A future of hope: Annual Conference 2019 wraps

Body passes $16.8M budget, elects 32 delegates to General and Jurisdictional conferences

By Jessica Brodie

GREENVILLE—Bringing a word on holding onto hope even when anger, troubled waters and disunity circle, Bishop Jonathan Holston kicked off Annual Conference 2019 with a powerful word Sunday night, June 2, before thousands of United Methodists from all over South Carolina.

“Sometimes to get to where you want to go, you’ve got to go through some stuff,” Holston said to applause, noting that hope is a four-letter word, and whether we recognize it or not, we subconsciously or deliberately put hope into every single thing we do whether that is students taking a test or someone having dinner with their in-laws. Sometimes when things are difficult we might think this world is everything.

“But my friends, you might be the best Scripture that someone will ever read.”

He said what God has done over the centuries has proven God to be true, and we shouldn’t be trying to be God, but rather to lead people to God.

“Instead of arming ourselves … let’s seek places of unity instead of disunity,” Holston said, lifting up hope as an acronym:

  • Hanging onto God’s promises
  • Overcoming adversity
  • Pursuing truth
  • Enduring patiently
  • “It doesn’t mean we put our heads in the sand, but we can’t forget who we are and whose we are.”

A Future with Hope: Seeking a More Excellent Way was the theme reflected across all five days of this year’s annual gathering, which had a spirit of pressing on in unity even as many in the body struggled with feelings of hurt and pain from the denomination’s continued strife over issues of human sexuality.

By the time Annual Conference ended Thursday, June 6, the roughly 2,000 clergy and laity had passed a $16.8 million 2020 ministry budget for the church, ordained or commissioned 19 deacons and elders, collected hundreds of Native American elder baskets and 25 filled boxes of donated food for Harvest Hope, addressed three petitions and elected 32 delegates plus alternates to the 2020 General and Jurisdictional conferences.

As Holston preached Sunday night, if we allow God to work, God will use us to make a difference in the world.”

Delegates elected over four days

Beginning Monday afternoon and ending late Thursday morning, Annual Conference members elected 32 delegates plus alternates who will represent South Carolina at next year’s General and Jurisdictional conferences.

Sixteen (eight lay, eight clergy) plus alternates will head to General Conference, set for May 5-15, 2020, in Minneapolis. An additional 16 (eight lay, eight clergy) will head to Jurisdictional Conference along with the 16 elected for General Conference. Jurisdictional Conference is set for July 15-18, 2020, at Lake Junaluska, North Carolina.

The Rev. Ken Nelson was the first elected among clergy, and the Hon. Jackie Jenkins was the first elected among laity.

Delegates were elected from a pool of eligible people who expressed a desire to be considered as a delegate. There were 35 lay nominees, each selected through their district or approved group, and 84 clergy who have articulated a desire to be a nominee. A number of write-in nominees were also considered. See the full story and the list of those elected, here.

Budget passes

Thursday morning, the body passed a $16.8 million ministry budget for the work of the South Carolina Conference of The United Methodist Church next year. The budget addresses everything from pastor salaries and funds for new churches to campus ministries and other work of the church in this state to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.

The 2020 budget is a 1.1 percent decrease from 2019 budget of $17 million. The reduced budget comes after the conference found out general and jurisdictional apportionment requests would be a 6.1 percent increase for next year. Between that and uncertainty after the sexuality-focused 2019 special called General Conference, Council on Finance and Administration leaders said they felt it would be wise to decrease the Annual Conference budget.

“We recognized it is impossible to predict what giving would look like,” said the Budget Subcommittee Chair the Rev. Walter Cantrell on Monday when the budget was first introduced.

Prior to its passage Thursday morning, CF&A chair the Rev. Mitch Houston lifted up the support and the sacrifices of the people for the missions of the UMC across South Carolina.

“We’ve heard your concerns, and we want you to know CF&A takes all that seriously when we put this budget together,” Houston said, urging the body to be excited about what the ministries of South Carolina are doing with their resources. “They’re doing a remarkable job with their resources.”

He also applauded the strong giving of the churches, which for the fourth year in a row paid more than 90 percent of their apportionments. Houston recognized the Charleston District for having the largest increase in giving last year at a 2.2 percent increase, plus recognized the Walterboro District for again having the largest percentage of churches paying their apportionments.

