Bishop also urges no in-person worship, church activities until May 20
By Jessica Brodie
South Carolina has postponed its Annual Conference gathering and issued a call that churches remain closed to in-person worship and other activities until at least May 20.
The announcements, released April 23, cited concern for public health and a conviction to do no harm amid the coronavirus pandemic.
A new date for Annual Conference has not been set.
The annual gathering—a time when 2,000 South Carolina laity and clergy gather to consider resolutions, ordain new pastors, approve budgets and do other necessary work of the denomination in this state—was supposed to have been June 7-10 at the Florence Center.
This latest postponement follows news last month that both General Conference and the Southeastern Jurisdictional Conference have also been postponed. General Conference had been slated for May 5-15 in Minneapolis, with SEJ July 15-17 in Lake Junaluska. As of press time, the Council of Bishops had circulated Aug. 31-Sept. 10, 2021, as prospective dates for a rescheduled General Conference, though conference organizers have not yet confirmed those dates.
Coronavirus, or COVID-19, was first identified in Wuhan, China, in 2019. It spreads person to person, and there are currently coronavirus cases across the globe and in every state in the United States. As of April 23, the World Health Organization reports more than 2.5 million confirmed cases worldwide and more than 175,000 deaths.
The decision to postpone South Carolina’s Annual Conference was made with the health and safety of attendees as top priority, conference leaders noted in their announcement. State and federal health officials recommend against large gatherings as one way to contain the spread of infection.
“As United Methodists, we often are guided by three simple and important principles that summarize our general rules—do no harm, do good and stay in love with God,” said the Rev. Ken Nelson, conference secretary. “To do no harm means we will be on guard so all our actions and even our silence will not add injury to another of God’s children or to any part of God’s creation.
“As a people of faith, our witness of doing no harm honors the sacred worth of every life.”
South Carolina Resident Bishop L. Jonathan Holston said he appreciates the flexibility of the conference’s clergy and laity, who are navigating many changes as they continue doing God’s work.
“We appreciate your flexibility as circumstances prevent us from gathering as originally planned, and we look forward to witnessing how the Holy Spirit will move in our midst at that time when we are able to safely gather to celebrate the ministry and mission made possible because of faithful United Methodists in South Carolina,” Holston said. “Truly, we are living beyond the bounds of expectations, yet we are assured of God’s steadfast presence guiding us.”
Most other annual conferences are also being postponed, including those in North Georgia (now set for Aug. 28-30), South Georgia (now Aug. 14-17), Western North Carolina (Aug. 8), Virginia (Sept. 18-19) and Florida (Sept. 19). Others, like the North Carolina Annual Conference, are shifting to virtual sessions.
South Carolina is urging people to be sure to cancel their Annual Conference hotel reservations for June 7-10, be on the lookout for information about the rescheduled Annual Conference and read all reports and other materials as they are distributed and made available at www.umcsc.org/ac2020.
As for the cancellation of church gatherings through May 20, Holston said he is heartened that South Carolina United Methodists continue to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world in spite of unprecedented restrictions on established ways of doing ministry.
“You are standing steadfast in spite of this extended period of isolation we are all living through. You are creatively staying connected with your communities, even as we continue to observe social distancing and other safety advice from health experts,” Holston said, noting we all serve a loving God whose word is a light that brightens our path even when it is difficult for us to see.
“The time will come when we will be together again physically. Together in worship. Together in service. Together in fellowship. We will pass the peace again. We will stand shoulder-to-shoulder again, praising our Savior in word and song,” Holston said. “In the meantime, I know that you will remain persistent in finding ways to be in community with your sisters and brothers in Christ.”
Bishop’s prayers and other COVID resources
Bishop Holston invites all to meet him each morning as he shares prayer with the South Carolina Conference. Visit www.umcsc.org. Also, the conference is offering a regularly updated collection of resources to help local churches at www.umcsc.org/coronavirus.