The South Carolina Conference of United Methodists returned Sunday to the Florence Civic Center for its Annual Conference. The conference, which will run through Thursday, will prepare the church and its delegates for General Conference next year in Portland, Oregon.
Ruby McKenzie, from Sumter, said she has enjoyed attending conference for years, in varying capacities, as a delegate, the vice president for the UMC women and now as a spectator.
“(Annual Conference) is where you get a lot of information about the things that we believe,” McKenzie said. “With the various colleges and the various church offices providing information, more people should be coming, really, to attend the conference so they can find out what the United Methodist Church is doing.”
McKenzie said the UMC is a denomination focused on helping others, and she takes pleasure in hearing about the work that her church does to help those in need.
“A lot of us believe in building the big churches with steeples on top, and we do that, too, but we don’t put that up front,” McKenzie said. “We try to do what God wants us to do by helping others in the community and overseas; wherever help is needed, you’ll find a United Methodist Church there.”
There are several items on the conference agenda, including voting on an anti-bullying petition as well as a petition to change the language in the Book of Discipline regarding homosexuality.
Matt Brodie, director of communications for the South Carolina Conference of United Methodists, said that the latter petition will take the Book of Disciplines language proposal to the General Conference.
“Next year at General Conference, Annual Conferences from all of the country will have different petitions, resolutions, things that they are trying to get passed; much like how the government runs,” Brodie said. “In this case, with the petition dealing with the language in the Book of Discipline, a group called Reconciling Ministries … has submitted this petition, and the body (in Florence now) will vote it up or down.”
Brodie said an affirmative vote will take the petition to General Conference for consideration. He said depending on other petitions at the 2016 meeting, some potentially similar in nature, the SC UMC petition may or may not be voted on.
The petition asks the General Conference to remove the phrase “The United Methodist Church does not condone the practice of homosexuality and considers that practice incompatible with Christian teaching” from the 2012 Book of Discipline.
Even if the petition does not receive a majority “yes” vote from the SC conference, Brodie said it still can be submitted by an individual to the General Conference, simply without the endorsement.
A pastor cannot perform a gay marriage based on the current language in the Book of Discipline.
Though it is not a current issue, Brodie said a denominational split can be a concern for some people when it comes to politically charges issues.
“With our current political climate, everything seems to be on one end or another, and it is really for people to come to the middle,” Brodie said. “That being said, one of the wonderful things about the United Methodist Church is that we are much more centered than people realize. We have people on both sides of the spectrum, and as a Methodist, part of our philosophy means maintaining that middle. That doesn’t necessarily mean compromise in terms of scripture, but we have a history of figuring out how to work through our differences.”
Brodie said the church was built on love and inclusion and that regardless of the decision, it will continue to do that for everyone.
McKenzie said that she hopes the SC UMC leaders will make a sound decision.
“I hope that they’ll make a good judgment call when they do the votes to decide on these things, because it is pertinent to us for them to do the right thing,” McKenzie said. “I try not to judge anyone; that’s up to God. We are all sinful and fall short of the glory of God. Now that the military has accepted them (gays) and everything, why not change the language? Why fight a dead horse?”
The conference will also include a vote on whether the conference will return to Florence for future meetings.
A presentation will also be made for the Imagine No More Malaria campaign that the church is working on to help fight the deadliness of the disease in developing countries.