By Jessica Brodie
ST. GEORGE—What are your hopes for The United Methodist Church? What are your main concerns? What do you want South Carolina delegates attending General Conference 2020 to know?
Nearly 200 United Methodists headed to Indian Field UMC Jan. 5 for the first of several “listening sessions” being held across the state, addressing these questions and more. Another session was held Jan. 26 as the Advocate was going to press, and the next sessions are Feb. 9 in Florence and Feb. 16 in Mauldin.
Jackie Jenkins, chair of the South Carolina delegation, said this first session was a “pacesetter” for all future sessions that will follow.
“We were ecstatic to see the crowded room and pleased at the amiable reception and eagerness to learn and share observed from both laity and clergy attending the first gathering,” Jenkins said, noting attendees’ feedback emphasized trust and hope. “Of equal note and appreciation were everyone’s eminently observed interest in our church’s future. We were indeed fortunate to witness the congenial manner in which business was conducted.”
The Jan. 5 listening session was the first event of several scheduled this winter, all designed to give South Carolina United Methodists the opportunity to voice concerns and share hopes and prayers with the South Carolina delegates to General Conference 2020.
Elected at Annual Conference in June, the eight lay and eight clergy delegates, plus alternates, will head to the UMC’s General Conference May 5-15 in Minneapolis.
General Conference is typically held once every four years (with the exception of the special session in February 2019 to address a report from the Commission on a Way Forward on unity amid church strife over differing views on human sexuality). At General Conference 2020, delegates will discuss and vote on petitions and resolutions proposed by individuals, conferences and other groups within the UMC, from budgetary concerns to issues such as sexuality, abortion, poverty and more. General Conference, comprised of roughly 1,000 representatives from every conference in the worldwide UMC, is the only body that can set official policy and speak for the denomination. Legislation passed at General Conference results in revisions to the Book of Discipline (a book of law) and Book of Resolutions (a book of policies on social issues).
Only General Conference can speak for the UMC.
Jenkins said the South Carolina listening sessions are designed to provide attendees with the opportunity to learn and ask questions about the purpose and function of the General Conference in a safe, respectful environment, and share with the South Carolina delegates any hopes and concerns about the UMC ahead of the conference.
The sessions are not designed to engage in a debate about the issue of human sexuality; tell you or your congregation what to believe or do; encourage delegates to vote one way or another on any particular issue; or compel delegates to share their views on any particular issue.
The listening sessions are led by the lay and clergy heads of the delegation—Jenkins and the Rev. Ken Nelson—as well as delegation members, superintendents from the districts represented in each tri-district and other conference leaders.
Other listening sessions are slated for Feb. 9 at Central UMC, Florence (for Florence, Hartsville and Marion districts); and Feb. 16 at Mauldin UMC, Mauldin (for Anderson, Greenville and Spartanburg districts).
On Feb. 23, a live, online and interactive fifth session will be offered at www.umcsc.org/gc2020.
Another listening session was held just as the Advocate was going to press on this edition: Jan. 26 at Union UMC, Irmo (for Columbia, Greenwood and Rock Hill districts). Look for coverage in the March edition of the Advocate.
Jenkins said at future sessions delegates hope to hear more thinking and feelings of laity and clergy who make up the South Carolina Conference.
“This is critical as we prepare for General Conference 2020,” Jenkins said, noting the laity and clergy in the field were equally interested in hearing from the delegation, too. “It makes a difference.”
She said they also hope to have more delegates in attendance at future listening sessions; four lay and two clergy General Conference delegates were present Jan. 5. The Jan. 5 meeting represented the Charleston, Orangeburg and Walterboro districts, and Jenkins said she was pleased that all three district superintendents were present.
Attendees are invited to submit their questions in advance of the listening sessions so the delegates can prepare their answers.
For more information or to register for a session: www.umcsc.org/gc2020. A list of resources is also available there, including a comparison of various proposals for the UMC, respectful communication guidelines and basic information about General Conference.
By Jessica Brodie