Body passes $15.9M budget, fixes appointments, ushers in 18 new clergy
By Jessica Brodie
FLORENCE—It’s a wrap—after months of planning, South Carolina’s second virtual Annual Conference ended early and accomplished everything conference leaders hoped.
“Our mission has not changed,” South Carolina Resident Bishop L. Jonathan Holston said after he closed the business session just before 3 p.m. Monday, June 7. “We may have to do it differently, but we can do what God has called us to do.”
Given ongoing health concerns because of the COVID-19 pandemic, conference leaders decided to hold Annual Conference as a virtual session again this year, much as they had to do last year also because of COVID-19. Only a handful of people attended in person at the host site, the Florence Center—only those who had to be present for presenting, recording or reporting purpose. Good News TV hosted the virtual gathering with participation via Zoom video conferencing and voting on a separate, secure platform, and the entire event was live-streamed so all could observe the proceedings online.
The event began June 6 with a 2 p.m. closed clergy session, where clergy discussed and approved private personnel and other matters, including this year’s class of ordinands. At 7 p.m., a small but enthusiastic crowd gathered for a service that ordained a new class of clergy, commissioned a host of new provisional elders and deacons, and recognized the faithful service of those retiring.
The next morning, after a lengthy training on the voting platform and the presentation of all conference video reports, Annual Conference was called to order—the 50th session since the South Carolina Annual Conference was organized.
In 1972, the South Carolina Conference (1785) and the South Carolina Conference (1866) merged into what is today the South Carolina Annual Conference.
Ultimately, lay and clergy members of South Carolina Annual Conference approved a $15.9 million budget for 2022, approved a number of reports from various groups including nominations to conference boards, closed two churches and changed a number of charge lines, fixed the appointments of clergy to their new churches for the year, and set the site and date for the 2022 Annual Conference (set for June 5-8, 2022, again at the Florence Center).
“We know the church was not created not for our pleasure, but the church was created for God’s pleasure,” Holston said during his closing sermon just before the fixing of appointments.
Citing a Maya Angelou quote on the importance of courage, of pressing on despite our fears, Holston also recalled a friend of his, John, who believes in the great power of choice each of us makes to live in a state of growth and positivity. Even when all looked bleak, in the midst of a catastrophic, life-threatening situation, John chose to be in a good mood, to be a survivor.
We, too, have that choice, Holston said.
“My friends we can make the choice to do what God has called us to do or we can sit idly by and let someone else do it,” Holston said. “I’ve learned this year that we are stronger together than we can ever be separate from each other, that even though we have different gifts, we are part of one body, and we can seek a more excellent way and take that next faithful step.”
New clergy ushered in, retirees celebrated
In a service June 6 conducted by Holston with leaders from the Board of Ordained Ministry, the Order of Elders and the Order of Deacons, seven were ordained as full elders, 10 commissioned as provisional elders and one commissioned as provisional deacon. It also honored a huge class of retirees: 45 who retired in 2020 and 36 who retire in 2021.
Bishop Debra Wallace-Padgett, resident bishop of the North Alabama Conference, served as guest preacher for the special service, bringing a word on the importance of building disciples.
The evening ended with the ceremonial passing of the mantle, in which a representative of the retiring class passes a stole, or mantle, from their shoulders to those of new class of ordinands. The Rev. Patricia Parrish represented the retiring class, and the Rev. Isaac Dusenberry represented the newly ordained class.
‘You are missed’
The business session was officially called to order at 11:08 a.m. June 7.
The Florence District served as host district, and Florence District Superintendent Terry Fleming brought a welcome from the 67 pastors, 93 churches and more than 17,000 members of the Florence District. Fleming said the last time a district superintendent brought greetings from Florence, it was the Rev. John Wesley Hipp, whose typical “Good morning, saints! Good morning, sinners!” greeting is decidedly absent this year.
“Know you are missed,” Fleming said to the many gathered online from all around the state. “The floor, bleachers and hallways of the Florence Center do not feel right without you here. There are no groups of friends greeting with hugs, handshakes, playful words, smiles or laughter. There’s no one passing out Annual Conference bingo sheets with boxes playfully pointing out lots of our unique perspectives and even more unique personalities.”
Perhaps most of all, Fleming said, he misses the opportunity to worship together and the sound of the space ringing with more than 2,000 voices singing “O for a Thousand Tongues to Sing.”
But welcome nonetheless, Fleming said.
The Rev. Frederick Yebuah, pastor of Cumberland United Methodist Church, Florence, said his church feels extraordinarily privileged to serve as the host church for this year’s event.
