africa University. His mission work spans the globe. “Jim’s true mission is people and restoring lives,” the letter of applications reads.

 

Bishop’s Five-Star Awards of Excellence

The Bishop’s Five-Star Award of Excellence is given to provide incentive to church to embrace new ministries geared toward growth and outreach. The following are 2016 recipients: Advent UMC, Simpsonville; Bethel UMC, St. Stephen; Chapin UMC, Chapin; Dickson Memorial UMC, Townville; Goose Creek UMC, Goose Creek; First UMC, Clover; Harmony UMC, Johnston; Lebanon UMC, Eastover; Little River UMC, Little River; Martha’s Chapel UMC, Chappells; Mays Chapel UMC, Branchville; Mount Carmel UMC, Ninety Six; Reidville Road UMC, Moore; St. John’s UMC, Rock Hill; St. Luke UMC, Hartsville; St. Luke UMC, Walhalla; St. Paul UMC, Camden; Trinity UMC, Greenwood; Union UMC, McBee; and Wesley UMC, Aiken.

 

Bishop’s Award of Excellence

The Bishop’s Award of Excellence recognizes congregations and units within the UMC that extend their ministry by participation in Girl Scouts of the USA and Boy Scouts of America. The South Carolina United Methodist Men and Bishop Holston recognize scouting as an important part of the church ministry because of who is involved: all God’s children. Two churches were recognized: Lexington UMC, Lexington (the Rev. Ken Owens, Scouting Coordinator James H. Gregory, Cub Scout Pack 507) and Red Bank UMC, Red Bank (the Rev. W. Russell Freeman Sr., Scouting Coordinator Robin O. Smith, Girl Scout Troop 2323, Cub Scout Pack 518, Boy Scout Troop 518).

 

Scholarships

Five students were awarded scholarships for their continued education.

The T. Dennie Smith Scholarship, created to effectively carry forward the legacy of the late T. Dennie Smith of Greer, was awarded to Carole Anne-Waters, seminary student at Lenoir-Rhyne, Columbia, pursuing a Master of Divinity. Her home church is Landrum UMC, Landrum.

The S.C. Conference Seminary Student Scholarship, established in 1991 to assist students from South Carolina in pursuing a program leading to a first professional degree, was awarded to Frances Hillary Taylor, who is affiliated with Shandon UMC, Shandon, and Lee Road UMC, Taylors. Taylor is a student at Candler School Theology.

The Advocate College Scholarship was established to help students at one of the four South Carolina United Methodist colleges majoring in business, communications or journalism. This year’s recipient is Ashly Higgins, a junior at Columbia College. Higgins is majoring in writing for print and digital media at Columbia College and holds two part-time jobs. When not devoting time to studying or homework, she conducts research and writes articles for The State and manages a team of marketers for Young Entrepreneurs Across America. She participates in Columbia College’s weekly chapel services and also attends Mount Horeb UMC, Lexington.

The Janie Robinson Thomasson Memorial Scholarship goes to the United Methodist student selected by the Scholarship Committee of the Conference Board of Higher Education and Campus Ministry. The South Carolina United Methodist Foundation, upon verification of current enrollment, distributes the award amount to the recipient’s institution.  Preference for all applicants shall be given to members of St. Paul UMC, Clover, or the Rock Hill District. The recipient this year is Kenneth Chad Faulkner, member of Pleasant Hill UMC in the Rock Hill District.

The South Carolina Merit Scholarship is an Annual Conference award administered to United Methodist students attending United Methodist institutions.  The Annual Conference Board of Higher Education and Campus Ministry disperses the Merit Scholarship Award in accord with these guidelines and others, which they may set. “Merit” can be in terms of academic scholarship, church involvement, financial need and special vocational preparation for ministry or other service, or a combination of these. This year’s recipient is Loren Mackenzie Summers, member of St. John’s UMC in the Rock Hill District.

 

Students in Mission awards

Students in Mission exposes young adults to the mission of the church; to encourage and develop vocational discernment of young adults; to assist the church in carrying out specialized ministries; to stimulate the church in developing new ministries; to extend the missional outreach of the church; and through young adults, to make the church aware of missional needs in South Carolina. It is an opportunity for young adults to serve as missionaries for the summer in authentic mission sites within South Carolina. It is a meaningful experience of intentional Christian living, faith in action and spiritual formation.

This year the sites focus on assisting migrant workers and their families, as well as developing new ministries to inner-city youth and needy families.

Rural Mission Inc. will host David Larrymore, student at Charleston Southern University; Joshua Simon, student at Claflin University; and LaToya Charley, student at Claflin University.

Aldersgate UMC, Charleston, will host Miyosha Foster, student at Lander University, and Sarah Davis, student at Spartanburg Methodist College.

 

Herbert Hucks Awards

The Herbert Hucks Awards for Historic Preservation and Interpretation go to four local congregations this year: Green Pond UMC, Gray Court; Livingston UMC, Livingston; Pisgah UMC, Aynor; and Mountain View UMC, Taylors.

 

Milestones

The following churches were recognized as bicentennial churches, founded in 1816: Bethlehem UMC, Manning (Jordan), and Newman Swamp UMC, Lamar.

The following churches were recognized as centennial churches, founded in 1916: Simpsonville UMC, Simpsonville; Lane UMC, Lane (Greeleyville); St. Paul UMC, St. Matthews; North Charleston UMC, North Charleston; Salem UMC, Dorchester; and Brandon UMC, Greenville.

Teeing up for Asbury Hills

Marion District team takes home trophy from annual golf tourney

By Allison Trussell

FLORENCE—Despite the high temperatures, a group of intrepid golfers set out June 4, the day before Annual Conference, for the fourth annual Camps and Retreat Ministries Tournament held at Traces Golf Club.

Nearly $8,000 was raised for camper scholarships, said Arthur Spriggs, executive director of South Carolina Camps and Retreat Ministries.

The tournament recognized a host of sponsors, but the Spriggs said the most memorable would have to be the primary hole-in-one sponsor King GMC, Buick and Cadillac, which provided a 2016 15-passenger bus and a 2016 GMC Terrain as hole-in-one prizes for the event.

“If the wind would have blown just a little bit harder, there’s no doubt that Kurt McPherson of Myrtle Beach would have driven away in a brand new Terrain,” Spriggs said.

The tournament also featured food, fun and a silent auction.

Kurt McPherson, Jay Bennett, Ray Crouse and Eric Dusa formed the winning team, which hailed from the Marion District. The Rev. George Howle, Greenville District superintendent, reluctantly handed the trophy to the Rev. Tim Rogers, the Marion District superintendent, during the Tuesday afternoon session of Annual Conference.

Chancellor: churches need complete insurance

By Jessica Brodie

FLORENCE—Kay Crowe, conference chancellor, gave South Carolina United Methodist churches some firm advice at Annual Conference June 6: be aware of and possess complete insurance packages and be sure church property sales and leasing comply with the United Methodist Book of Discipline.

Crowe said she sometimes get calls from churches who have had some sort of insurance-related event, such as employee theft, yet know little to nothing about their coverage.

“They tell me, ‘We’re not sure where policies are, we’re not sure what our coverage is, and we’ve known about this four to five months and didn’t think this would be a big problem, so we’re just now reaching out for help,” Crowe said, noting those are the calls she dreads. “Those calls happen again and again despite the amount of time we spend talking about the importance of churches having complete insurance packages.”

Crowe reminded the body that the conference no longer bonds the individuals in churches who handle money.

“That conference-level bonding coverage was lost because of the number of losses we had; they refuse to write it any more,” Crowe said. “Every church is completely responsible for having the appropriate bonds for the individuals in your churches who are handling money.”

She urged churches to have a designated place where policies are kept and know what coverages are being bought, plus be sure to review the declarations page and the policies themselves.

“This is important because these cases are happening as we speak,” Crowe said.

She also noted that many churches are engaging in sale transactions, mortgages and leasing of church properties, and these transactions may be handled by lawyers who are not familiar with the Discipline. She encouraged churches to be sure to make lawyers aware of these additional rules found in the Discipline.

‘From a Church-Goer to a Christ-Follower’

Dease on Jesus’ lessons for his people

By Jessica Brodie

“‘How can this be?’ Nicodemus asked. ‘You are Israel’s teacher,’ said Jesus, ‘and do you not understand these things?’”—John 3:9-10

NORTH CHARLESTON—It’s not enough to be a churchgoer. You have to be a full-fledged Christ-follower or risk losing everything in the final analysis.

That was the word from Dr. Robin Dease, Hartsville District superintendent, who led a Bible study on “From a Church-Goer to a Christ-Follower” June 4 at the Southeastern Jurisdiction United Methodist Women quadrennial meeting. Drawing from John 3, Jesus’ lessons to the Pharisee Nicodemus and the Scripture behind this year’s meeting theme, “A Fresh Wind Blowing,” Dease said that Nicodemus was an upstanding church leader, the kind of man you’d make a church trustee. But what Nicodemus learns from Jesus is that his impeccable moral and religious standards are not going to be enough enter the Kingdom of God. It will take a full spiritual rebirth.

“Hear me, brothers and sisters—going to church is not going to save you,” Dease proclaimed to resounding applause. “The devil goes to church. The devil believes in God. But the devil does not worship God.”

When we worship God, cultivate a relationship with His son, Jesus, and let the Holy Spirit have its way with us and truly become born again, Dease said, only then do we have any chance of getting into Heaven.

“Jesus said, ‘All of you need to be born again,’” Dease said, noting that Jesus said church membership, charity gifts, community involvement and other good acts mean nothing in the big picture. “None of it counts unless you are born again.”

Dease noted that the very concept of the Holy Spirit and its power in our lives continues to confound people today. She said that “spirit” in Greek and Latin means “breath” or “wind,” and in John 3, Jesus encourages the kind of spiritual transformation that will change lives forever.

“Being a churchgoer is easy—you can attend 20, 30, 40, even 50 years and not have a relationship with Jesus,” Dease said. But when we are born again, she said, “We must become a new creature, entirely different than we were before. I believe the Holy Spirit brings us to our senses and moves us to a progressive state of effectiveness.”

And ultimately, she said, to becoming a Christ-follower.

“Christ-followers are less concerned about being in the church and more concerned about being the church,” Dease said.

Today, as the church and its people struggle with what she called bitter debates about sexuality, abortion and who can lead, Dease said she thinks it all comes down to fear. But when we allow God to lead and truly follow Christ—and truly let the Holy Spirit do its work—then we can push that fear aside and start doing the real work of the Kingdom.

“I’m just going to open the door so the fresh wind can blow in,” Dease said, closing her study to a standing ovation.

Rural Mission gets TLC thanks to jurisdictional United Methodist Women

By Jessica Brodie

JOHNS ISLAND—From 8 years old to older than 80, they headed to Rural Mission in bright turquoise T-shirts with a can-do attitude. And when they left two hours later, the ministry had a squeaky clean playroom, freshly painted benches and the kind of landscaping most gardeners dream of.

Seventy-five United Methodist Women from across the Southeast spent the afternoon June 3 engaged in a mission opportunity at Rural Mission, which is one of the organization’s national mission institutions. Rural Mission has been in existence since 1969 to foster, promote and administer to the spiritual, social, educational, medical and housing requirements of the rural people of the sea islands of coastal South Carolina, from housing and food to family services.

The women’s work that day was in conjunction the United Methodist Women’s Southeastern Jurisdiction quadrennial meeting, which met June 3-5 in North Charleston.

“We say ‘Halleluiah, Lord, thank you!’” said Rural Mission director Linda Gadson, smiling as she scanned the grounds of the ministry, watching people rake leaves and pile up trash. “There are angels everywhere working on our behalf, and people praying for us even when we can not see them.”

Eartha Goodwin, Charleston district and South Carolina conference representative for Rural Mission, said she truly appreciated all the help the women provided to the ministry.

“We need it!” Goodwin said.

Inside, a team of 10 pitched in to clean furniture and wash toys for the migrant children who attend preschool at the East Coast Migrant Headstart Program on the Rural Mission campus.

Zoe Wilson, 8, and her mother, Joyclyn Wilson, traveled from Memphis to attend the quadrennial women’s meeting and volunteer at Rural Mission.

“I feel good! I like it!” Zoe said, grinning as she washed toys with another volunteer. Across the room, her mother scrubbed down a play table.

“It’s all about the purpose of United Methodist Women—taking care of women and children and families, and doing whatever God calls us to do,” Joyclyn Wilson said.

Outside, Iris Green, of the North Georgia Conference, raked leaves and did other yard work.

“I like mission and the United Methodist Women, and I like to show the love of God to other people,” she said when asked why she decided to volunteer.

Vanessa Warner, North Georgia Conference LaGrange District UMW president, said she signed up “to help people, to help somebody in need, to be a servant of God and hopefully to be a blessing to somebody along the way.”

Pat Bellingrath, of the Holston Conference, said helping Rural Mission is an extension of what United Methodist Women are called to do.

“If there’s a chance to participate hands-on, sign me up,” Bellingrath said.

Gadson said a special part of the day was the chance to reunite with Betty Letzig, who was on the United Methodist Women national staff for 37 years and was a longtime liaison to Rural Mission.

“It’s a good feeling,” Gadson said.

For more information about Rural Mission, visit www.ruralmission.org.

AC2016 wrap-up: Tuesday, June 7

By Jessica Brodie

FLORENCE—Tuesday’s business at Annual Conference got off to an uplifting start as Conference Secretary the Rev. Ken Nelson told the body it had collected nearly $25,000 in offerings: $13,228 Sunday night for disaster response and $10,956 Monday for seminarian scholarships.

“You are indeed a gracious and generous people,” Nelson told the crowd to resounding applause.

 

Connectional Ministries

Next, the Rev. Kathy James took the stage with Cynthia Williams and others from Connectional Ministries to give their report and present a video about their work over the past year.

“Our Connectional Ministries report is very different than it’s been the last few years,” James said, noting that since October, most of their efforts have been helping in the aftermath of South Carolina’s floods; 24 of 46 countries in the state have a Federal Emergency Management Agency declaration.

Through the generosity of local churches with help from the United Methodist Committee on Relief, the South Carolina Conference of The United Methodist Church was able to share 7,100 cleaning buckets around the state and collect 3,000 health kits, James said.

James praised the efforts of the conference’s flood and disaster response teams, as well as thanked the many churches who hosted some of the Early Response Teams and United Methodist Volunteers in Mission teams.

To date, she said, home repairs/rebuilds stand at 336 homes, 118 teams, $140,241.21 spent and 16,822 hours given. All day Tuesday, people also had the opportunity to do disaster response training to become ERT members, lead UMVIM teams or minister to children in the aftermath of a disaster.

“I want to remind you of the depth of the need,” James said, noting South Carolina United Methodists can do four things to help: pray, give, support local efforts and volunteer. “The needs are many and great, but South Carolina United Methodists are mighty.”

Also during the report, they lifted the Students in Mission, the work of the Racial Reconciliation Design Team and the 14 Advance Special Ministries around the state. The Rev. Steve Gaither urged people to support ASMs by paying 100 percent of their apportionments, supporting the offering on ASM Sunday and partnering with them.

“If you have an Advance Special Ministry in your area, look them up and see how you can help,” Gaither said. “The best way to support is through personal involvement. The money the conference provides is great, but really the way you can help them is being there for them.”

 

Hispanic/Latino Ministry Task Force

The Hispanic/Latino Ministry Task Force kicked off its report with the singing of “How Great is Our God” in both English and in Spanish (“Cuan Grande Es Dios”). Then the Rev. Enrique Gordon took the stage, speaking in Spanish and introducing himself and the work of the task force. He ended his remarks by asking whether anyone understood what he was saying. The Rev. Richard Reams then translated what Gordon had said, noting the fact that no one seemed to understand Gordon’s words underscores much of why the task force exists.

“Thirty days ago, we celebrated an incredible reality, Pentecost, what happened when the Spirit equipped and inspired people to speak in languages the crowd could actually stand,” Reams said. “We celebrate Pentecost because we as a people believe with all our heart that God is not done yet. And yet…when it comes to the languages spoken in our church and our state, in our pews and our pulpits, we speak as if everybody is in the same church as in 1950. …We speak as if everybody understand ‘Biblish,’ ‘Christianese,’ the words we think everybody knows, and the people in our pews go, ‘What in God’s name is the narthex?’ We speak as if everybody in the world understands Southern English, as if Jesus taught us to be stuck in one place and expect everybody else to come to us and learn our ways and our practices and what we’ve always done.”

He said the UMC can do better than this. We talk about learning the language of millennials and the unchurched, he said, “But Bishop, if we’re truly going to strive for a more excellent way, we must learn a new language, (Spanish)—the language of a quarter million people in this state.”

The Rev. Elizabeth Murray then lifted up the work the task force has done in the past year, from a Pentecost Journey event to help non-Hispanic/Latino churches engage with the Hispanic community to the bilingual disaster response flyers, hotline and other outreach during the aftermath of the floods.

“We challenge you to step out in faith and opportunity, to push past language as an excuse and start somewhere,” Murray said. “If we can do (Hispanic outreach) during one of the most chaotic events in our recent history, then what can we do in the next 12 months?”

The Rev. Emily Sutton told the body about the next Pentecost Journey, scheduled for Nov. 18-19 at Aldersgate UMC, Greenville.

“Bishop, we are dreaming big dreams,” Sutton said, then addressed the body. “Don’t let language be a barrier; it is a challenge, but don’t let it be an excuse or a barrier. We believe in ridiculous, audacious hope, and we pray crazy prayers like ‘your kingdom come on earth like it is in heaven.’ … We are ridiculously and beautifully hopeful people who have the audacity to believe that with God’s help, we can change the world.”

 

Epworth Children’s Home

Next, the Rev. John Holler of Epworth Children’s Home thanked the body for their prayers, presence, offerings, support, witness and all other things they bring to those at Epworth.

“For 120 years, Epworth Children’s Home has served the children in the name of Christ and has embraced children all over the state and beyond, (giving) an opportunity for a future and a better life,” Holler said.

He lifted up the 100 percent graduation rate for their students five years in a row and how, for the fourth year in a row, they have received the four-star rating from Charity Navigator and are in the 97th percentile of all nonprofits in the state.

He also told how they have purchased the former Carolina Children’s Home, adjacent to Trenholm Road UMC, to provide expansion opportunities and possibly new programs, plus have a new Family Care Center. They are also starting the Center for Excellence in Foster Care.

 

Retiring pastors recognized

The body paused for a service just before lunch recognizing retiring ministers and “passing the mantle.” Annual Conference honored 26 retiring pastors who have served more than 560 years in local churches and the conference. Newly retired pastor the Rev. Ernest C. Etheredge passed the mantle to newly ordained pastor the Rev. Erik K. Grayson during the service.

 

Memorial service remembers 38

Lifting up 38 clergy, spouses, surviving spouses and others who have gone before us into God’s eternal Kingdom, the Rev. Patricia J. Parrish brought a word about remembering God’s “Remarkable Words of Promise” even in our grief.

“Today we are so very thankful that God has shared these saints with all of us and that we are the church together,” Parrish said, drawing from John 14:1-3 in her memorial service message Tuesday afternoon. “We will not forget their stories; their names are inscribed upon our hearts. And we will not forget God’s story, the story that reminds us what God has done for us in Jesus Christ. We remember.”

 

Sewee sale again OK’d

The South Carolina Conference has again authorized the sale of Sewee Coastal Retreat Center, a property owned by the Board of South Carolina United Methodist Camps and Retreat Ministries.

The sale will enable the ministry to have more funds to operate and expand their thriving summer camp in the Upstate, Asbury Hills.

Camps and Retreat Board Chair H. Jay Haar said the body had authorized the sale last year, but the process to sell took too long and they ran out of time. They hope to have the sale finalized by the end of the year.

The resolution passed unanimously.

Arthur Spriggs, Camps and Retreat director, also reported on the 40 acres added to Asbury Hills last year, including an additional waterfall, plus lifted up the winners of the golf tournament held June 4 to raise money for children to attend summer camp at Asbury Hills. He also noted their excitement about a new partnership with Camp Providence in the Anderson District.

 

Imagine No Malaria: $400,000 to date

Imagine No Malaria Field Coordinator the Rev. Jeri Katherine Sipes and the INM steering committee took the stage at the end of the day Tuesday to praise the work churches have done throughout the state for the campaign. The South Carolina Conference has pledged $1 million toward the INM campaign. Calling this a very generous, mission-minded conference, Sipes praised the fact that in spite of the October floods that devastated so many, the conference has still managed to raise more than $400,000 for the campaign—in addition to the $500,000 it has donated for flood relief.

The conference has two more years to raise the remaining $600,000 and make its goal.

“Thank you, South Carolina, for being faithful disciples and faithful partners in God’s awesome work all over the world,” Sipes said. “Together we the church are changing our world for the glory of God.”

The Rev. Gary Henderson, executive director of the Global Health Initiative, said much the same.

“You understand the power and the unity of our connection and our shared humanity,” he said, noting the UMC has raised $68.5 million in gifts and pledges to date. “We are in the home stretch.”

Bishop Jonathan Holston applauded the work done and pledged an additional $1,000 Tuesday toward INM.

“I challenge you to meet my challenge of 1,000 tonight!” he said to wild applause. “We want to make this goal happen.”

Business closed, and after a dinner break, hundreds packed the Florence Civic Center for a concert featuring The Digital Age and celebrating all that South Carolina United Methodists are doing to fight malaria across the globe.

An offering was taken for INM, and the lead singer of The Digital Age agreed to accept Bishop Holston’s $1,000 INM donation challenge and agreed to make a $1,000 personal donation.

After the concert, Holston thanked all for their generosity.

AC2016 wrap-up: Monday, June 6

By Jessica Brodie

(Read the Monday and Tuesday Daily Advocates here)

FLORENCE—With the singing of Charles Wesley’s hymn “And Are We Yet Alive?” Bishop Jonathan Holston called the business of Annual Conference 2016 to order Monday, June 6, at the Florence Civic Center.

The morning started on a light note, with Florence District Superintendent John Hipp and the Rev. Mike Henderson, pastor of host church Highland Park United Methodist Church, Florence, coming forward to bring greetings from the Florence District.

“Good morning, saints! Good morning, sinners!” Hipp said. “Welcome to the great Florence District; we are glad you are here!”

Hipp introduced Henderson, noting he would give a word. Henderson did just that: “Welcome,” he deadpanned to much laughter.

After organizational motions and announcements from Conference Secretary the Rev. Ken Nelson, the body passed an amended standing rule initiated by the Committee on Standing Rules. The rule, amended by the Rev. Roger Gramling to specify exactly who can submit resolutions to the Annual Conference, notes that any clergy member, elected lay member or any organizational body affiliated with the Annual Conference may submit a resolution to the body. The amendment and the rule passed overwhelmingly.

Next Dr. Luther Smith, professor emeritus of Candler School of Theology, led a Bible study on the Gospel of Luke. Smith will lead a study each morning of the gathering.

 

Conference officers elected, nominees presented

After a break, Bishop Holston then led the body in election of quadrennial conference officers: Annual Conference Parliamentarian W. Timothy McClendon, Chancellor Kay Gaffney Crowe, Conference Secretary Kenneth L. Nelson, First Assistant Secretary James C. Lane and Assistant Secretaries Angela Ford Nelson, Mary Johnson, Jeri Katherine Warden Sipes and Mel Arant Jr.

Next, the Rev. Joseph James of the Committee on Nominations presented nominees to the 16 quadrennial and non quadrennial boards, commissions and councils, as well as members of conference-related boards of trust, Wesley Foundations, district boards and committees and the Board of Ordained Ministry, all of whom he deemed “a thorough list of gifted nominees that reflect not only talented leadership but the diversity of this Annual Conference.” Annual Conference will vote on these nominees Wednesday, the final day of conference.

As this is start of a quadrennial, James noted, there is a larger number than normal before the body.

 

Chancellor: churches need complete insurance

Kay Crowe, conference chancellor, offered next two things churches should heed: the need for churches to be aware of and have their own complete insurance packages, and that church property sales and leasing must comply with the United Methodist Book of Discipline.

On the first, Crowe said, she sometimes get calls from churches who have had some sort of insurance-related event, such as a fraud, yet know little to nothing about their coverage.

“They tell me, ‘We’re not sure where policies are, we’re not sure what our coverage is and we’ve known about this four to five months and didn’t think this would be a big problem, so we’re just now reaching out for help,” Crowe said, noting those are the calls she dreads. “Those calls happen again and again despite the amount of time we spend talking about the importance of churches having complete insurance packages.”

Crowe reminded the body that the conference no longer binds the individuals in churches who handle money.

“That conference-level binding coverage was lost because of the number of losses we had; they refuse to write it any more,” Crowe said. “Every church is completely responsible for having the appropriate bonds for the individuals in your churches who are handling money.”

She urged churches to have a designated place where policies are kept and know what coverages are being bought, plus be sure to review the declarations page and the policies themselves.

“This is important because these cases are happening as we speak,” Crowe said.

She also noted that many churches are engaging in sale transactions, mortgages and leasing of church properties, and these transactions may be hindered by lawyers who are not familiar with the Discipline. She encouraged churches to be sure to make lawyers aware of these additional rules.

 

20 years for deacons, 60 years for ordaining women

The Rev. Wayne Horne next presented the report of the Board of Ordained Ministry and expressed enthusiasm for that evening’s ordination service. Selecting ordinands is “a task we take very seriously,” Horne said.

