By Jessica Brodie
GREENVILLE—The countdown is on for Annual Conference 2017 as hundreds of South Carolina United Methodists get ready for a gathering in a new location with a wealth of new offerings.
With the theme “We Walk By Faith, Not By Sight,” this year’s Annual Conference will be held June 4-7 at the TD Convention Center, Greenville, which is the first location change the event has seen in many years. To help ease the transition, conference organizers have been hard at work for months finessing meal plans, on-site events and other helpful ways to assist attendees in navigating the space.
“For over a year, a devoted team of laity and clergy has given itself to preparing a city and a site for the arrival of hundreds of United Methodists from across the state,” said the Rev. Ken Nelson, conference secretary. “So many have worked long and hard to make certain our annual conference and delegates experience the best that Greenville has to offer. More importantly, we are excited to join our prayers to yours as we discover anew what it means to walk by faith and not by sight.”
Bishop Jonathan Holston said he is excited about the coming opportunity to be together at Annual Conference.
“With our theme of ‘We Walk By Faith, Not By Sight,’ we will be experiencing a new location and a new opportunity to make an impact in the Upstate as South Carolina United Methodists,” Holston said. “I am thankful to serve in a conference that believes in God-sized dreams.”
Annual Conference is a time when lay and clergy members of the South Carolina Conference gather for a multiday session to pray, worship, fellowship and ultimately decide the business of The United Methodist Church in this state. This year’s event will include a host of items, such as passing the 2018 conference budget; a vote on five constitutional amendments approved at the denomination’s global General Conference 2016 in Portland, Oregon; a vote on at least seven resolutions on topics ranging from lynching to disaffiliation from the UMC; new health plan packages; ordination and licensing of new clergy; retirement and memorial services; and more.
Bishop L. Jonathan Holston, South Carolina’s resident bishop, will preach opening worship Sunday night, and the conference will also lift up and help with two South Carolina-wide mission projects: the Homeless Initiative (which involves building houses in Greenville through Homes of Hope) and the youth bike initiative Bikes for the World.
Bishop Cynthia Harvey, resident bishop of the Louisiana Conference, will preach the Service of Commissioning and Ordination Monday night, and Dr. Albert D. Mosley, president of Gammon Theological Seminary, will serve as Bible study leader daily. The Rev. John Hipp, Florence District superintendent, will preach the Memorial Service Tuesday afternoon.
Also, a free Kidz Konference camp will be offered for infants to those who have finished fifth grade, with lunch and snacks provided.
Seven resolutions up for vote
Seven resolutions—many rooted in solidarity or in healing, and the majority of which were adopted by the Advocacy Area of Connectional Ministries—were submitted by South Carolina United Methodist groups, ministries or individuals and will go before the body for vote.
Those received in time for inclusion in pre-conference materials are as follows:
- Healing from the Legacy of Lynching: This encourages every UMC in the state to have a ritual of forgiveness and reconciliation at the site of any lynchings in their community and place a memorial at this site.
- Resolution Against a Muslim Ban: This calls on the conference to condemn profiling, stereotyping, persecution and/or banning of any person based on their race, ethnicity, religion or country of origin, plus convey to the president of the United States, Congress, the governor and the General Assembly the church’s desire that no person be denied citizenship, access to federal or state resources or be detained or incarcerated based on their race, ethnicity, religion or country of origin.
- Resolution Against the Dakota Access Pipeline, in Solidarity with Standing Rock: This calls on the conference to reject the Dakota Access Pipeline as it is proposed and to call upon other conferences of the UMC to stand in solidarity with the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation against the pipeline, citing the Social Principles of the UMC as justification.
- 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: This calls upon the bishop to appoint a Task Force on Realignment to develop a plan to disaffiliate the South Carolina Conference from the UMC and present that plan at Annual Conference 2018; see article here.
