AC2023 to return in-person

Above, an in-person gathering of Annual Conference in 2017. Photo by Matt Brodie.

June gathering to address budget, churches voting to leave UMC, more

By Jessica Brodie

FLORENCE—For the first time since COVID-19, South Carolina’s Annual Conference will gather in person.

Slated for June 4-7 at the Florence Center, the four-day event will address the business of the South Carolina Conference of The United Methodist Church, including what is anticipated to be a reduced budget for 2024, ordaining and commissioning approximately 20 new clergy members, honoring 26 retirees and voting on a host of churches that elected to separate from the denomination.

With the theme “Seeking a More Excellent Way: Breathe and Believe, Hewing Hope,” this year’s session is the 52nd gathering of the conference since the formation of the UMC. 

Lay and clergy members who plan to attend must register by May 21 at

South Carolina Resident Bishop L. Jonathan Holston, who will preside at AC2023, said he and other conference leaders look forward with hopeful anticipation to being together as disciples again. The last time the full annual conference gathered in person was in Greenville in 2019; the 2020, 2021 and 2022 sessions of Annual Conference were held virtually for COVID-19 health and safety reasons.

“We are grateful for the opportunity for a fruitful and uplifting time of worship, holy conferencing, fellowship, remembrance and celebration of the remarkable ministry and mission that has taken place across the conference this year,” Holston said. “We pray that this gathering will point to the power of God to lead us if we commit to breathing and believing that we form one body in Christ, with each member belonging to all the others. So, together, let us hew hope—a living hope, a hope that saves, a hope we can rejoice in.”

All electronic voting will utilize lay and clergy members’ personal electronic devices. Clergy and lay members will need to bring a smartphone, tablet or laptop capable of connecting to a Wi-Fi network and accessing the internet in order to vote.

The Rev. Mel Arant, assistant conference secretary and coordinator of clergy services, said if any difficulties in voting occur, paper ballots will be available.

“For the past three Annual Conference sessions, all of which were conducted virtually, lay and clergy members have voted by using their own personal devices, so 2023 will actually be our fourth year of casting ballots in this way,” Arant said. “While there was a learning curve early on, we have received no reports of any member being unable to vote without our being able to rectify the situation in a timely manner. This method also has been used for years by other annual and jurisdictional conferences across our connection, including the election of bishops and voting on other matters during the 2022 Southeastern Jurisdictional Conference.”

A number of changes will occur at this year’s session. Most notably, ordination and commissioning of new clergy will be combined with a service recognizing retiring clergy. This Service for Commissioning, Ordination and Retirement will be held the opening night of Annual Conference, at 7 p.m. Sunday, June 4, to make it easier for people to attend because it is a weekend night instead of during the week.

Preliminary schedule

AC2023 is scheduled to start at 2:30 p.m. Sunday, June 4, with a Virtual Clergy Session that will include a vote on whether to accept ordinands into membership of the Annual Conference. A Laity Orientation will be held at 4 p.m., and then the Service for Commissioning, Ordination and Retirement will be held at 7, with a sermon preached by Bishop Sandra Steiner Ball, resident bishop of the UMC’s West Virginia Conference.

The event will continue Monday June 5, with voting orientation and testing at 9 a.m., then an opening worship service at 9:30 a.m. preached by Bishop Holston.

Business will continue all day with a break for lunch, and the day will conclude with an Evening Praise and Prayer at 5 p.m. led by the Rev. Kim Moultrie Bryant.

Tuesday will begin with Holy Communion at 7:30 a.m., then a Morning Praise and Prayer at 8:30 a.m. led by the Rev. Cameron Thomas Levi. Business will resume at 9 a.m. and continue all day with a break for lunch, and the day is expected to conclude at 5 p.m. with a Service of Remembrance and Thanksgiving preached by the Rev. Tim Rogers, Marion District superintendent, to honor those clergy and spouses who passed away over the last year.

Wednesday will begin with Holy Communion at 7:30 a.m., then a Morning Praise and Prayer at 8:30 a.m. led by the Rev. Tae Suk Park. Business will resume at 9 a.m. After lunch, the day will conclude at 2 p.m. will the final business session, then the Sending Forth and Fixing of the Appointments in a service preached by Bishop Holston.

Reports and more

All documentation and key video reports, including the 2024 budget being finalized now, will be available before AC2023 convenes at

Hosts for the event are the Florence District, with the Rev. Terry Fleming as superintendent, and Highland Park UMC, Florence, with the Rev. Susan Maddox as pastor.

Other happenings

Many look forward to a host of special events in tandem with Annual Conference, and this year a number are scheduled.

Some of these include a dinner for retirees and their families Sunday at 5 p.m.; a health screening for those covered by the conference health plan Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday mornings; a blood drive Monday afternoon; the African American Clergywomen’s Luncheon on Monday; a Diakonia Luncheon; a Hood seminary luncheon; and a Gammon seminary dinner Tuesday.

See a full list of special events and details at

Also on that website are hotels with special rates, restaurants, information on how to change an elected lay member and more.

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