He said the BOM has understood the necessity to taking down a wall between them and the Cabinet and establish a much closer working relationship.

“We realized we ought to be in conversation with one another,” Horne said, noting their ongoing dialogue culminated as they shared a retreat this year.

Next, Horne called up deacon Karen Jones. Jones lifted up the 20th anniversary of ordaining deacons. Jones noted there are two orders—elders and deacons—and deacons do a variety of servant ministries, specializing in anything from Hispanic ministry and pastoral counseling to community economic development and more.

“The needs of the world are vast, and there are too many to list,” Jones said.

In a video celebrating deacons, deacon candidate Elizabeth Murray noted that “deacons are called to bridge the church and the world.”

The BOM also celebrated the 60th anniversary of ordaining women.

 

UM colleges and university

Next, Scott Cochran, president of Spartanburg Methodist College, lifted up the work of the United Methodist colleges and university in South Carolina: SMC along with Claflin University, Columbia College and Wofford College. Cochran also lauded the caliber of students who attend and excel at these institutions of higher education. “It’s all made possible by you,” Cochran told the body, noting their graduates will one day be the leaders of churches throughout the conference.

 

Africa University almost 25

South Carolina’s Jim Salley, of Africa University, reported next on the 39-person trip Bishop Jonathan Holston led to Zimbabwe to tour the university and see firsthand the efforts AU is making on the continent of Africa. “People around the world who call themselves United Methodist know that the South Carolina Annual Conference leads the way,” Salley said, noting that AU was recently reapproved at General Conference for $10 million in apportionments and another $10 million in the World Service Fund. Last year, the South Carolina conference had 100.4 percent in apportionment giving for AU. “Thank you for leading the way,” Salley said to applause. On March 20-25, 2017, AU will celebrate its 25th anniversary, and Salley invited all to come to Zimbabwe and see the fruits of South Carolina’s labor.

 

Health insurance rate increase approved

And as the last report before the lunch break, Herman Lightsey, chair, and the Rev. David Anderson, benefits officer, gave the report of the Board of Pension and Health Benefits.

Citing the many changes our country and world are going through in the last two quadrennia since he became the BPHB chair, Lightsey lifted up their efforts on behalf of clergy and conference staff.

“Eight years later, we are much stronger in our pensions and insurance programs than probably most of the private and public sectors around us, and one of the strongest conferences (in the UMC) when it comes to pensions and insurance,” Lightsey said. “We’ve adjusted to changes in the world and have moved forward with insight to not only what we can provide to current clergy but to workers.”

Lightsey said the conference can feel good that pensions are totally funded, in great shape and poised for the future. With insurance, he noted that the BPHB continues to try to give the best benefits it can.

“Over the past 10 years overall, your insurance premiums have only increased 4.9 percent; not another entity that can really say they’ve kept costs down that much,” Lightsey said.

Anderson then took stage, noting that this year, South Carolina will see a change in health insurance benefits. Active plans rates will see a 12.4 percent increase for plan participants and a 15 percent increase for churches for 2017.

“Our claims rate went up,” Anderson said. “The claims rate was 142 percent. That’s basically a loss ratio of 142 percent.”

He said so far this year, claims look promising.

“I’ve often said that we don’t set the rates. We do approve them, but the rates are set by the claims we pay. We’re doing all we can with health screenings and health plan, and I ask every clergyperson to take advantage of the health initiatives,” Anderson said.

The body approved the BPHB reports.

The lunch break featured the Local Church Mission Fair, the African-American Clergywomen’s Luncheon and the Hispanic/Latino Ministry Lunch.

 

Budget presented

After lunch, the David Surrett, chair of the Conference Council on Finance and Administration, presented the council’s budget and other reports for information only. These will be voted upon on the last day of Annual Conference, Wednesday.

Surrett said the council carefully considered ministry needs from the seashore to the mountains and produced a budget the council feels reflects those needs.

CF&A presented a budget slightly less than the one in preconference materials because of budgetary actions taken during the UMC’s General Conference. The body will vote on a $16.79 million budget Wednesday.

Also during CF&A’s time, the body elected Beth Westbury as conference treasurer, and Surrett gave special recognition to the Walterboro District, which paid 100 percent of its obligations.

 

Resolutions

The Rev. Marvin Caldwell gave the report of the Committee on Resolutions and Appeals. Caldwell noted that at the time of printing preconference materials, the committee had received one resolution (changing state social studies education standards regarding how South Carolina Native American history is taught). He noted that since then, his committee has received five additional resolutions, presented today. These resolutions will be distributed tomorrow, Tuesday, June 7, after the morning session. The resolutions are a Resolution to Support the Nature of High Quality Public Education South Carolina; Resolution for Uninsured Poor Adults in South Carolina; Responsibilities for Eradication of Racism Resolution; Resolution for an Assessment and a Plan of Action for the African-American Historical Methodist Flagship Churches of the South Carolina Annual Conference; and Resolution to Oppose Discrimination Against Transgender People.

 

General Conference report

Dr. Tim McClendon, delegation chair, and the full delegation to General Conference and this summer’s Jurisdictional Conference next stood before the body to offer the report on General Conference.

McClendon noted the delegation has been hard at work since their election last June and recently returned from Portland, Oregon, site of the UMC’s General Conference gathering. He reported on how three from the South Carolina delegation served as officers in their committees and how General Conference celebrated a number of anniversary milestones, including 25 years of Africa University, 60 years of full clergywomen’s rights, 150 years of United Methodist Women’s ministry and the 200th anniversary of Francis Asbury’s death.

McClendon lifted up the Sand Creek Massacre apology and memorial given at General Conference, plus a host of other happenings in Portland, including a gain of 1.2 million members in the UMC over the last four years, a new cloud-based hymnal, new ministry areas in Africa because of the growth there, new provisional conferences in Southeast Asia and Mongolia, separation from the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, support for persecuted Christians, more direct accountability for bishops and more.

He also noted that the Council of Bishops offered “A Way Forward,” which General Conference approved. The plan has General Conference defer all petitions on human sexuality (a total of 56) and refer the entire subject to a special commission, named by the COB, to develop a complete examination and possible revision of every paragraph in the UMC Book of Discipline regarding human sexuality..

 

Jurisdictional pool approved

The body next approved a jurisdictional pool of South Carolina United Methodists to serve on various boards and agencies as needed. South Carolina voted to put forth 45 names, the maximum number allowed, and McClendon noted they are of various ethnicities. In addition to the General and Jurisdictional delegates and alternates, the pool will include laity Cynthia Williams, Marilyn Murphy, John Redmond, Tracy Pender, Ashleigh Booker, Will Randall, Iris Gadsden, To’mas Stephens and Abigail Wiren. It will also include clergy Cheryl Toothe, Miyoung Paik, Richard Reams and Karen Jones.

 

McClendon approved as episcopal nominee

Next, the body approved the nomination of McClendon as South Carolina’s episcopal nominee.

“We’re going to Jurisdictional Conference behind Tim 100 percent,” said Barbara Ware.

“Not been since 1992 have we had a nominee from South Carolina become bishop.”

After his approval, McClendon expressed deep appreciation to Annual Conference.

“You have shaped me and made me who I am; you have made me better than I am,” McClendon said. “I am grateful for the church I serve, St. John’s UMC, Aiken. I am so happy to be a part of this conference and part of this congregation. I’d be most happy to be here till I draw my last breath, but if God so chooses, I will serve and I will give it my all, and I thank you.”

 

A way forward regarding human sexuality

In a point of personal privilege, Stanton Adams took to the microphone and addressed the body, identifying himself as an openly gay United Methodist serving a local church in the South Carolina Annual Conference.

On behalf of the South Carolina Reconciling Ministries Network, Adams expressed appreciation to Holston and others on the COB for trying to find a way forward for the UMC over the difficult issue of human sexuality. Adams read a letter signed by 68 people at an RMN breakfast Monday offering gratitude, encouraging the bishops to, among other things, include experts and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer/questioning people on the commission and offer frequent reports to Annual Conferences on their progress (read the letter here). The letter offered the South Carolina RMN as partners and active participants.

“On behalf of Council of Bishops, we acknowledge deep divisions exist in the church about hum sexuality, and we believe there are options beside restructuring and we do not seek to split,” Holston told the body after Adams read the letter, noting the COB will lead the church in a way forward. “We are committed to a different kind of conservation. The process is one which is new to all of us, and we will seek to do our best.”

Afternoon business included a report from congregational development, the lay leadership report and the report of the Cabinet, and a celebration of the 100th birthday of Ella Mae Colbert, member of Friends in Christ UMC.

 

32 commissioned, ordained

The evening concluded with a Service of Ordination and Commissioning preached by former South Carolina Bishop J. Lawrence McCleskey, with 32 to be commissioned or ordained as clergy or deacons.

In his sermon, which drew from 2 Timothy 3:10-4:8 (the final charge from the Apostle Paul to Timothy), McCleskey urged those being commissioned and ordained to heed Paul’s advice to “always be sober, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, carry out your ministry fully.”

It’s hard work, he cautioned, but if called, it’s a responsibility one must accept.

“You’re charged to carry out demands beyond your strength,” McCleskey told the clergy and deacons. “So how do we do it? We do it with help. We do it by grace. We do it because God empowers you.”

(Read more in the full edition of the July Advocate, coming soon.)

AC2016 wrap-up: Opening worship Sunday, June 5

By Jessica Brodie

(Read the Monday Daily Advocate here)

FLORENCE—Annual Conference’s opening worship kicked off Sunday night, June 5, with a welcome and prayer by the Rev. Thomas Smith, pastor of First United Methodist Church, Isle of Palms, followed by a powerful solo by Vanessa Murray and the Mount Zion United Methodist Church Choir, Kingstree, “The Lord is My Shepherd.”

Then, as the body lifted their voices in the processional hymns “O For a Thousand Tongues to Sing” and “O Church of God, United,” Annual Conference 2016 was in full swing.

Conference Lay Leader Barbara Ware led the body in the prayer of invocation, and Columbia District Lay Leader Betty Void offered a prayer for illumination and then read the Scripture for the evening, Romans 8:31-39, where the Apostle Paul urges early Christians to be more than conquerors.

Drawing on that passage, Bishop Jonathan Holston then brought his word for the evening, “Just One More Thing.”

“We are seeking a more excellent way,” Holston told the thousands gathered in the Florence Civic Center. “God has blessed us, and we are recipients of His grace and His mercy. Even tonight, after we have come through another year of work together, the Lord is asking us for one more thing.”

But in all these things, Holston preached, we are more than conquerors, more than overcomers. Through Christ, we can do and be so much more.

“Through Christ, we can find the courage and the confidence,” Holston said. “My friends, I believe God is calling us to dream big dreams. He is calling us to have grand visions. He is calling on us in South Carolina to trust him and believe.”

As Holston said, if in fact God is for us, then there is nothing that can stand against us.

“He is standing up for you and me,” Holston said. “What gets in our way is our unwillingness not to follow the way.”

Often, we make idols of things in our lives, even idols of the church itself, which steers us astray, he said.

“God promises to make all things good, but sometimes we make idols of the very thing God has given us, and we wonder why God is looking at us and wondering, ‘Where are the people called by my name? … Are they just people looking for entitlement?’”

Christ died for us while we were in our sinful nature, and that proves God’s love for us, Holston told the crowd.

“My friends, we are more than conquerors. God promises. Even in the difficult times, he says, ‘I will be with you. You can count on this.’ Hasn’t he done that in South Carolina?” Holston asked as applause filled the room. “No matter what mess we’ve gotten ourselves into, God will never stop loving us.”

Closing his sermon, Holston urged South Carolina United Methodists to heed the theme of this year’s Annual Conference, “Making Space for God to Work,” and do just that in their own hearts, minds and souls.

“We got to get some stuff out of our system to put God’s love in our hearts,” Holston said.

An offering was collected for the South Carolina Disaster Response Fund for relief for those affected by the October 2015 floods, and the service concluded with communion, song and prayer.

Check back tomorrow night for the next daily wrap-up. The July/Annual Edition will have complete and details coverage of Annual Conference; subscribe at http://www.advocatesc.org/membership-account/subscribe.

Therefore, go: GC2016

South Carolina returns from 11-day global General Conference

By Jessica Brodie

(Read full coverage of General Conference—click here)

PORTLAND, Ore.—They came together in worship and prayer to decide the business of The United Methodist Church. And at the end of it all, they remained a united United Methodist Church with a new way forward that delegates hope reflects God’s will.

Sixteen South Carolina delegates were among the 864 United Methodists from around the world who headed to Portland May 10-20 for General Conference, the UMC’s quadrennial legislative gathering. Delegates are tasked with approving the church budget and revising the UMC Book of Discipline and Book of Resolutions. General Conference is the only entity that speaks for the full UMC.

“It’s been a long 10 days,” said Dr. Tim McClendon, South Carolina delegation chair and episcopal nominee the day before the conference ended, citing emotional highs and lows as he and the other delegates worked to examine roughly 1,000 pieces of legislation as they revised church law and doctrine.

Amid heated protests and demonstrations over the church’s stance on sexuality that interrupted business and prompted international headlines, the UMC managed to hit pause on the contentious debate—for now. On May 18, General Conference voted 428-405 to shift sexuality discussion and all 56 legislative items to a study commission, plus possibly call a special General Conference in 2018 or 2019 to handle any proposals. The plan put forth by the Council of Bishops, “An Offering for a Way Forward,” means the UMC maintains its current language on sexuality—that homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching—while the commission takes a deeper look at the issues.

South Carolinians reacted with both gratitude and frustration over the vote, with some seeing it as a sideways move that does nothing more than delay needed action, and others seeing it as a good way to take a step back and breathe before deciding something so complicated. (See full article here.)

The body was able to address a number of other key pieces of legislation, from passage of a $604 million budget to creation of a new hymnal to a mandatory withdrawal from a reproductive rights group.

Here are highlights:

 

Rule 44 rejected

Before committee work began, the body spent three days debating and ultimately rejecting Rule 44, an alternative method for discussing legislation. Delegates voted 477-355 not to engage in the group discernment process that had been recommended by the Commission on General Conference after 2012 General Conference requested they develop an alternative process to Robert’s Rules of Order for certain hot-button topics such as human sexuality.

Rule 44 would have used small groups to give all delegates a chance to weigh in on selected petitions. Currently, legislation is divided into committee, where it is first explored, discussed, debated and finally approved or rejected before moving on to the full body. But because sexuality and certain other petitions—like whether or not to ordain gay clergy—are so divisive and take up so much time on the floor between debate and demonstrations, the commission came up with a plan where the entire body would discuss some of these divisive topics in small groups of no more than 15 people each. This would give all delegates a chance to weigh in on selected petitions.

However, much distrust and disagreement about the group discernment process ensued at the start of General Conference, with one delegate noting it was untested and didn’t offer enough space for expressing disagreement.

 

$604M budget passes

With overwhelming support (751 to 33), delegates passed a $604 million budget for the next quadrennium (2017-2020), higher than the $599 million budget proposed and slightly higher than the current $603.1 million budget.

Much of the increase came from a decision to double the UMC’s support (approving $5 million) for the Central Conference Theological Education Fund for pastors-to-be in Africa, Asia and Europe.

The body also passed a set formula for central conferences to financially support the denomination’s global ministries through apportionments. Through apportionments, each annual conference or church pays a certain amount to support the UMC’s missions, both locally and globally. The new formula enables central conferences to do the same.

The budget includes $310.7 million for the World Service Fund (most of the UMC’s 13 agencies), $104.9 million for the Ministerial Education Fund, $92 million for the Episcopal Fund, $41.9 million for the Black College Fund, $36.9 million for the General Administration Fund, nearly $9.4 million for Africa University and $8.2 million for the Interdenominational Cooperation Fund (UMC’s ecumenical work).

 

Remembering the Sand Creek Massacre

May 18 featured a detailed presentation on the 1864 Sand Creek Massacre from a historian and descendants of the survivors of the attack. That year, a Methodist Episcopal Church pastor, Col. John Chivington, led a surprise attack on a Cheyenne and Arapaho camp. The slaughter took the lives of hundreds of Native Americans, including women and children.

General Conference 1996 apologized for the Methodist involvement in the massacre, but erred in some historical details. General Conference 2012 held an “Act of Repentance” worship to help establish healing relationships. This year’s presentation took the atonement effort a step further with a full-scale lamentation.

Historian Gary L. Roberts spoke about his lengthy report, “Remembering The Sand Creek Massacre: A Historical Review of Methodist Involvement, Influence, and Response,” now available as a book by Abingdon Press.

 

Judicial Council rulings

Prior to and during General Conference, the Judicial Council met to decide several key matters.

They ruled that it is unconstitutional to impose mandatory clergy penalties during the “just resolution” process for a clergyperson admitting to committing a chargeable offense. The rationale was that the mandatory penalty would deny a clergyperson the right to trial and appeal. Penalty setting lies with the bishop, not the trial court.

They also ruled unconstitutional Plan UMC Revised, which would have realigned the UMC’s structure. Among other things, the plan would have given new authority and power to the UMC’s Connectional Table, which serves as the denomination’s visioning body and steward of resources to carry out that vision worldwide.

They ruled that two paragraphs (Para. 16 and 33) on General and Annual conferences related to standards of ministry and ordination are not in conflict with the UMC constitution. (Para. 16.2 authorizes General Conference to “define and fix the powers and duties” of clergy, while Para. 33 gives annual conferences the ability to vote on “character and conference relations of its clergy members and on the ordination of clergy.”

The Judicial Council also ruled unconstitutional the creation of a new Standing Committee on Strategy and Growth that would have been funded by $20 million taken from the UMC’s World Service Fund, which funds most UMC agencies.

 

Other matters

Also at General Conference:

  • Delegates approved a new Internet-based-cloud United Methodist hymnal that will be available both digitally and in print (see article here);
  • A massive Imagine No Malaria celebration featured “American Idol” contestant Jeremy Rosado and announced a new global health initiative (see article here);
  • The United Methodist Development Fund became a freestanding entity (see article here);
  • The General Board of Church and Society and the United Methodist Women were told to withdraw immediately from membership in the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice (see article here);
  • Delegates voted down a proposal to make the United States UMC a central conference;
  • Delegates did not pass legislation on term limits for bishops;
  • There will be no change in the ordination process;
  • Africa will get five more bishops after General Conference 2020;
  • Delegates voted not to add a fossil fuels investment screen for the United Methodist Board of Pension and Health Benefits;
  • Delegates voted not to divest from companies doing business in Israel;
  • One Great Hour of Sharing will now be known as UMCOR Sunday, and the body approved two other special non-offering Sundays (Women’s Ministry Sunday and Volunteer in Mission Awareness Sunday); and
  • Several key anniversaries were celebrated: 60 years of clergywomen, 200 years since the death of Bishop Francis Asbury, the 250th anniversary of the oldest UMC (John Street Church in New York City), the 30th anniversary of the Disciple Bible study, the upcoming 25th anniversary of Africa University and the coming 150th anniversary of the United Methodist Women, the latter with a daylong celebration May 16 that also included a clean water rally (see article on the rally here).

 

More on General Conference

Some information courtesy of UMNS.

Annual Conference 2016

2,000 to gather June 5-8 for mission, business of UMCSC

By Jessica Brodie

FLORENCE—It’s time to celebrate. That’s the word from organizers of this year’s Annual Conference, set for June 5-8 at the Florence Civic Center and focusing on celebrating and developing new ways we can let God use us to further His Kingdom on earth.

With the theme “A More Excellent Way: Making Space for God to Work,” the event aims to lift up the strong ministry of The United Methodist Church in South Carolina during what many say was an extremely difficult year of challenges and new dialogue.

“There’s a lot to be grateful for if you think about everything that’s happened since Annual Conference last June,” said Conference Secretary the Rev. Ken Nelson. “The state was in an uproar—everything from the (Emanuel 9) tragedy in Charleston, the floods, the Confederate flag removal, the whole human sexuality question. All of that happened since last year, and local communities have been deeply affected.”

Amid the coming presidential elections and everything else facing the world today, Nelson said now is the time for the church to have a critical voice—starting with the celebration that is Annual Conference.

“The pace of change happens so quickly that it’s hard for people to know how to respond,” Nelson said. “It uncenters the soul. People feel a lot of anxiety, and the church has to be an anchor.”

Nelson and others in charge of Annual Conference hope to secure that anchor through a four-day slate of business, prayer, dialogue and worship.

 

Busy week of work

Annual Conference kicks off Sunday, June 5, with an opening worship led by South Carolina Resident Bishop Jonathan Holston.

Dr. Luther Smith, professor emeritus of Candler School of Theology, will lead Bible study each morning of the gathering, and the Local Church Mission Fair will again be offered at lunchtime on Monday. The body will also get the chance to hear from the South Carolina delegation to General Conference about their time at the denomination’s quadrennial legislative gathering in Portland, Oregon, May 10-20 (see related article, Page 1). On Monday night, former South Carolina Bishop J. Lawrence McCleskey will return to the state to preach the ordination service.

Tuesday will feature both a celebration of all South Carolina has done to help Imagine No Malaria (see related article here) and a full day of disaster response trainings for Early Response Teams, for United Methodist Volunteers in Mission and for childhood trauma in the aftermath of disaster (more information here).

On Tuesday afternoon, outgoing Charleston District Superintendent Rev. Patricia Parrish will preach the memorial service, and the day will end with a free Imagine No Malaria celebration concert featuring popular contemporary Christian band The Digital Age.

Work will wrap up Wednesday with passage of the budget and the fixing of clergy appointments by Bishop Holston. Annual Conference will consider passage of a $16.84 million budget for 2017, which is .3 percent (or $46,945) more than the 2016 budget.

Offerings throughout Annual Conference will support the conference’s South Carolina Disaster Relief Recovery Fund (Sunday), The J. Lawrence and Margaret F. McCleskey Scholarship Fund of the South Carolina United Methodist Foundation (Monday) and Imagine No Malaria (Tuesday).

Only one resolution is before the body: advocating a change to state social studies education standards regarding how South Carolina Native American history is taught. More resolutions can be presented to the body by bringing 2,000 copies of the resolution to Annual Conference and submitting it to the Committee on Resolutions and Appeals by Monday afternoon, June 6, for consideration.

Annual Conference will also consider for approval a sizable rate increase for healthcare next year for the conference thanks to a spike in prescription drug costs and a host of health issues that led to a high healthcare loss ratio in South Carolina.

 

Other happenings and resources

The Daily Advocate—a four-page publication produced by the Advocate in partnership with the conference to help people understand the issues before them each day at Annual Conference—will again be distributed for free to all conference attendees.

Like last year, there will be live streaming of the event.

Annual Conference members will again use electronic balloting to cast their votes.

Childcare will be offered for children ages 3 and up through Highland Park UMC, Florence.

Pre-conference trainings were held in each district May 1, 15 and 22.

For more on Annual Conference 2016: www.umcsc.org/ac2016. To review pre-conference materials, click here.

 

AC2016 in brief:

  • Theme, “Making Space for God to Work”
  • Tuesday night Imagine No Malaria celebration concert featuring The Digital Age
  • Tuesday daylong disaster response trainings for ERT, UMVIM, childhood trauma
  • Dr. Luther Smith, professor emeritus of Candler School of Theology, to lead Bible study
  • Preaching from South Carolina Resident Bishop Jonathan Holston, former South Carolina Bishop J. Lawrence McCleskey and outgoing Charleston District Superintendent the Rev. Patricia Parrish
  • Offerings to support UMCSC’s South Carolina Disaster Relief Recovery Fund (Sunday), Seminary Students Scholarship Fund (Monday) and Imagine No Malaria (Tuesday)
  • Four-day slate of business to include passage of $16.84M budget
  • Local Church Mission Fair on Monday (June 6)
  • Asbury Hills golf tournament the day before conference begins (June 4)
  • Body to consider resolution advocating a change to state social studies education standards regarding how South Carolina Native American history is taught
  • Live streaming
  • Daily Advocate again to be distributed
  • View all pre-conference materials and information at www.umcsc.org/ac2016

Imagine No Malaria concerts celebrate UMC success

Free concert set for June 7 in Florence

By Jessica Brodie

When it comes to United Methodist work to Imagine No Malaria, the church is ready to celebrate, both on the global stage and here in South Carolina.

In South Carolina, supporters are gearing up for a free concert June 7 during Annual Conference in Florence featuring popular contemporary Christian band The Digital Age.

While there is no admission, a love offering will be taken, and organizers are asking people to bring a campaign pledge to turn in that night, as well as consider donating the cost of a typical concert ticket as a contribution. The South Carolina Conference has promised to raise $1 million for Imagine No Malaria, and it has two more years to turn in the funds. Pledge cards are available at inm.umcsc.org, and the conference can also provide resources to help with local fundraising efforts.

All are welcome at the concert, even those not attending Annual Conference.

Speaking at the UMC’s General Conference May 14, Sheri Altland, campaign director for Imagine No Malaria, applauded the work South Carolina has done to help the global campaign.

“I think what we have experienced across the United States and other countries is to unite in a grassroots initiative to bring hope, healing and the love of Jesus Christ to our brothers and sisters in our malaria work,” Altland said.

But Altland said it is important to keep focused because malaria has not been eliminated, though she said we are well on our way. Today, because the UMC has been at this for several years, children are dying at an average of every two minutes instead of an average of every 30 seconds. Much work remains, but much has been done and much can be celebrated, she said.

