Next Year: General Conference, New Bishop

 At the opening of the Florida Annual Conference’s morning plenary session on June 2, Bishop Timothy Whitaker thanked God that the day was beginning in the presence of God.

“We ask for the gift of the Holy Spirit in this gathering,” he said. “For wisdom in our decisions and that we advance the cause of Christ.”

Whitaker is presiding over his next-to-last Annual Conference. He has announced he will retire in 2012. In preparation for that and for next year’s General Conference, which will be held at the Tampa Convention Center, Whitaker called for two reports.

The first was delivered by the Rev. Jim Harnish, senior pastor of Hyde Park United Methodist Church in Tampa and chairman of the Host Committee making preparation for the General Conference.

Harnish said he is excited about the opportunity to offer “Christ-centered, spiritually alive hospitality.”

The Rev. Jim Harnish

“This is the third year we’ve been getting ready,” he said. “Now it’s time to say go! And we’re excited about your part, the way the Spirit will prepare the space for new and fresh work.”

Harnish introduced Marilyn Swanson, Conference staff liaison to the Host Committee. Swanson thanked the “over 100” volunteers who have already signed up.

“Now is the home stretch,” she said. “We need over 1,000 volunteers for General Conference and we need you to get the word out.”

Harnish directed people who are interested in volunteering to the Florida Conference website (, where within a couple of weeks volunteers could begin signing up.

Alan Morrison, general manager for the 2012 General Conference and part of the team that hosted the 2004 General Conference in Pittsburgh, Pa., offered greetings and encouragement.

“I know what it is to host,” Morrison said. “It’s been six years since I first said to Bishop Whitaker, ‘Guess who may be coming to town!’ In this room you will see delegates, bishops, reserve delegates and visitors from all over the world. … Small and big tasks alike combine to bring this work together.”

Harnish urged the members of the Conference to pray for a spirit of unity at the General Conference.

“We pray for a deep desire to see radical change and to see us equipped for the future, and that the Spirit of God will use us to create a setting to renew, revive and reenergize the people called Methodists, for the task to which we’ve been called,” he said.


Whitaker introduced a report from Bill Walker, a member of First UMC in Winter Park, and the Rev. Jorge Acevedo, senior pastor of Grace UMC in Cape Coral, who represent the Florida Annual Conference on the Jurisdictional Commission on Episcopacy. The commission is working toward the election of new bishops at the 2012 Southeastern Jurisdictional Conference.

The Jurisdictional Conference convenes every four years, primarily to elect bishops. In 2012, delegates to the Southeastern Jurisdictional Conference will elect five bishops to replace those who are retiring.

Bill Walker (left) and the Rev. Jorge Acevedo confer during the 2008 General Conference in Fort Worth, Texas. (Photo by Tita Parham)

Acevedo explained that nominations for bishop come not only from the 12 member conferences, but also any number of special interest caucuses.

“We’re then responsible for vetting people and setting the guidelines for the process,” he said. “The key issues for the leaders we elect are found in the conversations surrounding the long-term decline, nationally, in both membership and revenues. We have some 32,000 congregations in the US. Of those only 4,500 are vital,” he said.

Walker asked members of the Conference for help with the process.

“Jorge and I serve the interests of the Southeastern Jurisdiction of the UMC,” he said. “We’re starting a year early to invite prayer, reflection and support for our work in 2012. Five new bishops will be elected by the delegates you elect today; it’s a task the Southeastern Jurisdiction undertakes with humility and care.

“These are challenging times for leaders in our denomination, and that may be the understatement of the week,” Walker said. “We solicit prayer and counsel from each of you. Of particular value are words that identify qualities of leadership you feel are needed.”

Acevedo echoed Walker’s remarks.

“We want to hear from you,” he said. “We want to address the unique needs of the Jurisdiction and to develop a profile for leadership needs. We need your prayers.”


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