By Jessica Brodie
GREENVILLE— Tuesday morning business began with a vote on the five amendments to the constitution of The United Methodist Church.
The amendments passed at the UMC’s General Conference 2016 and are currently going before all annual and central conferences. The language of the amendments cannot be altered, and they will be ratified pending majority vote by the conferences.
Amendment I adds a new paragraph between current Para. 5 and 6 in the 2012 Book of Discipline regarding gender justice. The rationale notes that the constitution contains a paragraph on racial justice but not one on gender justice.
Amendment II changes Para. 4, Article IV, of the Discipline also to modify gender equity language. The rationale notes that adding gender to the Constitution affirms and protects the UMC’s commitment to gender equity throughout our worldwide connection, plus allows gender-specific groups like United Methodist Women and United Methodist Men.
Amendment III attempts to fix what the rationale calls “unduly vague” language in Section VI, Para. 34, Article III, of the Discipline, with language about delegates to General Conference needing to be elected (not appointed).
Amendment IV adds language to Para. 46, Article I, of the Discipline about episcopal elections being held in the same manner for central conferences as in jurisdictions.
And Amendment V adds a new sentence to the end of Para. 50, Article VI, of the Discipline enabling the COB to hold its individual members accountable for their work.
Voting is complete in South Carolina, but results of the vote will not be released until all annual and central conferences throughout the denomination have voted. That is the word from Conference Secretary the Rev. Ken Nelson, who said the UMC’s Council of Bishops asked every conference to forward their results to the general church but keep those results secret so as not to influence voting.
“Just like in presidential elections, every jurisdiction is different, every annual conference is different, and if votes are put out there early, it has the chance to shape how other conferences vote one way or the other,” Nelson said.
The last three amendments were voted upon with no discussion, but the first two brought some debate on the floor.
Amendment I saw three speeches for and three against it. Some took exception with the idea of male and female images of God.
Evelyn Johnsey, of Trinity UMC, York, spoke against the amendment, asking how it is contrary to scripture and to logic to take away “father” from God.
“Jesus told us to pray, ‘Our Father, who art in heaven,’” Johnsey said.
Also speaking against the amendment was Michael Cheatham, who said the wording of the amendment seems more appropriate to the UMC’s Social Principles or the Book of Resolutions rather than in the Constitution. And Rod Belsky said that while he never wants to see any woman or girl ever considered “less than him” because of gender, changing the Constitution this way makes Christianity even more secular than it is Christian.
“We’ve already changed lyrics in the hymnal,” Belsky said. “I assume now eventually we’re going to want to change the Lord’s Prayer to say, ‘Our Parent, who art in heaven.’”
But in speaking for the amendment, the Rev. Carol Cannon, pastor of St. Andrews UMC, Orangeburg, said, “I do not believe this says we cannot call God ‘father.’ What this says is God is beyond gender.”
Cannon said in Luke 15 God is presented in varying images: as a shepherd, as a father and as a woman looking diligently for her lost coin.
“Jesus our lord shows God is beyond gender—God is neither male nor female, Cannon said, noting those images are how we understand how God made each of us in God’s own image.
The Rev. Fran Connell, pastor of Brookland UMC, West Columbia, said it is clear historic fact that throughout the millennia, men have used imagery for God as male specifically for the purpose of oppressing women and girls.
“We know better, and the Scripture teaches us better,” Connell said. “As Rev. Cannon stated so eloquently, there are many images in the Bible of God, not only as male or female but as God without gender, as a rock or as the silence after the wind.”
Dorothy Turbeville, of the Jordan Charge in Manning, agreed, noting, “God is all genders. If you read this amendment carefully, it doesn’t say we’re going to take ‘father’ out of the Bible or changing the Bible at all, just changing the Constitution to make women more equal.”
Amendment II prompted debate, as well. Jessie Patterson, of Trenholm Road UMC, Columbia, said she feels the amendment is too vague. Given that the traditional definition of marriage is in question, she said, “It is prematurely and irresponsibly written.”
The Rev. Jeremy Howell also spoke against the amendment, noting he fears unintended consequences because it notes the UMC will not discriminate based on ability instead of barring discrimination based on disability.
However, speaking for the amendment, Rosanna Ross, Hartsville District, said in the affirmation of Scripture it says “God welcome whosoever will.”
“I hope that as United Methodists we will welcome whosoever,” she said.
Also speaking for the amendment, the Rev. Jim Morgan, Anderson District, said sometimes we have a temptation to make every issue about every issue.
“Sometimes votes become sort of proxy votes for the things we want to fight about, which I think perhaps says more about our desire to fight one another,” Morgan said. “I see this amendment as wanting to affirm what is already mainstream practice: we do not discriminate.”