Also at General Conference, Jacquie Mujinga of the South Congo Conference expressed deep gratitude for South Carolina’s efforts to eradicate malaria.

“Thank you, thank you for Imagine No Malaria,” Mujinga said, standing in front of a bed net display. “Thank you very much!”

 

GC2016 celebrates Imagine No Malaria

On a global level, General Conference continued that “thank you” theme in Portland, Oregon, the morning of May 18 with a massive celebration performance featuring “American Idol” contestant Jeremy Rosado debuting a new Imagine No Malaria anthem, “Able,” performed with a bevy of praise-filled singers and dancers in the background.

The performance and an accompanying highlights video celebrated the UMC’s strides toward eradicating the mosquito-borne disease. The “Able” song is available as a free download as a gift for all at Amazon Music and the Imagine No Malaria website (www.imaginenomalaria.org), as well as on YouTube.

Prior to the celebration, General Conference lifted in prayer Bishop David Yemba, Central Congo Episcopal Area, who had to be rushed to the hospital; he has been diagnosed with malaria.

Many said Yemba’s hospitalization underscored the need for the Imagine No Malaria campaign.

 

Next steps: Abundant Health

Also during the General Conference celebration, the church announced its next global health initiative, “Abundant Health: Our Promise to Children.” Coordinated by the denomination’s General Board of Global Ministries, the initiative aims to reach 1 million children with lifesaving interventions by 2020. It will focus on four core areas impacting the health of children throughout the world.

The initiative aims to ensure safe births, address nutritional challenges and promote breastfeeding, advance prevention and treatment of childhood diseases and promote children’s health and wholeness.

For more information: www.umcmission.org/abundant-health.

Advent UMC closes on third ‘bridge home’ for homeless families in Upstate

Purchases made possible thanks to church’s Christmas Miracle Mission

By Jessica Brodie

SIMPSONVILLE—Thanks to the generosity of one United Methodist congregation, another homeless family in the Upstate has a place to call home.

In April, Advent United Methodist Church closed on a third transitional bridge home, purchased with Homes of Hope and in partnership with GAIHN, the Greenville Area Interfaith Hospitality Network. The bridge home is designed to be a respite as families transition between emergency shelters and a permanent home.

The Rev. Michael Turner, Advent’s senior pastor, said a family will be moving into the home within the next couple of weeks.

The purchase was made possible thanks to a leap of faith the congregation made during Christmastime 2014, when Turner challenged them to cut their Christmas spending in half, then give the other half to a new Christmas Miracle Mission offering to help homeless neighbors. Advent raised a whopping $265,000—15 times more than the church had contributed in the previous year’s Christmas offering. The congregation now has a vision of helping homeless families one house at a time.

Leigh Randall, director of student ministries and staff liaison to missions for Advent UMC, said the project illuminates what God does when His people take a step out in faith.

“The passion of the Advent family has been reignited,” Randall said. ”We have always been a church known for missions, but the renewed excitement from the results of the Christmas Miracle Mission has been felt throughout missions and ministry at Advent. When we dare to dream God-sized dreams, God shows up and shows out.”

The first bridge home is a four-bedroom, 1,400-square-foot house within walking distance of the church. The second home is a bit bigger and in the same neighborhood. In the short time since they purchased the first home, in May 2015, Advent has been able to house five families.

Families stay in the home up to 18 months while they strive to get their living situation under control, including seeking employment and saving up enough money to rent or buy a long-term home of their own.

“It has been remarkable to see how our entire congregation really grabbed hold of our Christmas Miracle Mission,” Turner said. ”Our business administrator told us that the largest single contribution was $5,000, which means to hit the $263,000 mark, we had to have widespread buy-in from our congregation. People were very excited about it then, and they remain excited to see how God is still multiplying their generosity to provide homes for homeless families. GAIHN in general, but the Christmas Miracle Mission in particular has allowed us to really ‘go deep’ with a few families and radically alter their trajectory and lives.”

 

‘A blessing’

The families who have lived in the homes call the project a blessing.

Henrietta Owens and her two children live in the Poppy Meadow home; they are the second family in this home.

“God is so amazing, isn’t He?” Owens said. “I find myself falling in love with Him more and more these days. But that is truly awesome about the housing. The GAIHN program is a great program for families who find themselves in need through certain situations that they may be facing. I thank God that it blessed me and my family at the time of our need, and I thank God for great men and women such as (those at Advent) who volunteered their time and blessed each family.”

Owens said she has learned a lot throughout the program and also shares a passion for helping people in need.

“My passion is to help victims of domestic violence,” Owens said. “I would love to one day put my nonprofit in place to be able to have (a similar bridge home) shelter in place for people who need this assistance.”

Kim Witt and three of her four children live in the Polo Drive home (her oldest son is a junior at the University of South Carolina); they are the third family living in this home.

 

Next steps

Turner said the Christmas Miracle Mission team is actively looking for more houses to buy and refurbish; they are also seeking property.

“We’d love to build some new houses, in partnership with Homes of Hope, and be able to create a small neighborhood,” Turner said. ”With this strategic partnership with GAIHN, Homes of Hope, and Advent, we believe that God will take our Christmas Miracle Mission offering of $263,000 and multiply that into eight to 10 bridge homes.

Randall said they are looking homes within a five-mile radius of the church, which will allow the church to be actively involved in the lives of those who live in the homes and, hopefully, the families who don’t currently have a church home may be involved in the life of faith at Advent.

For more information about Advent’s homeless ministry and their Christmas Miracle Mission, email Turner at michaelturner@advent-umc.org, or contact Advent at 864-288-8217 or 2258 Woodruff Road, Simpsonville, SC 29681.

It’s OK to hit pause sometimes

By Jessica Brodie (Read full coverage of General Conference—click here)

I sat there in the General Conference press room May 17 watching new Council of Bishops President Bruce Ough take a deep breath and bare his soul.

About how he, at age 23, had to make the difficult decision to take his 20-year-old brother off life support after a surprise heart attack.

About how he, at such a young age, had to be the rock for his family.

About how he, in just an instant, went from whole to broken.

Much like The United Methodist Church is breaking, he said, when it comes to the issue of human sexuality.

Ah, yes.

Except we’re not broken yet, and maybe we don’t have to break at all. Ough, on behalf of the Council of Bishops, begged the Holy Spirit to come into that space and implored the body to embrace a spirit of unity despite division. And the very next day, upon the body’s request, Ough returned to the stage and offered the COB’s “way forward” (see article, here), which effectively hit pause on sexuality legislation and funneled the whole matter to a new study commission.

To some, this was the absolute worst thing to do. Why put off deciding what we already know is right (whichever side of “right” you happen to fall on) and postpone the inevitable? Why drag out the debate and the angst and the litigation any longer when people’s lives and the work of the church are at stake?

But I think what the COB proposed can be a very good thing for the church if we can open our hearts to it. As the days have passed, I’ve come to realize the COB’s plan was designed for those in the ever-present middle, who are unclear about the theology behind either side and can honestly see both perspectives of the debate.

There’s a reason why so many votes seem almost split down the middle: many people aren’t sure what is the right thing to do. They’re calling for an answer from God, poring through Scripture, and for whatever reason are still not getting the clarity they seek.

Is it so wrong to take a collective breath, turn inward and study this thing a little more before we are pressed into a vote? Is it so bad to calm the polarizing forces with a little balm of time?

Maybe it is. But maybe it’s not. And I’d hate to see something as important as the unity of this denomination cavalierly voted upon because people are itching for the final answer.

Sometimes it’s OK to press pause. Sometimes it’s OK to wait for a clearer direction. Sometimes that can make all the difference.

And if a pause might mean a little extra time for our church to figure out a way forward united as one under God, then I’m willing to wait. I’d rather see us together than apart.

In the words of Dr. Tim McClendon, “Together we can do more.” Amen.

In the meantime

By Bishop Jonathan Holston

“Now eagerly desire the greater gifts. And yet I will show you a more excellent way.”—1 Corinthians 12:31

We hear it all the time: time flies. In so many ways, these four years in South Carolina have passed so quickly. This leads us to step back and reflect on the ministry that we have shared together.

For the South Carolina Conference, the mission continues to be making disciples for Jesus Christ and transforming the world through our quadrennium theme of “A More Excellent Way.” The leadership challenge in South Carolina has centered in engaging laity and clergy around the importance of organizational health. Our initial focus on organizational health engaged conference and local church leaders in a conversation on how we develop trust as the foundation of our life together in the congregation, the community and beyond. Therefore, the first year involved visiting all 12 districts in a time of sharing and listening, which was essential in advancing this emphasis.

In preparing for the 2013 Annual Conference meeting, we began to dream God-sized dreams, asking the question, “What would it be like if our Annual Conference meeting was a place for United Methodists from around the state to gather to make a difference while the business meeting was taking place?” With the theme of “A More Excellent Way: Sharing Stories of Serving, Giving and Living,” South Carolina United Methodists rose to the challenge of packaging a truckload of meals for Stop Hunger Now and raising $470,000 to fund the Stop Hunger Now shipment, as well as to support hunger ministries around the state. It was an acknowledgement of the depth of need close to home even as we expect God to work through us to address issues of poverty and health around the world.

As the second year of the quadrennium unfolded, a clear vision for how South Carolina United Methodists fulfill our mission to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world began to take shape. The decades of court battles over the inequalities in funding public education in our state once more made the news with word of an imminent South Carolina Supreme Court ruling on the “Corridor of Shame” case. With the 2014 Annual Conference theme of “A More Excellent Way: Creating Corridors of Faith, Hope and Love,” congregations were encouraged to collect books for preschool and elementary children in a conference-wide Million Book Effort.

The Million Book Effort raised awareness about the depth of need in our state related to children living in poverty and the systematic issues that impact education in rural counties. Local churches responded well to the encouragement to connect with the schools in their communities and see the children in their community as their children, as well. The Pan-Methodist Campaign for Children in Poverty Task Force has worked diligently to keep the concerns about education before our congregations and to remind them to be agents of transformation. We continue that work ecumenically with the Bishop’s Initiative on Public Education, which includes Lutheran, Episcopal, Roman Catholic and Pan-Methodist bishops. Not only does Ministry with the Poor include relationships with those caught in the cycle of poverty, but also advocates for changes needed to address systematic injustice.

In the spring of 2014, we held the first Bishop’s Laity Retreat for district lay leaders, lay servant directors and other conference lay leaders for the purpose of engaging laity in the conversation around organizational health. From this retreat came the vision of meeting in each district directly with local church lay leaders and lay servants. It was during 2013-2014 that the “Bishop’s Road Show” was born. Led by a team of conference staff and key leaders, some 1,500 lay leaders from around the conference met on 12 different Saturdays to talk about trust, healthy conflict and commitment.

Developing Principled Christian Leaders, both lay and clergy, continued into the third year of the quadrennium as we utilized “The Leadership Contract” by Vince Molinaro. Focusing on leadership as behavior rather than position, teams of local church leaders along with their pastor met together in districts to wrestle with how to lead well and how to effectively connect the congregation with the community. Planned by district leadership teams, the “Bishop’s Barbeque Bash” was developed to challenge congregational leadership teams to pursue church renewal by re-engaging the community. The theme for the 2015 Annual Conference was “A More Excellent Way: Becoming Disciples God can Use.” Lay and clergy leaders rose to this challenge as more than 3,000 persons from more than 600 churches participated in one of the 12 Bishop’s Barbeque Bashes held in each district.

The year 2015 was also a challenging year for the people of South Carolina. In the spring, a North Charleston police-involved shooting made national news and raised concern about how the community would respond. The Rev. Clementa Pinckney, South Carolina state senator and pastor of Emanuel AME Church, helped to organize a Pan-Methodist Prayer Service bringing together the faith community to acknowledge the need for justice and healing. Not long after that service, Rev. Pinckney and eight others were killed in a racially motivated shooting at the historic Emanuel AME Church in Charleston.

The response of the “Emanuel Nine” family members, the Charleston community and the state of South Carolina was something no one thought would happen. Soon after, state leaders made the long-overdue decision to remove the Confederate Battle Flag from the State House grounds. This witness to justice, forgiveness and community positioned South Carolina for leadership in a global arena.

As United Methodists continue to wrestle with the legacy of racism in the state and church, we seek a more excellent way to love one another and witness faithfully in our communities about God’s healing love.

In October, an unprecedented weather event caused extensive damage across the Palmetto State. The rains came early and continued throughout the month, resulting in devastating flooding that impacted 24 of the 46 counties and affecting more than 100,000 households. United Methodists, with the guidance of the United Methodist Committee on Relief, continue to lead in the response and recovery effort. More than 40 of our churches experienced damage. Because of the generosity of our neighbors, we have been able to assist 13 of those churches in returning their facilities and property to wholeness.

As we come to the close of the quadrennium, we share in the 2016 Annual Conference theme of “A More Excellent Way: Making Space for God to Work.” This has been a time of dreaming the God-sized dream of raising $1 million for Imagine No Malaria in order to address this significant global health issue. Even with the devastating floods and the generous giving to address the need, this effort continues to help our local churches learn how they can make a difference in impacting this preventable, treatable and beatable disease.

We continue to make space for God to work by cultivating new places for new people. Our goal of 50 new places for new people include new church starts, additional sites of existing congregations, new worship services in strategic congregations, strengthening the African-American presence in small cities and resourcing opportunities for Hispanic-Latino ministry. Each year, our apportionment giving has increased even as we dreamed God-sized dreams and sought the financial resources to fund them. God has been faithful as our local congregations have embraced a more excellent way of making disciples and transforming the world. Each challenge to step out on faith and trust that God can use us beyond our expectations has resulted in new opportunities for local churches to make a difference in their communities.

Looking back on the ministries of this quadrennium, it becomes clear that the four areas of focus are interrelated. Developing principled Christian leaders involves engaging in ministry with the poor. An annual conference focus on improving global health can be a vehicle for renewing existing congregations. Disciples are formed and grow when we challenge our state to address the root causes of poverty. Working to transform the world can transform our congregations and communities. Dreaming God-sized dreams in a more excellent way invites generous giving and enthusiastic commitment to being a movement-oriented Body of Christ.

In closing, it has been a privilege and blessing for Felecia and me to be in ministry with the laity and clergy of the Columbia Area. We have rejoiced in the opportunity to have shared God-sized dreams with United Methodists across this wonderful state. Thank you for helping us to envision a more excellent way of mission and ministry.

Grace and peace.

Advocate S.C. Stories of Racial Awakening Project: Narrative 3

Psalm 22 and my racism struggle

By the Rev. Amiri Hooker

Editor’s note: The following is the third narrative accepted for publication in the Ad­vocate’s new South Carolina Stories of Racial Awakening Project. The Advocate will select as many as 10 narratives to be published in the Advocate, one a month for 10 months. See guidelines, here.

In Psalm 22:9 (“But you are he that took me out of the womb: you did make me hope when I was upon my mother’s breasts”), the psalmist makes the point that how in the midst of their suffering, God allowed the people to find hope for the future even while they were connected to their earthly mother. The text seems to suggest that in times of need, God provides needed motherly wisdom or mothers’ wit to enable you to thrive.

I would like to share my experience of having four such mothers and how the maternal nature of God has been a blessing. My mothers’ teaching led me to a place of tension where I see racial harmony as the new Promised Land for this generation’s chosen people.

A mother is usually responsible for the nursing and rearing of her progeny, for their physical constitution and growth, their exercise and proper sustenance in early life. She is responsible for a child’s habits, including cleanliness, order, conversation, eating, sleeping, manners, and general propriety of behavior. She is responsible for the principles that her children entertain in early life. For her, it is to say whether those who go forth from her womb shall be imbued with sentiments of virtue, truth, honor, honesty, temperance, industry, benevolence and morality, or those of a contrary character—vice, fraud, drunkenness, idleness and racism.

Yes, while a mother teaches great virtues, the disfavored characteristics are oftentimes also indoctrinated into the children who have grown at her breast.

My biological mother, Claudette, passed onto me a pain and a real sense of mistrust for white Southerners. She also passed onto me a sense of mistrust of the white race in general and a view that they needed to be kept in a certain relationship place. But most importantly, my mother passed onto me a pride in who I am and the culture that I had the miracle of being born into. She was clear to extol that blacks have traditionally learned and operated in two different registers, which gave rise to Du Bois’ “double consciousness.”

My mother pointed out that many professional blacks often say they can’t wait to finish work so they can go home and be black, or in other words, be themselves. She was quick to emphasize that black Americans have been expected to learn specific rules and conventions that benefit “well behaved” minorities within and between the white and black worlds, and yet, they are faced with mostly negative racialized impressions, experiences and interactions when encountering the white community.

These racial slights that occur daily were often confusing for me in my youth and cause a myriad of emotions from pain and sadness to anger and self-hatred. Like Du Bois, I felt the weight of this tension on his soul as he expressed the difficulties that black Americans are faced with being too white for blacks and too black for whites. I also wondered how I can positively engage in the larger world and the multiracial church. I never had the luxury of thinking that a white cop or white man in a pickup truck were there to protect and serve; there was always a sense of mistrust ingrained in my mind.

I am thankful to God that I was able to move from the point of no trust to a place of hope. The source of the blessing has been three women who I often refer to as my three white mothers.

My three white mothers serve as an example of what everyday people can do to improve race relations and interrupt the racism that occurs every day. None of these mothers were famous as a civil rights worker. They were persons who, because of the love of God in their hearts, gave me a much better understanding of the future hope of ethnic harmony and racial unity.

The first of my white mothers was a church and community worker from the General Board of Church and Society. Kathleen gave me a view of a white woman who loved the black children she was surrounded by and who showed me love. She took time to walk through the Christian as a Ministry book and tell me that God could call me to serve a church that was larger then the local black church.

The second of my white mothers gave me an image of leadership on the Annual Conference level. June was the conference director over youth ministry, and on more than one occasion she reminded me that dealing with race is a two-way street; both races have to work together to understand the small areas that need repairs. She always said separating us by race was old-fashioned thinking and we needed to think and act toward the future of oneness. She was not colorblind; so many times we had to clarify what experiences I had as a young black boy growing up in Bennettsville versus her experiences as a white woman in Summerville.

The third of my white mothers really gave me an understanding of ministry when I was an undergraduate student. Marie was a small brown woman from the island who was the Student Life Office Manager. Although she was brown-skinned, in her home she was considered white. She showed me how different racism in her island heritage was from what we understood in America. She showed me my blackness was not unique but could be a strength. She quietly went about her business of ending racism within her sphere of influence. She invited her friends—black, Native and others—into establishments known to be white only. She purposely walked into “colored only” and “white only” churches and worshiped. I learned from her that worship is about God and not dependent on the prejudices of the worship setting.

This is a time when the idea of black lives mattering has been pushed to the forefront of the needs to discuss diversity in the church. I feel comfortable dealing with the struggles of white privilege and African-American double-consciousness because of the mothers who have protected me and given me hope during my formative years.

Hooker, 43, is an African-American male who pastors the St. John-Wesley Chapel Charge in the Florence District.

GC2016 affirms mission of church: disciples, transformation

KenBy Jessica Brodie

PORTLAND, Ore.—General Conference affirmed May 19 existing language that declares the mission of the church is to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.

“We’ve been having some conversations about the mission of the church,” said the Rev. Ken Nelson, South Carolina clergy delegate to General Conference. “And there was some concern about whether or not we needed to drop the second part of that, the transformation of the world, and to simply focus in on making disciples of Jesus Christ.” However, after considerable conversation, the body determined it was best to keep the two together.

“For it’s a common belief, as we make disciples of Jesus Christ, that indeed lives and the world around us will be transformed,” Nelson said. “And so we keep together that which we find of personal holiness and social holiness in keeping the witness of the church together and seeing our lives transformed as individuals and corporately as a society.”

Nelson said that all of General Conference has underscored that concept, from what he called “the phenomenal worship” to the very theme of this year’s quadrennial gathering for the denomination.

“The theme for General Conference is ‘Therefore Go,’ and I think it plays right into the mission of the church of what it means to be a sent community sharing the Gospel of the world around us,” Nelson said.

GC2016 votes to withdraw from Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice

By Jessica Brodie

PORTLAND, Ore.—General Conference voted May 19 that two United Methodist entities withdraw immediately from membership in the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice. The motion passed 425-268.

The General Board of Church and Society and the United Methodist Women currently are members of the RCRC, a national community of religious organizations and faithful individuals dedicated to achieving reproductive justice.

But five annual conferences submitted a petition to withdraw from the RCRC—Mississippi, North Carolina, Indiana, Western Pennsylvania and Alabama-West Florida—stating that RCRC’s advocacy often directly contradicts The United Methodist Church’s Social Principles on abortion, but it still uses the UMC name. (The South Carolina Conference in 2015 voted not to petition General Conference on withdrawing from the RCRC.)

The committee assigned to this petition, Church and Society 2, voted 44-25 last week to adopt it.

On the floor Thursday, a motion was made to refer the petition to the General Council on Finance and Administration, but the UMC gives no money to RCRC. That motion failed.

Speaking against the withdrawal, Becca Girrell of the New England Conference urged fellow delegates to keep the UMC’s voice at the reproductive health table and said remaining in the RCRC does not in any way affect the UMC’s position on abortion.

“As a woman of faith, it deeply saddens me that every two minutes, some woman somewhere in the world dies of childbirth,” Girrell said. “As a maternal health advocate, I, too, want to reduce the number of abortions. I want healthy babies to be born. …

But we cannot do the work alone. It takes all of our faith voices working together.”

Speaking for the withdrawal, delegate Katherine Rohrs from West Ohio, said she’s heard time and again about the need to stay at the table because the UMC’s voice matters, but nothing has changed.

“RCRC refuses to talk about unborn children as just that,” Rohrs said. “They refuse to condemn abortion as a form of birth control or gender selection. They affirm abortion in any way.

“I don’t speak for all young women who are United Methodist, but as a mother of two, I speak for those who have not been surrounded by the church’s support to cheer them on to life.”

In 2015, the South Carolina Conference voted 674 to 541 not to petition General Conference on withdrawing from the RCRC. The South Carolina petition had been submitted by Memorial UMC in Greer, Covenant UMC in Greer, Gramling UMC in Campobello and Slater UMC in Slater. The conference’s Committee on Petitions had voted non-concurrence on the petition, desiring not to send the petition because it is important that the UMC’s voice be a part of this interfaith group and have what committee chair Dr. Carolyn Briscoe called “a voice at the table” when it comes to reproductive choice.

For more on General Conference legislation, visit gc2016.umc.org.

Jessica-square350Jessica Brodie is the editor of the South Carolina United Methodist Advocate.

GC2016: God-led hospitality gesture underscores United Methodist connection

By Jessica Brodie

PORTLAND, Ore.—When lay delegate Martha Thompson arrived in Portland for General Conference, she found herself living the Gospel in an unexpected way.

Thompson, of the South Carolina Conference, arrived at the airport very late at night and rode the MAX Light Rail to her hotel. En route, she had the chance to introduce herself to fellow lay delegate Dixie Brewster, of Milton, Kansas, in the Great Plains Annual Conference, who also had a reservation at Thompson’s hotel.

“She and I only exchanged first names, where are you from, that sort of thing,” Thompson said.

But when they got to the hotel and Thompson checked in, she happened to turn around and see Brewster looking distressed.

“I said, ‘Dixie, are you OK?’ and she just welled up with tears,” Thompson said.

It turned out that there was a reservation snafu; Brewster’s roommate would not be arriving until the following night, and Brewster had no place to stay—there was literally no room at the inn.

Immediately, Thompson’s heart was warmed, and the words were out before she knew it.

“I said, ‘Well, you can just stay with me tonight. Come. Stay with me.’ She said, ‘Are you serious?’”

Thompson was indeed serious. And that night, two strangers formed a new bond rooted in the Gospel and the unexpected kindness of one stranger to another.

“I felt extremely blessed with the gracious hospitality,” Brewster said. “What an example of our United Methodist connection!”

“We had a great time,” Thompson said.

The women talked about Brewster’s predicament and how, for just the slightest moment, she’d had a taste of what it felt to be homeless and have no place to go.

More than a week later, Thompson and Brewster now call themselves friends and plan to stay in touch after General Conference. Brewster called Thompson “a friend for life.”

“It was just part of the connection,” Thompson said, blinking back tears as she relayed the story. “It was a God thing.”

Brewster added, “How awesome it was.”

Jessica-square350Jessica Brodie is the editor of the South Carolina United Methodist Advocate.

GC2016: Scarcity and abundance: a seminarian’s view of General Conference

Hillary Taylor (1)By Hillary Taylor

As a first-year student at Candler School of Theology, I’ve been blessed with so many amazing learning opportunities, including the chance to take a polity class on the 2016 General Conference.

During this past semester, my class of 22 students met four times to discuss legislation, caucus groups, conference rules and the art of being a good conversation partner in plenary sessions. While the polity class was informative, it could not have prepared my classmates and me for the depth and breadth of General Conference as a whole.

From day one, all of us have been overwhelmed by the diversity, expansiveness and organizational skill it takes to put on a global gathering such as this. Every morning since May 9, we have met at 7 a.m. with different representatives of different organizations (e.g., the Judicial Council, Council of Bishops, the General Secretary of the General Conference, Reconciling Ministries Network, Good News, etc.). After the meeting, my classmates and I attend worship, listen to plenary sessions and track legislation.

