Connectional Ministries approves new budget, lifts up disaster response, expanded communications and Forward Focus

By Jessica Brodie

COLUMBIA—Dozens of United Methodist ministry representatives from all over South Carolina headed to Columbia March 4 for the Conference Connectional Ministries spring gathering, passing a $2.06 million budget request and discussing a host of church needs and endeavors.

Held at Trenholm Road United Methodist Church, the meeting also included presentations on flood and hurricane relief response, the new Forward Focus process for local churches and the expansion of the conference’s communications department.

The Rev. Millie Smith kicked off the gathering with a devotional and prayer centered on how, more than ever, the world needs the church. A handful of people around the room stood with signs proclaiming “the church,” symbolizing that people are the church.

The church is not a building, steeple or hiding place, Smith reminded the crowd—it is a people.

“But the Oscars got more coverage than the millions dying around the world,” Smith said.

She lifted up Jesus’ words in John 13:35: “Everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” The devotional closed with the crowd singing, "They'll Know We Are Christians by Our Love."

Budget request approved

One of the more significant actions of the day was unanimous approval by the body of a $2,063,612 budget request. The amount, an increase of $23,628 over 2017, has been presented to the conference Council on Finance and Administration for inclusion in the conference’s full budget.

CCM Convener the Rev. Ross Chellis said the increases are for additional funding in the lay leadership and advocacy areas, as well as for operations (including salaries) and electronics (telecommunications for the conference’s digital phone system).

Annual Conference will vote on the full budget in June; it will appear in pre-conference materials to go out later this spring.

Flood and hurricane response

Conference Disaster Response Coordinator Matt Brodie and Conference Director of Recovery Ministries Ward Smith presented on how the UMC has been responding to the devastation caused by the October 2015 flood and the October 2016 hurricane.

Smith shared stories of flood victims who have been helped by United Methodist teams of volunteers, noting that of the 103,000 who applied to the Federal Emergency Management Agency for assistance, only 28,000 received funds. The need has been great, and there is still much work to be done, Smith said, encouraging people to call his office and help with relief efforts.

“Thousands of families need our help,” he said.

In Scripture, Smith said, the disciples were puzzled when Jesus washed their feet, but He was modeling Christian service for them; when it comes to flood response, we must go and do the same.

“If a team started and finished two or three houses a week, it takes a long time to do 1,000 houses. We need volunteers. We need local volunteers. And they are among us,” Smith said. “We have the skills and abilities; it's just a matter of what are we going to do with them.”

Smith said volunteers have been coming from places like Ohio and Iowa, and he’d like to see more teams come from South Carolina.

Brodie lifted up the relief work done by volunteers to help victims of Hurricane Matthew, which was a huge blow for the state on the heels of the previous fall’s flood.

Brodie shared how the conference’s United Methodist Volunteers in Mission Early Response Team helped 177 homes in the aftermath, tarping roofs and clearing trees from homes and property.

But soon it became evident that more needed to be done, and his team got creative, putting together the conference’s first-ever mass-organized disaster response efforts: blitzes in the hard-hit areas of Nichols and Sellers, in the Marion District.

“We hadn't dealt with this kind of storm since Hugo, so we did the blitzes in areas really heavily impacted,” Brodie said.

For the first blitz, in December, 270 volunteers mucked out 18 homes in Nichols, removing moldy drywall and flooring among other things. For the second blitz, in January, 150 volunteers helped 24 homes, many with people still living in the homes because they had nowhere else to go.

“It was like a two-day Salkehatchie,” Brodie said, noting work still continues.

He urged people to volunteers to help with flood and hurricane work, as there is still heavy need. Work will continue for years.

Communication department expanded

Next, Connectional Ministries Director Kathy James lifted up the expansion of the conference’s communications department, which she hopes will increase the resourcing and storytelling the conference can do for the glory of Christ.

In the fall, James said, the conference brought on an additional staffer, Dan O’Mara, in addition to Brodie, who had been the sole communications director for 11 years.

O’Mara, a longtime journalist, is serving as communications coordinator; he is handling external media relations, crisis and internal communications, social media, email management and news releases. Brodie is shifting his focus to coordinate the conference’s production needs, primarily handling videography, photography, graphics and other multimedia, as well as serving as conference disaster response coordinator.

They offered themselves as a strong resource for local churches and ministries who need communications assistance of any kind. They noted that, together with the conference’s newspaper ministry, the Advocate, they are better positioned to tell the conference’s stories of God at work throughout South Carolina.

Forward Focus

Also at the meeting, congregational specialist Chris Lynch lifted up the Forward Focus process, which is a new plan for church revitalization unique to the individual church. The subject of a 12-district tour Bishop Jonathan Holston is leading around the state, the process is designed to help churches over a three- or four-month period to spend time looking inward—analyzing finances, membership, attendance and facilities—as well as outward, trying to understand the current needs of the surrounding community and doing interviews with community leaders.

“Just like we take our car in for service regularly, the Forward Focus process is an opportunity for local churches to do trouble shooting or regular maintenance,” Lynch said.

The rate at which change is happening in our culture right now is astronomical, Lynch said, making the need for such a process great.

He said district and conference Connectional Ministries can use the Forward Focus process to help churches be responsive to those changes.

“We must not change our message, but we must change how we communicate and share that message with those around us,” he said.

The CCM will have its next gathering in the fall at Trenholm Road UMC.

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