By Jessica Brodie
FLORENCE—This year, Annual Conference attendees will have the opportunity to focus on deepening their relationship with God and one another as they do the business of The United Methodist Church in South Carolina.
In a five-day event set for June 7-11 at the Florence Civic Center, AC2015 will vote on key legislation, ordain new clergy, worship and elect delegates to General and Jurisdictional conferences—all while exploring the theme “Becoming Disciples God Can Use.”
“It’s about how to deepen discipleship, become more rooted in Christ so that the more deeply we become rooted in Christ, the more fruitful we become,” said the Rev. Ken Nelson, conference secretary. “The more we’re anchored with Christ as disciples, … the more we want to be part of transforming the world.”
The logo for the event, which is still in the final design stages with artist Greg Joens, features a young tree growing and maturing in various stages of growth and development: from a seed to a sapling to a growing and maturing tree, much like our own faith grows, Nelson said.
AC2015 will reflect the theme throughout the five days of business and worship, from Bible study to worship to music to the Stop Hunger Now service project. This year’s conference will also include electronic balloting for the first time, which organizers believe will make business more efficient. Various special guests will also be in attendance to make Annual Conference even better.
“Friends, I am excited about our upcoming 2015 Annual Conference session,” said South Carolina Resident Bishop Jonathan Holston. “Our theme, ‘Becoming Disciples God Can Use,’ continues our faith journey in seeking a more excellent way to make disciples of Jesus Christ and transform our world. I am delighted to welcome Bishop Marcus Matthews of the Baltimore-Washington Conference, as well as the Africa University Choir to share with us in praise and worship. Also, you are invited to share in an awesome Stop Hunger Now event as we seek a more excellent way in mission to our community and beyond. So, come and share in this time of celebration.”
Matt Brodie, director of communications, said this year, they are building on the excitement of last year’s Annual Conference.
“We’ve taken a long, hard look at what works and what could be better, and making changes that will bring even more energy and excitement that we hope will bring new life and passion to the ministries of the Annual Conference,” Brodie said.
Delegates to be elected via electronic balloting
As is done every four years, this year the body will elect delegates for General and Southeastern Jurisdictional conferences.
General Conference is the global UMC’s quadrennial legislative gathering, set for May 10-20, 2016, in Portland, Oregon, where United Methodist representatives from all over the world examine, discuss, pray, debate and eventually determine a host of key legislative issues that will become church law for the next four years.
Jurisdictional Conference, which begins July 13, 2016, at Lake Junaluska, North Carolina, is held every four years primarily to elect bishops, but also has various other tasks, such as making rules and regulations for the administration of the church’s work within the jurisdiction (including budgeting); establishing and electing people to jurisdictional boards; determining annual conference boundaries; appointing a committee on appeals; and promoting interests of the church. The Southeastern Jurisdiction comprises 15 annual conferences in the southeast.
This June, Annual Conference will elect 16 delegates (eight clergy and eight laity) plus alternates to General Conference, and 16 additional delegates (eight clergy and eight laity) plus alternates, who will go to Jurisdictional Conference with the General Conference delegates.
The body will use a handheld device with a keypad to vote on these delegates, the first time this Annual Conference has used electronic balloting.
“It’s very similar to a cell phone but not as complicated as a smartphone,” Nelson said, noting he and other leaders hope the system will help the voting process go more quickly and smoothly. A company called Vistacom out of Pennsylvania will facilitate.
Electronic balloting will also be used for other business matters at AC2015, such as voting on legislation and resolutions.
Training will be provided on the devices during pre-conference training sessions in May, as well as at AC2015.
A booklet will be released soon with photos and information about delegate nominees.
Speakers and other highlights
Many of the speakers have already been set for AC2015, though some are still being finalized.
Leaders say they are extremely excited that the Africa University Choir will perform at Annual Conference this year—at least one night, possibly more.
Bishop Marcus Matthews, of the Baltimore-Washington Annual Conference, will be the speaker at Monday night’s ordination service. Matthews is a native of South Carolina and got his start as a community service worker at Cumberland UMC, Florence.
Nelson said Matthews has never preached in South Carolina, so this is an opportunity for him to come home and preach in his own annual conference.
Dr. Tim McClendon, former Columbia District superintendent and pastor of St. John’s UMC, Aiken, will preach the memorial service.
Dr. Paul Harmon, Spartanburg District superintendent, will lead the Bible study.
Tuesday will feature a youth- and young adult-oriented service. The retirement service will be Tuesday morning.
The Local Church Mission Fair will return this year, an extremely popular and well-received event that started at last year’s Annual Conference. The fair will highlight the various ministries that local churches have been involved with throughout the past year.
Nelson said that it is in events like the mission fair, the awards ceremony and others that the true spirit of Annual Conference is evident.
“We get to see the church at work,” Nelson said. “If we come to Annual Conference just to do business, we forget our real purpose is to celebrate all of the ways that God has been at work in our midst over the last year; we’ve been making disciples for the world.”
The Annual Conference committee is finessing other aspects of the gathering now, including whether childcare will be offered.
Stop Hunger Now
AC2015 is returning to hunger ministry as its service project this year. The conference is again partnering with the international hunger relief organization Stop Hunger Now to host a daylong meal-packaging event to help hungry people in desperate need of lifesaving meal packets. This is the same project that was done at Annual Conference 2013, and it was so successful that South Carolina United Methodists raised not only the $72,000 needed to do the meal-packaging event, but also to donate an additional $97,000 to hunger ministries throughout the state.
This year, the costs of supplies and shipping have gone up, so the conference will be seeking $86,000 to do the Stop Hunger Now event, plus volunteers to work four-hour shifts and pack meals, said Chris Lynch, coordinator of the SHN effort.
Any funds raised beyond the $86,000 will go toward both hunger and children in poverty ministries across the state and shared equally among the 12 districts.
In addition to needing volunteers for the conference-wide service project (Stop Hunger Now meal-packing) on June 9 at Annual Conference, donations are sorely needed. The South Carolina UMC must raise $86,000 to purchase the supplies needed to pack more than 285,000 meals. To donate or volunteer, visit www.umcsc.org/stophungernow and click on the appropriate button. You can also mail a donation to the South Carolina Conference, 4908 Colonial Drive, Columbia, SC 29203. Make sure your check says “Hunger Project” in the memo.
Possible new site for 2016
Also at AC2015, the body will vote on a possible new site for Annual Conference 2016. Nelson said the Future Sites Committee is looking at the South Carolina UMC’s relationship with the Florence Civic Center and considering possibility of going elsewhere in the state.
“We’re looking at the best venues to really help us celebrate our ministries and our mission, and we’re going really slow in that because we recognize change is hard for folks, but we’re considering all the possibilities and it’s keeping us on our toes,” Nelson said.
He noted that by the end of March, the committee will be ready to make their recommendations.
For more on AC2015, visit www.umcsc.org/home/resources/2015-annual-conference.