By Jessica Brodie
FLORENCE—Tuesday’s business at Annual Conference got off to an uplifting start as Conference Secretary the Rev. Ken Nelson told the body it had collected nearly $25,000 in offerings: $13,228 Sunday night for disaster response and $10,956 Monday for seminarian scholarships.
“You are indeed a gracious and generous people,” Nelson told the crowd to resounding applause.
Next, the Rev. Kathy James took the stage with Cynthia Williams and others from Connectional Ministries to give their report and present a video about their work over the past year.
“Our Connectional Ministries report is very different than it’s been the last few years,” James said, noting that since October, most of their efforts have been helping in the aftermath of South Carolina’s floods; 24 of 46 countries in the state have a Federal Emergency Management Agency declaration.
Through the generosity of local churches with help from the United Methodist Committee on Relief, the South Carolina Conference of The United Methodist Church was able to share 7,100 cleaning buckets around the state and collect 3,000 health kits, James said.
James praised the efforts of the conference’s flood and disaster response teams, as well as thanked the many churches who hosted some of the Early Response Teams and United Methodist Volunteers in Mission teams.
To date, she said, home repairs/rebuilds stand at 336 homes, 118 teams, $140,241.21 spent and 16,822 hours given. All day Tuesday, people also had the opportunity to do disaster response training to become ERT members, lead UMVIM teams or minister to children in the aftermath of a disaster.
“I want to remind you of the depth of the need,” James said, noting South Carolina United Methodists can do four things to help: pray, give, support local efforts and volunteer. “The needs are many and great, but South Carolina United Methodists are mighty.”
Also during the report, they lifted the Students in Mission, the work of the Racial Reconciliation Design Team and the 14 Advance Special Ministries around the state. The Rev. Steve Gaither urged people to support ASMs by paying 100 percent of their apportionments, supporting the offering on ASM Sunday and partnering with them.
“If you have an Advance Special Ministry in your area, look them up and see how you can help,” Gaither said. “The best way to support is through personal involvement. The money the conference provides is great, but really the way you can help them is being there for them.”
Hispanic/Latino Ministry Task Force
The Hispanic/Latino Ministry Task Force kicked off its report with the singing of “How Great is Our God” in both English and in Spanish (“Cuan Grande Es Dios”). Then the Rev. Enrique Gordon took the stage, speaking in Spanish and introducing himself and the work of the task force. He ended his remarks by asking whether anyone understood what he was saying. The Rev. Richard Reams then translated what Gordon had said, noting the fact that no one seemed to understand Gordon’s words underscores much of why the task force exists.
“Thirty days ago, we celebrated an incredible reality, Pentecost, what happened when the Spirit equipped and inspired people to speak in languages the crowd could actually stand," Reams said. "We celebrate Pentecost because we as a people believe with all our heart that God is not done yet. And yet…when it comes to the languages spoken in our church and our state, in our pews and our pulpits, we speak as if everybody is in the same church as in 1950. …We speak as if everybody understand ‘Biblish,’ ‘Christianese,’ the words we think everybody knows, and the people in our pews go, ‘What in God’s name is the narthex?’ We speak as if everybody in the world understands Southern English, as if Jesus taught us to be stuck in one place and expect everybody else to come to us and learn our ways and our practices and what we’ve always done.”
He said the UMC can do better than this. We talk about learning the language of millennials and the unchurched, he said, “But Bishop, if we’re truly going to strive for a more excellent way, we must learn a new language, (Spanish)—the language of a quarter million people in this state.”
The Rev. Elizabeth Murray then lifted up the work the task force has done in the past year, from a Pentecost Journey event to help non-Hispanic/Latino churches engage with the Hispanic community to the bilingual disaster response flyers, hotline and other outreach during the aftermath of the floods.
“We challenge you to step out in faith and opportunity, to push past language as an excuse and start somewhere,” Murray said. “If we can do (Hispanic outreach) during one of the most chaotic events in our recent history, then what can we do in the next 12 months?”
The Rev. Emily Sutton told the body about the next Pentecost Journey, scheduled for Nov. 18-19 at Aldersgate UMC, Greenville.
“Bishop, we are dreaming big dreams,” Sutton said, then addressed the body. “Don’t let language be a barrier; it is a challenge, but don’t let it be an excuse or a barrier. We believe in ridiculous, audacious hope, and we pray crazy prayers like ‘your kingdom come on earth like it is in heaven.’ … We are ridiculously and beautifully hopeful people who have the audacity to believe that with God’s help, we can change the world.”