Hunger-oriented mission initiatives

United Methodists got the chance to help support two statewide mission initiatives during annual conference: Native American elder baskets and a food drive for Harvest Hope Food Bank of Greenville.

For the elder baskets, churches were invited before Annual Conference to fill plastic clothes baskets with nonperishable items for hundreds of elderly Native Americans in need, many of whom live well below the poverty line. These baskets, along with gift cards for discount stores, were brought to Greenville and blessed Tuesday afternoon during a Native American Service of Reconciliation and Healing.

The Rev. Cheryl Toothe, Native American missioner for the conference’s Native American Committee, said there were more than 200 baskets and quite a few gift cards. “The generosity of SC UMC’s was overwhelming!” she said.

In addition to the baskets, the body also brought canned goods and other nonperishables to Annual Conference and placed them in 25 boxes placed around the Greenville Convention Center for Harvest Hope Food Bank. The items were taken to Harvest Hope, which is a critical line of support for more than 500 partner agencies that take feeding missions directly to those who live in the most economically fragile communities. These partner agencies include faith-based organizations, family shelters and after-school programs that offer food pantries, soup kitchens and more.

Chris Lynch, a member of the Mission Initiatives Team who helped organize the effort, said both ministries were “a tangible way to be the hands and feet of Christ in our world.”

No vote on GC2020 petitions

At AC2019, all three petitions to next year’s General Conference were ruled invalid and, therefore, out of order. The petitions each dealt with various aspects of the decisions made at the special called session of General Conference 2019, held Feb. 23-26 in St. Louis. See full story, here.

Native American service

Tuesday at Annual Conference saw a Native American worship service, “A Service of Reconciliation and Healing,” which featured Native American music and drumming from Keepers of the Word, as well as songs, prayer and preaching on wounds and healing. Bishop Holston shared about witnessing for Jesus in spite of our individual “scar stories.” Others on the Native American Committee spoke on cultural sensitivity, moving forward and a trail of reconciliation and healing, instead of a trail of tears. See full story, here.

From ordination to the Apostles’ Creed

Other services during Annual Conference also rounded out the event.

In a service preached Monday night by retired Bishop James R. King Jr., Annual Conference commissioned or ordained 19 men and women as clergy. King, who served as bishop of the Kentucky and the South Georgia conferences before his retirement, preached the service instead of Mississippi Resident Bishop James Swanson, whose wife had taken ill and been hospitalized the day prior. See story, here.

Outgoing South Carolina Director of Congregational Development the Rev. Sara White preached a memorial service that remembered the 58 men and women who died during the past year. Honored were active pastors, retired pastors, pastor spouses and surviving spouses. See story, here.

Dr. Greg Jones, dean and theologian at Duke Divinity School, and the Rev. Susan Jones, ministry associate at Church Transformation Ministries in North Carolina, co-led a Bible study each morning of Annual Conference focusing on the last four lines of the Apostles' Creed. See story, here.

Annual Conference also licensed 36 as local pastors and honored 30 retiring pastors. The Rev. Chris Lollis recognized retirees, and the service also featured the symbolic “passing of the mantle” from the retiring class to the new class of ordinands. Newly ordained pastor the Rev. Meegian Gossard represented the new class and newly retired pastor the Rev. Genova McFadden represented the retiring class. See story, here.

Offstage happenings

In addition to these, Annual Conference also featured a number of off-stage gatherings and events, such as a Hands-On Mission Expo presented by conference laity Monday. Six different mission projects from churches across South Carolina demonstrated and talked about their programs, from pillowcase dresses to beds for kids.

The Lay Servant Ministries’ Laity-Clergy Partnership Luncheon lifted up outstanding lay servants across the state, plus featured a message from the Rev. Ken Nelson on effective partnering.

A Kidz Konference was offered for toddlers to rising sixth graders. Clergy and laity got the chance to donate blood to the American Red Cross plus get a health screening if covered by conference insurance. And dozens of clergy and laity were honored during the conference’s annual awards breakfast emceed by Dominic Brown, chief meteorologist for WIS TV in Columbia. Winners received an award certificate and were photographed with the bishop.

Plans for Annual Conference 2020

Next year, Annual Conference will move back to the newly renovated Florence Center for a four-day conference set for June 7-10, 2020.

In gratitude for its superior hosting the past several years, the body gave the staff of the Greenville Convention Center a standing ovation.

For many more photos of Annual Conference, visit For videos, visit

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