By Jessica Connor
FLORENCE – “Can you feel it? Can you sense it?” Bishop Mary Virginia Taylor asked members of Annual Conference. “Are you ready, South Carolina, for what God will do with us together?”
Arms raised high in welcome, Taylor led the body in the opening service of worship for the 2011 S.C. Annual Conference.
More than 1,600 United Methodist clergy and laity descended on the Florence Civic Center June 8-12 for the event, which is the denomination’s primary gathering in this state.
With a theme of “In the Wesleyan Way – Principles, Passion and Practice,” it was a time of worship, of praise, of fellowship and of legislation.
Members left Sunday afternoon after what Taylor referred to in her closing sermon as the “great breeze” of the Holy Spirit swept through the arena and led the body to elect delegates to Jurisdictional and General Conferences in 2012, determine the 2012 conference budget and vote on a host of resolutions.
Taylor reported at the event’s close that 1,640 members – 846 laity, 795 clergy – were in attendance.
Leadership development Wesley-style was at the crux of this year’s session, with new “teaching times” introduced to reach on the principles, passions and practices of strong lay and clergy leaders (see articles, pages 8-9).
The five-day session attempted to have a more organized structure this year that improved the balance between theme and the business of the conference – and not keep people stuck in business hours after the event was slated to close. Key was the shifting of the final day of business to Saturday instead of Sunday, and moving the ordination service to the last day of conference (Sunday).
In addition to election for delegates, significant this year were a vote on a new, streamlined structure for the Connectional Ministries arm of the conference, a shift to a percentage-pay pharmacy benefit for the hundreds of clergy and staff insured across the state, and a more conservative budget for the coming year. Notable resolutions up for vote centered on a redistricting task force, immigration reform and support for the Global AIDS Fund. All passed.
Delegates to General and Jurisdictional Conferences
Eighteen people (nine clergy, nine laity) were elected to represent South Carolina at General Conference, which is the UMC’s quadrennial legislative gathering (see article, page 3). Eighteen additional delegates were also elected to represent the S.C. Conference at Jurisdictional Conference.
This year’s clergy delegation to General Conference has more women than it did a quadrennium ago – four women of the nine delegates (44.4 percent) this year compared to two women of the 10 delegates (20 percent) for the 2008 GC.
Rumors were circulating on the floor during Annual Conference that clergywomen had started a secret caucus to elect only women as General Conference delegates.
But that is far from the truth, said the Rev. Diane Moseley. Stemming from a powerful and uplifting sisterhood experience at the SEJ Clergy Women’s Consultation in April in Atlanta, South Carolina clergywomen did decide to come together and lift each other up, as well as try to get more women elected as delegates to General Conference. But Moseley and others said there were no secret meetings and they certainly did not vote only for women.
“We think the delegation needs to be representative of this diverse Annual Conference, both in gender and in race,” Moseley said. “This clergy delegation better represents the S.C. Annual Conference.”
As for the diversity of the whole delegation this and last quadrennium:
2008 GC, clergy: 10 delegates, 2 women, 3 African-Americans
2012 GC, clergy: 9 delegates, 4 women, 3 African-Americans
2008 GC laity: 10 delegates, 7 women, 3 African-Americans
2012 GC laity: 9 delegates, 3 women, 2 African-Americans
2008 SEJ clergy: 10 delegates, 5 women, 2 African-Americans, 1 Hispanic
2012 SEJ clergy: 9 delegates, 5 women, 3 African-Americans
2008 SEJ laity: 10 delegates, 5 women, 2 African-Americans
2012 SEJ laity: 9 delegates, 7 women, 3 African-Americans
The body passed the conference’s $17,175,808 budget in barely more than half an hour – and that included time to debate and defeat a petition.
Calling today’s economy “weak and far less dependable than in the past,” Council on Finance and Administration Vice Chair the Rev. David Surrett told the body the 2012 budget was considerably more conservative than it has been in the past.
With a stated CF&A goal to move the budget to 15 percent of total conference average net funds by 2015, Surrett said the 2012 budget is 17.23 percent of ANF. It reflects a total overall percent change of -1.3 percent from 2011 to 2012.
Surrett also explained that $5,000 in administrative costs prompted by the redistricting task force resolution (see article, page 6) will be reflected in moving $5,000 from the contingency fund to the Administrative Committees’ line item (CF&A Report 3) and will not change the total budget.
