By Jessica Brodie
GREENVILLE—With a call to join him in singing the hymn “Marching to Zion,” Resident Bishop Jonathan Holston called the 2017 South Carolina Annual Conference to order Monday morning.
And with a Pentecost-fueled bang, business was off and running. After welcomes from Conference Secretary the Rev. Ken Nelson, Greenville District Superintendent the Rev. George Howle and others, the body began their three-day slate of business by addressing a number of organizational motions.
Then, after the body stood to sing “And Are We Yet Alive,” business paused for a word from Dr. Albert Mosley, president and dean of Gammon Theological Seminary, who led a Bible study focused on Isaiah 56:10-12 and the importance of being a “watchman.” Mosley will continue with a Bible study the next two days of conference.
Monday morning business
Business resumed with the passage of six changes to the standing rules (SR 30, 37, 46, 68, 70 and 71). SR 30 adds the conference historian and archivist to the people who are nominated and elected quadrennially. SR 27 grants a longer length of time to notify people they have been elected to a board (30 days) and allows 15 days to notify the conference of the electee’s contact information, plus allows longer time to allow people to meet after close of Annual Conference (90 days). SR 46 adds the conference director of congregational development, chair of the Committee on Congregational Development and the chair of the Board of Pension and Health Benefits to the Ministry Advisory Team. SR68 brings the rule on the Conference Committee on Nominations into better alignment with the current structure and practice of Connectional Ministries and better aligns the work of district nomination committees with the conference Board of Nominations. SR 70 allows that petitions to General Conference, if received after deadline of March 15, will be referred to next year’s Annual Conference.
In the same vein, SR 71 allows Annual Conference resolutions and appeals submitted after the March 15 deadline will be referred to the appropriate body for consideration at next year’s conference; this will essentially do away with the ability for late resolutions to be submitted on the floor, though this (or any) standing rule can be suspended with a two-thirds vote at Annual Conference.
Next, David McManus took a point of personal privilege, noting that statistics in the 2016 conference journal indicate that in 2015 the UMCSC saw 2,543 first time professions of faith and 1,974 baptisms into new life. He asked Holston to lift up these achievements with a prayer of thanks.
Immediately, Holston did as asked: “Thank you for clergy and laity who go out in the streets and places where people are and invite them to come,” he prayed. “Thank you for people committed to the evangelist work of offering Christ. … We pray we will be even more charged up to go forward.”
Next, the Rev. Ross Chellis, convener of Connectional Ministries, and the Rev. Kathy James, director of Connectional Ministries, introduce a report Monday that lifted up the outreach, advocacy, discipleship, lay leadership and other work performed by United Methodist churches and individuals across the state, from disaster response to campus ministries to Imagine No Malaria to the Ghana Technology Project.
Next, Board of Ordained Ministry Chair the Rev. Fran Elrod gave the BOM report, citing the board’s scholarship recipients, as well as internship funding for seminary students. As part of the report, Elrod also lifted up a Cabinet response to the issue of ineffective pastoral leadership. She said the response includes a process for complying with Para. 334.3,4 of the 2016 Book of Discipline, pastoral ineffectiveness, potential reasons for alleging ineffectiveness, recommendations for responding to the ineffective pastor, communicate/intervene, and evaluate/conclude. Annual Conference adopted this response.
Then, just before lunch—in a service led by Elrod, Conference Lay Leader Barbara Ware and Chair of the Fellowship of Local Pastors and Associate Members the Rev. Alfonza Jones Sr.—Annual Conference examined and licensed 43 local pastors who will serve South Carolina UMCs.
“May God bless you and keep you in all that you do,” Holston said, concluding the service.
As business broke for lunch, Nelson noted that last night’s offering to disaster response totaled $14,189.
Lunchtime: Mission Fair, Clergywomen, More
United Methodists had two lunchtime opportunities to enjoy: the Local Church Mission Fair, which celebrated local churches involved in mission and ministries, and the African-American Clergywomen’s Luncheon, featuring the Rev. J. Jeannetté Cooper as keynote speaker.
