Day Two of GC continues with address from S.C.’s Holston

By Jessica Brodie

CHARLOTTE—Day Two of General Conference, on Wednesday, April 24, started with a worship service at 8 a.m. followed by an Episcopal Address delivered by South Carolina’s resident bishop L. Jonathan Holston.

Holston, who was selected to deliver the address on behalf of the Council of Bishops, brought a word on staying who God needs to us be in spite of the ever-changing noise of this world.

“When things are happening all around us, God uses the church to make a difference,” Holston proclaimed before the crowd of delegates, observers, volunteers gathered at the Charlotte Convention Center April 24. “The church was never built for our pleasure. The church is built for God’s purpose.”

Holston opened the address with a prayer calling on God to create a clean heart and renew a right spirit within us as we strive to put love first.

“When the world shouts hate, help us to love,” Holston prayed. “When the past won’t let go, help us to love. When we feel broken, betrayed or rejected, help us to love. Even when it seems impossible or doesn’t make sense, help us to love.”

He shared how so much has happened since an episcopal address was last delivered at General Conference 2016, eight years ago. As a lengthy montage displayed examples onscreen, Holston reviewed the changes that have occurred in the church and the world since General Conference last met—the highs and lows, the opportunities and challenges, the tensions as we pivot between the best and the worst of our human nature.

“Since 2016, TikTok launched, Saudi Arabia legalized women driving, the northern white rhino became extinct, Notre Dame burned, ChatGPT was created, elephants are being studied to treat cancer,” Holston said.

The list goes on: Elections. Natural disasters. Terrorist attacks. Good things and bad.

Yet amid what Holston called this “noisy backdrop of world events,” God’s people still did what they could across the world to be God’s church.

He lifted up numerous examples of this, from baptisms and new churches rising up to powerful mission work done in the name of the Lord to fight trafficking, provide economic opportunity and deliver desperately needed medical care in remote areas.

“We fall short,” Holston said. “Yet even in our shortcomings as imperfect humans, we strive for who we want to be—holding before us the vision of God’s kingdom built, the hope of Christ fulfilled, as we move toward that vision with courage. All of this because we know that God prevails—the victory has already been won in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.” 

As we walk this path, he urged us to keep our focus on what is important—serving God—as we tune out the noise.

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A full-scale revision

The Wednesday morning plenary session included a host of other reports, including the monitoring report and a report on the revision of the UMC’s Social Principles, delivered by General Board of Church and Society Interim General Secretary John Hill and members of the revision’s editorial and writing team. This is the first full-scale revision of the Social Principles since 1972.

“The language (of the revised Social Principles) is meant to empower mission and ministry across diverse contexts,” said the Rev. Ande Emmanuel, part of the editorial team.

All of the proposed revisions to the Social Principles will be addressed in legislative committee, but the report was intended to overview their lengthy process to overhaul the text and incorporate insight from people around the world.

Day2 john hill

Above: John Hill

‘Like a divorce’

Also key Wednesday morning was the Young People’s Address, delivered by Alejandra Salemi, Florida Conference, and Senesie T.A. Rogers, Sierra Leone. Salemi and Rogers were selected by the Division on Ministries with Young People at Discipleship Ministries to share about the church’s impact on their own lives and the lives of others.

Salemi shared how disaffiliation has taken a toll on young people in the church, and it feels much like a divorce.

“Young people are feeling the weight of the emotional, physical and spiritual trauma,” she said, urging people to consider whether we are working toward a world that looks less like hell and more like heaven.

She added that there is hope in the midst of all the squabbling.

“I do believe even in the darkest of days there is so much goodness in the world.”

Read full story here.

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Above: Alejandra Salemi, Florida Conference 

A more globally relevant Discipline

Next came a report on a General Book of Discipline, presented by the Standing Committee on Central Conference Matters.

Those who presented urged the church to trust each other, noting culture traditions in the United States can be very different from those in the Philippines or throughout Africa. As they noted, the church shares the same doctrine, but the rules can be a bit more fluid from place to place.

They said the goal is to have a shorter and more globally relevant Discipline.

At the close of their report, they invited all delegations to discuss two questions: How will your delegation enable your Annual Conference leadership to review the draft and provide feedback to the Standing Committee by Dec. 31? Who from your delegation will take responsibility to lead and organize a conversation around the present draft of the General Book of Discipline in your Annual Conference? Pages and marshals collected these responses.

The Pathway to Our Next Expression

Next, General Conference heard from Chief Connectional Ministries Officer Judi Kenaston and Bishops Tracey Smith Malone, Thomas Bickerton and Mande Muyombo on a pathway to the next expression of the denomination. Calling it the UMC’s “next expression,” the leaders emphasized the importance of considering a regional context when it comes to worldwide ministry.

“It’s a clear reality,” Smith Malone  said. “No matter how many new or altered apportionment formulas are created, how many funds are established, there are only so many resources and only so much funds available at the church’s disposal.”

They urged delegates to understand that revisioning the church is the best way to do ministry.

Projected budget is 42 percent reduction

Finally, Wednesday’s plenary closed with an update on the financial state of the church. Just before delegates headed into the legislative committees to begin their main work, they heard a detailed look at the budget from the Rev. Moses Kumar, general secretary and treasurer for the General Conference on Finance and Administration.

Kumar shared how the proposed 2025-2028 UMC budget is $353.1 million—a 42 percent reduction from the budget approved at the 2016 conference.

“Budgeting is a delicate dance,” Kumar said, noting these are not easy decisions to make.

Still, he urged the crowd to consider how we turn this challenge of reducing the budget into an opportunity.

“I believe God is telling us it’s time to do things differently,” Kumar said.

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Above:  Rev. Moses Kumar

The morning business completed at 12:30 p.m., and delegates spent the afternoon in legislative committees.

General Conference resumes Thursday at 8 a.m. with worship and then a plenary session expected to include the Laity Address, Jurisdictional Study Committee and Nominations.

More GC info

Who are the delegates representing South Carolina?

What are the 14 legislative committees (and who from S.C. is on them?)

Read the Advocate's overview article on GC

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