2015 South Carolina Conference
Imploring the risen God to transform our hard hearts into hearts of love and caring, no matter our trials, Bishop Jonathan Holston preached the opening worship service of Annual Conference, kicking off five days of celebration, fellowship and holy conferencing.
By the time annual conference ended Thursday, June 11, the body had passed a $16.8 budget for 2016, elected delegates to United Methodist General and Jurisdictional conferences, voted on new resolutions and petitions, ordained and commissioned 33 clergy, launched a new $1 million Imagine No Malaria initiative for next year and packed more than 285,000 Stop Hunger Now meals for hungry families in Uganda. And it was all coordinated by a new conference secretary, the Rev. Ken Nelson, whom Holston lifted up for a “job well done.”
“I truly believe in South Carolina we are the people God has called to make a difference — good people God has poured some hope into and are making a difference in the midst of the lives of the folk in this place,” Holston said, referring to the “Becoming Disciples God Can Use” theme of this year’s conference, held June 7-11 at the Florence Civic Center. “My friends, could you ask for anything more?”
For the first time, the body used electronic balloting to vote both on legislation and to elect delegates. While the process had a high learning curve and some connectivity issues, the technology overall speeded up the voting process, plus allowed for quicker and more accurate tallying of votes, particularly in very close delegation elections.
In addition to business and meal-packing, Annual conference also featured performances by the acclaimed Africa University Choir; worship and celebrations honoring retiring clergy and memorializing others; a worship celebrating young adults and service, Bible studies by Dr. Paul Harmon; awards; a Mission Fair showcase ministries of local churches across the state; passage of pension and health benefit changes; election of a new conference treasurer.
Annual conference spent four days electing its lay and clergy delegates to the 2016 General and Southeastern Jurisdictional conferences. There were 51 lay nominees and 827 clergy nominees.
The body was tasked this year to elect 16 delegates (eight clergy and eight laity) to General Conference, and 16 additional delegates (eight clergy and eight laity), plus alternates, who will go to Jurisdictional Conference with the General Conference delegates.
General Conference is the global United Methodist Church’s quadrennial legislative gathering set for May 10-20, 2016, in Portland, Oregon, where representatives from all over the world examine, discuss, pray, debate and eventually determine a host of key legislative issues that will become church law for the next four years. The Southeastern Jurisdictional Conference, which begins July 13, 2016, at Lake Junaluska, North Carolina, is held every four years primarily to elect bishops.
Budget passes, new treasurer elected
With no fanfare or debate, the body unanimously passed a nearly $16.8 million conference budget for 2016, plus officially elected Elizabeth Westbury as the new conference treasurer and director of administrative services. The Council on Finance and Administration selected Westbury in the spring after former treasurer Tony Prestipino accepted a new position as treasurer of the Florida Conference.
The Council on Finance and Administration spent long hours crafting the $16,789,386 budget, which enables the conference to pay for everything from global funds like Africa University to South Carolina campus ministries, congregational development and camps and retreats.
The council’s chair, the Rev. David Surrett, said the 2016 budget is a 0.48 percent increase over last year’s budget and continues the council’s target goal of at or around 15 percent of the cumulative average of all the churches’ net funds.
“The council again has prayerfully and reflectively considered the needs of ministries in South Carolina from the seashore to the mountains and how we can be disciples God can use in a far more excellent way,” Surrett told the body.
In addition to the budget vote, Surrett delved into what he called “a sad situation” — the issue of the conference’s cancelled bond coverage. Conference Chancellor Kay Crowe had announced two days prior that the conference will no longer provide bond coverage for churches after Aug. 15 because of a number of significant bond losses. Bond insurance covers a church in case of misuse of funds, robbery or financial dishonesty by lay volunteers or staff, Surrett said. Crowe said the conference insurance will no longer write a blanket fidelity coverage because of a number of “very large” bond losses in South Carolina United Methodist churches — three alone during this church year.
Surrett suggested four brief ways churches can prevent losses: Have clear written and approved financial policies, exercise dual financial control (not allowing one person to perform all financial functions), conduct an annual audit and do not make assumptions about a church’s finances.
“This may seem opposition of Christian faith, but not assuming is critical to your church’s financial health and strong stewardship,” Surrett said.
He also lifted up the next stewardship summit, set for March 5, 2016, at Simpsonville United Methodist Church, Simpsonville, featuring Ken Callahan.
Conference approved resolutions to oppose bullying in all its forms and to authorize the sale of the property owned by the Board of South Carolina United Methodist Camps and Retreats Ministries (Sewee Coastal Retreat Center). A third resolution, “Supporting, Recognizing and Honoring the Services of Law Enforcement Officers,” was withdrawn.
Petitions struck down
The South Carolina Conference has voted not to petition General Conference on two issues: deleting language in the denomination’s Book of Discipline on homosexuality as incompatible with Christian teaching and withdrawing two United Methodist entities from the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice.
Stop Hunger Now
Hundreds of youth and adult meal-packers gathered during annual conference for a massive conference effort to fight back against hunger. The volunteers packed 285,000 meals, which have been sent to Uganda courtesy of international hunger-relief organization Stop Hunger Now.
$1M Imagine No Malaria initiative launched
Also at annual conference, an Imagine No Malaria team announced the bishop has committed South Carolina to a new God-sized dream: raising $1 million to offer life-giving hope in sub-Saharan Africa through The United Methodist Church’s Imagine No Malaria initiative. The global United Methodist Church has already raised $66 million in pledges and gifts to fight the mosquito-borne disease that has claimed the lives of millions — including children.
“We hope South Carolina can make that $67 million with our $1 million pledge,” said the Rev. Jeri Katherine Warden Sipes, the conference’s new field coordinator for Imagine No Malaria.
Sipes was joined onstage by the Rev. Mike Alexander and Holston’s wife, Felecia Holston, who are leading the conference Imagine No Malaria committee. The committee will announce soon how United Methodist churches can help.
Sipes shared that 594,000 people die from malaria every year. Three-fourths of those deaths are children younger than 5. Every 60 seconds a child dies of malaria. With adequate funds, she said, the disease is treatable, beatable and preventable.
Pensions and health
Annual conference also unanimously approved the report of the Conference Board of Pensions and Health Benefits. Their report includes, among other things, a new private marketplace option for clergy retirees (a replacement in 2016 for the old economy plan); no increase in direct billing for pensions; and an increase of 6.5 percent in health benefit premiums.
“Pensions and health in South Carolina is in very good condition,” Chair Herman Lightsey told the body. “We will continue our vow to you to continue to look, in this changing environment, to provide retirees and clergy — active and future — the best.”
Dates for next year’s annual conference will be June 5-8, 2016, again at the Florence Civic Center despite the Committee on the Annual Conference’s desire to move the location to Greenville. The body did not approve setting aside the standing rules (which require a two-year advance notice) to allow a vote on Greenville for 2016. Nelson instead proposed Greenville at the site for 2017, which was approved.
More details about this year’s annual conference are at ac15.umcsc.org. To order DVDs of various portions of annual conference, such as ordination, download the order form at that website.
— Jessica Brodie, editor of the S.C. United Methodist Advocate newspaper