By Jessica Brodie
FLORENCE—With the singing of Charles Wesley’s hymn “And Are We Yet Alive?” Bishop Jonathan Holston called the business of Annual Conference 2016 to order Monday, June 6, at the Florence Civic Center.
The morning started on a light note, with Florence District Superintendent John Hipp and the Rev. Mike Henderson, pastor of host church Highland Park United Methodist Church, Florence, coming forward to bring greetings from the Florence District.
“Good morning, saints! Good morning, sinners!” Hipp said. “Welcome to the great Florence District; we are glad you are here!”
Hipp introduced Henderson, noting he would give a word. Henderson did just that: “Welcome,” he deadpanned to much laughter.
After organizational motions and announcements from Conference Secretary the Rev. Ken Nelson, the body passed an amended standing rule initiated by the Committee on Standing Rules. The rule, amended by the Rev. Roger Gramling to specify exactly who can submit resolutions to the Annual Conference, notes that any clergy member, elected lay member or any organizational body affiliated with the Annual Conference may submit a resolution to the body. The amendment and the rule passed overwhelmingly.
Next Dr. Luther Smith, professor emeritus of Candler School of Theology, led a Bible study on the Gospel of Luke. Smith will lead a study each morning of the gathering.
Conference officers elected, nominees presented
After a break, Bishop Holston then led the body in election of quadrennial conference officers: Annual Conference 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.
Next, the Rev. Joseph James of the Committee on Nominations presented 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, all of whom he deemed “a thorough list of gifted nominees that reflect not only talented leadership but the diversity of this Annual Conference.” Annual Conference will vote on these nominees Wednesday, the final day of conference.
As this is start of a quadrennial, James noted, there is a larger number than normal before the body.
Chancellor: churches need complete insurance
Kay Crowe, conference chancellor, offered next two things churches should heed: the need for churches to be aware of and have their own complete insurance packages, and that church property sales and leasing must comply with the United Methodist Book of Discipline.
On the first, Crowe said, she sometimes get calls from churches who have had some sort of insurance-related event, such as a fraud, yet know little to nothing about their coverage.
“They tell me, ‘We’re not sure where policies are, we’re not sure what our coverage is and we’ve known about this four to five months and didn’t think this would be a big problem, so we’re just now reaching out for help,” Crowe said, noting those are the calls she dreads. “Those calls happen again and again despite the amount of time we spend talking about the importance of churches having complete insurance packages.”
Crowe reminded the body that the conference no longer binds the individuals in churches who handle money.
“That conference-level binding coverage was lost because of the number of losses we had; they refuse to write it any more,” Crowe said. “Every church is completely responsible for having the appropriate bonds for the individuals in your churches who are handling money.”
She urged churches to have a designated place where policies are kept and know what coverages are being bought, plus be sure to review the declarations page and the policies themselves.
“This is important because these cases are happening as we speak,” Crowe said.
She also noted that many churches are engaging in sale transactions, mortgages and leasing of church properties, and these transactions may be hindered by lawyers who are not familiar with the Discipline. She encouraged churches to be sure to make lawyers aware of these additional rules.
20 years for deacons, 60 years for ordaining women
The Rev. Wayne Horne next presented the report of the Board of Ordained Ministry and expressed enthusiasm for that evening’s ordination service. Selecting ordinands is “a task we take very seriously,” Horne said.
He said the BOM has understood the necessity to taking down a wall between them and the Cabinet and establish a much closer working relationship.
“We realized we ought to be in conversation with one another,” Horne said, noting their ongoing dialogue culminated as they shared a retreat this year.
Next, Horne called up deacon Karen Jones. Jones lifted up the 20th anniversary of ordaining deacons. Jones noted there are two orders—elders and deacons—and deacons do a variety of servant ministries, specializing in anything from Hispanic ministry and pastoral counseling to community economic development and more.
“The needs of the world are vast, and there are too many to list,” Jones said.
