Escalating cases of COVID-19 in this state have prompted United Methodist leaders to call off the one-day session of the 2020 South Carolina Annual Conference.
The news of the postponement comes a week after Annual Conference organizers released the date for this year’s Annual Conference, which had been set for Saturday, Aug. 1, 2020.
However, Florence Center officials notified the South Carolina Conference of The United Methodist Church that the facility can no longer host the Annual Conference session there August 1 because of the escalating COVID-19 pandemic. The UMC announced the news July 10.
South Carolina has logged record numbers of COVID-19 cases over the past few weeks, conference leaders noted, with a daily average over the past 10 days of more than 1,500 newly reported cases and a daily average of more than 18 reported deaths.
A new date for the annual gathering of clergy and lay members representing 975 local United Methodist churches will be announced once state health officials advise it is safe to gather in large groups again.
“We know this is disappointing news,” South Carolina Resident Bishop L. Jonathan Holston said, “but we must continue to make the health and safety of our delegates, staff and volunteers our first concern.”
“We will continue to closely monitor the guidance of state health officials in hopes that soon we will be able to gather safely,” Holston added. “We recognize that conditions are changing, and we will err on the side of safety. In the meantime, we know the laity and clergy of the South Carolina Conference will continue in this time of pandemic to find creative and connectional ways to meet emerging needs and sustain exceptional ministry beyond the bounds of expectations.”
Two Annual Conference events are still scheduled, with some adaptations:
• Virtual Clergy Session (August 1 | 9 a.m.) – To ensure that all are prepared technologically, clergy are encouraged to participate in one of two virtual training sessions – scheduled for July 23 (10 a.m.) and July 24 (2 p.m.). Eligible clergy will be notified directly about details.
• Service of Commissioning and Ordination (August 8 | 2 p.m.) – The service will take place at St. John’s United Methodist Church in Aiken. Attendance will be restricted to candidates for commissioning and ordination and a limited number of their guests. Candidates will be notified directly about details. Others can watch the live-stream, which will be available via a link at umcsc.org.
As of July 9, more than 50,500 COVID-19 cases and nearly 900 deaths had been reported in the state. By comparison, 475 people have died this year in South Carolina traffic accidents.
Delegates are encouraged to continue to prepare for the day when the 2020 Annual Conference will convene by going to umcsc.org/ac2020.
After a delay prompted by COVID-19 public health concerns from the typical June gathering of Annual Conference, organizers on July 1 had released the new date of Aug. 1 for this year’s Annual Conference. It was to be a one-day event limited to Annual Conference members and essential conference staff and volunteers.
Per a release received from the conference just as the Advocate was going to press, the one-day Annual Conference was to be held at the Florence Center, Florence.
Holston and other conference leaders said the health and safety of attendees is the top priority as they work closely with the management team at the Florence Center to plan the one-day gathering. The annual meeting of clergy and lay members representing 975 local United Methodist churches originally was scheduled for June 7-10. The pandemic prompted both the postponement of the session and the truncated schedule.
The annual Service of Commissioning and Ordination, traditionally held during Annual Conference, was scheduled for Aug. 8, also to be held at the Florence Center (now it will be elsewhere—see above). This service is not open to the public; attendance will be limited to ordinands and a limited number of guests—but it will be live-streamed online at umcsc.org.
“Central to planning the 2020 Annual Conference has been the health of our delegates and everyone else who attends,” said the Rev. Ken Nelson, the conference secretary. “Working closely with our partners at the Florence Center, we are doing everything we can to arrange for the safest gathering possible. To those delegates who may not yet feel comfortable attending an event with a large number of people, please know that it is absolutely appropriate for you to choose to stay home. We do not want anyone to feel pressured to attend.”
Traditionally, Annual Conference is open to anyone who wants to attend. This year, however, the pandemic was going to force conference organizers to limit the number of attendees to better facilitate social distancing for the protection of everyone. Attendance at the Aug. 1 would have been limited to delegates and the staff and volunteers necessary to conduct the functions of the Annual Conference. That means guests, such as delegate spouses and alternate delegates who are not substituting for a delegate, could not attend. The entire session—with the exception of the Clergy Session, in which confidential matters are discussed—was to be live-streamed at umcsc.org. All attendees were to be required to register in advance, to comply with state health guidelines.
Among the safety protocols that were to be in place:
- All attendees would need to wear a mask and practice social distancing at all times.
- On-site check-in was to be conducted outside the building and include temperature checks.
- Delegates were to be instructed to arrive for check-in at specific, staggered times to reduce the potential for long lines and close contact.
- Delegate seating for all sessions was to be distributed throughout the 10,000-seat arena.
However, all of these plans are currently on hold as the pandemic prompts another postponement.
“We are deeply grateful for the patience exhibited by all clergy and lay members as we have navigated the pandemic-driven challenges over these past few months,” Holston said.
“Please join me in prayer for those who have been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, for the members of the Committee on the Annual Conference and others who continue to plan the Annual Conference, for all clergy and lay members, and for our conference staff.”
For information about the 2020 South Carolina Annual Conference session, click here.