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Bishop L. Jonathan Holston opened the 2019 South Carolina Annual Conference on Sunday by declaring, “Hope is a four-letter word,” and encouraging delegates to center the week’s work on what God has planned for the United Methodist Church, not what we might want for it personally.

“Some of you may have come here to Annual Conference armed for battle, ready to give someone a piece of your mind,” he said during his Opening Worship sermon. “But you’ve got to drop the armament and pick up your prayer shawl and wrap it around you and start thinking about how God has already blessed you.

“Find ways to be in conversation. Seek places of unity, not disunity. Begin to focus on our mission and ministry together.”

In hopes of setting a tone of conciliation, rather than rancor, in anticipated debate over decisions about human sexuality made during the 2019 General Conference, Bishop Holston implored all United Methodists to trust in “a future with hope” as promised in Jeremiah 29:11-13.

He deployed a mnemonic device in laying out what he means by that hopeful future.

“Hope is a four-letter word because we are Hanging on to the promises of God, we are Overcoming adversity, we are Pursuing truth, and we are Enduring patiently,” Bishop Holston said. “Sometimes getting to where you need to be, you’ve got to go through some stuff.

“If we as a church allow God to live in us, then God will use us to make a difference in the world. In the midst of all of this complexity, there is hope, there is opportunity, there is a way we can rise above our situation and see what God is calling us to be.”

The annual gathering of some 2,000 clergy and lay delegates is scheduled to run through Thursday. By then, amid other business, the conference will have elected eight lay delegates and eight clergy delegates to the 2020 General Conference, and decided on whether to support three proposed petitions submitted in response to action taken during the 2019 Special Session of General Conference in February.

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