Annual Conference Tries Tampa on for Size

Preparations for next year’s United Methodist General Conference in Tampa will absorb much of the attention of staff and delegates to the 2011 Florida Annual Conference, which meets June 1-4 at the Tampa Convention Center.

Delegates take a vote during the 2010 Annual Conference at The Lakeland Center. (Photo by Dave Summerill)
The election of clergy and lay delegations for the General and Southeastern Jurisdictional conferences will be a major item of business at the Annual Conference. And because the 2012 General Conference will be held in the same venue, this year’s Conference is considered something of a trial run for hosting the quadrennial meeting.
About 2,000 delegates and 1,000 guests are expected for the Annual Conference. Among other major items they will consider:
  • The launch of the public phase of the Bishop’s Capital Campaign;
  • The interim report of the Strategic Leadership Team, which is working on setting a vision for the Conference;
  • The renewal of global partnerships with the Methodist churches in Cuba, East Angola and Haiti, with Bishop Ricardo Pereira of Cuba delivering the sermon at worship on June 2;
  • A budget for 2012 that will put additional funding toward campus ministry;
  • And resolutions to be sent to General Conference on subjects of racism, abortion and homosexuality.
Bishop Timothy W. Whitaker
Bishop Timothy W. Whitaker, who will retire shortly after next year’s Annual Conference, has set a theme of “Transforming the World by Living as Peacemakers” for the meeting. A set of pre-conference workshops, the worship services and most of the plenary session speakers will reflect the theme of peacemaking.
The keynote speaker, the Rev. Dr. Daniel M. Bell Jr., is professor of theological ethics at Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary in Columbia, S.C., where he also directs the Methodist Studies program. An ordained United Methodist elder, he has written extensively about issues of war, politics and economics from a theological perspective.
The peacemaking theme is the last of four on various aspects of Transforming the World that Whitaker set for Annual Conference meetings for this quadrennium.
“Peacemaking is a major emphasis of the teachings and life of Jesus. … If the Annual Conference is going to fulfill its mission of bearing witness and transforming the world, it needs to pay attention to being peacemakers,” he said.
Whitaker will spend some time himself talking about peacemaking in the local congregation at an informal talk dubbed “An Evening with the Bishop” on June 3. He said it will focus on what he calls “churchcraft,” or paying attention to some basic practices within the community of the church.
The election of General Conference delegates is always a subject of intense interest, and this year is no exception. Because there will be two bishops elected at the Jurisdictional Conference next year, the leader of the clergy delegation to the 2012 General Conference is potentially a candidate for one of those episcopal posts.
The Florida Conference will be represented by 22 delegates – 11 clergy and 11 lay – at General Conference. That makes Florida and Western North Carolina the third-largest delegations behind the Virginia and North Georgia conferences, which have 26 delegates apiece, but marks a decrease from the 26 delegates Florida was allotted in the 2008 delegation.
The Jurisdictional Conference delegation also will consist of 11 clergy and 11 laity.
There are 78 lay persons and 87 clergy nominated to be delegates. For a list of the nominees, click here.
The Rev. Beth Fogle-Miller
The Rev. Beth Fogle-Miller, director of Connectional Ministries for the Florida Conference, said she is hoping for a General Conference delegation that can see beyond provincial interests.
“I’d like us to elect a delegation that has conversations and decision-making for the common good rather than just the broadest representation of special interests. We want them to represent Florida, but we also want them to represent the best interests of the church,” she said.
Voting this year will be conducted using handheld electronic devices. The Conference has contracted with Option Technologies Interactive (OTI) of Orlando, which has facilitated electronic voting for other Annual Conferences. Mark Fite, president and CEO of OTI, is a United Methodist lay leader in the East Central District.
The last time electronic voting was used was in 2003, and it did not go smoothly, but the Rev. Ken Minton, who acts as secretary for the Annual Conference, said the technology has changed significantly since then.
“We now have safeguards built into the devices, and delegates get feedback on how they’ve voted. Before, you couldn’t tell if your vote got through. Now you can see on the screen what’s being sent,” he said.
The advantages of the new devices are security and ensuring ballots are not accidentally invalidated, Minton said. The system records all votes digitally, and it knows when a delegate is trying to vote for an invalid candidate.
“You cannot vote for someone who has already been elected or has withdrawn,” he said.
Fogle-Miller has been allotted two one-hour blocs on June 2 to deliver a report of the Strategic Leadership Team. Whitaker was authorized by the 2010 Annual Conference to establish the team as a way of examining the mission and purpose of the Conference and whether its ministries conform to them. He organized the 12-person team in August, and it has employed the services of a consultant to assist in its work.
“What it adds up to is, do we have a strategic plan? Not something to enshrine, but a compass, a yardstick?” Fogle-Miller said. “Some themes have begun to emerge – leadership issues, purpose and direction, and communication. One that is very clear is the lack of a sense of shared purpose that links ministries and churches.”
The team has not completed its task, and she will be delivering a progress report, Fogle-Miller said. She will request a vote on whether the team is on the right track.

Annual Conference delegates will be asked to approve a total 2012 budget of $17.87 million, a 1.8 percent increase over last year but less than the 2010 budget of $18.4 million. Most of the proposed increase would go toward starting a new campus ministry at Florida Gulf Coast University in Fort Myers, Fogle-Miller said.

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