- Resolution Supporting, Recognizing and Honoring the Services of Law Enforcement Officers: This calls on the bishop and conference to declare support for and solidarity with law enforcement officers, particularly those in South Carolina.
- Resolution to Oppose Human Trafficking and Help End Suicide and Homelessness among Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Questioning Youth: This calls upon people to support LGBTQ youth in a number of ways: bear witness to the value of all life by not remaining silent when this value is questioned or dehumanized; oppose the practices of human trafficking and slavery; respond to acts of prejudice, harassment, bullying, abuse and violence with acts of compassion, justice and liberation; and intentionally support and minister to all at-risk youth regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity. It also calls upon clergy to provide counseling and emotional and spiritual assistance to the families of LGBTQ youth.
- Welcoming the Migrant in our Midst: This calls upon the conference to work toward eliminating racism and violence directed toward newly arriving migrants from all parts of the world; oppose any immigration policy that excludes refugees solely on the basis of their religion or national origin; celebrate the re-creation of a Hispanic Latino Ministry Task Force and immigration task force; educate and equip members to provide hospitality and welcome to migrants; advocate for just policies; and urge political leaders and policy makers to assure laws affirm the worth, dignity, inherent values and rights of immigrants.
Read the resolutions in full in pre-conference materials, which can be found here. Other resolutions can be submitted on the floor at Annual Conference. Voting members of Annual Conference will have the chance to amend, pass, refer or reject the resolutions by majority vote.
Five constitutional amendments
Five constitutional amendments that passed at the UMC’s General Conference 2016 will go before this annual conference for a vote. The amendments will be ratified pending majority vote by the annual and central conferences. The language of the amendments cannot be altered.
The amendments are as follows:
- Proposed Amendment I: This adds a new paragraph between current Para. 5 and 6 in the 2012 Book of Discipline, Division One, regarding gender justice. The General Conference-approved rationale for the amendment notes that the constitution contains a paragraph on racial justice but not one on gender justice.
- Proposed Amendment II: This changes Para. 4, Article IV, of the 2012 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.
- Proposed Amendment III: This 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). According to the rationale, the change adds clarity.
- Proposed Amendment IV: This 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.
- Proposed Amendment V: This adds a new sentence to the end of Para. 50, Article VI, of the Discipline enabling the Council of Bishops to hold its individual members accountable for their work. According to the rationale, Judicial Decision 475 ruled unconstitutional the Council of Bishops holding its individual members accountable for their work, referencing Para. 50, so this legislation follows the Judicial Decision 1275 requirement of a legislative resolution from General Conference so the Council of Bishops may provide such oversight.
The constitutional amendments are also available in pre-conference materials here.
Active pastors and lay employees have a big change on the horizon when it comes to health insurance; many say the change will bring more choice and more affordability overall. For 2018, the South Carolina Conference Board of Pension and Health Benefits 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 (paired with prescription drug and optional dental and expanded vision plans) that enable participants to choose a plan that fits their personal medical needs and budget.
All six of the plans feature the same health plan partners (Blue Cross Blue Shield of Illinois, OptumRx, United Behavioral Health, VSP for vision, with the additional of Cigna for optional dental coverage), and there will be no need to change doctors, hospitals or pharmacies. The plans will also include more customer support and the same wellness incentives currently offered.
The Rev. David Anderson, conference pensions and health benefits officer, called it a way to control costs for the local church and provide clergy and lay employees with an array of options.
Anderson said depending on the plan they choose, some people might pay more for premiums, some about the same and some far less.
The six plans encompass three types. One option is a traditional PPO plan with co-pays; it is the most expensive option for monthly premiums but offers the lowest deductible and out-of-pocket costs. Two options are consumer-driven health plans with moderately priced premiums with moderate deductible and out-of-pocket costs and allow participants to use a health reimbursement account. Three options are high-deductible health plans that allow participant to use a health savings account; they feature the lowest-priced premiums.
The exchange does not apply to retirees aged 65 or older, Anderson said.
