Some 1,000 lay and clergy members participated in the 2020 South Carolina Annual Conference on Saturday, Oct. 17 – the first time members have convened in an all-virtual session amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
Bishop L. Jonathan Holston opened the historic session by imploring the Holy Spirit to "unite us as one church" – despite the hundreds of miles of distance between participants representing local churches across the conference.
"For the last seven to eight months, we have lived in the midst of a global pandemic and racial unrest that has wreaked havoc on our lives and communities," Bishop Holston said. "We have had to make adjustments in the way that we live out our faith and do our work together.
"So, I thank you for your willingness to embrace a new normal on this day as we continue to seek a more excellent way beyond the bounds of expectations."
A limited number of conference leaders and staff gathered at Journey United Methodist Church in Columbia to conduct the session. All participants wore facemasks and practiced social distancing and other safety precautions to protect against potential spread of the virus.
GNTV Media Ministry, the conference's media partner, hosted the virtual gathering via Zoom Video Webinar and facilitated all voting by lay and clergy members on its own secure platform tailored for annual conferences. GNTV also livestreamed the session via YouTube.
Conference planners condensed the AC2020 program – typically scheduled over a four-day conference – into a half-day centered largely on business matters that The Book of Discipline mandates must come to a vote each year. Lay and clergy members began the session by approving several organizational motions that allowed them to conduct business electronically and in an expedited manner.
The 2020 Clergy Session convened virtually on Aug. 1. The 2020 Service for Ordination and Commissioning took place with limited attendance Aug. 8 at St. John's United Methodist Church in Aiken. The service also was live-streamed on YouTube with assistance from GNTV.
AC2020 members approved the report of the Council on Finance and Administration, which includes the $16,470,816 conference budget for 2021. The 2021 budget is $358,034 lower than the 2020 budget – a 2.1 % decrease. The Conference Administration Fund for 2021 was set at $1,614,348, up 4 % from 2020. The Conference Benevolences Fund for 2021 was set at $2,458,709, up 0.4 % from 2020.
With the extension of the 2016 quadrennium due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the election of all quadrennial annual conference boards, councils and committees – as well as the election of the conference secretary – has been delayed at least until January 2022. AC2020 members did elect hundreds of members nominated to dozens of non-quadrennial boards and committees. Those can be found in the report of the Committee on Nominations.
Standing Rule Changes- Standing Rules 27.d and 28.e – Alternate lay and clergy delegates elected to Jurisdictional and General Conference will be paid the same per diem and travel expenses as other delegates elected to those conferences.
- Standing Rule 48 – Multiple revisions to bring the rule into line with the current practices of Connectional Ministries.
- Standing Rule 57 – Moves the nomination process for the Board of Trustees of the South Carolina United Methodist Advocate under Connectional Ministries instead of the Conference Committee on Nominations.
Predatory Lending- The resolution from the Advocacy Area of Connectional Ministries encourages state and federal lawmakers to cap usury fees and interest rates for small-dollar loans at 36 percent; encourages financial institutions, foundations, state and federal government to develop non-high-interest financial products that meet the needs of low-income residents for small-dollar loans to address emergencies; and encourage Annual Conference members to urge lawmakers, financial institutions, funders and decision-makers to address the unjust effects of high-cost lenders – including consumer finance, payday lending and auto title lending.
Church Closings- Three resolutions from the cabinet approved the ad-interim closure of Christ United Methodist Church, Carolina Forest; Greeleyville United Methodist Church, Greeleyville; and Piedmont Park United Methodist Church, Taylors.
Other Reports- The cabinet
- Board of Pension & Health Benefits
- Board of Ordained Ministry
- Commission on Equitable Compensation
- Conference Lay Leader
- Charge Line Changes
The 2021 South Carolina Conference is scheduled for June 6-9, 2021, at the Florence Center in Florence, South Carolina.
