AC 2018 | Sunday, June 3, 2018
GREENVILLE – In a rousing sermon, Bishop L. Jonathan Holston opened the 2018 South Carolina Annual Conference by calling on clergy and lay delegates to remember – against a backdrop of doubt from within and without – why the church was built.
“I say to those inside the church who might have given up on your church – maybe looking to find some kind of gracious exit? – and to those on the outside who have already written the church’s obituary: Jesus still draws.” Bishop Holston said. “God says all you’ve got to do is show up. Show up with grace, show up with love of God – just show up.
“There is nothing that will separate us from the love of God. Nothing will separate you, neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow – not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. Neither our addictions nor our narcissism, neither our appointments nor disappointments. Neither schism nor rumors of schism.
“So, tonight we commemorate. Tonight we celebrate. Tonight we lift up holy hands to the one who tells us that the church was built for God’s purpose – oh, yes it was – for God’s purpose, for God’s hope.”
Bishop Holston also led some 3,000 clergy and lay delegates in a celebration of the 50th anniversary of the United Methodist Church, which was created in 1968 when the Evangelical United Brethren Church and the Methodist Church united to form a new denomination.
“On April 23, 1968, some 18,296 days ago,” Bishop Holston said, “in the midst of cultural upheaval, in the midst of racism, in the midst of sexism, in the midst of ageism, in the midst of the Orangeburg Massacre, in the midst of the assassination of Martin Luther King, in the midst of Chicago, these words were spoken: ‘Lord of the church, we are united in thee, in thy church, and now in The United Methodist Church.’
“In the midst of our time of remembrance, we recognize that unification and ratification never happen all at once. We have to struggle to find our way. We didn’t really come together until 1972. It’s like being married: You think you know what to do, until somebody says, ‘I do,’ then you realize you’ve got a long way to go.”
Bishop Holston reminded delegates of the value of the United Methodist Connection.
“As we gather tonight to be God’s people, as we gather to seek God’s way, as we gather to share in this humbling experience in being in conference together,” he said, “we know that we can do more together than we can do by ourselves. You are the definition of what it is to be in connection.
“Even though we may not think alike, we love alike.”
Bishop Holston equated the Holy Spirit’s role with that of a paramedic who comes alongside us and helps us be the people God has called us to be: “Even when our hearts may not be right, God sends someone to give us a resuscitation.”
He walked those gathered at the TD Convention Center in Greenville through a litany of ways the church has been in mission on God’s behalf.
“The church was into education before the government even started talking about it,” he said. “That’s why we celebrate Claflin University. That’s why we celebrate Wofford College. That’s why we celebrate Spartanburg Methodist. That’s why we celebrate Columbia College. That’s why we celebrate Africa University.
“The church was feeding our hungry long before the community decided to do something about it. Healing the sick by transforming lives and restoring health and giving identity where needed. As a church, we’ve got more going on than what we think we do.
“Sometimes we think of the church as nothing but bricks and mortar, but the church is defined by people who have committed their lives to Jesus Christ, people who are dedicated to service in their community and wherever God leads them.”
Bishop Holston said people have been “bamboozled and hoodwinked” by one of the misguided messages propagated by today’s society.
“Most of us are engaged in a frenzy of self-improvement,” he said. “We have become more narcissistic. We are victims of our own inflated sense of self-importance – me, myself and I. We think we are a bag of chips and more. We have sold out to the self-improvement gospel.
“But here’s the truth: From dust we come, to dust we will return.”
- The $12,240.79 offering at the Opening Worship Service will be donated to Strength For Service, the non-profit that publishes and provides spiritual and inspirational literature for members of the armed services, law enforcement officers, firefighters, EMTs/paramedics and other community servants.
- Conference lay leaders introduced first-year lay delegates to the ins and outs of Annual Conference in two Orientation Sessions.
- More experienced lay delegates shared success stories from their local churches in two Laity Conversations.
- Clergy met behind closed doors to conduct business.
- Agencies from within and outside the South Carolina Conference shared information with visitors at information tables.
More photos from Opening Worship
(Photos by Matt Brodie)