Minding the rules: in new hands for 2016

Rev. Ken Minton, center, studies the agenda at the Annual Conference 2015 head table, the last annual business meeting for him as conference secretary. To his right is Rev. Beth Gardner, who assumes the role for 2016. Laurie Hofts, far left, and Florida Bishop Ken Carter, right, share a laugh with the crowd. Photo by Steve Wilkinson.

When the business of Florida Annual Conference 2015 concluded, longtime secretary Ken Minton was ready. 

“I was glad when the gavel banged and we were done,” said Minton, noting, “I didn’t have anybody in my ear.”

Minton’s is a familiar face to many in the Florida Conference, as he typically sits on stage beside the presiding bishop through the church’s annual business meeting. In June, he spent much of his last stint as conference secretary vocally guiding the delegate election process, even as questions and updates kept flowing into his earphone. At the end of the 2015 meeting, he relinquished the job he held for 11 years, leaving it to incoming conference secretary Beth Gardner.

Ken Minton sitting in wingback chair holding Florida Conference Journal
Rev. Ken Minton, seated in the pastor's office of First UMC, Zephyrhills, holds a copy of the 2014 Florida Annual Conference Journal. Oversight of the journal is a duty he passes on to new conference secretary Beth Gardner. Photo by B.C. Manion.

People often turn to the secretary when they need information, and it’s important to know the answer or where to find it, Minton said.

“Listening. Talking. Listening. Being ready. You have all of your antennas up during Annual Conference,” he said.

“On platform -- when we’re actually in session -- is a busy time because you’re always anticipating what’s next in order to have the bishop ready.”

There may be agenda items that need to be skipped or pushed to the next day, he said. There are some actions, though, that by rule can’t be delayed, he added.

Making sure the Annual Conference follows proper procedures and keeps accurate records is only part of the secretary’s job, said Minton, who assisted the previous secretary for 12 years before stepping into the role.

There’s also work to do before and after the conference.

The secretary acts as a go-between for the Annual Conference and the General Conference, making sure that Florida’s forms are filled out and reports completed for that top policy-making body of The United Methodist Church. 

There’s also communication with district superintendents and churches, as well as participation on various programming committees.

Minton, who often has been told he has a voice and delivery style fit for radio, is known for leading the quadrennial elections process during Annual Conference. But that’s an optional task that he took on because he enjoys it, he said.

“As the conference secretary, your only responsibility for an election is making sure that all of the persons elected have been registered, recorded and you’re interfacing them with the General Conference secretary, who is going to register the delegation,” he said.

On a yearly basis, the secretary produces the Annual Conference Journal, which contains the reports, action items, resolutions, leaders, delegates, budgets, pastoral appointments and other details from the meeting.

Minton has witnessed many changes during his tenure.

“When I started 11 years ago, we were still doing a lot of things by hand,” he said. 

For elections, that included manual equalization calculations and vote tallies. Counting votes required a bank of 30 to 40 people, who would sit in a back room tallying ballots.

The secretary gets a broad view of the church.

“It’s easy to see the very pedantic business side of the church that has to be done,” Minton said. “You’re seeing the behind-the-scenes working of the church.”

It’s important work. Even so, he said, “Hearing the dreams — that’s what I love.

Beth Gardner at Florida Annual Conference 2015
Rev. Beth Gardner, pastor at College Heights UMC, Lakeland, steps to the helm as Florida Annual Conference secretary. Photo by Lance Rothwell.

“When you’re sitting around a big circle and people are starting to say, ‘Well, you know, what we’ve been doing is great, but how about?’

“Boy, when I hear ‘How about,’ ‘What if,’ I get excited because people are dreaming outside the box or thinking about new and creative ways to reach people, to extend the ministry of the conference and the influence of the conference.”

At the same time, tending to the nuts and bolts is essential, said Minton, who began his ministry in Florida in 1985 and has been pastor at First UMC, Zephyrhills, since 2007.

“When you’re flying at 30,000 [feet], you still have to land. Somebody still has to be on the ground to bring it in. That idea has to come in somehow, into the structure, into the system, into the budget, into the process, into the calendar. Somebody’s got to make that happen,” he said.

As secretary, he said, “you’re the collective memory of how we’ve done things in the past, or decisions  that were made; what has been done or what process do we need to use; and what’s going on in the present; and anticipating what could come out of decisions that were made and questions that might arise,” he said.

“There’s a process for just about everything in the Methodist Church,” Minton said. “If you just work the system, the system works.”

Gardner, pastor at College Heights UMC, Lakeland, and former pastor of First UMC, Bunnell, has been learning that system, working with Minton in preparation for her new role as conference secretary.

“Beth is going to do really well,” Minton predicted.

Florida Bishop Ken Carter expressed appreciation for Minton’s work and confidence in Gardner’s abilities.

“I am very grateful for Ken Minton’s expertise in serving as the secretary of the Florida Conference.  As one new to this role, his presence alongside me in presiding and his guidance in identifying challenges along the way has been extraordinarily helpful,” said Carter, who became bishop in 2012 and presided over his first annual meeting in 2013.

“I know that Beth Gardner will be an excellent secretary of the Annual Conference; she is well aware of the complexities of the position and I appreciate her willingness to lead in this way.”

Gardner said her selection wasn’t a surprise because she’d been assisting Minton, and he had asked her if she would consider taking the job.

Minton has been a tremendous mentor, Gardner said, but she realizes she has much to learn. She’s looking forward to formal training for the role in 2016.

Gardner believes her listening skills and ability to remain calm will serve her well as secretary.

She wants to gain some experience and receive the training before deciding if she, like Minton, should handle the elections.

Despite the learning curve, she’s eager to embrace the challenge.

“I’m excited and honored,” Gardner said.

– B.C. Manion is a freelance writer based in Tampa.

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