The 170th session of the Florida Annual Conference will be held next week on Thursday through Friday, June 14-16, 2012 at the Lakeland Center. On Wednesday afternoon at 2:00 p.m. there will be special workshops to help leaders strengthen the ministries of their local churches. On Thurday the laity and clergy sessions will begin at 10:00 a.m., and the opening plenary of the conference will begin at 1:30 p.m.
The theme of our conference will be Transforming the World by Being United in Christ. A lack of unity among Christians makes a wreck of Christians' witness to the world since our witness is that God has reconciled the world in Jesus Christ. Yet unity is not an ideal; it is a task. It is not something that can be taken for granted, but requires firm committment by the grace of God. The problem of division is directly related to our need for redemption from sin, for our individualism and divisions are the signs of our original sin of being fallen from God's presence and purposes. Given the roots of division in the power of sin, it is not surprising that the task of being united is one of the more difficult and perilous of all Christian endeavors. Being united is an on-going challenge for a local congregation. As the task of unity expands to include congregations in a conference, or conferences within one church, or the many churches, then it becomes exceedingly complex.
To help us get some perspective, I have invited Dr. Michael Kinnamon to speak to us. A Disciples of Christ minister, he is the former head of the National Council of Churches of Christ in America, and I think he is the most knowledgeable person in our country on ecumenism. To celebrate our full communion with the African Methodist Episcopal Church and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, I have invited Bishop John White, the ecumenical officer of the AME Church, to preach at the Communion service on Thursday night and Bishop Ed Benoway of the Florida-Bahamas Synod of the ELCA to preach at the Ordination service on Friday night. We are also grateful to have with us President Gesner Paul of the Methodist Church in Haiti for the signing of a new covenant between our conference and their district. The Rev. Russell Meyer, head of the Florida Council of Churches, will also be present to greet us.
Over the years I have greatly reduced the amount of talk that takes place during the plenary sessions of the annual conference. The only reports which are presented orally are those which require approval of the conference or pertain to important common ministries of the conference. It is assumed that it is not necessary to discuss every important facet of the conference's ministry at every annual conference. Generally this year there will be oral presentations of the Strategic Leadership Team, the Bishop's Capital Campaign, and the administrative committees of the conference pertaining to real property, insurance, pensions and health benefits, and the annual conference budget. The Strategic Leadership Team will present a plan for the conference on Thursday afternoon.
By the end of this conference I will have presided over twelve sessions of the Florida Annual Conference. Melba and I want to thank you for accepting us to live and work among you over the past eleven years and several months. I look forward to being with you one last time as your presiding bishop.