‘God’s work, not ours’

From ordination and a reduced budget to separation of 112 churches, Annual Conference tackles hard work of UMC in South Carolina 

By Jessica Brodie

GREENVILLE—Thousands of South Carolina United Methodists headed to the Greenville Convention Center June 9-12 for Annual Conference, the denomination’s yearly meeting in this state.

By the time business ended, the body had passed a $11.7 million budget, approved the separation of 112 churches from The United Methodist Church, ordained or commissioned 16 clergy, licensed 17 new local pastors, elected new conference officers, passed two motions regarding funds from separating churches, and passed a “jubilee” resolution forgiving approximately $3.3 million in direct billing debt owed by churches experiencing hardship.

“When we gather, we gather together as one,” said Resident Bishop L. Jonathan Holston in his opening worship sermon. “We gather together as laity and clergy, we gather together as visitors, we gather together as friends, we gather together as people of faith from across this state—people who love God, people who are called by faith into this time and space to be who God needs for us to be.”

He invited the body to turn and look at each other, noting, “We’re all different, yet we all serve the savior, Jesus the Christ.”

And together, he said, we can embrace our unity to be the people God created us to be in order to do his work in the world.

A positive start

Annual Conference officially kicked off Sunday afternoon, June 9, with a closed clergy session and two laity orientations, followed by a service at 7 p.m. that commissioned or ordained 16 new clergy and honored 36 retirees. (See article, here.)

Monday’s opening worship began at 9 a.m. with the singing of “And Are We Yet Alive” as the bishop, clergy and other conference leaders processed into the ballroom.

In his opening worship sermon, Holston called on South Carolina United Methodists to embrace life’s “turning points” to be the people God calls them to be. He shared about various turning points in his own life, such as meeting the woman who has been his wife for 40 years and embracing overseas missions.

There are also turning points in denominations, Holston said, noting that coming out of all the changes at the recent General Conference, we must remember: “Our tone of dialogue must always be of care, concern, compassion and a shared commitment to faith in Jesus Christ as we seek to be who God is calling us to be.”

Holston said the crux of Christian faith is not about getting to where we want to be but getting to the place where God needs us to be.

“Sometimes God needs to work on us, sand us down, get rough edges out of the way so we can be the person God needs us to be,” he said.

Drawing from the morning’s Scripture, Isaiah 6:1-8, on the prophet’s commission by the Lord, Holston reminded the body that Isaiah reached the place of redemption because of the turning points he experienced, but he also had to be open to that transformation. We, too, can do the same. Regardless of whatever is happening in our world, in our denomination, in our church, God still has work for us to do.

“There’s hope in the midst of it all,” Holston said to applause. “You can’t change anything, but God can change you.”

After an offering collected for Asbury Hills Camps & Retreat Center that raised $7,509, Holston presided over a service of Holy Communion shared by the full body.

New standing rules, conference officers

After worship and communion, official business began for the 53rd session of Annual Conference as Holston called the Monday morning plenary session to order at 11:09 a.m.

The Rev. Jim Dennis, Greenville District superintendent, officially welcomed the body to his host city, noting that despite our differences as people, “We claim faith in one God, the author of life and love and life eternal.”

Next, Conference Secretary Ken Nelson offered a host of organizational and introductory motions and reports, including setting the bar of conference and the presentation of the consent calendar.

One of the first major actions at this year’s conference involved a number of changes to the Standing Rules that govern the way the conference handles business. All passed without debate, including raising the maximum quadrennia someone can serve from two to three, reducing the number of people on conference boards and agencies and shifting resolutions’ annual due date from March 15 to March 1 to enable time for improperly formatted resolutions to be revised and resubmitted. (See article, here.)

The Rev. Joseph James next presented the report from the Committee on Nominations, offering for initial review the slate of names before the body for election to conference and conference-related boards, commissions and councils.

Then the body elected its slate of conference officers for the quadrennium. A quadrennium is a four-year period significant in the denomination’s governance and planning, encompassing General Conferences and other strategic initiatives. New officers include the Rev. A. Melton Arant Jr. as new conference secretary and Kay G. Crowe, who was elected as conference parliamentarian after longtime parliamentarian Dr. Tim McClendon retired. (See article, here.)

Finally, the Committee on Episcopacy’s Jeannetté Cooper delivered their report, lifting up what she called the “positive, steady, disciplined leadership” of Bishop Holston.