At the end of General Conference, we will each write a 25-page paper on our legislation of interest and our experience at General Conference as a whole.

Although it’s only mid-conference, so far I’m feeling excited. Listening to Orders of the Day shows both visitors and delegates just how much impact our global church has around the world. We truly take the Great Commissioning to heart by making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world through promoting church growth and development, seeking justice, freedom, peace and the alleviation of human suffering. We’ve drastically reduced malaria incidence and prevalence around the world. We’ve provided aid from Flint, Michigan, to Kathmandu, Nepal. We are even providing structure to growing churches around the world.

Of course, not everything is so rosy. I’m disappointed that people use parliamentary procedure to avoid difficult conversations. I’m disappointed that people feel so entrenched in their political views that they forget the humanity of “the other” (however “the other” is defined). I’m disappointed that caucus groups prey upon the scarcity of the world to manipulate legislation and power.

But this is not unique to the United Methodist Church, nor is it unique to the United States. In our fear-filled culture, it is easy to fall prey to scarcity. According to Dr. Samuel wells in his book “God’s Companions,” scarcity also goes by another name: poverty.

I hate to break it to everyone, but poverty is the reality of many a local church. And I’m not talking about material poverty; I’m talking about “poverty of community” and “poverty of imagination.”

Poverty of community is what happens when we lose love for those experiencing marginalization in our society, who are in need of the most love and care. We stop recognizing pain in the lives of others in need, and we are slowly robbed of love for those who are most near and dear to us.

Poverty of imagination is when we’ve accepted the fact that nothing in our world will change, that things will always be bad, that nothing we do can make it better. We forget what it’s like to work toward bringing heaven to earth, and subconsciously, we slip into making our world a living Hell, where sin and all its evil takes over. If we don’t have community or imagination, no amount of resources in the world can help our churches. They will die, and nobody will miss them.

In the midst of sinful scarcity, however, I remain hope-filled. According to Wells, the opposite of scarcity is abundance. In many ways, I’ve seen abundance overcome situations of scarcity. Abundance is made possible when we share with one another, whether it’s resources (like the boy who helped Jesus feed the 5,000) or ideas (like Peter’s vision of “clean” and “unclean” believers).

For me, General Conference has been a place of abundance. It has provided space for me to reconnect with my dearest friends in several general boards. It’s reminded me how important campus ministry is in shaping the church of today (not the church of the future). It’s allowed me to advocate for missionaries who need clarification on pension plans. It’s shown me that access to clean water is a human right. It’s inculcated in me a desire to decrease my carbon footprint. It’s instilled within me a sense of pride about women’s impact on global mission and ministry. It’s solidified my call to stand as an ally with marginalized voices.

It has also given me a charge of conflict transformation: not just to call out conflict when I see it, drawing closer to the source of my contention and frustration. In other words, it’s called me to “tend and befriend” that which causes me anguish. Lots of things cause me anguish. Racism causes me anguish. Sexism causes me anguish. Heterosexism causes me anguish. Gun violence causes me anguish. The death penalty causes me anguish. United Methodist polity causes me anguish.

But these issues cannot be ignored. They must be engaged. Bonds of oppression do not mitigate when we look the other way. They can only be overcome when we meet them face-to-face. Who better to meet them than the people of God, who have been charged with this work since the very beginning according to the Scriptures?

The work of General Conference is exceedingly important. But despite what happens in Portland, the church will go on. This morning Bishop Ough, president of the UMC Council of Bishops, kindly reminded my seminary class that the day after General Conference finishes, people will get up in the morning. They will set up food pantries. They will test water samples. They will deliver babies. They will mix concrete for building projects. They will teach theology classes. They will pray with the brokenhearted. They will pitch tents for refugees. In short, they will embody the church, like they strive to do each and every day. And the church will go on doing the work of God—whatever that may be in any given context.

No matter what happens at General Conference, I believe God is bigger than us. God can transform our conflicts into unity (not uniformity) for compassion that knows no boundaries.

The question is whether we will be open to that transformation or not.

Taylor is a candidate for ministry in the Columbia District.

Staying in touch at GC2016: UM pastor uses nightly conference calls to connect with church back home

Photo by Matt Brodie
Photo by Matt Brodie

By Jessica Brodie

PORTLAND, Ore.—One General Conference alternate delegate has a unique way of staying connected to her church back home.

The Rev. Telley Lynnette Gadson pastors St. Mark United Methodist Church, Taylors, and she has scheduled a time of prayer via conference call every night with different ministries of her church.

The “Prayer Time Partnership with Pastor T” started May 9 (her travel day) with a 7 a.m. call with her lay servants. Calls resumed May 10 with a 9 p.m. call with her children and youth team, and then every night with the other key church ministries—from young adults to older adults to the choir and more. They culminate May 21.

“Connection is essential, not only to our denominational work, but for the partnership of pastor and congregation,” Gadson said.  With me being such a hands-on spiritual coach, I needed to be in touch and in tune with those I have been called to serve.”

This is not the first time Gadson has connected with her church this way. As a member of the 2012 delegation, she implemented this system with her former church, St. Mark UMC, Sumter.

“It proved to be extremely beneficial in maintaining the continuity of our relational work,” Gadson said.

Jessica-square350Jessica Brodie is the editor of the South Carolina United Methodist Advocate.

GC2016: UMC approves ‘way forward’ for church amid divisiveness over sexuality

S.C. reacts with gratitude, frustration

Photo by Matt Brodie
Photo by Matt Brodie

By Jessica Brodie

PORTLAND, Ore.—United Methodists now have a new way forward when it comes to uniting The United Methodist Church on human sexuality and other divisive matters.

General Conference voted 428-405 May 18 to approve a proposal by the Council of Bishops, “An Offering for a Way Forward.”

The plan recommends that General Conference defer all petitions on human sexuality (a total of 56) and refer the entire subject to a special commission, named by the COB, to develop a complete examination and possible revision of every paragraph in the UMC Book of Discipline regarding human sexuality.

South Carolinians reacted with both gratitude and frustration over the vote, with some seeing it as a sideways move that does nothing more than pause needed action, and others seeing it as a good way to take a step back and breathe before deciding something so difficult.

 

Bishops’ plan references Galatians

Photo by Matt Brodie
Photo by Matt Brodie

The COB had been asked near the close of business May 17 to outline a path forward for the church regarding sexuality and the inclusion of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer/questioning people. The request came after an impassioned call for unity earlier that day by Council of Bishops President Bruce R. Ough, who implored the Holy Spirit to mend the church’s broken heart and gather all into the flock together.

During the morning plenary May 18, Ough returned to the stage to offer that path forward, referencing Galatians 3:25-29 (all one in Christ) and calling this time in the denomination’s history a “kairos moment.”

“We continue to hear from many people on the debate over sexuality that our current Discipline contains language which is contradictory, unnecessarily hurtful and inadequate for the variety of local, regional and global contexts,” the proposal reads in part (click here to read the full proposal). “We will name such a commission to include persons from every region of our UMC and will include representation from differing perspectives on the debate. We commit to maintain an ongoing dialogue with this commission as they do their work, including clear objectives and outcomes.”

The “way forward” notes that, should the commission complete their work in time for a called General Conference, then they will call a two- to three-day gathering before the 2020 General Conference and will consult with the General Council on Finance and Administration regarding cost-effective ways to hold that gathering.

The “way forward” lifts up unity, prayer, processes, next steps and discussion as key to the future. The COB proposal urges United Methodists to understand their unity is found in Jesus Christ and to affirm their commitment to maintaining and strengthening the unity of the church. It also promises that bishops will lead the global church in times of worship, study, discernment, confession and prayer for God’s guidance in all of this.

The COB said it is considering the possibility of a called General Conference in 2018 or 2019.

“We will continue to explore options to help the church live in grace with one another—including ways to avoid further complaints, trials and harm while we uphold the Discipline,” the proposal concluded. ”We will continue our conversation on this matter and report our progress to you and to the whole church.”

 

South Carolina reacts

Dr. Tim McClendon, South Carolina delegation chair and episcopal nominee, said the plan permits an opportunity for the UMC bishops to lead in significant ways.

But while he said he sincerely hopes this can help preserve the denomination, “Deferring all petitions on this subject will be seen as insufficient to persons on all sides.”

McClendon said the delegates to GC2016 will reconvene if the study is completed. The current language is still in effect, and the covenant to uphold the Discipline remains.

“The people of our churches, whatever their position, need to know that Jesus remains Lord and the Gospel (is) more needed than ever,” McClendon said. “Today’s decision should not cause panic, but a redoubled effort of prayer.”

Other South Carolinians had varying reactions to the bishops’ plan.

“I thought (Bishop Ough) was right on point,” said lay delegate Jackie Jenkins. “It gave us a breather, although some may opt to leave, but they may be ones who need to leave.”

Clergy delegate the Rev. Susan Leonard-Ray said, “This seems to me the way the body has found to see if there are ‘new wine skins’ that can be discerned to hold us together as a United Methodist church as we seek to find a gracious way forward together.”

Clergy delegate the Rev. Tim Rogers said, “Our hope is that we may, with our bishops’ guidance, reach a final resolution.”

Lay delegate Martha Thompson said she believes the plan will create much discord and frustration.

“Many people came to General Conference feeling the issues of human sexuality were to be discussed and voted upon,” Thompson said. “Now we have another two years and great expense.”

 

Weeping and strife prompt call to breathe

Prior to the vote on May 18, the body debated and ultimately voted down two related motions. In the morning plenary, the Rev. Adam Hamilton, a delegate from the Great Plains Conference, made a motion urging the body to support the bishops’ plan to create the study commission and pause on the 56 sexuality petitions before General Conference. Then the Rev. Chappell Temple, Texas Conference, made a substitute motion that would create the study commission but enable the body to still vote on the sexuality petitions.

Both of the motions were voted down.

Tensions began to increase as the day pushed on, much of it reflected on social media. At one point after lunch, both before and right after the Hamilton vote, two people accused presiding bishop William McAlilly, Nashville Conference, of bias and said he was mishandling proceedings and creating confusion. One of those delegates, Jen Ihlo of the Baltimore-Washington Conference, demanded that McAlilly step down as presiding officer, saying that he had “singlehandedly undone everything that was done this morning.”

McAlilly called for a short recess. When business resumed, he remained as presiding officer. Then delegate George Howard, West Ohio Conference, moved that the body accept the bishops’ recommendations. The vote passed narrowly.

South Carolina’s Thompson was outraged over the accusations about McAlilly.

“We witnessed bullying to the highest degree with no respect at all to our presiding bishop,” she said.

Fellow delegates said much the same.

Many in the plenary were weeping and requesting a time of deep prayer for compassion and respect in the midst of the division.

After the recess, Bishop Sally Dyck, Northern Illinois Annual Conference, offered a prayer for the body and implored the Holy Spirit to come into their midst.

“Calm our hearts that we may be open to your spirit, your nudging and the commitment to see the good around us and in one another,” Dyck said. “Open our ears that we may hear you. We need your spirit to help us be as one even as we disagree.”

Dyck said she hoped that as General Conference continues to do its work, people watching from around the world will say, “My, my, my, look at those United Methodists. They don’t agree, but they sure will love one another.”

Jessica-square350Brodie is the editor of the South Carolina United Methodist Advocate.

Jessica Brodie’s General Conference May 18 wrap-up: A South Carolina perspective

Photo by Matt Brodie
Photo by Matt Brodie

By Jessica Brodie

PORTLAND, Ore.—May 18 began with worship featuring Bishop James Swanson Sr., Mississippi Episcopal Area, who preached on resisting the chaos of evil, which “loves to party” and always seeks to draw others in.

Then, in a triumph over the evil of malaria, General Conference launched into a full-scale celebration of The United Methodist Church’s strides toward eradicating the mosquito-borne disease.

A 12-minute celebration presented by United Methodist Communications and the General Board of Global Ministries included a highlights video of the Imagine No Malaria campaign and debuted “Able,” performed by American Idol contestant Jeremy Rosado against a backdrop of praise-filled singers and dancers.

The song is available as a free download at Amazon Music and the Imagine No Malaria website, as well as on YouTube, as a gift for all.

Prior to the celebration, General Conference lifted in prayer Bishop David Yemba, Central Congo Episcopal Area, who had to be rushed to the hospital; he has been diagnosed with malaria.

Delegates then spent the morning hearing, debating, amending and then voting to approve a “way forward” plan from the Council of Bishops that has General Conference defer all petitions on human sexuality (a total of 56) and refer the entire subject to a special commission, named by the COB, to develop a complete examination and possible revision of every paragraph in the UMC Book of Discipline regarding human sexuality.

Much of the debate, both on the floor and on social media was rife with heated exchange and accusation, along with impassioned cries for the church to embrace “the middle.”

Delegates spent the late afternoon on other matters, including celebrating new relationships with the Moravian Church and the Uniting Church in Sweden; honoring the work of the Global AIDS Fund; and lifting up the 30th anniversary of the Disciple Bible study.

Delegates brought to the floor a proposal to make the United States UMC a central conference. The petition on this had been defeated in committee. A motion was defeated to defer this decision to the new COB study commission.

The day closed with a lengthy presentation on the 1864 Sand Creek Massacre from a historian and descendants of the survivors of the attack. A Methodist Episcopal Church pastor, Col. John Chivington, led a surprise attack on a Cheyenne and Arapaho camp. The slaughter took the lives of hundreds of Native Americans, including women and children. General Conference 1996 apologized for the Methodist involvement in the massacre, but erred in some historical details. General Conference 2012 held an “Act of Repentance” worship to help establish healing relationships. Historian Gary L. Roberts has issued a lengthy report, “Remembering The Sand Creek Massacre: A Historical Review of Methodist Involvement, Influence, and Response,” now available as a book by Abingdon Press.

Some information courtesy of UMNS. Check back Thursday night for the next General Conference wrap-up.

Jessica-square350Brodie is editor of the South Carolina United Methodist Advocate.

S.C. episcopal nominee McClendon speaks before SEJ delegates

Photo by Matt Brodie
Photo by Matt Brodie

By Jessica Brodie

PORTLAND, Ore.—South Carolina’s episcopal nominee Dr. Tim McClendon had the opportunity to speak before Southeastern Jurisdiction delegates at General Conference May 18.

McClendon, along with several others hoping to be elected as bishop at the SEJ Conference July 13-15, took to the podium at lunchtime to help colleagues understand more about him and why he feels called to the episcopacy.

“It was an honor to have the opportunity to speak to the SEJ delegates,” McClendon said following his remarks. “The prayerful support of the South Carolina delegation humbles me and is an encouragement in this process. I am grateful to God.”

McClendon is chair of the South Carolina delegation to General Conference, and the delegation was there to cheer him on. They said he did a great job.

McClendon began his remarks expressing appreciation and lifting up his family; married for 40 years, he has three children, two of whom are United Methodist elders and one of whom is also a delegate to this year’s General Conference.

“We believe in the connection, that we can do more together than apart,” McClendon said, then launched into a story about a man pulling a single horse, Jack, up a steep hill. The man was observed shouting out various names as he urged the horse up the hill. When questioned why he would use so many names for just one horse, the man turned to the observer.

“If Jack thought he was pulling the whole thing himself, he’d never get it up the hill!” McClendon said to laughter.

That story illuminates how it works in The United Methodist Church, McClendon said. Alone we can do some, but together, we can do more.

McClendon talked about his work as the Columbia District superintendent and Annual Conference parliamentarian, noting that he loved the work and knows how difficult it can be to “make things fit” whether it is new church starts or cross-racial appointments.

“I try to be a bridge-builder across all lines,” McClendon said, explaining that he believes there are two types of people in the world: balcony people (who lift others up and encourage them) and basement people (who drag people down).

He does all he can to be a “balcony person” and said he had two phenomenal examples growing up: his mother, who welcomed an African-American homeless man into the family and legally adopted him, and his father, a mixed-blood Chickasaw with an eighth-grade education who came up the hard way, who showed love in so many ways. Every night his father would knock on the wall three times, and McClendon was expected to knock back. Those knocks represented the words “I love you.”

“That’s a part of who I am—to be an encourager, to be a balcony person—and I am so glad for my parents,” McClendon said. “Relationships, I believe, are what makes the Gospel work.”

He said he could reel off a bunch of statistics about his fruitfulness in ministry, such as 20 years of being conference parliamentarian or being the recipient of the Candler Distinguished Alumni Award or the Denman Evangelism Award.

“But the main thing that I would tell you is my passion is to be a balcony person, to lift others up, to encourage others, to build relationships,” McClendon said. “My passion is to connect to Jesus and each other in effective, fruitful, accountable ways.”

Resounding applause followed his remarks.

For more on SEJ Conference and the other nominees, visit www.sejumc.org.

S.C.’s Braddon lifts up new hymnal authorized at GC2016

By Jessica Brodie

PORTLAND, Ore.—General Conference approved May 17 legislation authorizing a new Internet-based-cloud United Methodist hymnal that will be available both digitally and in print.

South Carolina lay delegate Dr. David Braddon, on the board of the United Methodist Publishing House, explained that the General Board of Discipleship in conjunction with the UMPH have responsibility for recommending when or if the church needs a new hymnal.

“The existing hymnal was put in place in 1989, so it’s been 27 years since the hymnal has been revised, and those two bodes deemed it is time for revision,” Braddon said.

Braddon said the digital aspect of the hymnal gives congregations a lot of choice. It will have a core piece, but there will also be supplemental pieces available as options.

“One can choose different genres of music depending on the needs of that congregation,” Braddon said. “Also, if you don’t need pew hymnals and simply are using screens, you can get it in digital format and don’t need to buy books.”

A standing committee has been established to determine the content of the hymnal. Braddon said the committee’s work will begin no later than Jan. 1, 2017, and the hymnal itself will be available by General Conference 2020.

Braddon also said once this revision is complete, it will be far easier to revise the hymnal in the future because of the new digital nature.

The Rev. MaryJane Pierce Norton, interim general secretary of Discipleship Ministries, said her group is grateful the legislation was adopted.

“We anticipate the canon that is developed will be fully reflective of the diversity of our United Methodist Church with inclusion of hymns and songs, worship and ritual resources that reflect a variety of styles appropriate for churches of every size,” Norton said.

The Rev. Brian K. Milford, incoming president of UMPH, said his group “is eager to get started with this groundbreaking approach building on our Wesleyan tradition with treasured and new hymns and worship aids that will help us honor God as a singing people.”

GC2016: S.C. delegate applauds decision to translate Discipline into UMC official languages

Photo by Matt Brodie
Photo by Matt Brodie. The Rev. Narcie Jeter speaks to General Conference in support of the translation, which she called “a justice issue.”

By Jessica Brodie

PORTLAND, Ore.—One South Carolina delegate stands in strong support of a decision to make the United Methodist Book of Discipline available in all the member languages of the denomination.

The body passed May 17 a petition (60591) to translate the Discipline into the official languages of the church.

Prior to the vote, on May 16, the Rev. Narcie Jeter spoke to the body with a point of information, urging them to translate the Discipline as well as the Book of Resolutions so all can understand.

“This to me is an issue of justice,” Jeter said.

Currently, the Advanced Daily Christian Advocate is available in English, French, Portuguese and Kiswahili. It contains the agenda, rules, delegate listings, petitions, reports, information for delegates and codes of conduct for General Conference.

But as the Discipline and Resolutions books are only available in English, non-English speakers have no context to reference the legislation and have no way to refer back to the original text to truly understand what they are voting on, Jeter said.

Jeter became aware of the issue during week one, when she sat in the Church and Society 1 committee.

“I never knew (neither) the Book of Discipline nor the Book of Resolutions were interpreted in French, and I had to slide over my Book of Resolutions and my Book of Resolutions to the French translator in order for some of the African delegations to vote on them because they wanted to know the context,” Jeter said.

That was why she brought the point of information on Monday—she is a lifelong United Methodist and never knew it was not translated into French, which also happens to be the United Nations language.

“I never knew!” Jeter said. “And so it’s a justice issue that the advance DCAs are translated into many of the languages, all the languages, but they receive no context at all, and so they’re reading stuff like child soldiers, they have very strong opinions on child soldiers, it was the loudest ‘oui’ I heard all week, and it’s an injustice that can be prevented with just raising the money. And so I want to raise the money because I think it’s a justice issue that can be easily solved.”

She added, “If we’re dealing with global health and we’re deal with environmental issues and a global living wage, (non-English speakers) have no idea where to find it, so if a line is struck out, they receive only the paragraph it’s struck out in and don’t have the context to actually process and learn and clearly have information to vote on.”

Jeter applauds the decision of the body to translate the Discipline. She is hopeful the Book of Resolutions will be next.

“It’s a cost versus justice issue to me, and no cost is large enough to make it right to have these brothers and sisters not understand,” Jeter said.

After all, she said, the UMC is a global church, and we need to truly be a global church.

“What are we doing as a church if we don’t provide this information to all?” she said. “Why don’t we make access to information available to the world in our languages of The United Methodist Church?

“We have the information. We need to share it.”

 

About the books

The Book of Discipline outlines the law, doctrine, administration, organizational work and procedures of the UMC. The Book of Resolutions contains the text of all resolutions or pronouncements on issues approved by the General Conference and currently valid.

 

Jessica Brodie’s General Conference May 17 wrap-up: A South Carolina perspective

Photo by Matt Brodie
Photo by Matt Brodie

By Jessica Brodie

PORTLAND, Ore.—Tuesday at General Conference featured a day of angst, mistrust and protest for some while others stood fast and faithful in a deep desire for a united United Methodist Church that welcomes all and embraces the middle.

Amid General Conference business that ultimately included rejection of term limits for bishops and approval of a new Internet-cloud-based United Methodist hymnal, Council of Bishops President Bruce R. Ough made an impassioned call for unity, calling upon the Holy Spirit to mend the church’s broken heart and call all into the flock together.

South Carolina Bishop Jonathan Holston issued a followup statement reassuring South Carolina that the Council of Bishops is committed to the unity of the UMC. Several South Carolina delegates spoke in support of the unity call, noting a need to gather back to the center and keep a focus on God’s mission and ministry for the church foremost.

Photo by Matt Brodie
Photo by Matt Brodie

However, some at General Conference did not feel Ough’s call for unity was strong enough. Rainbow-adorned protestors, many holding their wrists together, marched through the afternoon plenary May 17 singing “Blest Be the Tie that Binds” in support of inclusion for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer/questioning people.

The Council of Bishops was asked to bring back a report May 18 outlining a path forward for the church regarding sexuality and LGBTQI inclusion. On social media and elsewhere, bishops are also being called to consider a special General Conference to address the issue of sexuality.

 

 

In other happenings May 17 (these courtesy of UMNS):

  • Delegates referred to the Judicial Council a petition that would remove $20 million from general church ministries and reallocate them to a new committee on U.S. church growth.
  • Deacons now have fewer hoops to jump through to request permission to administer sacraments. A petition passed that allows deacons to contact their resident bishop directly to ask for permission.
  • Delegates passed a new formula for allocating funding to the Central Conference Theological Education Fund. All money in excess of $750,000 collected by central conference apportionments for the General Administration Fund will now be directed to the education fund.
  • Delegates approved a constitutional amendment that would allow General Conference to set provisions for the Council of Bishops to hold its individual members accountable for their work.
  • They also approved legislation that alters the complaint process against bishops. The new measure sets a definitive timeline of 180 days to try to resolve a complaint in the denomination’s supervisory process within the College of Bishops. The legislation also allows the Council of Bishops at any time to remove the complaint from the College of Bishops with a two-thirds vote of the council.

Check back Wednesday night for the next General Conference wrap-up.

Brodie is editor of the South Carolina United Methodist Advocate.

GC2016: South Carolina bishop, delegates stand with call for unity by UMC Council of Bishops

Photo by Matt Brodie. Bishop Holston prays with the S.C. delegation and others after the president of the UMC Council of Bishops issued a statement calling for unity.
Photo by Matt Brodie. Bishop Holston prays with the S.C. delegation and others after the president of the UMC Council of Bishops issued a statement calling for unity.

By Jessica Brodie

PORTLAND, Ore.—Amid rumors Tuesday morning of a possible denomination-wide split for The United Methodist Church, the president of the UMC Council of Bishops issued a statement calling for unity, dialogue and prayer. And South Carolina’s bishop and many delegates say they wholeheartedly support his stance.

At the start of business May 17, Bishop Bruce R. Ough took a moment of personal privilege to share a story of how, in 1973 when he was just 23 years old, he had to make the difficult decision to take his 20-year-old brother off life support after a surprise heart attack.

“My brother died of a diseased heart, but my heart was broken,” Ough told the body. “I know what it is to have a broken heart, what it feels like to have a broken heart. Many of you know what it is to have a broken heart.”

Much of that brokenness, Ough said, is centered on matters of human sexuality, the interpretation of Scripture and the inclusion of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer/questioning brothers and sisters—and all fueled by despair over the decline of the UMC in North America.

“Our broken hearts, and a profound clarity that we, as your bishops, are charged with the spiritual and temporal oversight of the church, have driven us to our knees in prayer and into intense, holy conversations with ourselves and others as we have been considering how to maintain unity and bring healing to the church,” Ough said.

He called for authentic unity, the kind born of the Holy Spirit and one that is not afraid of the truth and is respectful of all.

“This may be the moment to let God’s unlimited imagination lead us to imagine a new way of being church,” Ough said. “Come, Holy Spirit, break through, set us free, revive and renew our United Methodist movement and connection. Mend our broken hearts. Call us back to be your flock together.”

