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Photo by Matt Brodie

2,000 UMs to gather June 7-11 for mission, business at Annual Conference

By Jessica Brodie

FLORENCE—With a passion for “Becoming Disciples God Can Use,” United Methodist clergy and laity are gearing up for an Annual Conference this month that includes a massive Stop Hunger Now meal-packing, election of delegates to General and Jurisdictional conferences, resolutions on highly controversial issues and more.

More than 2,000 representatives from every local church in South Carolina will head to the Florence Civic Center June 7-11, and organizers are asking for prayer and the leading of the Holy Spirit in these final days of preparation.

“Annual Conference is a launching pad, a looking forward to what God’s inviting us to do next,” said Conference Secretary the Rev. Ken Nelson, noting that the five-day event is so much more than a business meeting or legislative session for Methodists. “It is a celebration of all God has been doing in the life of the Annual Conference and in the lives of the local congregations and communities and individuals.”

Pre-conference training sessions with video were held throughout May to help attendees better understand some of the key issues going before the body in June. A 143-page Pre-Conference Materials packet also has been distributed.

Here, the Advocate explores the major highlights of Annual Conference 2015—from the all-new electronic balloting to the resolutions up for vote.

 

Three major resolutions

The body is slated to vote on three major resolutions during Annual Conference, though more can be introduced on the floor. Each of the resolutions has drawn heated conversation, both in Advocate letters to the editor and on the Advocate website here and here), both for and against the resolutions.

  • Anti-Bullying Resolution: More than 100 United Methodists, many of them part of Reconciling Ministries of South Carolina, call upon the UMC to oppose bullying in all its forms and create a safe space for children of God without regard to religion, race, ethnicity, culture, citizenship, socioeconomic status, gender identity, sexual orientation and physical or mental ability. The resolution also calls upon United Methodists to respond to acts of bullying with acts of compassion and take a public stand against speeches of hate, exclusion, harassment and acts of intimidation and violence, which are, as they say, “filled with long-held prejudices against all persons.” In addition to opposing bullying, creating a safe space and taking a stand, the resolution also calls on United Methodist churches and people to “no longer be silent about the value of each and every life” and to “intentionally validate, support and empower persons being injured by bullying behavior in workplaces, in schools and in all environments.” The resolution addresses all forms of bullying, encouraging the church not to turn a blind eye but to be proactive defenders of the oppressed.
  • Resolution to Withdraw The United Methodist Church from the Religious Coalition For Reproductive Choice: This resolution—submitted by four Upstate churches: Memorial UMC in Greer, Covenant UMC in Greer, Gramling UMC in Campobello and Slater UMC in Slater—seeks severing UMC ties with the Religious Coalition For Reproductive Choice. The resolution calls on the South Carolina Conference to ask the 2016 General Conference to withdraw the UMC’s General Board of Church and Society and the United Methodist Women immediately from membership in the RCRC because they believe the coalition’s work surrounding abortion rights is in direct conflict with what the denomination’s Book of Discipline says about abortion. The resolution maintains that the RCRC condones abortion as an acceptable means of birth control, that it opposes parental notification laws and that it lobbies the government and participates in legal action for the preservation of partial-birth abortion, all of which go against what the Discipline advocates. The resolution also notes that other mainline denominations with positions on abortion similar to that of the UMC have either never chosen to be members of the RCRC or have severed past ties with the group.
  • Book of Discipline language change resolution: This resolution—also signed by more than 100 United Methodist clergy and laity, many part of Reconciling Ministries of South Carolina—calls on the South Carolina Conference to petition the 2016 General Conference to remove the sentence found in Para. 161F of the 2012 Book of Discipline that states, “The United Methodist Church does not condone the practice of homosexuality and considers this practice incompatible with Christian teaching.” The resolution maintains that Para. 161F has been argued by biblical scholars and theologians to be inaccurate and in conflict with what many Christian educators indeed teach, and that it contradicts Para. 162, which affirms all people as equally valuable in the sight of God. “The statement has been the source of tremendous harm to countless lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) persons, families and friends,” the resolution states. The resolution also states that the previous understanding of homosexuality presumed that it is a choice, “and the current understanding is that it is a state of being which therefore can be affirmed in a life-long, covenant relationship that embodies ‘celibacy in singleness and fidelity in marriage.’”

The full text of these resolutions are within the pre-conference materials here. Go to pages 80-85 for the full text.

 

Pre-conference trainings help clergy, laity prepare

Districts across South Carolina did their part last month to help laity and clergy understand as much as possible about this year’s Annual Conference—well in advance of the gathering.

Pre-conference training were held in each of the 12 districts throughout May, giving the body a chance to learn about the key issues they will vote on in Florence June 7-11, as well as a chance to get trained on the new electronic balloting that will be used both to elect delegates for General and Southeastern Jurisdictional conferences and for other Annual Conference business matters, including resolutions.

As of the Advocate’s press time, the districts said the trainings went well and were helpful.

