S.C. United Methodists gather for mission- and business-filled Annual Conference
By Jessica Connor
FLORENCE—Blending good-natured wisecracks and uplifting spiritual moments with a full slate of conference business and hunger mission, more than 3,000 S.C. United Methodists gathered June 9-12 for the denomination's yearly meeting in this state—Annual Conference.
Held at the Florence Civic Center, the four-day event featured a new bishop, inspiration from a Gamecocks quarterback, a full day of hunger relief ministry and a contemporary Christian concert. That was in addition to the heavy slate of church business, including approving the statewide UMC budget and decisions on numerous weighty issues, such as pensions for part-time pastors and half a dozen major resolutions (see page 6).
This year s theme, A More Excellent Way “ A Story of Serving, Giving and Living, was laced throughout the event lineup, with worship, mission and business peppered with ways United Methodists can be stronger disciples for Christ.
It was a year of firsts for the S.C. Conference: a new leader in Resident Bishop Jonathan Holston, new Conference Secretary the Rev. Karen Radcliffe, new Connectional Ministries Director the Rev. Kathy James, new Congregational Development Director the Rev. Sara White, and even a new layout for the conference floor (a more intimate horizontal setup).
Given that, many in attendance marveled at how seamlessly the event seemed to progress. Business ended on time and often early at sessions throughout the gathering, and humor punctuated proceedings. Several commented on the event s Twitter feed, #umcsc13, that the bishop was funny and gutsy, and how much a sense of humor helped keep holy conferencing and fellowship at the forefront. When Radcliffe mentioned at the end of the event that a walker was among the many items in lost and found, Holston joked that the Holy Spirit really was at work this year.
Also new this year was a major conference-wide undertaking, the S.C. Hunger Project, which was a three-pronged effort on Tuesday of Annual Conference involving thousands of United Methodists “ all working to put a dent in global and local hunger. Three shifts of people, including more than 500 youth, gathered that day to pack 285,000 meals to send to Haiti through Stop Hunger Now. More than 8,000 pounds of non-perishable food items also were collected that day for distribution to Harvest Hope Food Bank and other food pantries across S.C., and many local churches not able to participate in Florence held hunger relief efforts Tuesday in solidarity.
Holston announced on the final day of business that S.C. had raised $145,359 for hunger. Of that, $72,000 went to Stop Hunger Now and more than $73,000 will go to hunger efforts in all 12 districts in the conference.
I hope this is only the beginning of what God is going to do, Holston said to wild applause.
Here are some highlights of Annual Conference 2013:
$16.6M budget passes
One of the more contentious items on the floor is often the S.C. Conference budget, but the 2014 budget passed so quickly that many commented on how smoothly and easily things were rolling along.
With no discussion or debate, the body passed a $16,602,092 budget for 2014 that represents a 16.17 percent average net funds factor. The budget is $256,000 less than the 2013 budget and reflects a 1.5 percent reduction.
Wow, if you weren t paying attention, you would have missed the budget all together! commented Melissa Allen on Twitter.
The conference is working toward 15 percent of average net funds by 2015, and Conference Council on Finance and Administration Chair the Rev. David Surrett said that while 16.17 percent is not quite at the goal, CF&A anticipates being very near there by next year.
As for the percentage of churches that pay their apportionments, Surrett noted the conference achieved 87 percent paid for last year, and said Holston is charging the full conference to increase that 5 percent this year. He expects to see at least 92 percent of apportionments paid when the conference closes its 2013 books.
That s a God-sized dream, Holston said, indicating that is what the conference needs to strive toward.
We thank you, we thank you, we thank you over and over, Surrett told churches regarding their commitment to connectional support.
Redistricting: no changes
After two years of major study and data collection, the conference s District Study Task Force recommended to the body that there be no changes to the current arrangement in district number or lines.
Two years ago, the conference established the task force because some felt the current number of districts (12) were too many and that South Carolina would benefit from a close look at our district structure. But in their research, w
hich involved querying and studying numbers of other conferences across the jurisdiction and beyond, Task Force Chair Dr. Paul Harmon said their group found a large divergence of opinions. One large study conducted by Donald House, in Texas, noted that when you reduce the number of districts, you increase the number of churches per district.
The study said when you did this, initial results were positive, but almost invariably after a few years, church budgets began to decline and even vital statistics began to suffer, Harmon said.
Harmon noted that when the task force gathered anecdotal evidence, It was all over the board: one person gave glowing reports, and another would tell horror stories about the confusion and chaos.
The task force recommended that the conference should instead find ways to be more effective in the existing structure, particularly in enabling district offices to be more helpful to local churches.
Other major happenings
In addition to the above, Annual Conference 2013 included:
- A decision on pensions for part-time pastors (Part-time pastors will have a new pension plan beginning in January. See article here .)
- Resolutions (The body voted in all of the resolutions before them except a resolution to prohibit guns at church-sponsored activities. See article page 6.)
- Youth worship service , A 4:12 Story, featuring Dylan Thompson, a junior quarterback for the University of South Carolina Gamecocks; a concert by Brett Younker and his band as worship leader; words from Rachel Woodlee, a United Methodist and recent Wofford College graduate who was named a Rhodes Scholar this year; and words by Davis Crews, a high school freshman who helped mobilize the Stop Hunger Now event.
- Ordination of 35 clergy members: 16 as full elders, 17 as provisional elders and two associates.
- A memorial service preached by the Rev. Lillian Washington.
- A retirement service celebrating 36 retiring clergy .
- An awards breakfast.
AC2014 dates, location set
Annual Conference 2014 will be June 1-4, remaining at the Florence Civic Center.
For more on Annual Conference, find photos and articles throughout these pages, and also visit www.umcsc.org.