Preparation for 2011 Annual Conference & 2012 General Conference

With thousands of details to oversee and hundreds of volunteers to recruit, preparations for two major events in the life of the Florida Conference keep moving ahead.

That’s the message from Marilyn Swanson, who is helping lead the way in coordinating numerous aspects of the 2011 Florida Annual Conference and the 2012 General Conference of the United Methodist Church. Swanson also continues in her ongoing role as director of Conference Disaster Recovery.

In her role as a leader of the 2012 General Conference Host Operations, Swanson connects all of the volunteer teams and ensures that there are no gaps in services nor overlaps in task completion. As the host conference, the Florida Conference will provide hospitality for the General Conference delegates and bishops. That event is set for April 23 to May 4, 2012.

“Offering a gift of warm welcome that provides a setting for the unity and health of the church” is the mission statement for the Florida hospitality team.

But before General Conference occurs, the Florida Conference will host its Annual Conference from June 1 to 4, 2011. The two events bear several things in common, including their venue – the Tampa Convention Center.

And at both events, volunteers will be needed to serve as greeters or in guest services and registration, among other roles. But during the 2011 Annual Conference, “volunteers will know this is a trial run for General Conference,” Swanson said.

More information will be available in early 2011 about Annual Conference volunteer opportunities and responsibilities, Swanson said. Online registration for volunteers will be available as soon as January for those who are interested to enter their names, e-mail addresses, and phone numbers. In March, the focus will shift to identifying volunteer skills and scheduling.

Another link between the two events is the selection of 22 delegates – 11 lay people and 11 clergy members – who will represent the Florida Conference at General Conference. People who are interested in becoming a 2012 General Conference delegate can access the self-nomination form and instructions at by clicking on the “General Conference Delegate Election” link. The deadline for completion is Feb. 15, 2011.

Election of delegates from the pool of self-nominated candidates will take place during the 2011 Florida Annual Conference. An election procedures committee will oversee the voting process, Swanson said.

General Conference helpers needed

As soon as the 2011 Annual Conference is completed, volunteers will be recruited for General Conference – where several thousand visitors are expected. About 1,000 helpers will be needed, with an average of 200 to 300 people in service per day. Most team leaders and coordinators already have been selected.

“…Matching the best place for the volunteer to serve with the team they need…I foresee that to be the hardest part – identifying that talent and matching it to the right place,” Swanson said.

The host team will have an operating budget of about $230,000 to $260,000 to conduct its business, Swanson said. The funds come from contributions from all Southeastern Jurisdiction Conferences of the United Methodist Church.

It is possible, however, that host team expenses may exceed these amounts, Swanson said. To cover any potential shortfall, the Rev. Tom Marston, retiring president of the Florida United Methodist Foundation, is pursuing sources of non-traditional revenue. For example, Marston hopes sponsors will underwrite the cost of providing healthy snacks at coffee breaks, Swanson said.

The responsibilities of the 2012 host team also include providing for the needs of the international delegates arriving from outside the United States.

“(Their needs) are very much being addressed. The General Board of Global Ministries (GBGM) will provide interpreters in all plenary and legislative sessions and interpreters in the hotel that hosts international delegates,” Swanson said. “And the host team will be welcoming them at the airport.”

The Rev. Dr. Jim Harnish, senior pastor of Hyde Park United Methodist Church in Tampa, serves as a member of the Commission on General Conference, as well as the chairperson of the Florida Hospitality Team. Helping international delegates is a challenge, he said, but the host team is ready.

The Rev. Bob Bushong, Carol Smith and the Rev. Paul Matheri of Kenya, members of the International Support Team, discuss hospitality for Central Conference Delegates.

“…One of the helpful elements is that (the Rev.) Bob Bushong is leading the team for international delegates and we have on that team a district superintendent (Paul Matheri) from Kenya, who has been a delegate in the past,” Harnish said. “…He is able to give us a lot of insight into how we best help the African delegates.”

Also scheduled at General Conference is a daytime Sabbath for the delegates, scheduled for Sunday, April 29. Area churches may invite delegates to attend their worship services that morning, Swanson said.

Focus stays on prayer

Frances Jennings, spiritual formation coordinator for the Florida Conference, believes prayer must be the underpinning for both events.

“We want prayer to be the very solid foundation that both Annual Conference and General Conference are built upon,” Jennings said.

With the help of her team, Jennings’ responsibilities include developing and staffing the prayer room at both events. At both conferences, the prayer space will follow a “sea” theme, with the room decorated in blue and green silks. It will include an altar, a labyrinth, and seating for individual or joint prayer. The various spaces will be partitioned off with curtains for privacy and quiet.

The room’s design will be arranged around three “R’s” – receive, rest and renewal – and will be welcoming and attractive, Jennings said.

“Where there may be noise in other places, this will be quiet,” Jennings said. “It’s a place of listening to God.”

Also, certified spiritual formation directors will be available to assist those who would like someone to pray with them. Further, there will be individuals wearing prayer badges on the convention center floor who can offer prayer assistance as well, Jennings said.

“In coming to the Methodist church, I take vows that are different from any other place.” Jennings said. “So what we attempt to do as a committee, (is) find ways to help people live that out, and one of the ways is through prayer.”

Harnish also hopes preparations for 2012 General Conference will center on another cause – the event’s spiritual meaning.

“We are trying to keep focused on the spiritual element in this,” Harnish said. “…So we are really trying very intentionally to keep our team centered in our life of prayer together and in a hope and a prayer and a vision that we might be able to help provide the setting in which the Spirit might renew and reenergize the denomination.”

The theme of denominational renewal was the focus of the work of several United Methodist Church groups across the past several years. The Call to Action steering committee, a team created by the Connectional Table and Council of Bishops, recently studied and made recommendations to enhance church vitality. The recommendations, which were presented to the Council of Bishops in Nov. 2010, suggest five areas of reform. More information about the recommendations can be found at [Click Here].

News media contact: Gretchen Hastings, 800-282-8011,, Lakeland
*Hastings is executive editor of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**De Marco is a freelance writer based in Franklin, Tenn.

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