 

South Carolina agrees

South Carolina’s bishop and several delegates said they stand with Ough in his call for unity.

Bishop Jonathan Holston issued his own followup statement reassuring South Carolina that the Council of Bishops is committed to the unity of the denomination.

“We acknowledge that just as in the local church, we do not all agree, and yet we commit to live together as one,” Holston said. “I invite you to pray fervently that God gives all delegates the strength to remain firm in their convictions and the compassion to listen to all in openness, respect and love. My prayer is that God will continue to guide us as we seek to do God’s will in all things.”

South Carolina delegation chair and episcopal nominee Dr. Tim McClendon said Ough’s speech was welcome.

“The rumors of our demise and fracture are just that—rumors,” McClendon told the Advocate. “It’s true there are differences and divisiveness in the Council of Bishops and the whole General Conference, but I think there’s more that holds us together than separate us.”

First-elected lay delegate Barbara Ware said Ough’s speech was very well thought-out, and the way Ough kept repeating the theme of unity over and over was a strong reminder of its importance.

“It was a good way to bring us back to the center and what we’re here for, like finding new ways to do ministry to people outside the walls of the church,” Ware said.

Delegate Jackie Jenkins said she was highly impressed with Ough’s words.

“Regardless of all the issues we’re dealing with, our ultimate concern is the unity of the whole church,” Jenkins said.

Bishop Thomas Bickerton said much the same when he opened the plenary session, just prior to Ough’s statement. He said that in times of struggle, he often finds himself reciting one of his favorite Scriptures, Ephesians 3:20, how God is able to accomplish exceedingly abundantly more than anyone could ever dream or imagine.

“Our biggest demonstration today is that we love each other in spite of our differences,” Bickerton said.

After Ough’s statement, Bickerton called on the body to join him in a time of prayer for the Holy Spirit to come upon the space.

GC2016: #Pagelife—S.C.’s Elizabeth Murray shares what it’s like to serve as a GC2016 page

Photo by Matt Brodie
Photo by Matt Brodie

By Jessica Brodie

PORTLAND, Ore.—South Carolina deacon the Rev. Elizabeth Murray is a first-time page at General Conference, and there are times when the work becomes surreal.

As she tweeted May 13, “@BishopSallyDyck preached one of the most prophetic sermons I’ve ever heard this morning at #umcgc & then I delivered her coffee. #pagelife

Murray is one of two pages from South Carolina this year—the other is the Rev. Brandon Lazarus—and there are more than 100 from all over the globe. Pages serve as runners and helpers during the denominational gathering, tasked with doing everything from making copies to delivering notes to bringing people coffee. And all the while, the business and the beauty of the global church are going on in the background, both inspiring and humbling her.

Murray said the experience has been wonderful so far.

“I’ve really enjoyed being a helper,” she said. “As Christians, we are called to serve one another, and I’m fortunate to serve in this process.”

Murray’s particular call is Hispanic ministry, and she said being able to see the multi-ethnic, global church through a new lens has helped flesh out the way she sees her ministry passion.

General Conference draws people from all over the United States and the world beyond, particularly Africa and the Philippines, and many do not speak English as a first language—or at all. While she hasn’t yet experienced any language barriers herself, she said she knows many non-native English speakers have struggled to understand the intricacies of legislation and voting, which can be extremely complex.

“Knowing we’re in an English-dominant place right now, it can be hard for our brothers and sisters who do not speak the language,” Murray said. “General Conference can be very complicated, and if you’re not a native English speaker, I’m impressed how you’re able to keep up. It’s so much more complicated than I ever thought.”

 

Day in the life

Pages have two shifts, morning (7 a.m. to 1 p.m.) and afternoon (1-6:30 p.m.).

“Last week, we were in the legislative committees, and we were appointed to one committee a day, and we got to run notes, make copies and deliver notes,” Murray said.

This week, they are in plenary sessions full-time.

“We work at different microphones, run notes back and forth from the tables, help people with issues of technology, run notes from the General Secretary’s office to the plenary session, give notes to bishops, to delegates, and they’re all asking different questions,” Murray said. “I’ve even delivered coffee!”

She said she knew what she would be doing ahead of time, but the magnitude and international flair of General Conference was a big surprise, and particularly exciting in the worship experience.

Every day begins with worship led by a different bishop and with a different theme—and Murray said the creative, global and “very thoughtful” daily service has been more than impressive.

Overall, it’s been an educational and uplifting experience, Murray said.

“I have learned a lot about how General Conference functions and the inner workings of The United Methodist Church,” she said.

For a video reflection by Murray on her #pagelife experience, click here, or see below:

GC2016: United Methodist Women gather for clean water rally

Photo by Matt Brodie
Photo by Matt Brodie

By Jessica Brodie

PORTLAND, Ore.—South Carolinians joined others at a global United Methodist Women event May 16 during General Conference to rally for access to clean water.

The rally—“Don’t Poison Our Water! Water Is a Human Right!”—addressed various clean water and water access issues going on in the United States and around the world, including the lead in water crisis in Flint, Michigan; pollution of water in Liberia and the Philippines; the Portland Harbor Superfund Site cleanup process, Portland, Oregon; and more. The rally was part of a daylong United Methodist Women anniversary celebration of their 150 years of faith, hope and love in action.

Harriett Jane Olson, general secretary of United Methodist Women, gave a prayer-welcome to the large crowd of men and women, many ringing bells and carrying water drop signs proclaiming “life,” “joy,” “justice” and “human right.”

“I pray our hearts will be moved…and our minds be fixed on doing your work in this world,” Olsen prayed.

The crowd heard first from Nichea Ver Veer Guy, United Methodist Women director and head lay delegate for the West Michigan Annual Conference, who spoke about the Flint water crisis. She called on those present to stand with the people of Flint and those helping as they face the continuing challenge to clean up the water and help those hurt by the poisoning.

“We will persevere, and we will conquer this abuse of the water in our grounds and community,” she said. “Racial justice, environmental justice, economic justice, gender justice—they all intersect with the issue of water.”

Next, Rose Farhat, of Liberia United Methodist Church, spoke about her nation’s water crisis, involving rubber pollution of water by Firestone.

“This is social injustice and extremely wrong,” Farhat said. “What does employment do when the environment is being wronged?

“These people are desperate, they’re poor and they’re depending on the church for righteousness.”

Bishop Julius Trimble, Iowa Episcopal Area and United Methodist Immigration Task Force, spoke next on what he called “the unprecedented amount of global exodus and mass migration.” He said the church can play a big role in stepping up to help.

“Something is wrong with the picture when people all over the world do not have access to water. …Water is a right for all of God’s children.”

A group of women calling themselves the Raging Grannies got up next to lead the crowd in clean-water-themed songs set to popular tunes, such as “We Speak for the Voiceless” (set to the tune of “Annie’s Song”) and “Who Cares? We Care” (set to the tune of “Row, Row, Row Your Boat”).

Bishop Deborah Kiesey of the Michigan Episcopal Area said what is going on in Flint is a human-made crisis caused by one person who switched the water from the Detroit to the Flint River, which corroded lead in the pipes and leached into the river, poising many.

“This will be a generations-long issue,” Kiesey said, noting her biggest concern is the children who were affected.

Kiesey said the crisis garnered attention in the fall, and by October, The United Methodist Church and the United Methodist Committee on Relief were on the scene, doing all they could to provide clean water.

The United Methodist Women’s partners for the rally totaled more than 20, including Black Methodists for Church Renewal, Church Women United, general agencies and more.

GC2016: S.C. shows support for colleges, campus ministry at Higher Ed Night

Photo by Matt Brodie
Photo by Matt Brodie

By Jessica Brodie

PORTLAND, Ore.—South Carolina delegates and friends showed their support for higher education and campus ministry during General Conference May 16 at Higher Education Night.

Higher Education Night celebrated how United Methodist-related educational institutions are shaping the faith, vocations and commitments of students. There are more than 1,000 learning institutions around the world. The General Board of Higher Education and Ministry is also celebrating 150 years of support for these institutions.

“It was a really well done event,” said Lollie Haselden, delegate alternate, noting that in addition to incredible entertainment and delicious food, they were able to see firsthand the products of United Methodist education.

Three stages featured performances by students from United Methodist-related colleges and universities around the world, including the Africa University Choir. Attendees also got to experience interactive exhibits and artistic displays that detailed the history United Methodist higher education.

Photo by Matt Brodie
Photo by Matt Brodie

South Carolinians said they enjoyed Higher Education Night.

Delegate Michael Cheatham said it was good to be able to celebrate campus ministries and the impact they have on young lives.

Don Love, delegate alternate, said much the same.

“We do a lot of good inspiring youth and motivating them through campus ministry,” Love said. “My church—Wesley UMC, York—has a long history of supporting campus ministry. We even have a line item in our budget, and have for as long as I can remember.

“It’s critical to support young people in their spiritual journey.”

Delegate Martha Thompson said the night was a good opportunity for South Carolinians to see what the UMC has available when it comes to higher education and campus ministry.

Photo by Matt Brodie
Photo by Matt Brodie

“We think Wofford, Spartanburg Methodist College Claflin and Columbia College, but if you look at what we have beyond, it’s a lot,” Thompson said.

Dr. Kim Cape, general secretary of the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry, called the night a “high energy, interactive event” that enabled attendees “to feel the dynamic energy of the students who will lead our church in the future, to shake hands with the faculty that are guiding them and to be moved by the testimony of graduates.”

Jessica Brodie’s General Conference wrap-up for May 16: A South Carolina perspective

Photo by Matt Brodie
Photo by Matt Brodie

By Jessica Brodie

PORTLAND, Ore.—The first day of official business at General Conference May 16 saw everything from a massive United Methodist Women 150th anniversary celebration to a Black Lives Matter protest on the plenary floor calling for racial healing and an end to police violence and homophobia.

All this, as well as consent calendar approvals, election of Judicial Council members and a celebration of a church older than the United States itself—John Street Church, founded by a laywoman in 1766 in New York—rounded out a full day of worship, prayer and business designed to be the voice of The United Methodist Church in the world today.

One of South Carolina’s own, delegation chair and episcopal nominee Dr. Tim McClendon, got to play a role in morning worship as Scripture reader, reading from Matthew 22:1-14.

Photo by Matt Brodie
Photo by Matt Brodie

South Carolina delegates spent the day electronically voting at tables on the plenary floor with their global counterparts, while alternates, pages and observers kept them in prayer and offered other support.

South Carolina lay alternate Donald Love said he has been grateful and thankful for his experience so far. This is his first time at General Conference, and he has been able to sit in on committee sessions last week and hope he might have time on the floor this week.

While he knows there has been strife over some issues, like human sexuality, the atmosphere has been kind and Christian overall.

“People are really seeking to love each other and understand each other,” Love said. “I know there’s concern in our church with the hot-button issues, but everyone’s been civil in trying to discuss the issues.

Photo by Matt Brodie
Photo by Matt Brodie

“It’s important to remember we’re all children of the almighty God and we have to treat that with respect and love.”

The day’s business ended with intense debate over a proposal to translate the Book of Discipline into other official languages of the UMC (French, Portuguese and Kiswahili); those same languages have translations of the Daily Christian Advocate but not the Discipline. Currently the Discipline is only available in English. The body adopted the motion, voting 706 to 93 to refer the translation to the General Council on Finance and Administration and the United Methodist Publishing House.

A performance by the Africa University Choir and a celebration of the impact that school has made on the continent of Africa rounded out the day, followed by the report of the UMC’s Higher Education and Ministry.

Check back Tuesday night for the next General Conference wrap-up.

Brodie is editor of the South Carolina United Methodist Advocate.

GC2016: Jessica Brodie’s General Conference May 14 wrap-up: A South Carolina perspective

Jessica-square350By Jessica Brodie

PORTLAND, Ore.—The final day of committee work at General Conference closed at 9:30 p.m. Saturday, May 14, and members of South Carolina’s delegation ended this phase of their work tired but sure the Holy Spirit had used them well.

After a Sabbath May 15, the next phase of General Conference will begin early Monday morning, and delegates will be on the floor voting with the rest of the nearly-1,000-member global body that represents The United Methodist Church.

May 14 began with worship led by Bishop Sudarshana Devadhar, of the Northeastern Jurisdictional’s Boston Episcopal Area, followed by a plenary session featuring the young people’s address.

Delegates spent the rest of the day in their committees delving into topics sometimes divisive and contentious and other times far simpler. On the heels of the Church and Society 2 committee chair who collapsed May 13, May 14 brought a second collapse: that committee’s vice chair, who fainted during discussion. As with the day prior, other committees stopped their work to take a few moments of prayer for their sister in Christ and to remind each other not to neglect self-care in their zeal to do God’s work for the UMC.

Midday Saturday, the Rev. Tim Rogers said the work of his committee—Judicial Administration—was going surprisingly well.

“It’s not been that intense, though there are moments that were fairly intense, but we somehow worked through those in less than five minutes,” Rogers told the Advocate. “I think our committee is dealing with some fairly difficult issues with a lot of congeniality and respect for one another, and I’ve been really pleased with that. In some ways, that’s at least as important as whatever it is that comes out of the committee.”

The Rev. Susan Leonard-Ray served in the Church and Society 2 committee, which was tasked with addressing what many consider to be the most challenging issues of this year’s General Conference: those pertaining to human sexuality. Leonard-Ray said what makes work on an already-sensitive topic even more difficult is the differing worldview of the United States delegates versus those from the Central Conferences, particularly Africa.

“The reality is many in the Central Conferences, particularly Africa, have issues with sexuality and with lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer/questioning people,” she said.

In some countries, Leonard-Ray said, parents will kick children and youth out of the home if they announce they are gay, which is so different from how often it is in the States.

“The language is, ‘They belong to the streets; let the streets take care of them,’ which stands in conflict with us (who are asking), ‘How do we care of the vulnerable, particularly children and youth,’” Leonard-Ray said. “From the starting point of that divide, the cultural challenge is huge, and the worldview is so drastically different.”

Lollie Haselden served as an alternate delegate and was able to fill in here and there for delegates who needed a break or had gotten ill. She spent the majority of her time observing different committees and the people in them.

“I’ve learned each committee functions differently depending on who’s the chair, and it’s really been a global experience,” she said Saturday. “People speak different languages and look different on the outside, but as we were reminded, even though we look and sound different, our hearts beat the same. We all serve the same God and all love the ministry of Jesus.”

Haseldon said she’s enjoyed that every day has begun with powerful worship.

“It’s like a Pentecost moment every day,” she said.

Two “God moments” have stood out for her during Genera Conference so far—moments where she has learned far more than she dreamed possible. One was during the Celebration of Laity dinner, when she was seated with the lay leader for Zimbabwe, a man named Simon.

“What Simon reminded us is that when people are hungry…you can’t give them Jesus Christ first,” Haselden said. “He said: ‘You have to feed them first.’ He was right—it’s so important to meet the everyday needs of people.”

The other “God moment” was when Haselden encountered a couple of men who were homeless and hungry, and they struck up a conversation. Haselden innocently blurted out, “Life sucks sometimes.”

“But the guy looked at me and said, ‘Life doesn’t suck. Sometimes the circumstances aren’t good, but life itself is beautiful.”

Right in that moment, he was showing Jesus to her, and for Haselden, that was the true meaning of General Conference.

All delegates requested continued prayer for them and all who are doing the work of the Lord at General Conference.

Check back Monday night for the next General Conference wrap-up.

Brodie is editor of the South Carolina United Methodist Advocate.

GC2016: Jessica Brodie’s General Conference May 13 wrap-up: A South Carolina perspective

Jessica-square350By Jessica Brodie

PORTLAND, Ore.—Legislative committees kicked their work into high gear at General Conference May 13, approving, amending, rejecting and merging hundreds of petitions that will go before the full body next week.

With the controversial Rule 44 rejected the day prior, the committees dove into their work the traditional way—and always with God at the fore.

After a morning worship that featured Bishop Sally Dyck of the North Central Jurisdiction’s Chicago Episcopal Area, the body heard the laity address, then spent the rest of the day in their separate committees reviewing their area’s petitions one by one.

Some of the work went smoothly, while other committees were rife with emotional displays and high-stress dialogue about many of the hot topic issues, such as human sexuality. One of the committee chairs, Church and Society 2 Chair the Rev. Morris Matthis, collapsed at the end of the day and had to be taken to the hospital, and as word spread, the other committees halted business to share a time of prayer for their brother in Christ.

South Carolina lay delegate Jim Salley, of the Financial Administration committee, said his committee’s work was extremely efficient and amicable. Salley has served on this committee in the past, and this year, he said, “It was the first time we’ve had a financial committee working very well without any really major tensions or arguments.”

“The hot button issues were there, and yet we’re finished (dealing with the legislation),” Salley said. “We were in a good spirit.”

Clergy delegate the Rev. Ken Nelson said his committee, Higher Education and Superintendency, has had to deal with several petitions dealing with controversial issues. Yet even though he just came off of seven “no” votes all in a row (on “third way” and same-sex marriage), he said the Holy Spirit has been strong throughout his committee’s process.

“Even though we’re differing on things, there is genuine listening,” Nelson said. “People are really trying to understand where’s God in this.”

Dr. Tim McClendon, South Carolina delegation chair, said the Independent Commissions committee has also been working very well. He was pleased that they were able to approve recommendation of legislation protecting the focus ministries of General Conference, such as United Methodist Men, United Methodist Women, Archives and History, etc.

“It’s hard work,” he said, but good work.

Hard work, indeed. Lay delegate Michael Cheatham sits on the Church and Society 2 committee, and he told the Advocate it had been a “long, long day and will be a long tomorrow.” His committee has to deal with a large number of highly contentious issues, most notably human sexuality.

“We are being deliberate and conscientious, but it’s a struggle,” Cheatham said. “Prayer is definitely needed. It’s been getting tense sometimes, and you can sense when the emotions are high.”

Several from South Carolina are also in Portland to help with the quadrennial event, whether as spectators, as pages or in other capacities. The Rev. Josh McClendon said he has been happy to serve as a support for the delegates, being a runner, scouting out restaurants for them and finding them snacks so they can better focus on the legislation at hand. The Rev. Travis Pearson is doing much the same.

“My South Carolina prayer is for stamina,” Pearson told the Advocate, noting that many of the delegates are experiencing sleepless nights and great emotional strain as they do their best to mull the issues and discern God’s will through it all.

Tomorrow, May 14, is the last day of committee work for General Conference. After a Sabbath break May 15, the body will resume May 16 as a full body for conference business.

Check back tomorrow for the next General Conference wrap-up.

Brodie is editor of the South Carolina United Methodist Advocate.

S.C.’s John Redmond travels to Portland to help get approval on his UMDF legislation

IMG_7172aBy Jessica Brodie

PORTLAND, Ore.—One South Carolina United Methodist headed to General Conference just to help legislation he proposed get approved by its legislative committee.

John Redmond, member of Buncombe Street United Methodist Church, Greenville, is also the president of the United Methodist Development Fund, which has been a part of the General Board of Global Ministries since the 1950s.

With the general treasurer of GBGM, Redmond proposed legislation this year that would make the United Methodist Development Fund a freestanding entity—and hence increase their ability to partner with groups and get larger amounts of money to help churches.

The Global Ministries committee moved to adopt the legislation, Petition 60588, Administration of United Methodist Development Fund, Para. 1313.1f, on May 13.

The following week, it was adopted by the full body (758 to 15).

By allowing the UMDF to be freestanding, “What it does is free up the United Methodist Development Fund to seek better ways to serve local churches,” Redmond said, noting the group makes first mortgages to United Methodist institutions such as new church starts, church roof repairs, camp ministries looking to build, etc. In the past, they haven’t been able to help very large projects, such as the recent Mount Horeb UMC expansion. Now that the body has passed the legislation, he said, “We can partner (on projects like these) and do big deals.”

The United Methodist Development Fund does not get church funding, nor is there a special offering for the fund. It’s “strictly business,” Redmond said.

GC2016: Indigo Girls call on UMC to love, support all people

indigo girlsBy Jessica Brodie

PORTLAND, Ore.—Calling their concert “one big love-fest,” indie folk rock duo the Indigo Girls headlined a Reconciling Ministries Network benefit concert May 13 during The United Methodist Church’s General Conference.

United Methodists and other fans packed the nearby First Congregational United Church of Christ for the sold-out concert, where the longtime, Grammy-award-winning band performed hits like “Galileo,” “Shame on You” and “Closer to Fine” to wild applause.

“We’re here to support and recognize the work of the Reconciling Ministries Network,” Indigo Girl Emily Saliers told the UMC-heavy crowd, lifting up love for all people, including those of differing sexual orientations and races.

Saliers is the daughter of Dr. Don Saliers, a United Methodist theologian, poet and musician who was the William R. Cannon Distinguished Professor of Theology and Worship at Emory University until his retirement in 2007. He is now Candler’s Theologian-in-Residence. Prior to the concert, early that evening, Saliers and her father performed at the UMC’s General Board of Church and Society reception and spoke about the role music plays in justice and awareness.

Her musical partner, Indigo Girl Amy Ray, is also a United Methodist, and the two have been performing together since elementary school. Both identify as lesbian and are active in social justice issues.

The concert was designed to support and bring new awareness for the Reconciling Ministries Network, which mobilizes United Methodists of all sexual orientations and gender identities to transform the church and world into the full expression of Christ’s inclusive love. Many in attendance wore T-shirts that proclaimed “It’s time,” referring to the RMN’s campaign targeting General Conference, which is considering legislation calling for recognition of same-sex marriage and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer/questioning clergy.

Saliers and Ray gave anecdotes before each song, explaining the message and some of the songwriting inspiration.

Before the song “Pendulum Swinger,” Saliers shared how the opening lines were written about her friend, Dr. Susan Henry-Crowe, Church and Society director.

Saliers also shared how the song “Come a Long Way” was about her second coming-out: as a Christian.

“My first was coming-out as queer. My second was coming out as a believer,” Salier said.

Ray shared her deep UMC roots—her grandfather and great-grandfather were both United Methodist ministers—and how she grew up in the UMC but left around the time she realized she was gay.

“That’s why we’ve got to change,” she said, noting the church needs to do a much better job of welcoming LGBTQ members.

The RMN has a General Conference press conference scheduled for 10:30 a.m. Monday, May 16, at The Jupiter Hotel in Portland, where UMC leaders and others will speak about the ongoing human sexuality debate.

Jessica Brodie is the editor of the South Carolina United Methodist Advocate.

Ready to represent: S.C. heads to General Conference

By Jessica Brodie

PORTLAND, Ore.—Nearly a year after they were elected to represent South Carolina at General Conference, 16 delegates and their two alternates are geared up and ready to do God’s will in Oregon.

For 11 days, May 10-20, South Carolina delegates will join with hundreds of United Methodists in Portland for the United Methodist Church’s quadrennial legislative gathering, where they will examine, discuss, pray, debate and eventually determine a host of key legislative issues that will become church law for the next four years. General Conference is the only entity that speaks for the full UMC.

“Saying ‘I’m excited!’ underestimates my reaction to the honor and privilege awaiting me at General Conference,” said first-time delegate Jackie Jenkins. “I consider myself tremendously blessed to have been elected to be a lay delegate to General Conference, and I give thanks every day that as one of South Carolina’s delegation, I will be part of the decisions on how we will proceed in the next four years.”

Jenkins and fellow lay and clergy delegates have been meeting monthly since their election last June to be more aware about the issues they will address and how to heed God’s will in the process. Delegates are divided into committees (see list, below) to examine approximately 1,000 items up for consideration, from restructuring the church to limited tenure for bishops to changing the clergy ordination process to the church’s stance on homosexuality (read the current stance: http://goo.gl/6Gxjcz).

The 864 delegates from around the world will ultimately revise The Book of Discipline, which regulates the manner in which the church is organized; revise The Book of Resolutions, which declares the church’s stance on social justice issues; approve plans and budgets for church programs; and elect members of the Judicial Council and the University Senate.

As South Carolina’s delegates prepare to do God’s will in Portland, many have expressed prayers, hopes and expectations about this year’s gathering, including a fervent call for fellow United Methodists to keep them in prayer.

Delegation chair and episcopal nominee Dr. Tim McClendon said he is in a time of deep prayer and preparation for General Conference. He and the delegation continue to pray that they will be able to accomplish all they need to do at General Conference to ensure the UMC continues making disciples for Jesus.

“A lot of my concern is how we will operate as a delegation, particularly first-timers but all of us, in navigating the process, rules and procedures so everything and everyone is taken care of,” McClendon said, noting he is focused on helping the other South Carolina delegates fulfill their functions so General Conference is a collegial and collaborative gathering reflecting the will of God.

“I hope we come out of it as a more unified church, hope we can come to a place where we are less focused on winners and losers, but a place where we can hold together,” McClendon said. “I invite everybody in South Carolina to be in prayer not just for the South Carolina delegation but for the spirit of General Conference. I’ve seen a lot of posturing out there in social media of folks who would like to co-opt the General Conference to press agendas that will be more divisive.

“I hope we can navigate the usual contentiousness and still come out on the side where we’re unified in what we believe: one Lord, one faith, one baptism.”

Lay Leader Barbara Ware, first elected lay delegate for GC2016, said she is honored to have the opportunity to serve the UMC in this capacity.

