Breakout sessions offer answers, pose questions (June 10, 2004)

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

Breakout sessions offer answers, pose questions

June 10, 2004    News media contact:  Michael Wacht*    
407-897-1140     Orlando  {0091}

An e-Review Feature
By John M. De Marco**

DAYTONA BEACH — A series of Thursday evening small group panels at the 2004 Florida Annual Conference Event June 3-6 at Bethune-Cookman College here facilitated healthy discussion of impending changes to the conference’s districts and churches and also left some with more questions than answers.

The breakout sessions were intended to provide information and dialogue concerning key proposals offered by the ongoing Conference Table meetings across the state. Numerous clergy and laity attended the 16 simultaneous small group meetings, which included one each in Spanish and Creole.

DAYTONA BEACH — The Rev. Clarke Campbell-Evans (far left), former superintendent of the Miami District, leads delegates to the 2004 Florida Annual Conference Event here in a breakout session June 3 to discuss proposals recommended by the Conference Table. Photo by Geoff Anderson, Photo #04-0029.

The focal point of many of the breakout discussions was the proposed restructuring and reduction of the conference’s districts, along with the “clustering” of congregations in order to maximize and synergize time, resources, ministries, gifts and ideas.
“The purpose of the sessions was for people to have a chance to be heard, for their concerns to be expressed, and any other questions answered,” said the Rev. Dr. Anne Burkholder, director of Connectional Ministries. “It provided an environment where they could also talk to each other, which we don’t do well in the plenary session. We felt it was extremely important for people to hear each other.”

The Rev. David Beers, pastor of Silver Palm United Methodist Church in Homestead, attended one of the sessions.

“The cabinet has really prepared well for the changes and has contingency plans in place and communicated that well,” he said. “It seemed most laypersons in the meeting weren’t aware of all the details and expressed their concerns, but they [the facilitators] were able to communicate some of the issues and allay some of their concerns about throwing everything up into the air.”
As a pastor, Beers felt he became better informed through the session and thought the Conference Table had prayerfully recommended its ideas. “I think it’s a good move for the conference,” he added.
Regarding the future of facilitating such focus groups during the annual conference event, Beers felt his session was overcrowded and could have benefited from targeting specific topics, rather than an open forum atmosphere.
The Rev. Emily Denmark, incoming associate pastor at St. Paul’s United Methodist Church in Tallahassee, said her group sought to embrace dialogue on changes to the conference camping ministries and the Council on Ministries itself, but discussion of the redistricting and clustering dominated the evening. Denmark thought the breakout sessions were an effective way to not over-utilize conference floor time answering questions regarding the proposed changes.
“It opened my eyes to what some of the other districts are doing to prepare their churches for the changes,” she added.
The Rev. Brian Fowler, pastor of Fleming Island United Methodist Church in Green Cove Springs, said he felt his session did not produce any answers as to how the cluster groups would be formed. “The best explanation that we could get was, ‘Well, we’re on the edge of the wilderness, and we don’t know exactly what’s going to happen,’ “ he said. “People came expecting to get some answers. They were disappointed when they didn’t get any.”
Some expressed uncertainty regarding whether the redistricting and clustering will produce any significant cost savings, according to the Rev. Craig Hammond, pastor of Wellspring United Methodist Church in Tampa. “There also was concern over would implementing the cluster groups be forced or would congregations be allowed to align themselves with other congregations based on mission, affinity and purpose.”
For the future, Hammond suggested improved organization for the breakout sessions. He said those who facilitated the group he attended were informed they were leading it only the day prior.
The Rev. Phil Roughton, pastor of First United Methodist Church of Ormond Beach, said he left his breakout session early over disappointment with the nature of the concerns being expressed by some.

“It seemed that people’s immediate default reaction to the coming changes was, ‘Who is going to have the power and control?’ And that’s antithetical to what we [as Christians] believe,” Roughton said.
Regarding the future of these proposals and their discussion, Burkholder said, “It’s going to be really important for us through the course of the year and at next annual conference, to communicate to people how the transition is going. It’s very clear to me that there’s a high level of anxiety about this much change taking place.”

She added, “We cannot over-communicate what’s going on in the annual conference. Next year’s conference will be too early to pass judgment one way or another on these changes; it’s going to take another year and a year beyond that.”

To view daily photos of the event’s activities and business visit


This article relates to the 2004 Florida Annual Conference Event.

*Wacht is director of Florida United Methodist Communications and managing editor
of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**De Marco is an ordained Florida Conference elder and a freelance writer, speaker and consultant.

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