Reduced budget presented

After lunch, Council on Finance and Administration Chair Mitch Houston offered the first reading of its proposed $11.7 million 2025 budget for the South Carolina Conference. He noted churches will only be apportioned for $10.9 million of the budget, as an $800,000 rebate from 2023 separating churches will offset this (see article, Page 2). The adjusted budget is $2.3 million less than 2024’s $13.2 million budget. Houston said their committee has been extremely busy given all the changes in the denomination.

“The last couple years we’ve dealt with trying to plan a budget without knowing how much money we’re going to receive,” Houston told the body.

In spite of this, South Carolina United Methodists paid almost 89 percent of their apportionments, which he said is “excellent,” especially given the impact of COVID-19 and the schism throughout the church.

Resolution forgives direct billing debt

Next, Annual Conference passed legislation that forgives approximately $3.3 million in debt in direct billing charges owed by churches experiencing hardship.

Submitted by Dr. Reginald Lee, chair of South Carolina Black Methodists for Church Renewal, and a team of other clergy and laity, the resolution sets forth that all arrearages older than 121 days for South Carolina United Methodist churches be forgiven, enabling what the resolution writers call “a fresh start for those committed to our connectional system.” Specifically, the amended resolution calls on Conference Treasurer Beth Westbury to write off the debt of these churches in arrears in direct billing.

This resolution was the only one that went before the body for a vote. Of the seven total, five were ruled out of order. One—LGBTQ+ Inclusion: Expressing Gratitude and Commitment to Next Steps—was referred to Conference Connectional Ministries and the Council on Finance and Administration because of its large budgetary implications in creating a conference-level LGBTQ+ Ministry Team. (See article, here.)

After this came the report of the Cabinet, from Dr. Stephen Love, and the report of the longtime Conference Lay Leader Barbara Ware, who rolled off after 12 years of service. Ware introduced the two new co-lay leaders, Betty Void and Michael Jennings.

Next, the Board of Ordained Ministry lifted up the names of those who were ordained or commissioned the evening prior, then conducted the examination and licensing of 17 new licensed local pastors in the South Carolina Conference.

The day concluded with an Evening Prayer and Praise service led by newly ordained elder the Rev. Morgan Byars. Drawing from Isaiah 2:1-5, Byars shared how we can be on the leading edge of ministry.

Clergy minimum salary gets boost

After a Morning Prayer and Praise service Tuesday led by newly ordained elder Dr. Martin Luther Quick, Annual Conference jumped into business with a report from the Commission on Equitable Compensation that proposed a 3.2 percent cost of living increase in 2025 to the minimum salary for clergy across South Carolina.

Annual Conference approved that report, which recommended this increase.

Wayne Hester, of the CEC said the increase is to, among other things, “ensure pastors can pay their bills.” The CEC report noted the Social Security cost of living increase was 8.7 percent in 2023 and 3.2 in 2024.

The 2025 minimum salary will be $53,986 for full elders and deacons, $49,076 for provisional and association members and $45,528 for licensed local pastors.

Pension and health, AU, new presidents and elections

Valerie Brooks Madden and the Rev. Chris Lollis gave the Pension and Health Benefits report next, reviewing some of the changes ahead for this year.

Lollis shared that the past service rate for retired pastors receiving pre-1982 benefit is increasing, shifting from $881 per service year as the rate for annuity payments for 2024 to $987 for 2025. Other changes passed as part of the Pension and Health Benefits report include an increase in clergy moving expenses from $2,000 to $2,500 (plus as much as $350 in packing expenses); a shift to paperless statements; and an increase in health benefit fees given the cost increase in health care, which is rising 6.1 percent.

The body also approved a resolution relating to rental/housing allowances for active, retired or disabled clergypersons of the South Carolina Conference, which ensures retired and incapacitated clergy can exclude housing expenses from their benefit payment from Wespath Benefits and Investments.

Next came the Africa University report from Dr. Jim Salley, lifting up the outstanding work of the UMC-founded university in Zimbabwe and also celebrating the above-and-beyond support South Carolina shows for AU.

After this, the body got the chance to officially meet and welcome the new presidents of two South Carolina UMC colleges on Tuesday afternoon: Columbia College President Dr. John H. Dozier and Claflin University President Dr. Dwaun J. Warmack.

Then the body elected all of the people put before conference by the Committee on Nominations for conference and conference-related boards, commissions and councils, as well as 41 clergy and lay people for the jurisdictional pool. The jurisdictional pool is the collection of persons from which the jurisdictional nominating committees select people to serve as board members of the various agencies of the UMC.

112 churches separate from the UMC

Tuesday afternoon brought what many consider to be the most significant and dramatic action of this year’s Annual Conference, as a slate of 112 churches went before the body for a vote on separation from The United Methodist Church. The names and number of churches were released just before lunch on Tuesday. The 112 that separated represents about 13.4 percent of the 836 total churches in the South Carolina Conference. Last year, 113 churches separated from the South Carolina Conference.