Monday afternoon business
Monday afternoon saw a wealth of business. Reporting on behalf of the Council on Finance and Administration, CF&A Chair the Rev. Mitch Houston thanked the body for their support of conference apportionments, noting the goal for this year is 95 percent.
The Rev. Walter Cantwell, chair of budget subcommittee, then presented the budget to the body. He said the requested amount for 2018 was $17,333,125, but CF&A is recommending $16,946,435, which is 15.7 percent of average net funds, what Cantwell said is an “attainable range.”
The budget was introduced for information only and will be voted upon Wednesday morning.
Next, the Rev. Steve Simoneaux, chair of the Committee on Resolutions, presented his report about the resolutions going before Annual Conference. Annual Conference will vote on seven resolutions Wednesday, the last day of conference—all those included in pre-conference materials with the exception of the disaffiliation resolution, which the bishop has said is out of order.
The resolutions are Resolution to Oppose Human Trafficking and Help End Suicide and Homelessness among Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Questioning Youth; Healing from the Legacy of Lynching; Resolution Against a Muslim Ban; Resolution Against the Dakota Access Pipeline, in Solidarity with Standing Rock; Resolution Supporting, Recognizing and Honoring the Services of Law Enforcement Officers; Resolution: A Formal Apology from Trinity UMC to Centenary UMC; and Welcoming the Migrant in our Midst.
Regarding the human trafficking resolution, Simoneaux said many of the signer names had to be struck in order to make the resolution compliant with Standing Rule 71. Other than that, the resolution has been properly submitted.
However, regarding the disaffiliation 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—Bishop Jonathan Holston said that only General Conference, not annual conferences, can allow such an action, and for him be asked to appoint such a task force violates the vows he took to uphold the church and the Book of Discipline.
“From my perspective this resolution is out of order and will not be considered,” Holston said.
The Rev. Keith Sweat, pastor of the Mount Bethel-Kings Chapel Charge in the Greenwood District who submitted the disaffiliation resolution, spoke before the body in response, noting that requesting a task force to consider the disaffiliation is not the same thing as withdrawing from the denomination.
But Holston disagreed: “The task force (would be) asking me to do something I believe is not in unity with the Discipline; therefore I do believe it is out of order … and not properly before us.”
Annual Conference will have the chance to amend, pass, refer or reject the resolutions Wednesday by majority vote.
More from Monday afternoon
Also Monday, Mosley gave the report of the UMC theological schools, and Columbia College Elizabeth Dinndorf brought a word about the UMC colleges and university. Jim Salley lifted up the 25th anniversary of Africa University, which received its very first gift in 1981 from a South Carolina couple and now has more than 1,200 students from 28 African countries.
“In Africa, we say you are only as good as your home people,” said Salley, a South Carolina native, thanking this conference for its long-time support, including 100 percent apportionments support for AU.
Campus ministries and the Black College Fund were also lifted up onstage.
Retired pastor the Rev. George Strait took to the microphone for a point of personal privilege in the afternoon, asking the conference to pause a moment to remember Dr. Mike Watson, whom he called “a servant of God.” Watson, a South Carolinian, founded United Methodist Volunteers in Mission and died in December. Holston asked Strait to lead the body in prayer.
Also Monday afternoon, 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).
David Anderson, conference pension and health benefits officer, said rising health costs necessitated a change, but the conference Board of Pension and Health Benefits didn’t want to just do away with conference plans and send participants to the state or federal marketplace. The Healthflex Exchance is “the best fit for our conference,” Anderson said.
“We believe it offers benefits to the church and conference, as well as to the participant,” Anderson said. “We can continue to offer group coverage and not terminate the plans due to unsustainable cost. You’ll be able to choose a plan that really fits your needs.”
The Rev. Chris Lollis, chair of the BPHB, said the extra choices will be helpful overall.