“The UMC shaped my life in so many ways, and I am grateful to those who went before me to help make that a reality,” Ware said. “I take my responsibility as a delegate seriously and humbly for those in the future who will call themselves United Methodist. I covet the prayers of the people that all we do at General Conference will glorify Jesus Christ.”

Lay delegate Martha Thompson also asked for prayer and said she believes General Conference will be an awesome experience. Even though this is her first time serving as a delegate to General Conference, she has been a lay delegate since 1988 to the Southeastern Jurisdictional Conference (slated for July) and has some idea of what to expect at General Conference.

“I grew up hearing about General Conference from a very young age, since my father had been elected as a clergy delegate from South Carolina four times in the 50s, 60s and early 70s,” Thompson said. “The climate of the church has changed since those days! This General Conference will be pivotal as we set the course for the future of our church.”

Thompson hopes South Carolina United Methodists will pray for every delegate each day of General Conference.

Dave Braddon also hopes people will pray for all delegates.

“We need to remember that in the midst of the kinetic pace and sometimes emotional proceedings, our goal is to hear God’s will and be as proficient as we can in knowing, loving and serving Christ and leading others to do likewise,” Braddon said. “Pray that the Holy Spirit will be with us in powerful ways and that, through God’s grace, we will collectively discern the will of God for the branch of the body of Christ that we call United Methodists.”

Braddon said that while human sexuality questions are important and will likely dominate the public reporting on General Conference, there are many other topics that will be discussed at the gathering, such as how to improve the process leading to ordination of clergy, how do we best function as a global church and how many board members should some of our agencies have. He hopes people will remember that.

The Rev. Narcie Jeter said she wants to be intentional about claiming that sense of hope and wonder that a people who can be so very different are rooted in that ultimate tie that binds: Jesus Christ. While a first-time clergy delegate this year, she took a class at Candler at the 2004 General Conference in Pittsburg and advocated for collegiate ministry at the 2008 and 2012 General Conferences, and she was able to listen to the passionate pleas there and watch political maneuvering.

“I remember standing in the bleachers as the entire body sang ‘Blessed Be the Tie that Binds’ after the communion chalice was broken, clinging to the words and moved by the Spirit,” Jeter said. “Some might call me optimistic, others naive, but I believe God can bring new and abundant life to our world. God can do a new thing that will shock our socks off if we dare to revive our God-inspired dreams. I’m praying for a revival, a Great Awakening, that starts in our hearts, our families, our communities, our churches, our world and our structures, our bureaucracy, our systems, our death tsunamis, our self interest, our pride.

“If we dare to imagine the possibilities, fervently praying all along the way, who knows what God will stir up in these people called United Methodists for the transformation of the world.”

Jenkins said she is eagerly anticipating fruitful Christian conferencing.

“My heart swells with joy just imagining the global magnitude of diversity and manifestation of the power of God through our worship, prayer and fellowship as we gather to do His work,” Jenkins said. “As we discern all of the decisions we have to make, I will keep God’s works and words with me and in me. My prayer is to remain spirit-guided and to make Godly decisions on the crucial legislation before us, understanding that all matters must have the focus of Kingdom-building.”

The full list of General Conference legislation is available at gc2016.umc.org. The South Carolina delegation’s final meeting before General Conference will be May 1 at 3 p.m. at the conference center; all are welcome to attend. Bishop Jonathan Holston will be at the meeting, where they will also make nominations for a jurisdictional pool of nominees for a variety of general boards and agencies. The final meeting, just prior to Jurisdictional Conference, is June 18.

Advocate Editor Jessica Brodie will cover General Conference in Portland. In-depth coverage of the full event will appear in the next edition. Also visit www.advocatesc.org for updates.

 

South Carolina members of General Conference 2016 Legislative Committees

  • Church and Society 1: The Rev. Narcie Jeter
  • Church and Society 2: Michael Cheatham, the Rev. Susan Leonard-Ray
  • Conferences: Herman Lightsey
  • Discipleship: The Rev. Mel Arant Jr., Dr. Joseph Heyward
  • Faith and Order: Dr. David Braddon, the Rev. Tiffany Knowlin
  • Financial Administration: James Salley
  • General Administration: Barbara Ware
  • Global Ministries: Martha Thompson
  • Independent Commissions: Dr. Tim McClendon
  • Judicial Administration: The Rev. Tim Rogers
  • Local Church: Dr. Robin Dease, The Hon. Jackie Jenkins
  • Ministry and Higher Education/Superintendency: The Rev. Ken Nelson

 

From a stable to a church: Waters Edge

Waters Edge UMC converts old horse barn into new space for worship

By Jessica Brodie

LADY’S ISLAND—One of the newer United Methodist churches in the state now has its very own space for worship—a converted horse barn on 10 acres of land that once housed wayward boys.

Waters Edge United Methodist Church, a mission congregation started in 2005 to serve the blended community of retirees, military families and nonmilitary locals in the Beaufort area, held its first service in their new church on Palm Sunday. They formally consecrated the building April 24 in a church-wide Celebration Sunday.

The building had been an old horse barn that was later remodeled into a residence and then a boys’ home. But while the building was in disrepair, it was structurally sound and surprisingly well-built, said their pastor, the Rev. Lane Glaze, who helped lead them through the building process. They added another 1,000 square feet onto the existing structure and fully remodeled the upstairs and downstairs. Today, the roughly 7,400-square foot creation is just perfect for them, Glaze said.

“This is a very unpretentious church, a come-as-you-are, be-who-you-are church, and the building has a very earthy vibe to it that fits the congregation,” Glaze said. “Plus, the whole Christian movement started in a stable, so it’s a neat tie-in.”

 

‘Something to celebrate’

Waters Edge was founded in 2005 after the South Carolina Conference purchased a 10-acre tract of land on Lady’s Island. In January 2007, the church launched with the Rev. Mel Arant as pastor, with services held at a movie theater early on. Later, they began to rent space in the gym of Beaufort Academy. But that was not ideal, Glaze said; it cost them nearly $20,000 in rent each year, plus they had to do a full set-up and tear down every Sunday for worship.

“You can imagine how fatigued this crowd was after nine years,” Glaze said.

Glaze was appointed there in 2013, and shortly after he arrived, the church began a needs assessment process to discern a path for the future. God led them to analyzing the future prospects of the building, and they soon realized they wanted their own space.

They learned it would cost them far less to renovate and add onto the building than to build from scratch, and a team of church members quickly stepped up to help. Civil engineer Phil Waters created plans for the building, Sheena Jenkins served as interior designer and George Clark was project manager. They started a capital campaign in early 2015 and in August 2015 selected TD Commercial Builders as the general contractor. Construction began soon after.

“It’s been my privilege to join them in the midst of this journey they’ve been on,” Glaze said, noting the new space is something the conference needs to celebrate.

Waters Edge is still a commissioned church, not yet a chartered church, even though they have begun paying toward apportionments, and this new step for them signifies initial steps toward being a long-term, viable congregation, Glaze said.

“We’ll be doing a lot of exploration over next six to 12 months about what our future looks like, and I’m excited to see where the Spirit leads us,” Glaze said.

 

From a mustard seed to a dream to true

As project manager, Clark says he hasn’t yet found relief in seeing the project come to fruition, because he’s still knee-deep in tying up final loose ends.

But, he said, “Every time I walk in the space and see what we have accomplished, it’s awe-inspiring.”

Clark said the project was a constant evolution, from the initial “mustard seed” idea, when they brainstormed about what would happen if they removed the stairs, into big dreams about a 27-foot-high, 50×20-foot add-on.

“We went from taking out the stairs to create more space, to bumping it out another 20 something feet, to giving it a gabled roof to give it the height you need for a church environment, and then it was just a matter of working through all the details,” said Clark, who has been active in the church since it launched.

The building was “a total redo” downstairs, Clark said. Because it had been converted into a boys’ home, the former structure consisted of a bunch of bedrooms and bathrooms, plus two kitchens, some office space, a tiny lobby and a dining hall.

Now, a sanctuary/fellowship hall, large lobby and handicap-accessible bathrooms comprise the downstairs, with children’s classrooms and a nursery upstairs, an upstairs viewing area with speakers, a library area and a small kitchen. All of it is situated on an expanse of wooded land accentuated by huge live oak trees out front.

“It’s just a beautiful setting,” Clark said. “Overall, it all worked out real well in seeing what we had and what we were trying to accomplish, and there were no major headaches.”

Jenkins not only did interior design but also the exterior façade for the new building, and she said the church worked to create a beautiful space that would be functional for the congregation and help them grow into their bright future. One of the church founders, Jenkins said the church has made a big impact on her family; her son Shaeffer, now 21, was the first person to be baptized when the church formed nine years ago. The time was ripe for a permanent building.

“The building needed expansion and a facelift in the same token, and a group of us all worked as a team and really tried to play up the assets of the building,” Jenkins said. “It took a lot of hands, a lot of work and a lot of backs to make it come true.”

She fused coordinated lighting, attractive paint colors, interior fixtures and space planning to make sure there was good egress into the building, plus a place to gather afterward. The final result is “so wonderful,” she said.

“We look forward to the future and what God has in store for us,” Jenkins said. “It truly reflects our church saying: God is good all the time.”

For more about Waters Edge: http://weumc.net.

Health premiums to jump 12.4 percent

By Jessica Brodie

South Carolina will see a hefty rate increase for healthcare next year in a plan that goes before Annual Conference in June.

The South Carolina Conference Board of Pensions and Health Benefits is proposing a 12.4 percent increase for plan participants and a 15 percent increase for churches for 2017. The increase comes on the heels of several years of sizable health claims across The United Methodist Church, which ended 2015 with a loss ratio of 142 percent. South Carolina had one of the highest increases and was a big part of that ratio, said the Rev. David Anderson, conference pensions and health benefits officer.

“It’s the aging of the population and unhealthy lifestyles,” Anderson said, noting South Carolina had a huge spike in prescription drug costs and a host of health issues, including joint degeneration, heart disease, diabetes, chronic renal failure and hypertension. The increase will cost churches $127 a month more over what they paid in 2015, Anderson said. Last year, churches were billed $839/month. Next year, they will be billed $966/month.

The conference board will be studying alternate health plans for 2018.

“The thing people don’t realize as a church is we’re having the same issues as the populace in general,” said Herman Lightsey, chair of the conference board. “As we get better medicines and better techniques, all those things cost money, and you know, today there’s a prescription for everything. Just watch TV at night if you don’t believe it.”

Lightsey said the board is doing its best to provide full, affordable care for its clergy and staff.

“South Carolina has pretty well stayed ahead of things, and we continue to look to see if there is something else we can do to provide for our folks and do it economically, and we’ll continue to do that,” Lightsey said. “But that’s a reality of insurance as we demand more, want more and people live longer.”

The conference had $9 million in claims for 2015 and paid out an average of $1,927 in prescription drugs per member (compared to the $1,414 average for the whole denomination), Anderson said.

The plan will be up for approval by the Annual Conference when the body gathers at the Florence Civic Center June 5-8.

For comprehensive information on pensions and health benefits changes going before Annual Conference in June, see pages 32-38 of the pre-conference materials (online at www.umcsc.org/ac2016).

Benefit concert to celebrate S.C. Imagine No Malaria efforts

By Jessica Brodie

FLORENCE—A big-name benefit concert will not only celebrate South Carolina’s efforts to eradicate malaria but also help raise final funds for the campaign.

Popular contemporary Christian band The Digital Age will perform in a free concert Tuesday night, June 7, at Annual Conference in Florence. A love offering will be taken to help Imagine No Malaria, and organizers are asking people to consider donating the cost of a typical concert ticket as their contribution. The Digital Age features four of the six musicians from the Grammy-nominated, multiple Dove Award-winning David Crowder Band; they headlined the South Carolina Conference’s youth Revolution event in 2013.

“It’s a celebration of what we have accomplished, but also an encouragement to continue raising awareness and funds for Imagine No Malaria,” said Imagine No Malaria Field Coordinator the Rev. Jeri Katherine Sipes.

Abigail Wiren, a teen who serves on the Imagine No Malaria Task Force, called The Digital Age “a band that will get you out of your out of your seat and have you dancing and singing and screaming the lyrics within minutes.”

By June 7, the task force hopes to have $1 million pledged or cash in hand so the concert can be a full celebration.

“We have three years total to turn in our $1 million, which was pledged in 2015, so we want churches and individuals to make pledges and bring pledge cards to the concert,” Sipes said. “If someone didn’t have time this year to take up an offering or host an event or a fundraiser for Imagine No Malaria, then you still have two more years.”

Pledge cards are available at inm.umcsc.org, and the conference can also provide resources to help with local fundraising efforts.

Organizers hope that not only Annual Conference attendees will come to the concert but also United Methodist youth groups across the state, as well as those outside the UMC.

Director of Communications Matt Brodie said the concert will be an exciting night that will help youth and others see the work the UMC has done throughout the world via Imagine No Malaria.

“Our pledge with Imagine No Malaria is a pledge to our mission throughout the world and to the least of these, and through these efforts, we not only live out our connectionalism but our calling,” Brodie said.

Sipes agreed.

“This has been a hard year for South Carolina with Mother Emanuel and the flood, so many emotionally and financially taxing days for our people, so we realize it’s been difficult to think past South Carolina when there are so many needs in our home state,” Sipes said. “But the world is still our parish, and we still have a calling to fulfill our $1 million pledge to save lives through Imagine No Malaria.”

Bishop Jonathan and Felecia Holston and the Cabinet have personally pledged $20,000 to date, leading by example, and churches and individuals across the state have been hard at work since last June raising money and awareness about the mosquito-borne disease.

And every little bit helps, Sipes said.

“One dollar per member per month for one year will put us over our goal,” Sipes said, noting that Florence District Superintendent the Rev. John Hipp has encouraged his district to give that amount for three years.

As with the conference’s successful Stop Hunger Now campaign, anything over the $1 million will stay in South Carolina to address statewide health concerns beyond malaria.

Love thy neighbor: Steady stream of teams from S.C., beyond pitch in with flood relief

By Jessica Brodie

South Carolina continues to get some much-needed flood recovery help this month from United Methodists across the nation.

United Methodist Volunteers in Mission and similar ministries are sending teams to help countless families in this state, many of whom are still displaced or living in desperate conditions after the October 2015 floods. Some of the teams are from South Carolina, while others hail from elsewhere in the United States.

“We’re pretty steady in terms of volunteers,” said Ward Smith, South Carolina Conference recovery manager, noting there are at least a couple of teams in each area most weeks. “We’ve been so fortunate with the teams, in regards to their skills and putting them on these job sites and how well they’ve adapted to doing the work, by bringing the tools and the skills that we need. We’re pretty thankful for that.”

Recent teams have helped in the Midlands, Conway, Summerville and the Manning/Summerton area, Smith said, and the conference flood recovery team is still actively calling for help in what is expected to be a years-long recovery period.

One recent team, an eight-person UMVIM team out of St. Luke United Methodist Church in Yorktown, Virginia, spent a week in April in the Dentsville area of Columbia repairing a single-family home in a small housing development. This is their second time here since the flood; they helped in Manning in February. Team leader Ron Dorenbush said the floors in the home were badly damaged, plus the structure had drainage issues. The team tore out the old floor, cleaned up the tile and, as of press time, were hard at work reinstalling tile throughout the 1,300-square-foot house. The family has been living in the home throughout the construction process, Dorenbush said.

“It’s a blessing,” Dorenbush said. “The people are so wonderful. We think we’re coming down here to bless them, but it’s just the opposite. People who have been displaced from their homes—you can’t understand it ‘til it happens to you. They will do anything to not distract us or our work, and they are so gushing with thanks. They walked down and saw the partial floor, and it looks rugged to us, but (the mother) said, ‘Oh, it looks so beautiful!’ It brings tears to the eyes.”

Dorenbush said he is grateful he can help more frequently now that he is retired. He said UMVIM work like this reminds him of his upbringing on a dairy farm in northern Minnesota.

“Minnesota has more tornados than any other state, and when a farmer loses a house, the community stops what they’re doing, even in the middle of harvest, loads all their tools and hooks up horses and tractors, and whole families go over and help until they’re back up to speed,” Dorenbush said. “It’s like one big picnic for a couple days, and then everybody goes back on.”

It’s much the same when he and others on UMVIM teams pitch in to help in South Carolina and elsewhere after a disaster, he said.

Another recent team, led by Erling Salvesen from Doyleston UMC in Doyleston, Pennsylvania, spent two weeks in April in the Blythewood area working on two mobile homes that had both flood and rain damage. The teams are part of Discovery Service Projects, a UMC- and UMVIM-affiliated group that does both domestic and international relief. A dozen people one week and then a dozen the next put a roof on one home and sealed a roof on another, plus did interior work such as new walls and ceiling and a kitchen re-do.

“When you’re dealing with really old homes that are in bad shape, the more you dig into them, the bigger the issues become,” Salvesen said. “One gentleman whose home we’re working on has recently become handicapped, so we had to repair the ramp going into the house. He lost his leg back in January, and he’s struggling with that situation and not able to do a lot. We’re trying to get him set up so he’s in a better place to live his life in his trailer there.”

Salvesen said the team went “above and beyond” for the man, purchasing a new stove for him, doing additional repairs and bringing in furniture because the old furniture was moldy and in poor condition.

A retired New York City firefighter and former member of the military, Salvesen said doing disaster relief in South Carolina and elsewhere fills a void in his life, and he is blessed to have the opportunity to do it.

“We all, especially those of us who are very fortunate, need to give back and love our fellow man,” Salvesen said. “It’s something we need to do. In spite of the fact that I get a lot out of it personally, it’s about trying to make a difference in people’s lives who are less fortunate. Anyone who saw the conditions (that older man) was living in a week ago when we got there would have to be moved to change that, and I can speak like that for anybody on the team. It’s just about trying to improve the life of our fellow human beings.”

Volunteers are needed for weeklong disaster relief at sites in the Midlands, Lowcountry and Florence/Myrtle Beach regions. To learn more or sign up, contact Chelsey Faircloth at cfaircloth@umcsc.org or 803-786-9486, ext. 257.

To make a donation to the flood relief effort or learn more about what the South Carolina Conference is doing to help, visit www.umcsc.org/screcovery.

The conference is seeking two construction supervisors, as well. Contact Smith at wsmith@umcsc.org.

‘Giving days’ help UMC advance specials, other nonprofits May 3

By Jessica Brodie

Get those debit cards ready. On May 3, several United Methodist-associated ministries are participating in regional online giving days, many with matching gift opportunities.

As of the Advocate’s press time, at least nine ministries associated with The United Methodist Church were participating in LowcountryGivingDay.org, MidlandsGives.org or SupportSpartanburgCounty.org. These sites, along with BigGivePeeDee.org, GiveLocalLancaster.org and others, enable people to search for their favorite local charity and easily contribute a tax-deductible donation. The giving days are a coordinated effort through Give Local America, which raised more than $121 million for thousands of nonprofit organizations since its inception in 2014.

Most of the websites have a minimum donation—$10 for Support Spartanburg County, $20 for Give Local Lancaster, $20 for Midlands Gives and $25 for Big Give Pee Dee—but there is no maximum. One hundred percent of the gift goes directly to the nonprofit, and some of these organizations will receive matching gifts up to a certain amount, so a donor’s gift can be worth much more.

“We just really appreciate that they are doing this for us,” said the Rev. Diane Moseley, executive director of Killingsworth, one of the ministries being helped. “It’s a good vehicle: online and so easy. You just push a button.”

Participating UMC-associated ministries as of press time are as follows (see sure to search the sites for your favorite ministry or charity):

The giving days will run any time May 3 between 12 a.m. and 11:59 p.m. (EST).

‘Heaven sent’ older adult missioners help Lake City church get back on its feet

By Jessica Brodie

LAKE CITY—Armed with hammers, scrapers and a lion’s share of energy, a team of older adults headed to the Pee Dee in April for their annual Older Adult Mission Event.

Every year, a team of largely retirees heads to a different district in the state to do repair work on a United Methodist church. This year, they repaired St. Luke UMC, Lake City, pastored by the Rev. Amiri Hooker.

Before the October floods, the church knew it had some minor repairs, and it was waiting until it could afford them. But with the flood, Hooker said, “The minor became really major.”

Water came into the building, leaving mold and mildew in its aftermath.

“People were literally getting sick,” Hooker said.

The hymnals and Bibles were covered with mold and mildew, they had to stop worshipping for about two weeks during the height of the problem, and the church secretary couldn’t even enter the building because her breathing problems combined with the mold sent her to the health center twice.

But when the older adult missioners decided to come do their part to help, Hooker and his congregation began to hope. They lined up a disaster response team, the Altoona District Disaster Relief and Mission Team from Altoona, Pennsylvania, to come in the week before the older adults. The disaster team did some of the heavier work—removing tiles with mildew and mold from the sanctuary, taking out part of the roof, adding new gutters, replacing Sheetrock, adding paneling and more.

Then, the week of April 18, the older adults came, washing down the woodwork, cleaning up, taking down popcorn, resealing vents and redoing the floor in the Fellowship Hall.

“It was heaven sent,” Hooker said. “I was really feeling kind of at my wit’s end—people were constantly sick, the church finances wouldn’t permit (repair)—and it’s just been really great to have persons come show the spirit of Methodism and help our congregation out.”

For her part, church secretary Jackie Moore (who is also member of the church council, chair of the kitchen committee and a lay servant) said she is thrilled to be able to return to her church home.

“It felt awful,” she said, dabbing away tears. “But now, it’s so heart-touching. It’s so great that we have such good people. They have to be God-sent to want to come and do this. It’s a blessing and a miracle, and I thank God for them.”

Daylong disaster training slated for June 7 at Annual Conference

By Jessica Brodie

Thanks to new awareness about disaster response after the October 2015 floods that devastated this state, South Carolina United Methodists will have the chance to get needed disaster training during this year’s Annual Conference.

On Tuesday, June 7, the conference will host a full day of disaster response trainings both for Early Response Teams and for United Methodist Volunteers in Mission. The trainings will help equip volunteers as relief teams and assist local churches in getting the help they need.

“The focus is on helping local congregations—is your disaster response plan effective, and what might be ways you can update plan and resource community in the event of a disaster or crisis?” said Conference Secretary the Rev. Ken Nelson.

The ERT training will be held 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. ERTs are trained volunteers who respond in the aftermath of a disaster, such as the 2015 floods, and tarp roofs, clean out damaged homes and cut access paths through storm debris. The cost for the ERT training is $35/person. Training includes how to use a chainsaw cutting prop and also a roof tarp prop. The $35 goes toward a shirt, cap, manual and badge. In addition, each person must complete a successful background check through the South Carolina Conference using Trak-1.

The UMVIM training will help churches create a disaster response plan to help the church and community better prepare for the unexpected. Bring a team from your church. Training will occur in the ballroom of the Florence Civic Center; park in the lower level parking lot. Cost and time will be announced soon.

Registration and other information will be on the Annual Conference 2016 website soon at www.umcsc.org/ac2016.

Faith Circle UMW is newest reconciling community in S.C.

By Jessica Brodie

Another United Methodist group in South Carolina has officially opened its arms to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.

The Faith Circle United Methodist Women, at St. Mark United Methodist Church, Seneca, has become a member of the Reconciling Ministries Network, an unofficial caucus of United Methodists who support full inclusion of all God’s children regardless of sexual orientation.

The Faith Circle is the sixth reconciling church or community within this state.

Nell Hodge, circle leader, said their group decided to become a reconciling community as a way to be more Christ-like and offer true Christian hospitality.

“We are a diverse group from many parts of the country with different backgrounds, but the one thing we all have in common is we are part of the Methodist Church, and the Methodist Church says we promise open hearts, open minds and open doors,” Hodge said. “With that, plus the fact that the United Methodist Women logo even states the words ‘faith hope love in action,’ we felt this was a way that we could put love into action.”

As part of its new status, the circle has produced a welcoming statement declaring itself as an open, affirming and reconciling community.

“We welcome all women, including those who have not always been accepted,” the statement reads. “We recognize differences among us but believe that we can love one another even though we may not always think alike. We especially embrace those who have been hurt in the name of Christianity, including persons of all sexual orientations and gender identities. The way we act toward others is the expression of our belief in God’s love for all His children (Matthew 18:20 and 2 Corinthians 5:18).”

Other reconciling communities in South Carolina include the St. Mark Misfits Sunday School Class, also at St. Mark UMC, Seneca; the Dawsey Sunday School Class and the Grace Sunday School Class at Washington Street UMC, Columbia; Dunean UMC, Greenville; and the Risher Brabham Adult Sunday School Class in Rock Hill.

More than 750 churches, Sunday school classes, campus ministries and other UMC groups have identified themselves as reconciling. For more information on the RMN, visit www.rmnetwork.org.

Advocate wins two more awards from Religion Communicators Council

The Advocate has won two more awards from the international, interfaith Religion Communicators Council in their annual DeRose-Hinkhouse Memorial Awards.

Advocate Editor Jessica Brodie won the award of excellence in the Newspaper Feature, Single Story, category for Hands in Prayer, Not Fists (August 2015 Advocate).

The Advocate won the certificate of merit in the Newspaper, Local periodicals category.

The awards were given March 31 at the RCC convention at The Interchurch Center, New York City.

The latest wins bring the total to 82 awards the Advocate has achieved since 2010.