Surrett moved for the adoption of CF&A’s entire report.
The Rev. Bob Huggins proposed a motion to form a task force that address churches that are 120 days delinquent on pension payments and health insurance, citing concerns that these delinquencies could affect the future program and the conference’s ability to meet future problems.
The Rev. Sara White said the conference benefits office and CF&A can deliver those reports without the financial expenditure and large body of work involved in a task force.
The motion failed.
Moments, later, the body approved the 2012 budget.
Connectional Ministries structure
The body also approved a new structure for Connectional Ministries designed to be better organized, better managed and ultimately more connectional.
The new structure completely changes the old model, which featured a large Conference Council of Connectional Ministries responsible for connecting local churches with the conference. The new model creates a smaller, 100-member entity renamed the Conference Connectional Ministries, comprising representatives from each of the 12 new District Connectional Ministries bodies organized into four separate areas of ministry (discipleship, advocacy, outreach and lay leadership).
The Rev. Willie Teague, director of Connectional Ministries, said the primary purpose of the conference is to make disciples for Jesus Christ by equipping its local churches for ministry – which is precisely why the new structure was created.
“Until we do a good job at equipping … we should not be concerned with anything else,” Teague said. “(With this new structure), we are beginning not just a new process, but a new way of evaluating the effectiveness of equipping and connecting local churches for ministry, all to the glory of God.”
The CCCM accepted without discussion an amendment offered by the Rev. Daniel Flessas that key actions and decisions made by conference boards, agencies, etc. be made available on the conference website within two weeks, excepting confidential matters.
The Rev. Fran Conley, Scranton Charge pastor, asked how funding will be implemented, and Teague explained that it is
already in the budget and was not increased over 2010 funding.
The structure passed overwhelmingly.
Pension and Health Benefits
Without much debate, the body also approved the report of the Board of Pensions and Health Benefits.
Represented by Chairman Herman Lightsey, the board presented a plan that enables no increase in insurance premiums for the hundreds of clergy and conference employees across the state who receive benefits. But the plan changes the pharmacy benefit from a fixed co-payment to a percentage co-pay on any drug beyond a generic Tier 1. People will pay a 25 percent co-pay on preferred Tier 2 brand-name drugs, and a 30 percent co-pay on non-preferred Tier 3 drugs.
For generic Tier 1 drugs, people will pay a fixed-rate co-pay: $12 at a retail pharmacy and $20 for Medco by Mail (a three-month supply).
Also, the board will offer an optional high deductible plan (Health Reimbursement Arrangement) in 2012 where the conference will fund $1,000/year, and participants can roll that money over to the next year with no limit.
“It’s looking at what the market will bear … so we can stabilize those premiums,” Lightsey said. Paraphrasing the Rev. David Anderson, conference benefits office, Lightsey called it “putting a little of your skin in the pot.”
Huggins, who later presented a motion on this during CF&A’s report, questioned whether delinquencies are reported. Anderson said the conference is receiving 95 percent of billings, but that over the last three years, there were about $1.3 million in delinquencies. Huggins expressed great concern about the future of conference pensions and benefit if “we don’t get a grip on this.”
Resolutions on immigration, redistricting evaluation, more
Immigration reform, redistricting evaluation, AIDS and other key pieces of legislation fueled much debate during the five days of Annual Conference. And while lengthy debate ensued on two of the three resolutions, members of Annual Conference ultimately agreed to support them. (See article, page 6.)
Several other resolutions – on United Methodist Volunteers in Mission, funds in trustee custody and discontinued churches – also passed,
Rounding out the rest of Annual Conference were hearty worship services led by the Revs. Jeff Kersey, Telley Gadson and Michael Turner (see pages 9-11); 2011 conference awards (see page 12); ordination service for provisional or full deacons and elders (see page 2); memorial service (see page 17) and service for clergy retirees (see page 13).
Annual Conference 2012 will be held at the Florence Civic Center. Dates will return to the Sunday to Wednesday format and are June 10-13.
For more information about Annual Conference 2011, visit the conference website at www.umcsc.org . Available are audio from teaching time sessions, elected delegates, order forms for videos of the event, photos and appointments. For questions about other available media or for a copy of the memorial or retirement DVD, etc., contact Director of Communications Matt Brodie at firstname.lastname@example.org or 803-786-9486, ext. 265.