Rising COVID cases again prompt 2020 South Carolina Annual Conference to be postponed

["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.\r\n\r\nThe news of the postponement comes a week after Annual Conference organizers released the date for this year\u2019s Annual Conference, which had been set for Saturday, Aug. 1, 2020.\r\n\r\nHowever, 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.\r\n\r\nSouth 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.\r\n\r\nA 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.\r\n\r\n\u201cWe know this is disappointing news,\u201d South Carolina Resident Bishop L. Jonathan Holston said, \u201cbut we must continue to make the health and safety of our delegates, staff and volunteers our first concern.\u201d\r\n\r\n\u201cWe will continue to closely monitor the guidance of state health officials in hopes that soon we will be able to gather safely,\u201d Holston added. \u201cWe 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.\u201d\r\n\r\nTwo Annual Conference events are still scheduled, with some adaptations:\r\n\r\n\u2022 Virtual Clergy Session (August 1","9 a.m.)<\/strong> \u2013 To ensure that all are prepared technologically, clergy are encouraged to participate in one of two virtual training sessions \u2013 scheduled for July 23 (10 a.m.) and July 24 (2 p.m.). Eligible clergy will be notified directly about details.\r\n\r\n\u2022 Service of Commissioning and Ordination (August 8","2 p.m.)<\/strong> \u2013 The service will take place at St. John\u2019s 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\r\n\r\nAs 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.\r\n\r\nDelegates are encouraged to continue to prepare for the day when the 2020 Annual Conference will convene by going to\/ac2020<\/a>.\r\n\r\n \r\n\r\nBackground<\/strong>\r\n\r\nAfter 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\u2019s Annual Conference. It was to be a one-day event limited to Annual Conference members and essential conference staff and volunteers.\r\n\r\nPer 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.\r\n\r\nHolston 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\u00a0representing\u00a0975 local United Methodist churches\u00a0originally\u00a0was scheduled\u00a0for June 7-10. The pandemic prompted both the postponement of the session and the truncated schedule.\r\n\r\nThe 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\u2014see above). This service is not open to the public; attendance will be limited to ordinands and a limited number of guests\u2014but it will be live-streamed online at\r\n\r\n\u201cCentral to planning the 2020 Annual Conference has been the health of our delegates and everyone else who attends,\u201d said the Rev. Ken Nelson, the conference secretary. \u201cWorking 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.\u201d\r\n\r\nTraditionally, 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\u2014with the exception of the Clergy Session, in which confidential matters are discussed\u2014was to be live-streamed at All attendees were to be required to register in advance, to comply with state health guidelines.\r\n\r\nAmong the safety protocols that were to be in place:\r\n\r\n \tAll attendees would need to wear a mask and practice social distancing at all times.<\/li>\r\n \tOn-site check-in was to be conducted outside the building and include temperature checks.<\/li>\r\n \tDelegates were to be instructed to arrive for check-in at specific, staggered times to reduce the potential for long lines and close contact.<\/li>\r\n \tDelegate seating for all sessions was to be distributed throughout the 10,000-seat arena.<\/li>\r\n<\/ul>\r\nHowever, all of these plans are currently on hold as the pandemic prompts another postponement.\r\n\r\n\u201cWe 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,\u201d Holston said.\r\n\r\n\u201cPlease 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.\u201d\r\n\r\nFor information about the\u00a0

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