“We’re proud of our outstanding editor and the quality of her work that continually is praised,” said Bill Click, chair of the Advocate’s Board of Trustees. “We’re always delighted to have outside organizations validate the work the Advocate is doing. We all take the Advocate’s ministry very seriously.”

The DeRose-Hinkhouse Memorial Awards are given to members of RCC who demonstrate excellence in religious communication and public relations. The RCC, founded in 1929, is an association of religion communicators who work in print and electronic communication, media, marketing and public relations. Faculty members from the Journalism and Mass Communications Department at Marshall University in Huntington, West Virginia, were responsible for judging the projects of religion communication professionals across the country.

Learn more: www.religioncommunicators.org.

Church council members ask GC2016 delegation to change homosexuality language in Discipline

By Jessica Brodie

Members of one church council are urging South Carolina delegates to General Conference 2016 to consider changing language in the United Methodist Book of Discipline regarding homosexuality.

Individual members of the church council of Clemson United Methodist Church, Clemson, submitted a letter to delegates in April and asking delegates to consider Clemson’s story as they consider proposals to amend The Book of Discipline regarding the church’s inclusion of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer persons. Recently, the church experienced pain as one of its lay staff members—feeling a call to ministry but unable to pursue ordination as clergy because of his sexual orientation—resigned.

“Our Clemson United Methodist Church family is like most. We do not agree on all things, and we live in the tension of how best to respond to questions regarding the church and LGBTQ persons today,” the letter reads in part. “But on this we agree: the current stance of The United Methodist Church is harmful to individuals and to local churches. We plead with you and the entire General Conference to remove the language of our current polity stating that the practice of homosexuality is ‘incompatible with Christian teaching.’ Further, we implore you to consider changes in our Book of Discipline so that local churches, who have the most interaction with persons considering calls to representative ministry, are empowered to recommend persons for candidacy without regard to sexual orientation or gender identity.”

See below for the rest of the letter.

Clemson’s senior pastor, the Rev. Keith Ray, said those who drafted the letter did not want to ask the council as a whole to send it because they did not want to make anyone not in agreement uncomfortable. So they produced a letter, shared it with the church council and invited individuals to sign it as they left the meeting.

“Everyone in attendance signed,” Ray said, noting others unable to be at the meeting dropped by after to sign it, too. ”I am so thankful for a community that, while we may not agree on every aspect of LGBTQ equality, is committed to being a place of welcome for all.”

Human sexuality is one of the major issues being addressed at this year’s General Conference. To learn more about this and other legislation the delegation will be addressing, visit gc2016.umc.org.

 

Letter from Clemson Church Council Members to S.C. General Conference Delegation

Dear Fellow United Methodist:

Grace and peace to you as you make final preparations for General Conference. We are thankful for your willingness to give yourself to the task of serving on the South Carolina delegation as you join United Methodists from all over the world May 10 – 20, 2016 in Portland, Oregon. We pray for you, that the Spirit will accompany you in your work and discernment.

We write today as individual members of the Church Council of Clemson United Methodist Church to share our story and ask that you remember the experience of our community and many others as you consider proposals to amend The Book of Discipline regarding the church’s inclusion of LGBTQ persons. We are keenly aware of the limitations of our current polity because we are now dealing with the consequences of losing a gifted lay staff member who no longer feels he can serve The United Methodist Church. As a worship leader in our newest Sunday morning service, he stands before the community each week, helping the assembly sing praises to God. His many talents in creative design have been crucial in increasing the impact of our new service, which has brought many persons to our community, some who have been away from the Church for a long time, some new to the Church, and some longing for a faith community that embodies the grace and love for all people that is clearly seen in the life of Jesus. Our young staff member has impacted our church and community in significant ways. Indeed, he feels called to ordained ministry in The United Methodist Church but he knows he cannot pursue this calling in South Carolina as a gay man. As an infant he was baptized in The United Methodist Church. He has served in district and annual conference ministries as a youth and young adult. He has felt the embrace of a local church when coming to terms with his own sexual orientation. But now, in his move toward honesty, he is experiencing the pain of exclusion as embodied in our current Book of Discipline. We have discovered that we are faced with a dilemma that the Church has experienced before: we see a person filled with the Spirit and gifted uniquely for ordained ministry but who is, based on Church polity, excluded. He is, in the eyes of our connectional Church, a Samaritan.

Our Clemson United Methodist Church family is like most. We do not agree on all things and we live in the tension of how best to respond to questions regarding the Church and LGBTQ persons today. But on this we agree: the current stance of The United Methodist Church is harmful to individuals and to local churches. We plead with you and the entire General Conference to remove the language of our current polity stating that the practice of homosexuality is “incompatible with Christian teaching.” Further, we implore you to consider changes in our Book of Discipline so that local churches, who have the most interaction with persons considering calls to representative ministry, are empowered to recommend persons for candidacy without regard to sexual orientation or gender identity.

In early Christianity the people of God had to consider how wide the welcome of God was going to be in Church polity and practice. With the guidance of the Holy Spirit, they chose to open the doors to the Church in ways that many found troubling. Yet their decision was the right one and the Church flourished as the message of Jesus extended beyond Jerusalem. We believe the Spirit is moving in a similar way today in the Church, calling us to reform, especially as we learn more about human sexuality and the sacred imprint upon all human lives regardless of gender identity and sexual orientation.

Know of our prayers for you and all who gather in a few weeks to consider how best to live our calling as United Methodist Christians in the world. May the Spirit be poured out upon you and all who are called to lead as our delegates. Grace and peace.

—Individual members of the Clemson UMC Church Council

The big picture

By Bishop Jonathan Holston

“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”—Matthew 28: 19-20

“You’ve got to see the bigger picture!” Frankly, I do not know who is given credit for this phrase, but it shares a significant insight.

There is a story attributed to Peter Drucker that speaks to the aspect of seeing the bigger picture; namely: “One day a traveler walking along a lane came across three stonecutters working in a quarry. Each was busy cutting a block of stone. Interested to find out what they were working on, he asked the first stonecutter what he was doing. He replied, ‘I am cutting a stone.’ Still no wiser, the traveler turned to the second stonecutter and asked him what he was doing. He said, ‘I am cutting this block of stone to make sure that it’s square and its dimensions are uniform, so that it will fit exactly in its place in a wall.’ A bit closer to finding out what the stonecutters were working on but still unclear, the traveler turned to the third stonecutter who seemed to be the happiest of the three. When asked what he was doing, the third stonecutter replied, ‘I am building a cathedral!’

“All three were doing the same thing and knew how to do their job. What set the third stonecutter apart was that he could see the bigger picture.”

Indeed, this recognition that we are a part of a larger picture broadens our understanding of a global landscape, which includes our local community, city, state, nation and world. While community in a local church is an essential element of our faith, we also share membership in a larger denomination with districts, annual conferences, jurisdictions and a worldwide church body. In fact, we are connected together in ways that bring both challenge and celebration. This special bond is called “the connection.” This connectedness allows us to do more together than can be done individually. We are part of a much bigger picture!

As you receive this edition of the Advocate, The United Methodist Church is sharing with its global community at the 2016 General Conference session May 10-20. Delegates (lay and clergy) representing 131 annual conferences from around the world will assemble in Portland, Oregon, for a time of prayer and planning to guide the UMC for years to come.

The 2016 General Conference theme, “Therefore Go,” is based on the Great Commission and serves as a support for our mission to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. It is an expression of our ministry, which makes space for us to give of our time, talent, gifts, service and witness.

I invite all United Methodists in South Carolina to stand with other United Methodist congregations around the world to pray for the following: 1) the leadership of the General Conference as they organize the work that takes place daily, 2) the delegates who have come from around the world to worship, pray, consider legislation, fellowship and praise God for all that needs to be accomplished in this gathering, 3) the bishops who are faithfully presiding in this time of Christian conferencing, 4) the boards, agencies, translators, volunteers and guests who are tirelessly attending to the details and needs, and 5) the city of Portland, which serves as the host city, in providing a wonderful experience for all.

While we recognize not every United Methodist from South Carolina will be in Portland, the bigger picture is that all of us can engage in prayer for God’s will to shape the future of our church. This is a time that we can pray diligently and stay alert with our eyes wide open in gratitude.

General Conference, here I come

By Jessica Brodie

This month, The United Methodist Church is gearing up for its quadrennial family reunion: General Conference.

Yes, “family reunion” was my takeaway from the 2012 General Conference, when this editor stood with a notepad, a smartphone and an open mind and watched about 1,000 of my Methodist brothers and sisters from the United States, the Philippines, Africa and beyond come together for business and worship. GC2012 was my very first time at the denominational event, and while I’d expected an international mob scene rife with debate and thin-lipped arguments over some of the hot-button issues, I was pleasantly surprised by the congenial, family-style atmosphere that greeted me instead.

Like any family reunion, there were the snarky comments, elbow jabs and posturings for position. But there was also plenty of love and what I saw to be an overriding “team UMC” spirit. People genuinely wanted to work together, to enjoy each other’s company and to serve the head of the family: Father God.

I won’t be a total “newbie” this time around, though I still feel woefully ignorant about so many of the issues our delegation will face. I’ve pored through the legislation and the Advanced Daily Christian Advocate. I’d read the remarkably well-written and well-researched articles by the experienced news staff at United Methodist News Service (gc2016.umc.org). Yet as I prepare to travel this month to Portland, Oregon, for the May 10-20 event, I must admit that, again, I truly have no idea what to expect and what will come of some of the most contentious issues (human sexuality, immigration and ordination among them).

But that’s where the Holy Spirit comes in, and rightfully so. We can’t pretend to have all the answers and be completely prepared when it comes to doing God’s business. And frankly, we shouldn’t have those answers. Pride is one of humanity’s biggest stumbling blocks, and it arises when we dare to believe we can make decisions about God’s church instead of being humble enough to let our egos slide away and let ourselves be God’s instruments.

I invite you to join me in prayer for our delegation and for delegations around the world, for those in United Methodist caucuses and other groups who will be imploring the body to pass or reject certain legislation, and for news writers like myself who will be trying our best to fairly and responsibly cover General Conference for the world.

Let’s God’s will be done in this and in all things.

Advocate S.C. Stories of Racial Awakening Project: Narrative 2

Privilege is not pretty

By Cindy Curtis

Editor’s note: The following is the second narrative accepted for publication in the Advocate’s new South Carolina Stories of Racial Awakening Project. The Advocate will select up to 10 narratives to be published in the Advocate, one a month for 10 months. See guidelines here.

I am not prejudiced! I lived through integration, welcoming the students who were bussed across town into my seventh grade class with open arms. I was one of the first of my peer group to make true friends with the black kids.

I am not prejudiced!

That is what I kept telling myself as I attended a meeting led by my pastor, the Rev. Brad Gray. He asked us to just come and have a conversation about race. Simply talk. He showed us a clip from an annual conference Bible study by the Rev. Paul Harmon. Harmon addressed a concept I had never heard mentioned before called white privilege. Just the sound of those two words sent shivers of righteous indignation up my spine. The very words evoke a strong negative connotation. I immediately went into defense mode. Rightly so, because I am white, but I am not privileged or prejudiced.

As the video played out, I began to squirm a little, because he talked about things I had never even considered in race relations. Simply because I am white, I do not have to think about them. I take for granted that no one will judge me as a threat just because of the color of my skin when I walk into a store, a darkened parking lot or a playground. I take for granted that people will not cross to the other side of the street when I walk down the sidewalk or clutch their purse a little tighter because I walk by. This is white privilege. Because I am white, I do not have to think about or grapple with these injustices that people of other races deal with every day.

Maybe I am a little prejudiced?

A short time later, I attended a conference where Kathy Khang, one of the authors of “More Than Serving Tea,” shared her experiences of life in America from her perspective as an Asian. I am not really prejudiced, but I wanted to hear her speak. After she spoke of the American stereotyping of her culture, she showed some photos on the large screens of a church having a Mexican-themed supper night. The smiling people had on those fake mustaches and large sombreros, obviously enjoying the event. I was not sure where she was going with this until she spoke out that this type of racial stereotyping is offensive and an insult to their culture to portray the Mexican heritage as mustached sombrero-wearing peasants. The church probably did not even consider their themed supper could be hurtful. White privilege strikes again.

Scrolling through my social media feed, I came across a blog written by Maralee Bradley, a white mom of an adopted black son. She wrote this to the parents of her son’s white friends. She calls them to action asking them to talk about racism and to call people out for making racist comments. She admonishes them to treat her son with respect, not to ask if they can touch his hair or speak cultural slang to him. She tells her son to keep his hands out of his pockets and to not sneak around in white peoples’ yards playing hide and go seek. She asks the white friends to stand by her son should something occur, and that they not run away and leave him alone to face accusers who will judge him by race before they ask questions.

I never had to think about any of this when my white children went to visit a friend’s home. Just because I am white. Privilege is not pretty.

So yes, parts of me are prejudiced. I have to change. I will face white privilege, and I will call it what it is. No more excuses. No more acting like it is not that bad. I make excuses that it is not intentional, and I would never hurt someone who is different from me. I just don’t think like that. But not thinking about something is just as bad as intentionally hurting someone.

Curtis, 57, is a white female and a member of St. Andrews Parish UMC, Charleston.

United Ministries, GAIHN unite to expand efforts to address poverty and promote self-sufficiency in Greenville

GREENVILLE—After years of partnering to assist those in need in Greenville, United Ministries and the Greenville Area Interfaith Hospitality Network are making plans to join together by merging into one organization, creating greater capacity to serve those striving to achieve financial stability and self-sufficiency.

The boards of both nonprofits are pleased to announce that they have voted to proceed with the merger and have signed a letter of intent. The merger is expected to be effected on July 1.

United Ministries and GAIHN complement each other in both their mission and programming. United Ministries, which has been working in the Greenville community for more than 45 years, provides life changing opportunities and advocacy for those who are in financial crisis, lack education or employment skills or who are homeless.

United Ministries was founded in 1970 by the South Carolina Conference of The United Methodist Church. The organization recently received the highest possible four-star rating from Charity Navigator. GAIHN assists local congregations to share hospitality in the form of emergency shelter, meals and short-term housing with homeless families that include children. They also work with clients to achieve self-sufficiency.

“The work of United Ministries and GAIHN shares many similarities,” said GAIHN Executive Director Tony McDade. “We both assist and equip those who need a ‘hand up’ to become independent and productive members of our community. By joining together, community resources that support our organizations will be maximized and utilized more efficiently. As a result, more people will benefit from our services and we will be better positioned to expand our programs.”

The planned merger is not focused on cost savings, although these are expected, emphasized McDade. The uniting of the two organizations is centered on growing the capabilities and reach of GAIHN and United Ministries. Operating as one organization will allow for enhanced program integration and increased accessibility for clients.

“We believe that joining these two strong agencies will create an entity that is uniquely positioned to serve as a leading organization on issues related to poverty and homelessness in Greenville,” explained Alan Marshall, chair of the board for United Ministries. “We want to play a key role in facilitating collaboration among all stakeholders who are working on these issues so that together we can identify and tackle community-wide goals.”

“When the organizations come together, GAIHN will continue as before, but as a part of United Ministries,” said McDade. “We are particularly excited about the opportunity to closely share information that will enable us to track participants’ progress toward their goals of gaining financial stability and becoming self-sufficient.”

According to United Ministries’ Interim Executive Director Ethan Friddle, board and staff members from both agencies have been working with consultants since last fall to carefully consider and explore the possibility of merging. A grant from the United Way of Greenville County provided the resources to enable both organizations to complete initial due diligence prior to the joining of the agencies and fund other merger-related costs. The Community Foundation of Greenville has also supported the agencies’ efforts to collaborate.

Advocate S.C. Stories of Racial Awakening Project: Narrative 1

My rude awakening

By Anne Bonnette Harmon

Editor’s note: The following is the first narrative accepted for publication in the Advocate’s new South Carolina Stories of Racial Awakening Project. The Advocate will select up to 10 narratives to be published in the Advocate, one a month for 10 months. See guidelines here.

I am a 74-year-old white woman. In 1961, I had a rude awakening.

I am a native South Carolinian (Georgetown) and had never gone to school with African Americans. Only white girls attended my alma mater, Winthrop College. The summer after my sophomore year, I worked as a camp counselor at a Jewish girls’ camp in upstate New York. There were counselors and kitchen workers from Oberlin, Princeton and other northern colleges. In the evenings, we would gather to discuss the world’s problems and stuff ourselves with leftover desserts. I was confronted with questions about segregation, which I defended at the time.

Those questions, however, started my conversion, and I began to realize that maybe I was wrong.

I had grown up in the segregated South, and while my family was never mean or ugly to our black neighbors, it was assumed by everyone that whites were superior. I remember as a child wondering what would happen to me if I drank from the “Colored” water fountain in Belk’s Department Store. I observed the black Christmas parade and was told that the band’s uniforms were hand-me-downs from the Winyah High School band.

My dad was an area supervisor for South Carolina Vocational Rehabilitation, and he worked with disabled blacks and whites. He told us of some of the injustices and poverty that he saw as he made his rounds of Georgetown, Horry and Williamsburg counties. The poverty he described was almost unbelievable—little children wearing only a shirt and no diaper, that sort of thing. When Fritz Hollings did his tour of the Lowcountry and exposed the poverty he found, it was no surprise to my father.

I remember black girls picketing outside the fence at Winthrop, carrying signs that said “This is the South Carolina College for Women. We are women, too.”

Hmm. Maybe they have a point, I thought.

I remember my minister saying blacks would not be welcome in his church. My mother responded, “I thought this was God’s church.” (That may have been the beginning of his racial awakening; he became a friend of many African Americans.)

Then I married Sam, a divinity student at Duke. He told me about two of his professors who were arrested for participating in a lunch counter sit-in in Chapel Hill. While Sam was a seminary student, he served two tiny churches in the Durham area. One morning in a sermon, he mentioned the name of Martin Luther King, and one man stopped coming to church for six months. It was interesting to be exposed to what was being said at the seminary and, on the other hand, to listen in on the conversations of the people in those two churches.

While we were in Durham, I taught in a nearby high school. The mid-1960s were when “freedom of choice” was supposed to be the answer to the Supreme Court’s order to desegregate public schools. Two black teenagers were in my classes. They suffered insults from white students, and one of them actually lost his hair. I remember sending him on an errand one day so I could lecture the class on loving kindness. The vitriol was appalling.

In the early 1970s, Sam accepted several young black men from Nigeria as members of our church in Rock Hill. They were attending Friendship Junior College and had been converted to Christianity by Methodist missionaries. The day they joined the church, four choir members got up during the service and walked out. That afternoon Sam received a call from somebody—anonymous, of course—who threatened to burn down the church.

You can imagine that, by this time, both of us had seen enough to be convinced that South Carolina, as well as the rest of the country, had a long way to go toward racial harmony and equality. I could tell more stories, such as the fury in West Columbia and Cayce in the 1990s over resettling Bantu refugees in Cayce. Because of his stand on that issue, Sam received a phone call from someone who told him he might be in danger and should watch out.

We were happy when Barack Obama became president of the United States but have been appalled by the way he has been treated. The story goes on and on, to the point that now there are those who are determined he has no right to appoint someone to the Supreme Court.

God help us all.

Harmon is a member of Cayce United Methodist Church, Cayce.

Six months after the flood

UMCSC a helping hand for churches, families displaced or in need

By Jessica Brodie

CHARLESTON—When the rains came last October, Trinity United Methodist Church took a pelting. The historic downtown Charleston church didn’t get flooded, but instead stood like a sponge as an estimated 4 trillion tons of rainwater poured out of the skies, breaking through Trinity’s aging roof and swamping an empty space between the sanctuary and annex.

“If you can visualize a box being filled with water, and that water has no place to go but in the walls and up into the ceiling space,” said Trinity’s pastor, the Rev. Greta Bridges.

Water literally is in the walls still, and even though the 200-year-old church scraped together money from their endowment to pay for a roof repair, six months after the flood, the paint and plaster have absorbed the water and are popping and cracking with the pressure.

“All these months later, you can still see the dark spots in the walls. You tap on the walls, and you can hear where the stucco finish on the outside is separating the block from the inside,” Bridges said. “We’re being told to just wait for the building to literally dry out and then go back and try to fix the interior plaster and outside stucco and paint—and hope and pray it doesn’t deteriorate any further.”

Six months after the devastating Oct. 3-4 storms swept over this state, its floodwaters and fury leaving thousands displaced and thousands more with costly and debilitating repairs, many churches, homes and businesses are still struggling to put the pieces back together.

Trinity is one of several United Methodist churches that experienced much damage from the 2015 flood. Others—including St. Michael UMC, Cades; Trenholm Road UMC, Columbia; Canaan UMC, Ridgeville; Mount Zion UMC, Kingstree; Mill Creek and McLeod UMCs, Eastover; Good Hope Wesley Chapel UMC, Camden; and more—struggled with flooding and mold, and at least one, Canaan, is not even back in its place of worship six months later.

Homeowners are struggling just as hard, if not harder. Many are displaced from their homes, living in temporary housing or with relatives, and some never left, with no other option but to stay in their homes with the mold and debris, waiting for help to arrive.

Now as South Carolina hits the six-month mark, The United Methodist Church continues its work to serve families in need, together with local churches and communities. The conference’s flood recovery team is working daily to repair homes, advocate for families and be Christ in the world for those who need it most.

 

UMC: There to help

Ward Smith, recovery manager, said the emotional and logistical work performed by case managers is just as critical as the physical work being done by United Methodist Volunteers in Mission teams. Three case managers in all three affected regions—Lowcountry, Midlands and Florence/Coast—are doing everything from appeals to the Federal Emergency Management Agency to connecting people with agencies to finding furniture for homeowners to prayer.

“It’s been a long time in many respects, coming up on six months, but in another respect it hasn’t been that long in the grand scheme of things, so people are concerned,” Smith said. “A lot of people are waking up with the reality that their house is damaged, and at the six-month mark, it’s overwhelming.”

Plus, Smith said, there are not a lot of places to turn for help. The South Carolina Conference is one of a handful still active in flood recovery.

“A lot of agencies doing help with early response are not here anymore,” Smith said. “There were 90 agencies that came in and had teams doing muck out, and now there are only about five to 10.”

The task is big, but Smith and the UMCSC flood recovery team are stepping up in whatever way possible.

“The reality is the ‘overwhelmingness’ of days becomes the overwhelmingness of weeks, which hopefully becomes the repairs and rebuilds of the months, but in some cases it becomes the frustration of ‘Well, I’ve called seeking help but…’” Smith said.

In a lot of cases, he said, families don’t know what to do next.

“Teams went through, mucked out, got the sheetrock out and they’re gone, and families are like, ‘Now what?’” Smith said, noting that six months later, mold is just as much a problem as the damaged home itself, and cleaning and mold-removal are a critical part of today’s flood recovery effort.

Thanks to donations from individuals and grants from groups like the United Methodist Committee on Relief, the conference flood recovery team is staffed up and doing everything is can to be God’s hands and feet to those in need.

 

‘I’m trying to hold it together’

And the need is great. Just ask the Rev. Jack Washington, pastor of Canaan UMC, Ridgeville. Floodwaters destroyed their sanctuary and left their family life center in disrepair, and members have been worshipping in nearby Sand Hill UMC for the past six months.

Thanks to United Methodist flood teams and other help, they have been able to repair and renovate the family life center, and are hoping to start worshipping there the second Sunday in April. They redid the kitchen, replaced the plumbing and floor, built a new stage and added new bathroom fixtures and stainless steel kitchen appliances.

“It’s a gym, so we’ll have plenty of room to worship,” Washington said.

But as for the church building itself, it’s on pause. The entire building has been emptied, and Washington said the Department of Health and Environmental Control has now found asbestos, so they might have to tear the whole building down.

“It’s very stressful for the congregation, but as the pastor, I’m trying to hold it together,” Washington said. “It’s stressful for me, too, but so far we’re holding them together.”

Trinity UMC, Charleston, is still able to worship in their sanctuary, and so far Bridges said they have stopped any additional water damage and haven’t seen any signs of mold or mildew, but they’re still holding a collective breath.

“Anytime it rains, we have a backup in the drainage system in Charleston and a puddling of water still in the walls, but at leas it’s not as bad as it was,” Bridges said.

Their struggle is also a financial one. Because it wasn’t technically a flood, they didn’t qualify for FEMA funds, but Bridges said they were “insurance poor” and had to pay $100,000 for their new roof. They were able to pull from their endowment to pay for that, but they had been using the interest from that fund to cover operating costs and stay afloat. As the oldest continuous congregation in Charleston in one of the oldest sanctuaries in Charleston, right at the corner of Meeting and Society street, they’re doing all they can to get by.

“It’s been a very expensive storm,” Bridges said, and Trinity is not the only church facing this problem in downtown Charleston. “The building is not the church, the congregation is, but they know the history the church has and they’re trying to preserve that history.”

For now, they’ve beefed up their local fundraising efforts, plus started a Go Fund Me site (GofundMe.com/trinityumc) to help.

 

Volunteers needed

Volunteers of all kinds are still very much needed, as are places for teams to stay while they do repairs, Smith said.

Churches or individuals who want to provide a location or form a rebuild team should contact Stephanie Hunt, volunteer coordinator, at shunt@umcsc.org. Non-construction volunteers are also needed to do things like paperwork, phone calls, assessment, driving trucks and trailers, transporting debris to the dump, etc. Contact Smith at wsmith@umcsc.org.

