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The 1915 Annual Conference

Written By: Phillip Stone - Jun• 02•15

This was my June column for the SC United Methodist Advocate.  Next week, South Carolina Methodists will gather for our Annual Conference.  

As South Carolina’s Methodists gather in Florence for Annual Conference, let’s look back a century and see where we gathered in 1915.

Of course, in those days, Annual Conference met in the fall instead of late spring. And following the action of the 1914 General Conference and 1914 Annual Conference, the conference had divided in two. With African-American Methodists in a separate Annual Conference, that meant three conferences met in South Carolina that year.

The first session of the Upper South Carolina Conference met on November 24, 1915 at Bethel Church in Spartanburg. The Advocate noted that “the place of meeting is the beautiful new Bethel Church, Spartanburg…. While it is the youngest Annual Conference in the world, it is nevertheless one of the greatest. It is composed of a body of about 130 aggressive clerical members…. It represents about 50,000 lay members, and is situated in a compact, healthy, and very beautiful territory. The Bethel people constitute one of the best congregations in our Southern Methodism.”

Collins Denny presided over the session, which had to organize the new conference from scratch. The presiding elders, acting as the committee on nominations, appointed committees on public worship, on Sabbath observance, on temperance, on conference relations, and even a committee to review district conference journals. As was the custom, members of the conference stayed in the homes of Spartanburg Methodists, including a number of Wofford faculty members. The faculty at Converse College invited the Conference to dinner on the Thursday night of Conference. That might have been a Thanksgiving dinner, since that Thursday happened to be Thanksgiving Day. (And current conference members used to complain about attending Annual Conference on Memorial Day!) Bishop Alpheus W. Wilson preached the Thanksgiving sermon to an overflow crowd at Bethel.

The Upper South Carolina Conference recognized that the 1866 Conference was meeting at the same time, also in Spartanburg, and sent fraternal greetings to the conference. Interestingly, the conference’s members received enough mail that the Spartanburg Post Office set up a temporary mail room in a Sunday School classroom.

As soon as Bishop Denny had adjourned the Upper South Carolina Conference on Monday, November 29, he must have boarded a train to head for Charleston. That’s where the South Carolina Conference convened on Wednesday, December 1, at 9:00, at Trinity Methodist Church. That conference also met for six days, which meant that Bishop Denny had spent 12 out of 13 consecutive days presiding over annual conferences! The staff of the Advocate had to work about as hard, covering both conferences, and many members of one wound up attending the other conference, as several clergy were transferring between conferences that year. Both conferences, in fact, gave the privilege of the floor to the members of the other conference.

The reports and events of both conferences took several weeks’ worth of Advocate pages to summarize, and no doubt Methodists all over the state used the paper to keep up with the goings-on at the two Annual Conferences. And no doubt the Methodists of South Carolina today will use the Advocate as well as more modern technologies, to keep up with the events in Florence.

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