By Jessica Brodie
Delegates asked, and South Carolina United Methodists answered. And now those answers will be prayed over and discussed as delegates prepare for General Conference.
Beginning Jan. 5 and ending Feb. 23, listening sessions were held across the state—in St. George, Irmo, Florence and Mauldin, plus one online—all designed to give South Carolina United Methodists the opportunity to voice concerns and share hopes and prayers with delegates to General Conference 2020.
As of the Advocate’s press time, all five listening sessions had been completed.
The experience was “a listening and learning journey,” Delegation Chair Jackie Jenkins said, noting they wanted to hear people’s views on issues facing the denomination.
Each session grouped attendees at tables, where they had the opportunity to discuss and then collectively answer three questions: What are your hopes for The United Methodist Church? What are your main concerns for the UMC? What do you want South Carolina delegates attending General Conference 2020 to know?
“We care,” Jenkins told the Advocate. “We’re genuinely interested in letting them be heard and be part of the process, and we are in constant prayer for discernment.”
Jenkins and the rest of the delegation will be reviewing the answers at their next meeting, slated for March 22, discussing and praying over them as they prepare for the global gathering in May. 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 held every four years to discuss and vote on petitions and resolutions from budgetary concerns to social issues, such as sexuality, abortion and more. Comprising roughly 1,000 representatives from every conference in the worldwide UMC, General Conference is the only body that can set official policy and speak for the denomination. Legislation passed results in revisions to the UMC Book of Discipline (book of law) and Book of Resolutions (policies on social issues).
The listening sessions were well attended, with far more than 1,500 people offering feedback. Nearly 200 attended the St. George session, about 400 at the Irmo session, 400 in Florence and nearly 500 in Mauldin. Thousands viewed the Feb. 23 online session.
The Rev. Ken Nelson, first-elected clergy delegate and the delegation’s episcopal nominee, told the crowd gathered in Irmo Jan. 26 that the sessions are intended to help the delegates better understand South Carolina’s versatile viewpoints.
“Unity may seem farfetched, but unity is what Jesus prayed for us,” Nelson told the crowd.
“Reconciliation begins with each of us.”
The sessions were amicable, focused, respectful and stuck to the main point, which was for people to answer the delegates’ questions—not to debate hot-button topics such as sexuality or schism.
“It’s said we live in an uncertain time with an uncertain future, but I believe God is certain,” Nelson said. “This is God’s church, and we are God’s people.”
He told the Advocate it is better to engage each another one-on-one than in an open forum question-answer presentation.
“When we’re sitting eye-to-eye it’s a lot easier to have respectful conversation with each other,” Nelson said.
Not all the answers from sessions have been compiled, but here is a rundown of those released so far:
- Feedback from Jan. 5 session
- Feedback from Jan. 26 session
- Feedback from Feb. 9 session
- Feedback from Feb. 16 session
- Feedback from Feb. 23 online session
What are the proposed reorganization plans for the UMC? View them all at https://www.resourceumc.org/en/content/gc2020-proposed-plans
For more information on General Conference, visit https://umcsc.org/gc2020.