For those who need flood assistance, the phone and email hotline remain open: 800-390-4911 or screcovery@umcsc.org.

 

How to help

  • Form a rebuild team
  • Provide a place for teams to stay
  • Be a non-construction volunteer
  • Donate money

For more information: shunt@umcsc.org or www.umcsc.org/screcovery

Changing how S.C. Native American history is taught

Resolution to go before Annual Conference

By Jessica Brodie

If you listen to state social studies education standards, Native Americans are a “dead” people, their history centering on the distant past and entirely ignoring contemporary issues facing tribes today, say Native American South Carolina United Methodists. But The United Methodist Church could play a role in changing that if the South Carolina Conference passes a new resolution brought by the Native American Committee.

The Native American Committee has submitted a Resolution on Changing South Carolina Department of Education Social Study Standards Regarding Native Americans, which will be voted on at this year’s Annual Conference, June 5-8 in Florence. The resolution is the only one received to date, said Conference Secretary Ken Nelson.

The Advocacy area of Conference Connectional Ministries has endorsed the resolution, said the Rev. Amiri Hooker, Advocacy chair. Hooker said strengthening the standards has been at the fore of Native American trainings he and the committee have participated in for about two years.

“The social studies standards are really lacking and need to be strengthened to really appeal to the concerns of Native Americans across the state,” Hooker said. “Our committee continues to deal with issues of inclusion, and we just overwhelmingly felt it was our responsibility to continue to support the work the Native American Committee has been doing

Tracy Pender, NAC chair, said the resolution is necessary because South Carolina children are growing up believing mistruths about Native Americans.

“Teachers base their instruction on South Carolina standards and not textbooks,” Pender said. “We want teachers trained on how to teach Indian culture so they know myths and stereotypes from the truth and how to select appropriate materials. Too often, fictional books are used to teach as non-fiction and fact.”

The next revision for the South Carolina social studies standards is in 2017. Current education standards of the South Carolina Department of Education require that students are educated about only three Native American tribes: the Catawba, Cherokee and Yemassee. Of these tribes, the Catawba are the only South Carolina tribe that is still extant and has federal recognition (the Cherokee are located in North Carolina and the Yemassee are no longer an organized tribe). The NAC would like education standards to also include the nine state recognized tribes, as well as the fact that the Catawba were terminated by the federal government and they had to work hard to regain their federal recognition. Additionally, the standards teach Indian history from the past, with no mention of modern issues. They also leave out mention of Lady Cofitachequi, an important Native American female leader, as well as the three school systems during South Carolina’s “separate but equal” period—not only black and white but also red—further illuminating what the NAC calls the invisibility of Native people.

“We are essentially ‘dead’ people,” Pender said. “Social studies standards have current, modern issues for whites, blacks, Hispanics, women and Asians. Yet Native Americans are not brought from past to present and there are no requirements for modern, contemporary Indian issues.

“We would like that changed.”

The resolution calls for the South Carolina Conference to support the NAC in demanding changes in the South Carolina Department of Education Social Studies Standards in 2017 to reflect true and accurate information and education about the nation’s Native American people and the federal- and state-recognized tribes of South Carolina, as well as proper education in bringing American Indians from the past to the present.

It also calls for the conference to reaffirm its pledge to recognize the indigenous people of this nation and South Carolina as citizens and neighbors, accepting them for whom God made them to be.

“As part of that support, we encourage the elimination of continued myths, stereotypes and misinformation in order to support removal of the historical grief and trauma experience by Native Americans,” the resolution states. “Further, we seek to enhance their pride and self-esteem and afford them the ability to overcome the obstacles faced in today’s society.”

Lee Anne Lamar, Native American representative for Chapin UMC, Chapin, said she supports the resolution.

“Myths are never good and misinformation is never good, and having taught in the schools, I find they seem to teach the same things over and over again when there’s so much to be known about Native Americans in general,” Lamar said, noting many people do not realize that most rivers in South Carolina are named after tribes, and expanded, accurate knowledge can help us all become a people of inclusion and not exclusion and fear. “Any time you can bring knowledge it helps to dispel myths and increases appreciation.”

Lamar said that, in Scripture, Paul talked about how we should not throw stones in people’s path, and changing state social studies standards will move rocks of ignorance out of the way.

 

Resolution on Changing South Carolina Department of Education Social Study Standards Regarding Native Americans

Whereas, the current South Carolina Department of Education Social Studies Standards do not recognize, acknowledge or require education on all of the South Carolina federal and state recognized tribes; and

Whereas there are no requirements to move American Indian people from past to present teaching not only about the past but modern and contemporary issues for both South Carolina and the nation; and

Whereas there is a need for support for teacher professional development to prepare educators to instruct about historically and current, accurate, factual information about American Indian; and

Whereas, the impact of these deficiencies perpetuates the promulgation and reinforcement of stereotypes and myths about American Indian people resulting in them continuing to be “invisible” people within our state and society; this contributes to the historical grief and trauma of the American Indian people reflected by low self-esteem. Native Americans have some of the most grim, negative statistics faced by any racial group in America including poor health, high substance abuse, high teen pregnancy, high teen dropout, and the highest suicide and accidental death among the youth; and

Whereas, true multiculturalism and diversity require an increase in personal and societal awareness, the learning of new behaviors, and removal of bias and barriers, changes in policies and practices, and structure, and creation of new rules and procedures; and

Whereas, page 162 of the Book of Discipline states, “We affirm all persons as equally valuable in the sight of God. We therefore work toward societies in which each person’s value is recognized, maintained, and strengthened. We support the basic rights of all persons to equal access to housing, education, communication, employment, medical care, legal redress for grievances and physical protection…Our respect for the inherent dignity of all persons lead us to call for recognition, protection and implementation of the principles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights so that communities and individuals may claim and enjoy their universal, indivisible, and inalienable right;” and

Therefore be it resolved, that the following resolution is adopted by the 2016 South Carolina Annual Conference:

The South Carolina Conference of the United Methodist Church pledges its support, assistance and advocacy to the United Methodist Native American Committee for demanding changes in the South Carolina Department of Education Social Studies Standards in 2017 to reflect true and accurate information and education about this nation’s Native American people and the federal and state recognized tribes of South Carolina, and the proper education bringing American Indians from the past to the present.

The conference continues to reaffirm its pledge to recognize the indigenous people of this nation and South Carolina as citizens and neighbors accepting them for whom God made them to be. As part of that support, we encourage the elimination of continued myths, stereotypes and misinformation in order to support removal of the historical grief and trauma experience by Native Americans. Further we seek to enhance their pride and self-esteem and afford them the ability to overcome the obstacles faced in today’s society.

Men ‘make their mark’ at 1,100-man ministry retreat

By Jessica Brodie

MYRTLE BEACH—This year’s Men N Ministry Weekend was the largest men’s event South Carolina has ever seen, and now, men’s ministry leaders are taking to their knees for next steps in Kingdom-building.

Nearly 1,100 men—eight times the number that came in 2013—headed to Myrtle Beach Feb. 19-21 for the annual United Methodist Men’s spiritual retreat. Held at Christ United Methodist Church, the “Make Your Mark” themed weekend included wisdom from a host of nationally acclaimed speakers, workshops designed to provide practical takeaways and Spirit-infused fellowship, prayer and worship to help men be all they can be for Christ.

“God continues to bless this ministry,” said Herman Lightsey, president of South Carolina UMMen. “It still does not seem real that in less than four years the men’s spiritual weekend has grown from 160 attendees to over 1,100, that this weekend has grown from an event to a movement that is not only changing how we disciple men in South Carolina, but is literally spreading across the United States.”

“God is blessing us in this very moment to make a difference, to make our mark,” Bishop Jonathan Holston said the opening night of the retreat, welcoming the 1,100 men to Myrtle Beach. “Can God count on you? Are you standing on sinking sand tonight, or are you on the solid rock of God? My friends, this is not a weekend of coming and sitting but about spiritual revival, about letting go of boundaries and letting God work within you.”

 

‘Change me’

The speakers said much the same. The weekend opened with a lineup of speakers on everything from leadership to using our gifts to overcoming distractions.

Author and motivational speaker Jeremy Kingsley opened with a session on leadership, noting that just as Jesus made his mark on all our lives, so should we as Christ-followers make our mark on the world.

Kingsley invited the packed auditorium to join him in a two-word prayer: “Change me.” After all, he said, we don’t read the Bible to check it off our list; we read it to change.

To be a good leader and a good man of God, Kingsley said, we need to lead like Jesus: be approachable, inclusive and gracious. We must ask ourselves: am I judgmental or gracious? Exclusive or inclusive? Unapproachable or approachable?

“Look to Jesus for those examples as we become leaders, and we’ll leave a mark on their life,” Kingsley said.

 

On God and waffles

“Knights Code” author Robert Noland spoke next about taking God out of His “compartment” and allowing him to reign over all areas of our lives.

Noland, who has been in ministry for 35 years, talked about how he has done everything from being a pastor to being a church custodian to church planting to producing Christian music. But one day, he felt God nudging him into discomfort.

“God began to tap me on the shoulder: ‘Son, you’re coasting. At some point, you slipped out of drive into neutral,’” Noland said.

Noland answered the call, quit his job and embarked on what he said were some of the hardest but best years of his life, years that used him to advance the Kingdom in bold new ways discipling men’s ministry in Nashville and writing fulltime. Living entirely at God’s command taught him some critical lessons, he said.

“You’ve only got one life,” Noland said. “If God tells you to jump off the cliff, that’s the safest thing you can do.”

Then, he took a plate with a waffle on it, showing the crowd how so many times, we compartmentalize Jesus, thinking we can put him in a neat little waffle square just like we might put our marriage in a square, our job in a square and so on.

“We go around thinking we choose where we put Jesus in our compartments, but guys,” he said, brandishing a bottle of syrup, “Jesus is calling us to saturation.”

Noland squirted syrup all over the waffle to wild applause.

“When you stop telling God where you want him to go, just give up and say ‘I want you to take full control of my life,’ you don’t pay attention to the compartments anymore,” Noland said. “The syrup (that is Jesus) covers it all.”

 

Using our gifts

The Rev. James Friday led next on not being afraid to use our gifts for God. Drawing from Matthew 25, the parable of the talents, Friday talked about how God has gifted each of us in a unique way to share His goodness.

“Christ is counting on all of us,” Friday said, and we cannot let Him down by burying our gifts in the ground. “We are ambassadors of Christ Jesus called to represent Christ.”

Friday reminded the crowd that gifts are given to us not for our benefit but for the common good. He urged attendees to consider what dirt is burying our gifts—fear, gluttony, adultery, lust—and clear that dirt away for His sake.

“Fear paralyzes us, but faith sets us free,” Friday said. “When God woke us up this morning, he was basically saying, ‘I’ve got something for you to do.’ Can the Lord count on us to use the gifts of love, grace and mercy? When He returns, will He find us utilizing the very gifts He’s given us? … What will He say to us?”

He closed with an invitation to the altar for men to lay down their dirt and submit or rededicate their souls to Christ.

 

Depending on God

Saturday opened with a roundtable discussion including Holston, Lightsey, Christ UMC pastor the Rev. Jeff Dunn and Dr. Zan Holmes Jr., pastor emeritus of St. Luke Community UMC in Dallas and author who started the Disciple Bible Study program for the UMC. Each shared how they learned to depend on God.

Holston shared how he started going to church after his father changed and started bringing his family to church, and later, after Holston grew in his own faith, “I realized I had to stop depending on me and start depending on God.”

Lightsey shared how even though he never had what he calls a “burning bush moment,” God put him in the people business and surrounded him with Christian people who helped his walk. Until his 50s, he didn’t really understand.

“As I look in the rearview mirror of my life, God was in my life even when I did not necessarily want Him there,” Lightsey said. “I think He was preparing me for this time and this ministry.”

Holmes shared about learning to trust God to use us even when we are retired from our careers. After he retired and kept putting off going to the church membership class, one day he heard God ask, “Do you think because you’re retired I’ve finished with you?” It changed his perspective.

Dunn told attendees God will use them just as much as He is using Holston and Holmes and other high-profile leaders in the church.

“This may be your moment,” Dunn said. “God’s got a laser on you.”

 

Back to the basics

Next, Noland returned to the stage to remind men of what he called “the basics.” He said that so many times, men feel alone in their struggle to live a faithful life and often are “this close” to losing it. He did some research into the code of knights and realized their code—live pure, speak truth, right wrong and follow the king—is much like the code of the Christian man, which prompted his book.

Regarding “live pure,” Noland said the word of God is the only way to defeat evil in our lives. He reminded the crowd that every time Satan came to Jesus, Jesus quoted Deuteronomy at him.

Regarding “speak truth,” Noland lifted up the benefits of a small group, which can hold us accountable by calling out misbehavior. He said we all need someone in our corner who will “watch your back and kick your butt” when things go awry.

Regarding “right wrongs,” Noland said strong principles will help us keep our rights right and our wrongs wrong. And regarding “follow the king,” he said we have to practice the presence of God. He recommended we spend more time in prayer with God and adopt a new practice of five extra minutes of quiet “listening time” without asking for things.

 

Leave the distractions behind

Next, former professional football player Andres Davis took the stage to share about his journey.

“In the words of Elsa from ‘Frozen,’ it’s funny how some distance makes everything so small,” he said about his early life as a Christian, noting how he came to understand football was just a platform God was using for him to share Christ with others. Every time he was in a place of discomfort, whether from joining a new team to simply experiencing uncertainty, he felt God move within him in new ways.

“We need to break out of the rut of being comfortable,” Davis said, lifting up a quote by Celestine Chua on how fear, uncertainty and discomfort are our compasses toward growth.

He shared about a dark period of depression in his life when he pulled away from God, but after he gave everything over to God, his life did a complete turnaround.

But he warned men to be mindful of the power distractions have over our lives, sometimes keeping us from our Kingdom work.

“One of the devil’s tactics is to keep you distracted from spending time with God,” Davis said, then shared wisdom from Joshua Becker about how we can find significance in a world of distraction, and how this can help us do more for Christ.

Becker’s tips: Be mindful of the culture you’re in (and the competing messages we receive), pause and reflect, review and record (through journaling and other methods), get some outside perspective, find time alone, seek inspiration from others who are living out your goals, and try to live with fewer possessions, which sometimes end up owning us.

 

Believe and share

Adrian Despres, University of South Carolina football team head chaplain, followed Davis, sharing a powerful testimony about how, after last year’s Men N Ministry retreat, he went to the doctor and found his heart was coated in plaque and he was what his doctor called “a walking dead man.” A procedure saved his life—and caused him to reflect on why.

“What for?” he asked. “Why would God want to save my life?”

It eventually hit him that his life must have been spared so he could help someone else. In a rousing call to the crowd, he urged men to answer two invitations: believe, and then help others to believe by leaving a mark on them—the mark of Christ.

Despres said the nation has not had a great spiritual awakening since 1859, noting our society has a tendency to “get used to God.” When we truly believe, we are sealed with the Holy Spirit, he said.

“But there’s a big difference between believing up here,” Despres said, pointing to his head, “and believing down here,” pointing to his heart.

Despres said John 3:14 (not 3:16) is one of the most important verses in the Bible because it defines belief and tells us what we must do. And to be saved, he said, we must realize that our sins hurt Jesus. That realization leads to repentance and, ultimately, salvation as we understand the difference between worldly sorrow (I got caught) and Godly sorrow (I hurt God).

Dissolving in tears about a close friend who has cancer, Despres talked about how we are all so desperate to find a cure for cancer. But if we stop a moment and apply that same desperation toward our afterlife, we realize we’re all seeking a cure for hell, too.

“The cure for hell is Jesus,” he said. “You need to be sharing it.”

 

Men called to be ‘mighty in prayer’

Saturday night opened with what Holston called “the two Jeffs”—the Revs. Jeff Dunn and Jeff Kersey—who spoke about the power of prayer. Both lead churches heavily committed to prayer (Dunn pastors Christ UMC and Kersey pastors Mount Horeb UMC, Lexington), and they implored men to model Jesus, come alongside each other and pray.

“You often find women are mighty in prayer, but there are not as many men mighty in prayer,” Dunn told the crowd.

Kersey reminded men that Jesus prayed often to battle temptation, yet in the Garden of Gethsemane, his disciples fell asleep even after they were asked to stay awake and stay in prayer.

“We have a lot of men in The United Methodist Church who are sleeping, and Jesus is saying, ‘You need to pray,’” Kersey said, lifting up the power of prayer among men at his own church, which God has blessed and which his men are in constant prayer about. “He’s waiting for us to step out so He can do things with us. We don’t realize the spiritual warfare in the world. There’s a battle we’re fighting.”

Prayer, the “two Jeffs” said, can win the war.

 

Growth through challenge

Holmes took the stage next, asking men to think about whether they have learned the lesson of the loaves from Mark 6, recounting how Jesus fed 5,000 with two fish and five loaves, then walked on water and calmed the storm for His disciples.

Sometimes it’s hard to believe and hard to follow Christ they way we should. But, he said, when we understand His lessons and apply them when we are tested, that’s when we can grow as Christ-followers and do the most good for the Kingdom.

“Jesus was so intent on his disciples understanding the message that he engaged them in participatory action,” Holmes said—you give them something to eat, you get the loaves, you give out the food. “You’d think they’d learned!”

But, Holmes said, “A faith not tested is a faith not trusted.”

Jesus never promised us we’d be exempt from the storm, and in fact, even the darkest and most difficult challenges are the very ones that help us grow the most, he said.

“I think we fail to learn the lesson because we fail to grow through what we’re going through,” Holmes told the crowd, encouraging men to rise to their challenges. “I believe if we don’t grow through what we go through, the Holy Spirit will take our transcript and send us back to retake the course.”

 

Keep on running for God

The Rev. Stephen Love led a sunrise service Sunday that served as the final session for the men’s weekend. Love recalled how, shortly before his father died, Love asked for a word for his son, who could not join them that day. Love’s father’s advice: keep your head up and keep on running.

His father’s word is much like what Paul was saying in 1 Corinthians, Love said, and men would do well to remember that as they leave the men’s weekend and head back home.

“We have a responsibility to take what God has poured into us and take it back with us,” Love said. “We’re to make our mark.”

But it’s not just about accomplishing one goal and being done, he said, for God has high expectations of us. Love urged men to stay on track and be steady in God.

“There are temptations all around us that’ll draw on us, pull us and knock us down, but we need to stay focused on this relationship with Jesus Christ,” Love said. “Sometimes we are devastated by life’s circumstances and get stuff that comes from nowhere and surprises us.

“But God has already put in place everything that we need.”

 

Rounding it out

A variety of other experiences rounded out the Men N Ministry weekend, from music to workshop and fellowship opportunities. Nationally acclaimed Robert McMichael was song leader Friday and Saturday, with the Christ UMC Praise Team leading Saturday evening. Men gathered for F3 Nation (Fellowship, Faith and Fitness) early Saturday morning, then gathered for a 5K Run for Christ that afternoon.

Dennis Sullen led the Upper Room Prayer Line, and men also had the chance to take one of 12 workshops on a host of topics, from diversity to small groups to mentoring and more. Workshop leaders included Despres, Noland, McMichael, Jim Boesch, Trevor Miller, the Rev. Jeffery Salley, the Rev. Jason Everson and the Rev. Telley Gadson.

L.W. Smith was event coordinator.

 

Next steps

Now, men’s ministry leaders are hard at work planning this year’s slate of Teaching Churches—daylong events at churches across the state designed to help men learn new ways of doing ministry from real-world churches. Dates, times and locations will be announced in the Advocate soon.

“Our teaching churches have provided the next steps to take this ministry into families, churches, communities and beyond,” Lightsey said. “Each year, we have challenged men to a deeper personal relationship with Christ. In 2014, we challenged men to ‘Take the Plunge,’ 2015 to ‘Put Skin in the Game’ and this year to ‘Make their Mark’ for Christ. This is what makes this weekend so amazing. Men are responding to God’s call to be men God can use.”

The 2017 Men N Ministry weekend will be Feb. 17-19, again at Christ UMC.

For those who missed the 2016 retreat, videos of the sermons are available on Christ UMC’s website: christislove.org/watch-online

To learn more about men’s ministry efforts: www.ummsc.org.

Congressional leaders make civil rights pilgrimage to S.C.

By Jessica Brodie

Bipartisan congressional leaders and a prominent United Methodist leader spent three days in March digging into South Carolina’s extensive civil rights history and listening to stories of pain and reconciliation.

Dr. Susan Henry-Crowe, director of The United Methodist Church’s General Board of Church and Society and a member of the South Carolina Conference, joined United States House of Representatives Assistant Democratic Leader Jim Clyburn (D-SC), Senators Tim Scott (R-SC) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Representative John Lewis (D-GA) March 18-20. The Faith and Politics Institute organized the trip of 10 members of Congress to explore the unique role South Carolina played in the civil rights movement, plus discussing the impact of the 2015 Mother Emanuel shooting in Charleston on the community, state and nation.

“Because of my love of South Carolina and my long-standing commitment to civil rights, I was so pleased to be invited to participate in this particular pilgrimage,” Henry-Crowe told the Advocate. “I know a lot of the people and history of civil rights, particularly as it is in some ways centered in South Carolina, and stories I didn’t even know emerged throughout the weekend.”

Henry-Crowe and the congressional leaders visited Columbia, Orangeburg and Charleston, listening to the stories of civil rights luminaries, religious leaders and historians in each city, such as civil rights pioneer Septima Clark. They learned about the 400-year old Gullah Geechee cultural heritage and had the opportunity to visit Claflin University and South Carolina State University, site of the Orangeburg Massacre where three students were killed Feb. 8, 1968, while demonstrating against segregation. The pilgrimage culminated in a Sunday worship service at Mother Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston.

 

A trip filled with stories

The delegation left Washington Friday morning and flew to Columbia. They spent the morning hearing a presentation at Mount Zion Baptist, then headed to Brooklyn Baptist in West Columbia for more stories from civil rights luminaries. Next they traveled to Trinity UMC, Orangeburg, where the Rev. Mack McClam, Cleveland Sellers, Cecil Williams and Jack Bass shared stories about the Orangeburg Massacre. They laid a wreath at the site of the shootings, then had dinner at Claflin University.

They spent Saturday in Charleston, touring the Avery Institute, now part of the College of Charleston, and talked to a number of people about their experience during the 1969 hospital workers strike, organized to protest discriminatory practices, unequal pay and more. They heard from Louise Brown, a hospital worker fired because of the strike; Bill Saunders, a chief negotiator; and Cynthia McCottry-Smith, who helped tell the story.

Next, they went to Circular Congregational Church, founded in 1681 and one of the oldest continuously worshipping congregations in the South, and heard from several about their experience with the Mother Emanuel AME shootings: Charleston Chief of Police Greg Mullen, family members of some of those killed, former Charleston Mayor Joe Riley and the Rev. Joe Darby, AME pastor.

“Their stories were extremely moving and inspirational,” Henry-Crowe said, lifting up words of love shared by Alana Simmons, granddaughter of Charleston shooting victim Daniel Simmons. Simmons’ phrase, “Hate won’t win,” spoken after her grandfather’s killing, became a popular social media challenge and movement for racial peace and love (#hatewontwin).

“Tim Scott had this phrase he shared—’hate plus ignorance equals death, and forgiveness plus faith equals life—and the point I think he was making is there is so much hate in racism and lack of knowledge that it’s a very dangerous thing, but when there are faith and forgiveness then life comes out of that,” Henry-Crowe said.

 

Untold tales

Henry-Crowe said one of the best things to come out of the pilgrimage was the opportunity to shien light on stories so many in this nation do nt know. For instance, most of the nation knows about the four unarmed college students killed during the 1970 Kent State Massacre, but very few know about the Orangeburg Massacre, where three unarmed college students were killed.

One of the students shot during the massacre and the only person imprisoned, Sellers spent seven months in jail for conspiracy and inciting to riot and was pardoned 25 years later. He went on to get his doctorate and became president of Voorhees College, Henry-Crowe said, yet even though the state issued a regret and apology, there was never an investigation into what happened.

“I think the story of Cleveland Sellers and how, in that particular case, what the press said and what really happened were two different things, and that story has never been fully vetted in South Carolina,” she said. “Today, racial reconciliation can’t completely happen in South Carolina until the story is fully vetted about what happed at Orangeburg. …

The cloud that hangs over that is what is the truth, and how you move on from the truth has not been told.”

Tricia Bruckbauer, GBCS communications staffer, also went on the trip and said the whole weekend was “extremely powerful and moving.” She lifted up the booming voice of Congressman John Lewis, who said on the last night of the pilgrimage, “When the spirit moves you, move.”

“That really kind of underscores the justice work of civil rights advocates and United Methodists and people around the world,” Bruckbauer said.

Congressional leaders also participating in the bipartisan pilgrimage included Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-Rhode Island), Sen. Chris Coons (D-Delaware), Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), Rep. Will Hurd (R-Texas), Rep. Bradley Byrne (R-Alabama), Rep. Barbara Lee (D-California) and Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Maryland).

The bipartisan trip was a story in itself, Bruckbauer said.

“It was really nice to have both Republicans and Democrats together this weekend learning about the history of civil rights,” Bruckbauer said.

The pilgrimage is an annual trip organized by the Faith and Politics Institute. Most of their trips are to Selma, Alabama. This is the first trip to South Carolina.

The Official Newspaper of the South Carolina United Methodist Church