South Carolina United Methodists gather in Greenville to do work of the church
By Jessica Brodie
GREENVILLE—“It’s time for us to celebrate!” Bishop Jonathan Holston proclaimed to wild applause, kicking off Annual Conference 2017 with a Spirit-filled word on Pentecost Sunday, June 4, in his message, “A Double Dog Dare.”
Holston urged the thousands of South Carolina United Methodists gathered at the TD Convention Center to walk boldly with Christ as they live out the Savior’s call.
“When we walk by faith and not by sight the Spirit begins to work through us,” Holston preached. “When we cast aside the fears that hold us hostage … God works within us to make us the people that we need and ought to be!”
By the time business ended June 7, the body had passed a $16.95 million ministry budget for 2018, ordained and commissioned 26 clergy, licensed 43 local pastors, approved a new six-tier health plan for clergy and lay employees, celebrated three major conference-wide mission efforts, voted on five constitutional amendments and passed six resolutions ranging from welcoming the migrant to healing from lynching to support for at-risk lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning youth.
“Walking and living by faith means moving ahead with confidence even when you can’t see around the next corner,” Holston said, noting how a courageous life in God is the ultimate testimony to faith. “When we dare greatly, it is the difference between thriving and surviving.”
He said the first Christians didn’t worry about fear when the Holy Spirit entered them; they did what God called them to do. That’s exactly what we, The United Methodist Church in South Carolina, need to do, he said.
Annual Conference also featured a Bible study by Dr. Albert Mosley, president-dean of Gammon Theological Seminary; an ordination service preached by Louisiana Resident Bishop Cynthia Fierro Harvey; a memorial service preached by Florence District Superintendent the Rev. John Hipp that remembered 36; a service honoring 35 retiring pastors representing a combined total of more than 770 years of service; awards; a mission fair showcasing ministries of local churches across the state; reports from conference boards, agencies and ministry groups; and much more.
Nearly $40,000 was contributed in offering collections each night of the conference: $14,189 to disaster response, $10,960 to seminary scholarships and $13,908 to Imagine No Malaria.
This year’s Annual Conference focused on the theme “We Walk By Faith, Not By Sight.”
Here are the major highlights:
Six resolutions pass
Annual Conference passed six of its seven resolutions for 2017, many rooted in solidarity or in healing. See full story here.
On the final morning of the four-day gathering, clergy and lay members of Annual Conference spent hours debating and amending the resolutions. Every resolution brought heated debate and some had amendments, but every resolution ultimately passed with the exception of the Resolution Against the Dakota Access Pipeline in Solidarity with Standing Rock.
Annual Conference resolved this year to oppose human trafficking and help end suicide and homelessness among LGBTQ youth; to heal from the legacy of lynching; to stand against a Muslim ban; to support, recognize and honor the services of law enforcement officers; to commend a formal apology from Trinity UMC to Centenary UMC over past racism; and to welcome the migrant.
Disaffiliation resolution ‘out of order’
One resolution, Resolution for the Realignment of the South Carolina Conference of The United Methodist Church and Its Disaffiliation from the Structures of The United Methodist Church, was not brought before the body for a vote because Bishop Jonathan Holston said it was asking him to do something he believes is not in unity with the Book of Discipline; therefore it was out of order and not properly before the body. Holston said only General Conference, not annual conferences, can allow such an action, and for him to be asked to appoint such a task force violates the vows he took to uphold the church and the Discipline. See full story here.
$16.95M budget approved
Also on the final day of conference, South Carolina United Methodists passed a $16.95 million ministry budget for 2018. Conference Council on Finance and Administration Chair the Rev. Mitch Houston recommended its budget report with the additional request for approval of a seven- to 10-year capital campaign for Epworth Children’s Home.
The requested total budget amount for 2018 was $17,333,125, but CF&A recommended $16,946,435, which is 15.7 percent of average net funds and what the Rev. Walter Cantwell, chair of the budget subcommittee, said is an “attainable range.”
The $16.95 million is 1 percent more than the 2017 budget.
Houston noted that the apportionments goal for 2017 is 95 percent; churches paid 92 percent in 2016.
Body votes on constitutional amendments
Annual Conference also had the chance to cast votes on five amendments to the constitution of the UMC. 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. Amendment II changes Para. 4, Article IV, of the Discipline also to modify gender equity language. 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.
The last three amendments were voted upon with no discussion, but the first two brought considerable debate on the floor.
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 quiet so as not to influence voting.
New health plans for UMCSC
Annual Conference approved new health plans for UMCSC active clergy and lay employees. Beginning in January 2018, the conference is switching to a new program called the HealthFlex Exchange, a private insurance exchange administered by The United Methodist Church’s Wespath. The plan features six HealthFlex medical plans, plus optional dental and vision plans.
All six of the plans feature the same health plan partners as those covered have now; there will be no need to change doctors, hospitals or pharmacies.
In September, there will be conference workshops and a benefit counselor available to help participants make insurance choices. Elections will be made in November, and the new benefits go live in January.
Clergy licensed, ordained, commissioned
Annual Conference licensed 43 local pastors Monday morning and commissioned or ordained 26 that night, including 16 elders, one deacon, eight provisional elders and one provisional deacon.
Board of Ordained Ministry Chair the Rev. Fran Elrod, Conference Lay Leader Barbara Ware and Chair of the Fellowship of Local Pastors and Associate Members the Rev. Alfonza Jones Sr. examined and licensed the local pastors.
Bishop Harvey, of the Louisiana Conference, preached the Service of Commissioning and Ordination, bringing a message on “You Can Run But You Cannot Hide.”
Three mission efforts celebrated
Tuesday night brought a service celebrating the three largest undertakings the conference has engaged in recently—the disaster recovery effort, as well as the two conference-wide mission opportunities for this year: the Homeless Initiative and the Youth Bike Initiative.
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.
“It’s a celebration about what it means for us to walk by faith in paths of service around the state and around the world,” Hudson-Jacoby said.
Midway through the service, South Carolina’s Erica Oliveira was commissioned as a missionary. See full story here.
Next year and beyond
Next year’s Annual Conference will be June 3-6, 2018, again at the TD Convention Center in Greenville. Wayne Jackson of the Committee on Future Sites shared that, after much research, his group decided it would be best for this conference to get on a master rotation schedule. The plan is to, beginning with Annual Conference 2020, go to Myrtle Beach for three years, then rotate to Florence for three years, then elsewhere. Jackson said this will give us better opportunity for ministry by rotating to different areas of the state. Also, from a business standpoint, he said having more than one venue “keeps everyone honest about negotiations.”
Annual Conference closed Wednesday afternoon with a Sending Forth Worship and Fixing of Appointments
Photos and other coverage from the event are throughout this edition plus on the conference website. For more on Annual Conference 2017, including photos, videos and how to order DVDs of parts of the event, visit ac2017.umcsc.org.