“Welcome to Florence,” Yebuah said, offering a simple but heartfelt greeting to all.
Conference Secretary the Rev. Ken Nelson next introduced various organizational motions, including that the session would be held virtually and voting would be done electronically, all of which passed, and business was officially under way.
Conference approves four priorities
The bulk of the day featured reports from various committees and other bodies.
The Rev. Millie Nelson Smith, director of Connectional Ministries, presented the Connectional Ministries report, lifting up their four priorities for the year. Those priorities are developing leaders, engaging our communities, connecting with and growing disciples, and measuring and evaluating current realities and missional possibilities.
The body approved the priorities.
‘Amazing’ apportionment achievement
Next, the Rev. Mitch Houston of the Conference Council on Finance & Administration presented for first reading the $15.9 million budget for 2022. Houston noted the 2022 budget is 3.2 percent lower than last year’s approved 2021 budget.
“It has been an unusual year, and CF&A continues to work diligently with our churches and other agencies to fund our ministries and be good stewards of what God has given to us,” Houston said.
This time last year, Houston said, CF&A didn’t know what to expect. Their first projection in early July was that apportionments would come in around 70 percent for the year, and they were hoping to achieve 75 percent.
Yet, in a pandemic year, the conference managed to achieve 87 percent in apportionment giving.
“That’s amazing!” Houston said. “We want to thank you, and we want to thank the Holy Spirit for working among us.”
Recognition for the highest paid apportionment percentage for last year went to the Rock Hill District, and Houston also lifted up the Orangeburg District, which had the biggest increase in percentage giving.
Serving those who serve
The Board of Pension & Health Benefits Chair Valerie Brooks-Madden pointed to the video and written reports produced by their group, with their report approved as presented.
Citing the words of the late Steve Jobs, Brooks-Madden lifted up the BPHB team—particularly Benefits Officer Chris Lollis, vice chair Rett Haselden and the other board members—for their hard and excellent work.
“Great things in business are never done by one person; they’re done by a team of people—thank you,” Brooks-Madden said.
Two highlights this year were the direct billing holiday the BHPB extended in July, August and September 2020 because of COVID-19, waiving the church’s portion of pension and health cost, and the grant they gave to the clergy care initiative for $42,100 given the increased stress pastors experienced with the pandemic.
Beyond that and a handful of other items, Lollis said, “Largely everything has remained unchanged.”
The BPHB set the past service rate at $846 per service for annuity payments to retired ministers under the pre-1982 clergy retirement plan, up from $829 for last year.
Direct billings for the pension fund are set at $5,750,530 for the fiscal year ending December 31, 2022, and moving expenses remain at $1,800 for retirees.
The body also approved a resolution set forth by the BPHB relating to rental/housing allowances for active, retired or disabled clergy that up to 100 percent of their pension or disability payments may be designated as a rental/housing allowance for each such clergyperson; and this applies to any plans, annuities or funds authorized under the Discipline, including such payments from the Wespath Benefits/Investments.
The BPHB report also noted several of the pension and welfare plans incorporate the Denomination Average Compensation into the formula for determining the plan benefit. Wespath projects the DAC will increase from $74,199 in 2021 to $75,570 in 2022.
Annual Conference breezed through the next several reports, hearing and approving the report from the Board of Ordained Ministry, Commission on Equitable Compensation, Cabinet, Conference Lay Leader.
The Cabinet recognized the excellent leadership given by Hartsville District Superintendent Dr. Robin Dease, whose eight years have ended, giving her a commemorative plaque to celebrate her service.
In her report, Conference Lay Leader Barbara Ware emphasized the importance of lay and clergy working together in a symbiotic relationship.
“This is a partnership. We don’t get anywhere if we don’t work together,” she said.
After a break, the body adopted the consent calendar, the slate of board members presented by the Committee on Nominations, the CF&A report including the budget, and the closure of two churches and the changing of charge lines (see full article, here).
The business session adjourned at 2:37 p.m., almost two hours ahead of the projected 4:30 finish.
Remembering 101 saints
Annual Conference officially concluded that evening with a 7 p.m. Service of Remembrance and Thanksgiving, preached by the Rev. Joe Long in memory of the 101 active ministers, retired ministers, clergy spouses and others involved in the conference who passed away since the last in-person Annual Conference was held in June 2019.
To view all the reports adopted at Annual Conference, visit https://www.umcsc.org/ac2021.
Photos of the session, including the ordination service, are available on Flickr here.
You can also order a copy of the 2021 journal at https://www.umcsc.org/journalorderform.