In a video celebrating deacons, deacon candidate Elizabeth Murray noted that “deacons are called to bridge the church and the world.”
The BOM also celebrated the 60th anniversary of ordaining women.
UM colleges and university
Next, Scott Cochran, president of Spartanburg Methodist College, lifted up the work of the United Methodist colleges and university in South Carolina: SMC along with Claflin University, Columbia College and Wofford College. Cochran also lauded the caliber of students who attend and excel at these institutions of higher education. “It’s all made possible by you,” Cochran told the body, noting their graduates will one day be the leaders of churches throughout the conference.
Africa University almost 25
South Carolina’s Jim Salley, of Africa University, reported next on the 39-person trip Bishop Jonathan Holston led to Zimbabwe to tour the university and see firsthand the efforts AU is making on the continent of Africa. “People around the world who call themselves United Methodist know that the South Carolina Annual Conference leads the way,” Salley said, noting that AU was recently reapproved at General Conference for $10 million in apportionments and another $10 million in the World Service Fund. Last year, the South Carolina conference had 100.4 percent in apportionment giving for AU. “Thank you for leading the way,” Salley said to applause. On March 20-25, 2017, AU will celebrate its 25th anniversary, and Salley invited all to come to Zimbabwe and see the fruits of South Carolina’s labor.
Health insurance rate increase approved
And as the last report before the lunch break, Herman Lightsey, chair, and the Rev. David Anderson, benefits officer, gave the report of the Board of Pension and Health Benefits.
Citing the many changes our country and world are going through in the last two quadrennia since he became the BPHB chair, Lightsey lifted up their efforts on behalf of clergy and conference staff.
“Eight years later, 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,” Lightsey said. “We’ve adjusted to changes in the world and have moved forward with insight to not only what we can provide to current clergy but to workers.”
Lightsey said the conference can feel good that pensions are totally funded, in great shape and poised for the future. With insurance, he noted that the BPHB continues to try to give the best benefits it can.
“Over the past 10 years overall, your insurance premiums have only increased 4.9 percent; not another entity that can really say they’ve kept costs down that much,” Lightsey said.
Anderson then took stage, noting that this year, South Carolina will see a change in health insurance benefits. Active plans rates will see a 12.4 percent increase for plan participants and a 15 percent increase for churches for 2017.
“Our claims rate went up,” Anderson said. “The claims rate was 142 percent. That’s basically a loss ratio of 142 percent.”
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.
The body approved the BPHB reports.
The lunch break featured the Local Church Mission Fair, the African-American Clergywomen’s Luncheon and the Hispanic/Latino Ministry Lunch.
After lunch, the David Surrett, chair of the Conference Council on Finance and Administration, presented the council’s budget and other reports for information only. These will be voted upon on the last day of Annual Conference, Wednesday.
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 presented a budget slightly less than the one in preconference materials because of budgetary actions taken during the UMC’s General Conference. The body will vote on a $16.79 million budget Wednesday.
Also during CF&A’s time, the body elected Beth Westbury as conference treasurer, and Surrett gave special recognition to the Walterboro District, which paid 100 percent of its obligations.
The Rev. Marvin Caldwell gave the report of the Committee on Resolutions and Appeals. Caldwell noted that at the time of printing preconference materials, the committee had received one resolution (changing state social studies education standards regarding how South Carolina Native American history is taught). He noted that since then, his committee has received five additional resolutions, presented today. These resolutions will be distributed tomorrow, Tuesday, June 7, after the morning session. The resolutions are a Resolution to Support the Nature of High Quality Public Education South Carolina; Resolution for Uninsured Poor Adults in South Carolina; Responsibilities for Eradication of Racism Resolution; Resolution for an Assessment and a Plan of Action for the African-American Historical Methodist Flagship Churches of the South Carolina Annual Conference; and Resolution to Oppose Discrimination Against Transgender People.
General Conference report
Dr. Tim McClendon, delegation chair, and the full delegation to General Conference and this summer’s Jurisdictional Conference next stood before the body to offer the report on General Conference.