“I continue to be surprised and encouraged by the participation of many faithful lay members and pastors who clearly take their leadership responsibility seriously and long to be a participant in strengthening the life of the UMC,” said the Rev. Susan Leonard-Ray, Anderson District superintendent. “It gives us a way to say, ‘This work of Annual Conferencing matters, and your presence and input matters.’”

Leonard-Ray said that between the video and the discussion about issues that will be coming before the body for vote (such as the budget and the benefit changes), the meeting creates a spirit of shared leadership, lessens anxiety for first-time lay members and creates interest, energy and excitement for those who are returning.

Greenwood District Superintendent the Rev. James Friday said he, too, was “well pleased” with the training.

“Most of the questions were concerns about the voting process, since we will be using the electronic devices for the first time,” Friday said. “There were also conversations surrounding the delegates to General and Jurisdictional conference.”

Dr. Cathy Jamieson-Ogg, Columbia District superintendent, said Betty Void, the Rev. Ken Nelson and the Rev. Jeffrey Salley were key in producing what was, for them, a successful training.

Void, Columbia District lay leader, said the training was informative and was especially helpful in understanding the electronic voting devices, new this year.

“We feel that this is going to help speed up the process,” Void said.

Review pre-conference materials here.

 

Electronic balloting and delegate elections

For the first time, Annual Conference members will use electronic balloting to cast their votes both on legislation (e.g. approval of the budget, or voting on resolutions) and to elect delegates for General and Southeastern Jurisdictional conferences.

The body will use a handheld device with a keypad (similar to a cell phone, but not as complicated as a smartphone, organizers say) to cast their votes.

Time will be given on the first day of business, Monday, June 8, to learn how to use the devices, “And we’ll actually have some practice runs before doing the elections,” Nelson said.

Organizers hope the new system will vastly speed up the voting process, which can take a very long time, especially during election years.

In addition to voting on resolutions and other business matters, 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.

General Conference is the global UMC’s quadrennial legislative gathering set for May 10-20, 2016, in Portland, Oregon, where 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.

Both lay and clergy nominees are listed online at ac15.umcsc.org. There are 51 lay nominees, but what takes the most time is typically election of clergy delegates, Nelson said, which include more than 800 clergy members who are eligible.

“The reason there are so many is because the current process allows clergy to opt out if they don’t want to be a delegate,” Nelson said—but it doesn’t indicate who expressly desires to be a delegate.

Nelson said he hopes in future years to change the process so that people will only be voting for those clergy who actively submit paperwork noting they wish to be a delegate, which “would really streamline it,” Nelson said. For this year, that is not the case. But thanks to the electronic balloting, Nelson hopes the process will be much faster than normal, even with 800 clergy nominees.

 

Extras: From the Mission Fair to the Africa University Choir

So much of what makes Annual Conference a true gathering of the people called Methodist has nothing at all to do with the business decided on the floor but with all the extras that occur throughout the multi-day event.

Attendees will be able to participate in gatherings of their alma maters, get a free health screening for those on conference insurance and even give the gift of (physical) life by giving blood. As Nelson said, blood supplies tend to diminish during the summer, so the American Red Cross Blood Drive held during Annual Conference often gives hospitals a huge, much-needed bump.

Back by popular demand, the conference’s Lay Leadership Team will again present the Local Church Mission Fair in the Florence Civic Center Exhibit Ballroom on Monday from noon until 2 p.m. The fair will highlight missions and ministries from all 12 districts that have been successful. The theme is “Head, Heart, Hands: Disciples Building Relationships.” Food will be available during the mission fair with several food stations set up around the ballroom. Meal tickets are $8 each and will be available for purchase onsite.

“Come take a look at what incredible ministries are taking place all across our annual conference,” said Lay Leader Barbara Ware. “They say imitation is the highest form of flattery, so I would invite folks to drop by the Mission Fair and pick up an idea or two and try to imitate it back in their local church!”

Buzz is also circling about a performance from the acclaimed Africa University Choir, set for Wednesday evening.

Other highlights include a word from Bishop Marcus Matthews, of the Baltimore-Washington Annual Conference, speaker at Monday night’s ordination service; Dr. Tim McClendon, former Columbia District superintendent and pastor of St. John’s UMC, Aiken, who will preach the memorial service; Dr. Paul Harmon, Spartanburg District superintendent, who will lead the Annual Conference Bible study; the Rev. Jonathan Tomkins, of Travelers Rest UMC, Travelers Rest, who will preach the Tuesday night youth/young adult-oriented worship service.

“Annual Conference is truly a blending of our conference, from the assortment of ministries we are celebrating to the styles of worship we will be participating in—it’s representative of Methodism throughout our state,” said Matt Brodie, conference communications director.
Brodie noted that even if someone is not selected by their church as a voting member of Annual Conference, he or she is still welcome and encouraged to attend the event, engage in worship and enjoy all that the South Carolina Conference has to offer.

“It’s truly a celebration,” Brodie said.

For more on AC2015, visit ac15.umcsc.org.

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