Epworth Children’s Home
Next, the Rev. John Holler of Epworth Children’s Home thanked the body for their prayers, presence, offerings, support, witness and all other things they bring to those at Epworth.
“For 120 years, Epworth Children’s Home has served the children in the name of Christ and has embraced children all over the state and beyond, (giving) an opportunity for a future and a better life,” Holler said.
He lifted up the 100 percent graduation rate for their students five years in a row and how, for the fourth year in a row, they have received the four-star rating from Charity Navigator and are in the 97th percentile of all nonprofits in the state.
He also told how they have purchased the former Carolina Children’s Home, adjacent to Trenholm Road UMC, to provide expansion opportunities and possibly new programs, plus have a new Family Care Center. They are also starting the Center for Excellence in Foster Care.
Retiring pastors recognized
The body paused for a service just before lunch recognizing retiring ministers and “passing the mantle.” Annual Conference honored 26 retiring pastors who have served more than 560 years in local churches and the conference. Newly retired pastor the Rev. Ernest C. Etheredge passed the mantle to newly ordained pastor the Rev. Erik K. Grayson during the service.
Memorial service remembers 38
Lifting up 38 clergy, spouses, surviving spouses and others who have gone before us into God’s eternal Kingdom, the Rev. Patricia J. Parrish brought a word about remembering God’s “Remarkable Words of Promise” even in our grief.
“Today we are so very thankful that God has shared these saints with all of us and that we are the church together,” Parrish said, drawing from John 14:1-3 in her memorial service message Tuesday afternoon. “We will not forget their stories; their names are inscribed upon our hearts. And we will not forget God’s story, the story that reminds us what God has done for us in Jesus Christ. We remember.”
Sewee sale again OK’d
The South Carolina Conference has again authorized the sale of Sewee Coastal Retreat Center, a property owned by the Board of South Carolina United Methodist Camps and Retreat Ministries.
The sale will enable the ministry to have more funds to operate and expand their thriving summer camp in the Upstate, Asbury Hills.
Camps and Retreat Board Chair H. Jay Haar said the body had authorized the sale last year, but the process to sell took too long and they ran out of time. They hope to have the sale finalized by the end of the year.
The resolution passed unanimously.
Arthur Spriggs, Camps and Retreat director, also reported on the 40 acres added to Asbury Hills last year, including an additional waterfall, plus lifted up the winners of the golf tournament held June 4 to raise money for children to attend summer camp at Asbury Hills. He also noted their excitement about a new partnership with Camp Providence in the Anderson District.
Imagine No Malaria: $400,000 to date
Imagine No Malaria Field Coordinator the Rev. Jeri Katherine Sipes and the INM steering committee took the stage at the end of the day Tuesday to praise the work churches have done throughout the state for the campaign. The South Carolina Conference has pledged $1 million toward the INM campaign. Calling this a very generous, mission-minded conference, Sipes praised the fact that in spite of the October floods that devastated so many, the conference has still managed to raise more than $400,000 for the campaign—in addition to the $500,000 it has donated for flood relief.
The conference has two more years to raise the remaining $600,000 and make its goal.
“Thank you, South Carolina, for being faithful disciples and faithful partners in God’s awesome work all over the world,” Sipes said. “Together we the church are changing our world for the glory of God.”
The Rev. Gary Henderson, executive director of the Global Health Initiative, said much the same.
“You understand the power and the unity of our connection and our shared humanity,” he said, noting the UMC has raised $68.5 million in gifts and pledges to date. “We are in the home stretch.”
Bishop Jonathan Holston applauded the work done and pledged an additional $1,000 Tuesday toward INM.
“I challenge you to meet my challenge of 1,000 tonight!” he said to wild applause. “We want to make this goal happen.”
Business closed, and after a dinner break, hundreds packed the Florence Civic Center for a concert featuring The Digital Age and celebrating all that South Carolina United Methodists are doing to fight malaria across the globe.
An offering was taken for INM, and the lead singer of The Digital Age agreed to accept Bishop Holston’s $1,000 INM donation challenge and agreed to make a $1,000 personal donation.
After the concert, Holston thanked all for their generosity.
By Jessica Brodie