The Advocate will cover results of the votes as soon as they are made available. (Subscribe here to make sure you don’t miss the news.)
After a prayer of thanksgiving led by Rev. William Culp III in honor of the 73rd anniversary of the D-Day invasion, the body heard a report by the Rev. Sara White on the work of Congregational Development. White, with the Rev. Richard Reams, chair, shared how their purpose is to “create new places for new people.”
“In that work we are able to represent the future of The United Methodist Church and the exciting presence that is possible, as well,” White said. “You and I are part of that great molding into discipleship. We are about the creation of disciples who include me, who include you, and who also include those coming into new relationship with Christ.”
White and Reams lifted up various efforts to develop “new spaces for new faces” across South Carolina, including the work of the Hispanic Latino Task Force and the South Main Chapel and Mercy center in Anderson, which works in intentional ministry with the homeless, recovering addicts and others in need.
Conference Secretary the Rev. Ken Nelson then announced the results of the previous evening’s offering, which brought in $10,960 for seminarian scholarships. Nelson said he has received more checks today, bringing the total to well more than $11,000.
Next, the body honored 35 retiring pastors who represent a combined total of more than 770 years of service. The service was conducted by Holston with Dr. Paul A. Wood Jr. as liturgist and the Rev. David Anderson recognizing the retirees. The service featured the symbolic “passing of the mantle” from the retiring class to the new class of ordinands; the Rev. Alice E. MacKeil represented the retiring class, passing the mantle to newly ordained elder the Rev. Tenny Hutchinson Rupnick.
Body memorializes 36
After a lunch break, which featured a host of special events—including the Hispanic Latino Ministry Luncheon, the United Methodist Volunteers in Mission Luncheon and the Laity Clergy Partnership Luncheon—Annual Conference resumed with a service of Remembrance and Thanksgiving. Florence District Superintendent Rev. John Hipp lifted up the 36 clergy, spouses, surviving spouses and others who passed on to the Church Triumphant over the past year. A bell rang and loved ones stood as Bishop Jonathan Holston lifted each saint’s name before the body.
Business resumed in late afternoon beginning with the report from the Committee on Equitable Compensation, given by Skipper Brock.
Next, Executive Director Arthur Spriggs and new Board Chair Kim Wilburn gave the report of Camps and Retreat Ministries, which is about to begin its 56th year of camp Sunday, June 11. Spriggs lifted up the camp’s work to embrace diversity among campers, leadership and staff, as well as the achievements and experiences over the past year, including being named “the coolest camp in South Carolina,” being named “a summer camp that changes the world,” receiving a $40,000 conservation grant and getting a new master plan.
Spriggs also announced big news for their ministry: on the Thursday prior to Annual Conference, they were able to close on the sale of their Sewee property for $4,085,000.
“We look forward to all God has in store,” Spriggs said.
Next, Kay Crowe, conference chancellor, gave her office’s report, noting how the church is now using new language; the UMC is no longer using “abandoned or discontinued” but rather noting churches are now “closed.”
Crowe said there are two distinct types of church closures: a closure that takes place by the vote of this Annual Conference and an ad interim closure (done mid-year, not at Annual Conference). She said the new process of closure begins with the district superintendent.
“The very first thing and very first step is the district superintendent reaches a belief that the church no longer serves the purpose for which it is organized or incorporated,” Crowe said; it doesn’t look strictly at numbers but at purpose.
She said with an ad interim closure, any time during the year when there is a vote by the Cabinet and the consent of the bishop and the district board of church location, any church can be closed at any time during the calendar year if required for the immediate protection of the church property for the benefit of the denomination.
Crowe said the changes are within the Book of Discipline 2016 and these are the criteria moving forward.
Holston closed the business session Tuesday with the nominations report, which was approved.
Tuesday evening was devoted to a service celebrating a variety of missions embraced by the Annual Conference, from disaster response to homes for the homeless to bikes for people in need. Led by the Rev. Wendy Hudson-Jacoby as worship leader, the mission celebration service lifted up the hard work of the countless volunteers who donate their time, skills, prayers and dollars to help these efforts and more.
Hudson-Jacoby called it a “celebration about what it means for us to walk by faith in paths of service around the state and around the world.”
Several video vignettes were shown to illuminate the projects. The praise band from Advent UMC, Simpsonville, performed, as did Jasmine Lee, a Gospel praise and worship singer.
South Carolina’s Erica Oliveira was commissioned as a missionary during the service.
Tuesday night’s offering supported Imagine No Malaria, which was the 2016 Annual Conference initiative.
Check back tomorrow night for a recap of Day Four of Annual Conference, and subscribe to the Advocate to receive the July paper, which contains everything that happened at Annual Conference in one newspaper.