“We realize insurance is not one size fits all,” Lollis told the body. “The board feels this is a win-win for both clergy and lay employees.”
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.
In September, there will be conference workshops and a benefit counselor available to help participants make their insurance choices. Elections will be made in November, and the new benefits go live in January.
“We’re not going to leave you alone to make your decisions,” Anderson said. “The most expensive plan is not the right fit for everyone.”
Also at Annual Conference, the body adopted pension changes: an increase in the past service rate that raises the past service rate for pre-1982 pensions from $765 per service year to $781; a housing exclusion resolution for retired and disabled clergy; and an increase in direct billing for the clergy retirement security program from $492 to $497/month (first increase since 2014).
The afternoon wrapped up with a few more reports and presentations: Barbara Ware, conference lay leader, reported on the wide variety of mission and ministry work South Carolina laity engaged in this year, noting 2,000 people came to the 12 Bishop’s Forward Focus tours this year.
Cynthia Williams announced a new quilt project where every district will be making quilts to represent various ministry areas and presenting them at next year’s Annual Conference, where the quilts will be wrapped around the district superintendents as a way of tangibly symbolizing district ministries.
Epworth Children’s Home announced the launch of what it hopes will be a three-year Capital Campaign to raise $7-10 million. The campaign will allow for the purchase and renovation of Epworth’s second campus, to strengthen and expand Epworth’s programs by creating The Institute for Child and Family Wellbeing, to increase the permanent endowment of Epworth Children’s Home, and to support the Hartzell School and Fairfield Orphanage at Old Mutare Mission in Zimbabwe.
And finally, district superintendents the Revs. Susan Leonard-Ray and Joe Long gave the Cabinet report, noting how in the midst of what Leonard-Ray called a “calibration,” a time of great change and shift in the culture and the world, Christians are called to go deeper in their faith, follow the lead of Jesus and cast their nets into ever-deeper water.
“It is not time to sit on the sidelines or the edge of the lake washing our nets,” Leonard-Ray said. “There is work to do, there is hope to give, there is life to share, there is good news to live.”
As the business session broke for dinner, Florence District Superintendent the Rev. John Hipp lifted up a powerful example of God answering prayer: earlier, prayer was requested for the Rev. Mat Brewington, pastor of New Zion-Trinity Charge in the Florence District. Hipp announced that he got a call an hour and a half ago from Brewington’s wife, who told him the miraculous news that her husband was out of his coma and had started talking.
“My friends, our God hears our prayers!” a tearful Hipp proclaimed to resounding applause.
Monday evening ordination
The day ended with the Service of Commissioning and Ordination, which was preached by Bishop Cynthia Harvey, resident bishop of the Louisiana Conference. Harvey’s message was on “You Can Run But You Cannot Hide.”
Twenty-six were commissioned or ordained June 5, including 16 elders, one deacon, eight provisional elders and one provisional deacon.
Ordained as elders in full connection were Eugene Aaron Aiken, Yon Taek Bae, Lawrence Cantey Jr., James Derrick Cattenhead, Meredith Marie Dark, Kristin Marie Dollar, Angela Marie Etheredge-Erwin, Ernest Winfred Frierson, Enrique Roberto Gordon, Daniel Robert Griswold, Cheryl Giles Johnson, Brandon Craig Lazarus, Allen Nesmith, Christine Louise Reeves-Pendergrass, Tenny Hutchinson Rupnick and Walter Edward Strawther.
Ordained as a deacon in full connection was Kimberly Norbeck Evans.
Commissioned as provisional elders were Meegian Alicia Gossard, John David Jordan, Ann deRosset Kovan, Susan Biggert Maddox, Angela Regina Nelson, Nathan Smalls, Carole Anne Walters and Laura Howard Whitt.
And commissioned as a provisional deacon was Meg Bryce Jiunnies.
Check back tomorrow night for a recap of Day Three of Annual Conference (Tuesday, June 6).