McClendon noted the delegation has been hard at work since their election last June and recently returned from Portland, Oregon, site of the UMC’s General Conference gathering. He reported on how three from the South Carolina delegation served as officers in their committees and how General Conference celebrated a number of anniversary milestones, including 25 years of Africa University, 60 years of full clergywomen’s rights, 150 years of United Methodist Women’s ministry and the 200th anniversary of Francis Asbury’s death.
McClendon lifted up the Sand Creek Massacre apology and memorial given at General Conference, plus a host of other happenings in Portland, including a gain of 1.2 million members in the UMC over the last four years, a new cloud-based hymnal, new ministry areas in Africa because of the growth there, new provisional conferences in Southeast Asia and Mongolia, separation from the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, support for persecuted Christians, more direct accountability for bishops and more.
He also noted that the Council of Bishops offered “A Way Forward,” which General Conference approved. The plan has General Conference defer all petitions on human sexuality (a total of 56) and refer the entire subject to a special commission, named by the COB, to develop a complete examination and possible revision of every paragraph in the UMC Book of Discipline regarding human sexuality..
Jurisdictional pool approved
The body next approved a jurisdictional pool of South Carolina United Methodists to serve on various boards and agencies as needed. South Carolina voted to put forth 45 names, the maximum number allowed, and McClendon noted they are of various ethnicities. In addition to the 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.
McClendon approved as episcopal nominee
Next, the body approved the nomination of McClendon as South Carolina’s episcopal nominee.
“We’re going to Jurisdictional Conference behind Tim 100 percent,” said Barbara Ware.
“Not been since 1992 have we had a nominee from South Carolina become bishop.”
After his approval, McClendon expressed deep appreciation to Annual Conference.
“You have shaped me and made me who I am; you have made me better than I am,” McClendon said. “I am grateful for the church I serve, St. John’s UMC, Aiken. I am so happy to be a part of this conference and part of this congregation. I’d be most happy to be here till I draw my last breath, but if God so chooses, I will serve and I will give it my all, and I thank you.”
A way forward regarding human sexuality
In a point of personal privilege, Stanton Adams took to the microphone and addressed the body, identifying himself as an openly gay United Methodist serving a local church in the South Carolina Annual Conference.
On behalf of the South Carolina Reconciling Ministries Network, Adams expressed appreciation to Holston and others on the COB for trying to find a way forward for the UMC over the difficult issue of human sexuality. Adams read a letter signed by 68 people at an RMN breakfast Monday offering gratitude, encouraging the bishops to, among other things, include experts and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer/questioning people on the commission and offer frequent reports to Annual Conferences on their progress (read the letter here). The letter offered the South Carolina RMN as partners and active participants.
“On behalf of Council of Bishops, we acknowledge deep divisions exist in the church about hum sexuality, and we believe there are options beside restructuring and we do not seek to split,” Holston told the body after Adams read the letter, noting the COB will lead the church in a way forward. “We are committed to a different kind of conservation. The process is one which is new to all of us, and we will seek to do our best.”
Afternoon business included a report from congregational development, the lay leadership report and the report of the Cabinet, and a celebration of the 100th birthday of Ella Mae Colbert, member of Friends in Christ UMC.
32 commissioned, ordained
The evening concluded with a Service of Ordination and Commissioning preached by former South Carolina Bishop J. Lawrence McCleskey, with 32 to be commissioned or ordained as clergy or deacons.
In his sermon, which drew from 2 Timothy 3:10-4:8 (the final charge from the Apostle Paul to Timothy), McCleskey urged those being commissioned and ordained to heed Paul’s advice to “always be sober, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, carry out your ministry fully.”
It’s hard work, he cautioned, but if called, it’s a responsibility one must accept.
“You’re charged to carry out demands beyond your strength,” McCleskey told the clergy and deacons. “So how do we do it? We do it with help. We do it by grace. We do it because God empowers you.”
(Read more in the full edition of the July Advocate, coming soon.)