By Jessica Brodie
FLORENCE—In a little more than three months, hundreds of South Carolina United Methodists will gather in Florence for this year’s Annual Conference, where they will pray, fellowship and ultimately decide the business of the church in this state.
Set for June 5-8 at the Florence Civic Center, this year’s statewide gathering falls in the midst of a packed quadrennial year, one month after delegates return from the global General Conference (May 10-20 in Portland, Oregon) and one month before they head to Jurisdictional Conference (July 13-15 in Lake Junaluska, North Carolina).
This year’s theme, “A More Excellent Way: Making Space for God to Work,” centers on celebrating and developing new ways we can let God use us to further His Kingdom on earth and particularly in South Carolina. Organizers are working hard to plan an event that celebrates the strong ministry of this annual conference during what was an extremely difficult year of challenges and new dialogue.
“This is a tremendous year of celebration in the life of the Annual Conference because it was a challenging year in light of everything that happened since last June: the Emanuel Nine shooting, the confederate flag removal, the floods,” said the Rev. Ken Nelson, conference secretary, who has been working with a team since the close of last June to develop this year’s event. “This year’s theme is essentially to emphasize how we create—in our own lives personally, in the local congregation, in the community and in the world—space for God to transform us. How can we be more open to the possibilities of how God is already at work in the world and then join in that work?”
Nelson said this year’s annual conference will celebrate two highly significant things: one, South Carolina’s role in the Imagine No Malaria initiative, which has raised $68 million of the global United Methodist Church’s $75 million campaign to eradicate the mosquito-borne disease, and two, the way the UMCSC has stepped up in the aftermath of the October floods, which caused billions of dollars in damage and affected eight of this conference’s 12 districts. In spite of all this, Nelson said, South Carolina has managed to close its best financial year in more than a decade, bringing in 91.1 percent of apportionments—many from flood-ravaged churches who still managed to see the importance of supporting the ministries and missions of the larger church connection beyond their personal struggles.
“When we as an annual conference put our best efforts forward, we really do impact the world,” Nelson said.
This year’s service project will focus on post-flood disaster response, both training and equipping volunteers as relief teams and assisting local churches in getting the help they need.
A report by the General Conference delegation on the May quadrennial gathering will round out the event, and annual conference members will also have the opportunity to endorse Dr. Tim McClendon, who has again been elected as the South Carolina episcopacy nominee and hopes to be elected bishop during this year’s Jurisdictional Conference. McClendon is one of 13 nominees for bishop as of press time. Five episcopal openings are expected as bishops currently serving in the Virginia, South Georgia, Kentucky, Western North Carolina and North Georgia conferences shift into retirement.
Special guests, offerings and a concert
As in years past, this year’s four-day event will include a host of special guests who will lift up God’s word to help this conference live out how they can make space for God to work.
Bishop Jonathan Holston will lead Sunday night’s opening worship, which Nelson said will most likely also include performances from some of South Carolina’s best church choirs.
Dr. Luther Smith, professor emeritus of Candler School of Theology who just retired last June, will lead a Bible study Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday mornings. Nelson said Smith brings an expertise in public policy and is credited with founding and organizing the global church’s Children in Poverty campaign, in which the South Carolina is passionately involved.
On Monday night, former South Carolina Bishop J. Lawrence McCleskey will preach the ordination service in what Nelson called a “return to home for Bishop and Mrs. McCleskey.”
“We’re really excited about that,” Nelson said.
And the Rev. Patricia Parrish, outgoing Charleston District superintendent, will preach the Tuesday afternoon memorial service.
The retirement service Tuesday morning will lift up what Nelson called “a strong class” of about two dozen retirees, some with very long periods of service and ushering in a significant change in leadership. Retirees will be announced in a future Advocate.
The Sunday night offering will support the UMCSC’s South Carolina Disaster Relief Recovery Fund, the Monday night ordination offering will support the Seminary Students Scholarship Fund and the Tuesday night offering will support Imagine No Malaria.
Imagine No Malaria concert
The Tuesday night service will also feature a concert for Imagine No Malaria. The Rev. Jeri Katherine Warden Sipes, Imagine No Malaria field coordinator, and Felecia Holston and the Rev. Mike Alexander, Imagine No Malaria task force co-chairs, are finalizing plans for the band that will play at the event. The band will be announced in a future Advocate.
“In June, our expectation is to celebrate the goal of raising $1 million in South Carolina for the Imagine No Malaria effort,” Holston said. “Throughout the year, we have experienced tremendous excitement from laity and clergy in this effort. From district barbeque bashes to children putting their God-sized visions to work, we are excited about our efforts. Yet the task is still before us. We need for every church to participate. If this happens, we can achieve our goal.”
“In my ministry through the years, I have had the privilege of connecting with everyday people who have made a difference in the world. Many have found a special niche in which they have contributed at the highest level,” he said. “As we address the serious problem of malaria in Africa, we dream of a day when malaria will be no more. May the South Carolina United Methodist family rally together in prayer and generosity to make the dream a reality.”
Pre-conference materials are being gathered now with a deadline of March 1, and they will be mailed to members of Annual Conference in mid-April. In the meantime, the Annual Conference 2016 website is now up on the conference website (see www.umcsc.org/ac2016). A schedule, list of available hotels and speaker biographies are currently up, and more information will be added as the event nears.
Pre-conference trainings will be held in each district May 1, 15 and 22 (dates, locations and other specifics will be announced soon).
Nelson said his team has received no resolutions yet that the body will vote on, but the March 1 deadline has not yet passed. If a person wishing to submit a resolution misses the deadline, they can still submit a resolution or vote by bringing 2,000 copies of it to Annual Conference and submitting it to the Committee on Resolutions and Appeals on Monday afternoon for consideration.
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 to all conference attendees.
Also, like last year, there will be live streaming of the event, and the Monday afternoon Mission Fair will celebrate the ministries and missions of local churches across the state.
Childcare will be offered for children ages 3 and up through Highland Park UMC, Florence.
For more on Annual Conference 2016: www.umcsc.org/ac2016.