Altogether over the past two years, 225 churches have left of the 958 starting number of churches, which is a grand total of about 23.4 percent. (See article, here.)

The day concluded with a Service of Thanksgiving and Memory preached by Dr. Sandra Stevens Poirel, Charleston District superintendent, which remembered 62 clergy, clergy spouses and others who passed away over the last year. (See article, here.)

Motions pass regarding funds from separating churches

Wednesday morning started with a Morning Prayer and Praise service led by the Rev. Ed Stallworth.

Business led with discussion about three separate requests for declaratory court decisions—two from Dr. Reginald Lee and one from Michael Cheatham—all of which were ultimately withdrawn by their submitters.

(See article, here.)

Next, the body received a motion from the Rev. Amiri Hooker regarding equity in fund distribution coming from the separating churches. Churches that separate from the UMC through the Local Church Discernment Process are required to pay certain financial obligations. That amount received from the 2023 separating churches was about $17.5 million; the 2024 number has not yet been released.

Hooker moved, to ensure equity from funds that come from separations, both previous and current, that a minimum of $5 million be considered for Black, indigenous and other people of color congregations, with Black Methodists for Church Renewal and the Office of Congregational Development helping as advisors.

The motion passed.

More than an hour later in the morning’s session, the body also approved a motion from the Rev. Patricia Parrish that all expenditures from the Hope Fund (direct ministry grants) and all funds received from separating churches be reported at the next annual conference so the conference is fully aware of what is happening with this money.

(See article, here.)

‘Think Different’

Next, Annual Conference heard a report from the conference’s Ministry Advisory Team about a new and hopeful initiative for the church: “Think Different.” Those on the team encouraged South Carolina United Methodists to ask big, God-sized questions instead of focusing on smaller-perspective concerns. For instance, instead of asking where will the money come from, what if we were to ask what God is calling us to do in our community?

The leaders called it “a reset for the UMCSC.”

Following this, the body approved the consent calendar, then approved the closure of 10 churches and the changing of 31 charge lines. Unlike the churches closed Tuesday afternoon over a desire to separate from the denomination, these churches closed because of other reasons, largely financial.

Body approves budget without change

Houston returned to the dais for the final discussion of the 2025 budget. Debate ensued about a motion to increase the proposed budget by $40,000 to accommodate the 3.2 percent cost of living increase approved Tuesday to the 2025 minimum salary for clergy across South Carolina.

However, Houston explained CF&A had cut that line item by $40,000 to ensure the Commission on Equitable Compensation was spending down its reserve funds, which total nearly $1 million.

John Gibbons, of Salem UMC, Columbia, concurred from the floor, noting that even if the conference doesn’t approve the line item increase, clergy will still get their minimum salary increase because it was approved the day prior.

The motion to increase the CEC line item failed 149-629, and the $11.7 million budget for 2025 passed.

After expressions of deep appreciation and other closing remarks from outgoing Conference Secretary Ken Nelson, business adjourned at 12:09 p.m.

Appointments fixed

The 53rd session of Annual Conference concluded with a service of Sending Forth and Fixing of the Appointments led by Bishop Holston.

A full list of appointments was handed out and approved, or “fixed,” at the end of the session.

In his closing sermon, Holston called upon the people of the South Carolina Conference of the UMC to remember what really matters as they leave this place.

“Following God’s call is not always easy,” Holston said, lifting up Romans 12:9-21. But, he said, “Scripture tells us how to prepare for the road ahead.”

For photos from the 2024 Annual Conference, visit

Key happenings at AC2024

• Approved the separation of 112 churches across the state from the denomination over sexuality issues;

• Passed $11.7 million budget;

• Forgave approximately $3.3 million in direct billing debt owed by churches experiencing hardship;

• Considered, then withdrew, three requests for declaratory court decisions;

• Passed two motions regarding funds from separating churches;

• Approved a 3.2 percent cost of living increase in 2025 to the minimum salary for clergy across South Carolina;

• Elected new quadrennial conference officers;

• Changed several Standing Rules;

• Ordained or commissioned 16 clergy;

• Licensed 17 local pastors;

• Celebrated 36 retirees;

• Remembered 62 people who passed away;

• Passed changes to pensions, health benefits;

• Raised more than $15,000 in offerings: $7,601 Sunday night for seminary scholarship fund and $7,509 Monday morning for South Carolina Camps and Retreats Ministry; and

• Set date for next Annual Conference as June 8-11, 2025, in Greenville.

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