By Bishop L. Jonathan Holston
“Jesus replied [to the disciples], ‘They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat.’ ‘We have here only five loaves of bread and two fish,’ the disciples answered. ‘Bring them here to me,’ he said. And Jesus directed the people to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the people.”—Matthew 14:16-19 (NIV)
We have now concluded the 2023 session of the South Carolina Annual Conference. Our first session together in four years outdid any expectations we may have had. Reuniting with sisters and brothers in Christ, celebrating all that God is doing in and through the faithful across our state and praising God through worship were all highlights of our time together.
The mighty, rushing wind of the Holy Spirit swirled through our midst as lay and clergy members of the annual conference shared stories and memories, asked questions and sought understanding in this season. Our time together truly embodied what it means to seek a more excellent way.
No matter what each member of the annual conference had on their minds when they arrived or which concerns or anxiety they brought with them, what we all found in our gathering together was the abundance of life in Christ. In the passage from the Gospel of Matthew, the disciples brought their concerns about feeding the multitudes to Jesus. The disciples were responding out of the perceived scarcity rather than out of their abundance. Telling Jesus that there was “only” a small amount of food indicated their focus not on what they had, but on what they didn’t have. As the disciples saw it, there was simply not enough.
When coming face to face with our limitations, we sometimes choose to lose our focus. We begin to let doubt creep in. But, if you give yourself an opportunity, choose to put on the eyes of Christ, you can think creatively. You can find the will and the way.
The South Carolina Conference is filled with faithful, talented and generous disciples, many of whom worked diligently to cultivate the spirit-filled environment in which we gathered and praised God. To the Rev. Ken Nelson, conference secretary, the Rev. Mel Arant, assistant conference secretary, the Committee on the Annual Conference, the secretarial staff, the worship team and all who worked behind the scenes to plan and prepare for our time together, we owe you a great debt of gratitude.
To the Rev. Terry Fleming, the clergy and laity of the Florence District, the Rev. Susan Maddox and the good people of Highland Park United Methodist Church, thank you for welcoming us so warmly to your community and for ensuring that we were comfortable during our stay.
To the countless volunteers, tellers, ushers, musicians, song leaders and all who enhanced our time together during both worship and business, we are grateful for your willingness to serve.
To all who serve in district and conference leadership and on committees and boards that work throughout the year to imagine and enable ministry and mission to happen—we see you, we celebrate your commitment, and we thank you for sharing your gifts, talents and aptitudes for the furtherance of God’s kingdom.
The strength of the South Carolina Conference is found in the multitudes of clergy and laity that are committed to ministry and mission for the sake of Christ. Each of you who have heard God’s call and answered affirmatively, taking time away from home to be present at The Florence Center or following along on the livestream—you are the hope hewn when we breathe and believe, seeking a more excellent way. Your commitment both to Christ and to the church is a testimony to faithfulness. You can be counted on through your prayers and your presence, whether in the pulpit or the pew, at meetings and missions, during worship—even in the waiting.
The people called United Methodist in South Carolina know ministry is not a one-way street. You may think you don’t have much, but when you start putting all that you have together, it’s more than you ever thought. We are far more capable than we give ourselves credit for. Instead of thinking of what we are not, what if we say what we ARE. The disciples were feeling more crisis than opportunity. But Jesus saw something different. Don’t allow your eyes to get fixed on your surroundings, but instead focus on God. God has something just for you.
So what is God birthing in your spirit right now that you never thought you could do? The right gifts, coupled with the right people—when all those elements come together, God’s grace becomes sufficient. You go and do it. Be it. And in the midst of it all, God’s grace comes alive.