Bishop Holston: "Let's all step out and step up"
In his Sending Forth sermon closing AC2020, Bishop Holston thanked South Carolina United Methodists – lay and clergy alike – for continuing the mission and ministry of Jesus Christ amid an unprecedented pandemic.
"Even in the midst of our trials and our adversity and our defeats and our critics," he said, "even in the midst of tribulation and anxiety and dysfunction and criticism, we have addressed this challenge before us with God's grace and God's mercy.
"And we have sought God through praying, to believing, and to knowing that we can all seek a more excellent way beyond all expectations."
He challenged us to awaken each day with "a new hope, a new opportunity, a new way to grow and to be."
"I'm asking you to step out with a sense of faith and resolve," Bishop Holston said. "With ears open to hearing how God is calling us and hearts open to respond to that call, we can embrace this new opportunity to be a beacon of hope in a hurting world.
"Let's not only step out but step up. Let's step up because we are a community of believers who serve a mighty God who has plans for us – plans to prosper us and not harm us, plans to give us hope, and plans to give us a future. Let us step up to what God has for us."
Bishop Holston reminded us that annual conference is not just a time for business, it is a time for dreaming, for doing a new thing, for new possibilities.
"Whenever you step out to do something bold and fearless, you need faith and resolve," he said. "Whenever you step out beyond caution, you need grace and mercy. And whenever you speak out to take a risk to do something that is innovative and pioneering, there will be a lot of challenges that you have to overcome.
"It takes courage to think big. It takes courage to have God-sized vision. It takes courage for you to step out into the unknown and know that there are steps there, already prepared for you."
Bishop Holston centered his message on Ephesians 3:14-21, Paul's prayer for the church at Ephesus.
"This prayer is not a list of assignments for us to carry out," he said. "It doesn't provide expectations for us to meet. It doesn't have demands for us to shoulder. God is not carrying around a clipboard or some kind of checklist or a to-do list for us to do. This prayer lets us know that God loves us.
"We do the work we do because we know that God loves us. God loves us enough to send us a savior. God loves us enough to forgive us when we turn away. God loves us enough to give us opportunity to move forward even when we are fearful of the next step."
Guest speakers and memorable points or quotes by speakers:
Bishop James E. Swanson Sr., resident bishop of the Mississippi Conference, brought the message to the August 8 Service for Commissioning and Ordination. He encouraged the newly ordained and commissioned to model their ministry as "Life Givers" on the symbiotic relationship between shepherd and sheep. "Sheep are skittish; they like calm water It's your job as a shepherd not to get caught up in a lot of the stuff that's going on, but to be a non-anxious presence… Sometimes, we let predators in among our folks, because we are not willing to sacrifice ourselves on behalf of our people. That's why you need power beyond yourself, because some predators are more powerful than you. You provide the
Names of delegates for 2021 General Conference:
Lay delegates: Jackie Jenkins, James Salley, Michael Cheatham, Herman Lightsey, Chris Lynch, Martha Thompson, Dave Braddon and Emily Evans.
Clergy delegates: Rev. Ken Nelson, Rev. Dr. Robin Dease, Rev. Keith Hunter, Rev. Susan Leonard, Rev. Emily Sutton, Rev. Will Malambri, Rev. Tiffany Knowlin and Rev. Karen Jones.
Number of people ordained as elders: 10
Number of people commissioned as provisional elders: 8
Number of people commissioned as provisional deacons: 2
Number of clergy retired: 44
2019 Membership stands at 217,681, down from 220,318 in 2018 (and 222,813 in 2017).
2019 Worship attendance stands at 88,283 down from 89,525 in 2018 (but up from 88,058 in 2017).
2019 Church school attendance stands at 31,931, down from 32,898 in 2018.
Professions or reaffirmations of faith for 2019: 2,378, down from 2,514 in 2018.
Adults and young adults in small groups for 2019: 52,477, down from 54,575 in 2018.
Worshippers engaged in mission for 2019: 42,942, down from 47,349 in 2018.
—Submitted by Dan O'Mara, conference director of communications.
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