2021 Annual Conference awards honor churches, individuals across South Carolina

The South Carolina Annual Conference honored a number of clergy and laity across the state during the conference’s annual awards, celebrated online this year because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Barbara Boultinghouse Bridge Builder

The Rev. Sh’Kur Francis is the recipient of the Barbara Boultinghouse Bridge Builder Award, which is presented by the Commission on Religion and Race to a person or organization in the South Carolina Conference who has built bridges of understanding by promoting equity and inclusiveness without regard to race, gender, age, handicap or economic condition.

“Sh’Kur is clearly a young man focused on building bridges that promote racial reconciliation, diversity and inclusion,” said the Rev. Chenita Frierson, pastor of Mount Olive and New Hope United Methodist churches in Rock Hill, who nominated Francis. “This 27‐year‐old black millennial has already pastored three predominately white congregations in our conference.

“Sh’Kur has an incredible amount of energy and always appears to be channeling that energy in building bridges between churches, communities, people and races.”

Francis’ bridge‐building started well before his ministry in the church. While serving as an executive intern for Charleston Mayor John Tecklenburg in 2016, he helped form the Mayor’s Clergy Advisory Council. That group of 80‐plus leaders from different faith traditions builds relationships and serves as liaison between city leadership and faith communities.

After he was appointed to serve Grace and Lynnwood UMCs, Lancaster, in 2018, Francis helped form the Lancaster County Ministerial Alliance, an organization aimed at racial reconciliation, interfaith dialogue and relationship building.

“When national unrest occurred after George Floyd was murdered in June 2020, Sh’Kur single‐handedly organized the Lancaster County Prayer Vigil, in partnership with elected officials, law enforcement and other community leaders,” she said. “Clergy from every denomination and race participated in the vigil, including worshipers from a Jewish synagogue and a Muslim mosque.”

Since his appointment to New Hope UMC, Anderson, in 2020, which he served until his latest appointment in Main Street UMC, Columbia, Frierson said Francis continued to be “a moderating voice for peace and reconciliation, both personally in his community and virtually on social media.”

Harry Denman Evangelism Award—Laity

The Foundation for Evangelism recognizes one layperson in each conference for responsible evangelism in the local church. This year’s recipient is Sandy Thrasher, a member of New Hope UMC, Anderson.

Thrasher was nominated by her then-pastor at New Hope, the Rev. Sh’Kur Francis.

“When I first met Sandy in person, the first thing I noted was the positivity she exudes,” Francis said. “It was clear to me that she is a bright light in a world that always needs it, and this positivity reflects so well on our church and the kingdom of God.”

Francis credits Thrasher with playing a significant role in helping New Hope establish a virtual presence during the COVID‐19 pandemic, and in the church’s return to in‐person services, right about the time Francis arrived there.

“New Hope had an average attendance of 40 people pre‐pandemic, and I expected to see around that same number on my first Sunday,” he said. “I was shocked when I left the pastor’s study that morning to see a line of dozens of people that stretched from the front door of the church to the parking lot. Sandy had spent weeks inviting coworkers, friends, neighbors, family, friends and even strangers to her church to meet her new pastor. New Hope’s attendance quadrupled its usual size that morning, and because of her invitation, a few of these families have joined, some are still faithfully attending and many have become frequent visitors.”

Marjorie Carithers, chairperson of New Hope’s Administrative Council, said the impact of Thrasher’s evangelism reaches deep into the Anderson community.

“Sandy’s evangelizing efforts in the name of Jesus Christ are unique and far‐reaching,” she said. “Sandy and her poodle, Maybelline, are local celebrities who volunteer with local nursing homes, assisted living facilities and hospice homes to bring smiles and cheers to those most desperately in need of love and encouragement. Sandy’s bold witness and willingness to joyfully plow new ground sets her apart as a leader in the church and a fruitful evangelist for God.”

Michael C. Watson Volunteer in Mission Award for Clergy

Sponsored by the Board of Global Ministries, the Michael C. Watson Volunteer in Mission Award is given to clergy and laity who exemplify extraordinary mission service. This year’s clergy recipient is the Rev. John Elmore Jr., then pastor of St. Mark UMC, Greenwood, and now at Holly Hill UMC, Holly Hill.

“Rev. John Elmore is committed to service on many levels, giving of his time, talents and energy in amazing ways in the Greenwood District as a member of the Early Response Team,” said Dr. Stephen Love, the district’s superintendent. “His work and ministry extend far beyond the bounds of the district and South Carolina. He does not look for accolades for his work; rather, he is passionate about serving and helping others as he lives out his faith in Jesus Christ.”

Billy Robinson, disaster response coordinator for the South Carolina United Methodist Volunteers in Mission, cited Elmore’s “real passion for doing God’s calling to love our neighbor as ourselves” in nominating him.

Watson VIM Award for Laity

This year’s lay recipient is Dan Altman, Bethel UMC, Charleston.

“Dan does so much for so many with such energy,” said Will Felts, Bethel member and missions chair, who nominated him. “He is afraid to tackle nothing. He’s our hero.”

During the pandemic, when church staff hours were limited, Altman led a volunteer crew to clean the church restrooms and common areas on a daily basis. He also is a regular volunteer with Bethel’s food pantry, including installing at no cost to the church shelving and providing rolling carts; donating water, hand sanitizer and masks for both volunteers and clients; helping deliver bagged lunches to 70 seniors homebound by the pandemic; working with monthly vegetable giveaways, including deliveries to low‐income clients; delivering excess pantry food to Trinity UMC’s soup kitchen; and more.

