By Jessica Connor
FLORENCE — Lifting up the life-changing, awe-inspiring power of the Risen Savior, Bishop Mary Virginia Taylor led the body in the opening service of worship for Annual Conference 2012.
We have gathered together to hear God s message for an invitation to a changed life, Taylor told the crowd of more than 1,600 United Methodist clergy and laity from every district in South Carolina. So tell me, are you ready to conference? Let s do it!
With the theme Invitation to a Changed Life, this year s gathering balanced teaching times by church consultant Gil Rendle on navigating growth and change (click here) with the necessary business of The United Methodist Church in South Carolina.
In four days, the conference passed a 2013 budget of $16.9 million, elected new conference officers (click here), approved three new resolutions (click here), authorized the expansion of the Redistricting Task Force study to include the entire Annual Conference organization, approved reports of Connectional Ministries and Pensions & Health Benefits, and much more.
Business went so smoothly this year that Annual Conference ended hours early “ at 5:47 p.m. instead of the scheduled 9 or 10 p.m.
The most debate the body saw came at the start of the conference, when discussion ensued on whether to change the bar of the conference to include certain colored seats on the side and back of the room or just those the seats in the back of the room, not the side.
Taylor reported that 1,622 Annual Conference members were in attendance.
In her opening sermon, Taylor pulled from Luke 5, when Jesus called his first disciples. She described how the men were awestruck after their nets “ previously empty “ were filled with fish after Jesus instructed them to let them out in deeper water. Likewise, when the leper was healed later in that chapter, people again were utterly amazed at the life-changing possibilities offered in Jesus.
Always, my friends, He always leaves us awestruck. When we see what God is able to do, it s incredible, and all we can do is drop our jaws and be awestruck, Taylor preached. Jesus changes our lives at those very times when we see and witness all He can do.
As we focus on a changed life, Taylor said, we soon begin to see evidence in our behavior.
The first is generosity. Levi, once a selfish and ruthless tax collector, became a generous party-giver after he came to know Jesus, Taylor said. Likewise today, the Greenville District was so inspired by Christ that they held a mass hunger-relief event that drew 1,500 people and packed 285,000 meals in one single day.
Second, we see evidence of a changed life through the way we celebrate our faith. Clapping her hands, stomping and twirling in a wide circle, Taylor shouted a gleeful Wooooo! to show how the love just spills over when our love for Christ reigns supreme.
A changed life is a life that celebrates and has joy, and my goodness, people ought to be able to see it in us! she exclaimed.
Finally, a changed life is one that needs to include everybody.
God s love, God s forgiveness, God s salvation are available to everybody, Taylor told the crowd. The ugliest word in the English language is exclusive.
During the offering, as a way to demonstrate God s open love, Taylor encouraged all who felt led to come to the altar and pray. A crowd of people did just that, flocking to the front for a chance to kneel and lift their souls in prayer to the Lord.
God is in this place once again, so keep your hearts and your ears open for the ways that God s calling you, the ways that God through Jesus is inviting you to a new and changed life: a life that is generous, a life that is inclusive, a life that makes a difference for His sake and His alone, Taylor said.
Business began in earnest on Day Two of four-day event, with officer elections (click here) and informational reports presented. Business ended before the dinner break on Day Three, with ordination rounding out the gathering on the final day (click here).
Redistricting study expanded
The Rev. Paul Harmon brought the report of the District Study Task Force, which has been working for almost a year to gather information about the conference s districts and explore whether they are appropriate in size and number for this state. Harmon said their work is not only incomplete, but needs to be expanded.
We have been attempting to pour new wine into old wine skins, and these old wine skins have stretched with fermentational changes over the last 40 years, Harmon said, asking the body to allow the task force to continue with their work another year and dig deeper, authorizing them to study the organization of the entire Annual Conference and receive $5,000 to complete their work and present a report to the 2013 Annual Conference.
The request was supported.
The Rev. Willie Teague and Cynthia Williams presented the Connectional Ministries report to the body, noting that the Judicial Council found a few defects in the new Conference Connectional Ministries structure. They will submit the revised plan to the Judicial Council by July 13.
United Methodists of South Carolina have an opportunity to embrace all of God s people with a spirit of celebration of our gifts, graces and talents, Williams said, urging fellow United Methodists to be brave as they navigate the new structure and other coming changes in the denomination. As believers thinking together, praying together and being in holy conversation together, we can fulfill God s plan.
Pensions and Health Benefits
Herman Lightsey presented the report for Pensions and Health Benefits, which was approved.
Lightsey said the major change in their report was that active premiums will increase 1 percent for the year 2013. The consumer-driven health plan will continue for 2013 as an option, and the board expects to bring a recommendation to the body next year about whether part-time clergy would receive mandatory coverage in 2014.
The board is also looking at several options for retiree healthcare, Lightsey said: consumer driven plans funded through health reimbursement accounts (HRAs); market based plans enrolled through conference but funded through HRAs; and moving retirees to market insurance exchanges authorized through the Patient Protection and Affordable Health Care Act.
Lightsey and the Rev. David Anderson addressed delinquent direct billing payments, noting that they collect 95 to 96 percent of the amount billed, which is good percentage wise, but is still a lot of money in terms of dollars. They are working on ways to improve collection, including ACH payments and other methods.
Next year s Annual Conference will be June 9-12, 2013, at the Florence Civic Center.
For more information about Annual Conference 2012, as well as to view more photos than were printed in the Advocate, visit the conference website at www.umcsc.org . Available are audio from teaching time sessions, order forms for videos of the event, photos and appointments. For questions about other available media, or for a copy of the memorial or retirement DVD, etc., contact Director of Communications Matt Brodie at firstname.lastname@example.org or 803-786-9486, ext. 265.