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.