One Matters Discipleship Award

Discipleship Ministries lifts up churches that have moved from “zeros” or small numbers in professions of faith and baptisms to increased numbers in recent years because of renewed focus on intentional discipleship. Recipient receives $1,000 to continue its efforts. This year’s recipient is Advent UMC, Simpsonville.

“Advent UMC is connecting in phenomenal ways beyond the walls of the church,” said the Rev. Jim Dennis, superintendent of the Greenville District, who nominated Advent for the recognition. “People see that and want to be a part of a Christian community that is visible and active seven days a week.”

In 2020, Advent held 19 baptisms and received four members by profession of faith.

Bishop’s Five-Star Award

Four churches received the Bishop’s Five Star Award, which goes to churches who embrace new ministries geared toward growth and outreach. The award enables small and large churches to receive recognition.

The 2021 recipients are as follows: Bethlehem-St. James UMC, Johns Island; Chapin UMC, Chapin; New Hope UMC, Anderson; and New Webster UMC, Wadmalaw Island.

Herbert Hucks Award

Three local churches received the Commission on Archives and History’s Herbert Hucks Award this year, which recognizes preservation and interpretation of Methodist history in the local church: Tranquil UMC, Greenwood; Bramlett UMC, Gray Court; and Livingston UMC, Livingston.

Tranquil UMC—pastored by the Rev. Shawn Armstrong until July and now the Rev. John Bolin, with historians and co‐authors Harriet Creswell, Joe Langley, JoAnn Purkerson and Martha Vincent—used its bicentennial in 2020 as an opportunity to publish a history of their church and to plan for several celebrations of their church’s contributions to Methodism in the Greenwood area. The committee hopes to use the work to create a permanent display on their history.

In Gray Court, Bramlett UMC’s historian Judy Riddle has devoted 40 years to preserving and interpreting the history of the church. In 2020, she produced a book covering 240 years of the church’s history, a tremendous collection of documents and memories. The church celebrates its history every year and continues to be a resource for other churches in how to preserve and promote history. Rev. John Fahrney is pastor.

And in Livingston, once again, the members of Livingston UMC have spent the year preserving and promoting Methodist history in their congregation. They continue to collect their history each year, adding new materials as they are available. History is very much a part of their ministry. The Rev. Graham Bennett was pastor until July; now the pastor is the Rev. Charles Inglett. Martha Sligh is historian.

Dennie Smith Scholarship

Created to effectively carry forward the legacy of the late T. Dennie Smith of Greer, whose will created a trust to assist “any young man or woman ... who intend to devote their lives to ministry in the Methodist Church.” This year’s recipients are Kile Antone and Laura Geloni.

Antone is a native of Ninety Six and a seminary student at Asbury Theological Seminary. His home church is Kinards UMC, Ninety Six. He has been licensed as a local pastor and has served part‐time as pastor of McKendree UMC, Edgefield. He also has served as a paramedic in Edgefield County.

Geloni is a native of Miami, Florida, and a seminary student at Asbury Theological Seminary. Her home church is Covenant UMC, Greer, where she has taught children, led a small group and Sunday school class, worked with the Evangelism Ministry and served as a lay member to Annual Conference. She is working toward ordination as a deacon in the South Carolina Conference.

Seminary Student Scholarship

The South Carolina Conference Seminary Student Scholarship, established in 1991 to assist students from South Carolina in pursuing a program leading to a first professional degree, was awarded to Grayson Fallaw and Sterling Teunta Harris.

Fallaw is a native of Union and a seminary student at Duke Divinity School. His home church is Grace UMC, Union, where he has served for two years as youth director while in undergraduate school. Fallaw will be starting his student pastor job this summer in Smithfield, North Carolina. He earned a bachelor’s in history and Christian education from Presbyterian College.

Harris is a native of Greenville and a seminary student at Gammon Theological Seminary. His home church is St. Mark UMC, Taylors, where he has served as a lay servant for 12 years. Harris attended Claflin University and graduated from North Greenville University. He is a candidate for ordained ministry in the South Carolina Conference and has been licensed as a local pastor.

Bessie Bellamy Parker Scholarship

This award was created by the South Carolina Conference to honor the memory of the Rev. Bessie Bellamy Parker, the first woman ordained in the former 1785 South Carolina Conference. It provides assistance to female students at UMC seminaries or theological schools preparing for ordained pastoral ministry in South Carolina. This year’s recipient is Sharon Britz. Britz is a native of South Africa and a seminary student at Gammon Theological Seminary. She is the pastor of Green Pond UMC, Gray Court, and serves the Outreach Area of Conference Connectional Ministries. She has served as a firefighter, a paramedic and a nurse and now serves as chair of the Green Pond Volunteer Fire Department, as a guardian ad litem and more.

Bishop’s Award of Excellence for Scouting

Bishop L. Jonathan Holston joins with the United Methodist Men of South Carolina in recognizing congregations and units within the UMC who extend their ministry to children and youth by creating a faith‐based environment for children, youth, their families and their leaders who participate in Girl Scouts of the USA and Boy Scouts of America.

This year’s recipient is Trinity UMC, Spartanburg, BSA Cub Scout Pack 22 (the Rev. Neal Woods was pastor until July, and now the Rev. Michelle Cockcroft; Steve Whitaker, scouting ministry coordinator).

It’s never too early to start thinking about the 2022 Annual Conference Awards! Nominate a worthy South Carolina United Methodist now at

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