By Jessica Brodie
FLORENCE—Planning has shifted to the final phase for this year’s Annual Conference, a shortened, mostly online event that will be livestreamed from the Florence Center June 6-7.
But make no mistake—while the conference will be online, organizers consider it to be no less of a celebration and opportunity for gathering as traditional, in-person Annual Conference has been.
This is the 50th convening of Annual Conference since the merger, when one predominantly African-American conference (formed in 1866) and one predominantly Anglo conference (formed in 1785) united in 1972 and became The United Methodist Church. And both key Annual Conference 2021 organizers, Conference Secretary the Rev. Ken Nelson and Assistant Conference Secretary the Rev. Mel Arant, say it will be a really important time for business, for worship, for fellowship and for the Holy Spirit to move among God’s people.
“We’ve been through some tough things together over these past 50 years, and we’ve managed to continue growing through all that,” Nelson said, noting that this year’s conference theme, taking the next faithful step, is especially fitting. “What is God’s calling us to now? It sounds like blowing smoke, but it really is true: What has God been doing and will continue to do in our midst?”
Arant said it is especially appropriate as we look to what many hope is the end of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We have been forced to think about church in new, creative, inventive ways. What will the church look like in its next faithful step?” Arant asked.
Nelson and Arant said they always want Annual Conference to be a celebration of what God has been doing through South Carolina United Methodist churches and individuals over the last year.
“There is so much to be celebrated, and we really want to set that tone,” Nelson said.
Sunday: Clergy session, ordination
Sunday, June 6, will begin with a clergy session that afternoon, as pastors and deacons gather to act on changes of status for clergy and discuss other matters.
Then evening will shift to a celebration of the new class of people to be commissioned or ordained as clergy. Preached by North Alabama Resident Bishop Debra Wallace-Padgett, the ordination service will be conducted much like last year’s, which was a livestreamed, socially distant event with only ordinands, their immediate families and others directly involved in the service in attendance. New this year will be the incorporation of the retirement recognition service into this same evening of celebration, where names and photos of the retirees from the last two years will be shown and read, and the ceremonial “passing of the mantle” will be conducted.
“We did not want to go another year without recognizing our retirees, and we couldn’t do it last year, so we tried to figure out a very safe way that honors them but also conveys a sense of respect and our thankfulness for their service,” Arant explained. “We felt that was a really powerful way to start the new class off right and say thank you to those who are retiring.”
Nelson said the passing of the mantle—where the mantle of service is literally removed from the shoulders of a clergy retiree and placed upon the shoulders of a newly ordained clergy member, is an important symbol of what is occurring.
Retirees will not be present other than those involved in the passing of the mantle.
“We are building a bridge between those who come before and those who are embracing the mantle for the future,” Nelson said.
An offering will be collected online, also, and people will be able to donate to the Methodist Education Fund to support candidates for ministry.
Given time constraints, video of the retirees talking about their ministry experience won’t be shown at Annual Conference but, instead, will be on the conference website for all to view: www.umcsc.org.
Monday: All the business
Monday, June 7, will start with online training at 9 a.m., followed at 10 a.m. by the showing of video reports. Lay and clergy members of Annual Conference are expected to have reviewed these video reports prior to that morning, and they will be made available on the conference website about two weeks prior to Annual Conference.
“The idea is to have people be as informed as possible about Annual Conference and to refresh their memories right before we begin the business session,” Nelson said.
The business session will officially begin at 11 a.m. with the organizing motions and traditional call to order.
Business will include approval of the conference budget for 2022, as well as other reports and ministry plans, such as ordained ministry and leadership development, pension and health benefits, the Bishop’s Cabinet and extended Cabinet, electing new leaders, and lay leadership.
“Basically, Monday looks at, ‘How are we going to be in ministry next?’” Nelson said.
Arant and Nelson said no resolutions are slated for Annual Conference as of now.
Clergy appointments will be set that afternoon, with the sending forth, and then Annual Conference will close in a different way than usual: with a memorial service of remembrance and thanksgiving.
While they wrestled with whether to end Annual Conference with memorials, Arant said organizers ultimately felt this was another opportunity to celebrate—both who we have been as a church and how the faithfulness of these now-departed clergy and spouses has allowed us to become the church we are today.
“It’s about how we can respond by carrying the baton they passed to us into the next 50 years of the church, how we can pick up where they left off,” Arant said.
Nelson said it reflects the same themes as ordination, in essence: standing on shoulders of those who have gone before us, expressing our gratitude and asking ourselves how we will embrace that mantle and run forward.
“I think it’s a beautiful way to end,” Nelson added.
South Carolina Resident Bishop L. Jonathan Holston said he looks forward to celebrating the visionary and innovative ways that South Carolina United Methodists have taken the next faithful step to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.
“Although we will not be gathering in person for Annual Conference once again, we know from our experiences over the past year that making virtual connections still allows us to do more together than we could ever accomplish apart,” Holston said.
More information in June Advocate
More detailed information about Annual Conference, the reports and other items will be covered in next month’s edition of the Advocate. You can check the conference website also: https://www.umcsc.org/ac2021.
By Jessica Brodie