Official rates will be available by the fall. The monthly cost to participants ranges from $71/month to $865/month depending on the plan and who needs coverage, plus any optional dental or expanded vision coverage.
The work of Annual Conference will wrap up Wednesday with passage of the budget and the fixing of clergy appointments by Bishop Holston. Annual Conference will consider passage of a $16.95 million budget for 2018, which is 1 percent (or $169,223) more than the 2017 budget.
Annual Conference has two mission opportunities this year: a Homeless Initiative and Youth Bike Initiative.
The Homeless Initiative is a partnership between the conference and Homes of Hope, an Upstate nonprofit that provides low-cost houses for homeless families in need. The homes are energy efficient and designed for a small family, which will at first rent the home at low cost and later will be able to purchase the home if they wish. The homes are built by men who have graduated from a Christ-centered shelter program of addiction recovery in a specialized job training opportunity.
Tours for Homes of Hope will be held during lunchtime (12:45-1:45 p.m.) Monday and Tuesday at Annual Conference. Space on the buses is limited; there will be a signup on the AC2017 app.
For the Youth Bike Initiative, youth in each district have been collecting 100 new and gently used bikes for people in need, plus $1,000, for a total of 1,200 bikes and $12,000 conference-wide. One thousand of the bikes will be sent to people in need across the globe through Bikes for the World; the remainder will be given to those in need locally through the South Main Mercy Center in Anderson and the Triune Mercy Center in Greenville. Both mission initiatives will be celebrated Tuesday night at Annual Conference.
Other happenings and resources
The Daily Advocate—a four-page publication produced by the Advocate in partnership with the conference to help people understand the issues before them each day at Annual Conference—will again be distributed for free to all conference attendees.
A new conference app will be available this year (the Advocate is a sponsor!).
Like last year, there will be live streaming of the event, and Annual Conference members will use electronic balloting to cast their votes.
Annual Conference will be held at the TD Convention Center in Greenville in 2017 and 2018. The committee is exploring options for locations for 2019 and beyond, including Greenville, Florence, Columbia and Myrtle Beach. Annual Conference 2017 business sessions will be conducted in the 30,000 sq. ft. ballroom of the TD Convention Center, on the second floor of the building. There are two escalators and an elevator. There is free limitless wireless Internet connectivity throughout the exhibit halls, meeting rooms, ballroom and lobbies.
Annual Conference 2017 in brief
- June 4-7
- Theme, “We Walk By Faith, Not By Sight”
- TD Convention Center, Greenville
- Business sessions in the ballroom (second floor)
- Tiered meal plan offered for convenience
- A new conference app will be available (the Advocate is a sponsor)
- Bishop Cynthia Harvey, resident bishop of the Louisiana Conference, will preach the Service of Commissioning and Ordination Monday night.
- Rev. Dr. Albert D. Mosley, president of Gammon Theological Seminary, will serve as Bible study leader daily.
- The Rev. John Hipp, Florence District superintendent, will preach the Memorial Service Tuesday afternoon.
- Bishop L. Jonathan Holston, Resident Bishop of the South Carolina Conference, will preach opening worship Sunday.
- Two mission projects: Homeless Initiative (building houses in Greenville through Homes of Hope) and youth bike initiative Bikes for the World.
- Tours for Homes of Hope will be held during lunchtime (12:45-1:45 p.m.) Monday and Tuesday at Annual Conference. Space on the buses is limited; there will be a signup on the AC2017 app.
- Free Kidz Konference camp will be offered for infants to those who have finished fifth grade; lunch and snacks provided. All volunteers and staff fully background checked and Safe Sanctuary-trained.
- At least seven resolutions will be considered by the body.
- The body will also have the chance to vote on five constitutional amendments approved at the denomination’s global General Conference 2016 in Portland, Oregon.
- Conference Board of Pension and Health Benefits will present new health plan packages.
- Passage of Annual Conference budget for 2018