By Jessica Connor
In less than three months, hundreds of members of the S.C. Conference of the United Methodist Church will gather in Florence to pray, fellowship and ultimately decide the business of the church in this state.
Organizers have been steeped in planning for months for the annual gathering, which falls during a jam-packed quadrennial year. Set for June 10-13, this year s statewide meeting is held on the heels of the global General Conference (April 24-May 4 in Tampa, Fla.) and just before Jurisdictional Conference (July 18-20).
Annual Conference is more than just doing the business of the church, said Bishop Mary Virginia Taylor. It s a time for worship, celebration, reverence and renewal. It s also chance for us to remember that we are part of the much larger church, and that when we work together for the kingdom of God, we can accomplish amazing things.
The Annual Conference 2012 theme, Invitation to a Changed Life, hearkens to revitalization not only of the church but the soul in Christ.
It s the reminder ultimately that this is what the church does “ offers an invitation to a changed life and a life made whole in Jesus Christ, said the Rev. Tim Rogers, conference secretary.
Thematically, the conference has been working through the UMC s four quadrennial foci: developing principled Christian leaders for the church and the world, creating new places for new people by starting new congregations and renewing existing ones, engaging in ministry with the poor, and combating the diseases of poverty by improving health globally. The changed life theme explores the fourth, health issues. In discerning this year s theme, Rogers said the committee began to question what it means to be healthy. And they were called to explore the health of the church and the spirit for this year s theme.
In addition to the business of the S.C. UMC, church consultant Gil Rendle will be the featured speaker throughout the four-day Annual Conference. As well, all three worship offerings will go to one cause this year: Imagine No Malaria, which has a mission to end preventable deaths by malaria in Africa.
As the Advocate went to press on the April edition, organizers were preparing to mail pre-conference materials to those attending the event. More information will be available soon at www.umcsc.org/2012AC.html .
Here are highlights of this year s event:
Sunday to Wednesday format
This year, by popular request, Annual Conference will return to a Sunday to Wednesday schedule instead of Thursday to Sunday. The conference had shifted the schedule a couple years ago to Thursday to Sunday, plus later in the month of June, in an effort to draw more young people on weekends and after school had let out for the year. But Rogers said while the shift to later in the month was well received, ending on a Sunday was far less popular “and it made little difference in drawing additional younger people to the event.
Business will be held during two full days “ Monday and Tuesday. Sunday night will be the opening service and worship, while Wednesday will be ordination.
Keeping ordination at the end
One of the changes from last year “holding clergy ordination on the final day of Annual Conference “ was so well received that the committee will do that again this year.
People felt it ended on a high note and connected ordination with the act of sending people out to do ministry, Rogers said. People seemed to really like that.
Before, ordination would end so late in the evening that people often could not celebrate after the service. But having it in the morning on the final day of conference, with no other business, means families and friends can have time to celebrate with their newly ordained loved ones. While the final day this year is a weekday (Wednesday), it still seems like the preferred choice.
Single offering for malaria
Instead of spreading offerings from the three worship services among three separate ministries, this year the conference has decided that all funds will help support the UMC s Imagine No Malaria initiative to combat the disease that kills a child in Africa every 45 seconds.
The United Methodist Church has set a goal of eradicating malaria in Africa by 2015, Taylor said. As we approach World Malaria Day April 25, we are excited that the South Carolina Conference will put our faith into action to help to end these preventable deaths by collecting a unified offering for Imagine No Malaria.
Major issue 1: District Study
A conference-mandated task force of clergy and laity across South Carolina has been evaluating the current number of districts in this state, 12. Annual Conference members will learn their recommendation at the gathering.
The 16-member diverse group of clergy and laity from across South Carolina, chaired by Spartanburg District Superintendent Dr. Paul Harmon, has been analyzing research and dialoguing in preparation for making a recommendation to Annual Conference. Harmon said the task force does not yet know if they can finish their work by June, but can at least have an action plan to recommend.
The resolution to create the task force was brought by the Rev. John Culp, pastor of Virginia Wingard UMC, Columbia, who called for the study because the current model was developed nearly 40 years ago, in 1972. The resolution noted a detailed assessment of the current number of districts could result in more productive administrative systems and more strategic use of lay and clergy persons in leadership, and perhaps result in financial savings.
Major issue 2: CCM
Annual Conference passed the new Conference Connectional Ministries structure last June, but the UMC s top court found four defects in the structure. In October, members of the Judicial Council ruled that South Carolina s plan does not comply with Paragraphs 610 and 614.3 of the Book of Discipline and Judicial Council Decision 1147. The deficiencies “which Conference Director of Connectional Ministries the Rev. Willie Teague called a quick fix “ involve failure to link youth council and young adult ministries with the new Conference Connectional Ministries, failure to adequately place the Commission on Archives and History under the CCM for programming purposes and failure to clarify whether the conference secretary of Global Ministries is a member of that board.
At Annual Conference in June, the CCM transition team will present for a vote changes to the structure plan to bring it into compliance. The plan will be submitted to the Judicial Council no later than 30 days following the close of the AC regular session.
Major issue 3: 2013 Budget
The conference Council on Finance & Administration is doing its final finesse of the 2013 budget as of the Advocate s press time, and they will present their proposed budget for adoption at Annual Conference. The draft will be in the pre-conference materials.
I m not anticipating major changes,