Laity session demonstrates transformative power

Outgoing Conference Lay Leader Sharon Luther shares memories of the four years she advocated for laity.  -Photo by Tom Mulryan

Performances by singers and dancers with the Florida United Methodist Children’s Home gave attendees of the 2012 Annual Conference laity session on Thursday a very tangible example of how Methodists are “Transforming the World by Being United in Christ.”

“When all your life you’ve been told you’re not worth anything by the people who are supposed to care for you, you start to believe it,” said Rev. Lauren Dancey, chaplain of the Children’s Home.

“Being able to share songs and dance in praise of God in front of so many other Methodists is a big part of the spiritual transformation that these kids are experiencing.”

“It’s a real honor for the children to be here, sharing their love of Jesus Christ,” said Mike Galloway, president and chief executive officer of the Children’s Home. The 104-year-old, Enterprise-based Christian institution provides relief, education and training of destitute, abandoned or abused children.

Galloway said the last time the group performed at Annual Conference was in 2008, in honor of the Children’s Home Centennial celebration.

“At last year’s Annual Conference, (lay leader) Sharon Luther invited us to perform at the laity session, so we have been looking forward to this for a year.”

The laity session also featured presentations from several Methodist leaders and groups offering resources and inspiration to lay servant ministries across the state.

Conference treasurer Mickey Wilson kicked off the formal presentations by explaining why he has always been proud to be a United Methodist. Admittedly, in his youth, Wilson’s spiritual pride was simply because the “Girls in the MYF [Methodist Youth Foundation] were prettier and they could go to dances, unlike the Baptist girls.”

But now, as an adult, Wilson points to the global transformation Methodism is accomplishing each day with a list of Methodist-founded schools, hospitals and churches around the world.

Frances Jennings, team coordinator for Spiritual Formation, spoke about the resources, such as the Five-Day Academy, to help Methodists in the transformation.

"I confess I am prejudiced to spiritual formation," said Frances Jennings, team coordinator for spiritual formation.  -Photo by Tom Mulryan

“I confess that I am prejudiced to spiritual formation,” Jennings said. “Spiritual formation is the process initiated by God of being conformed into the likeness of Christ for the sake of others.”

Jennings encouraged attendees with the tale of a scrawny grapefruit plant that was given to her long ago by a friend. She recalled that even after she finally planted the seedling and it grew into a large, lush green tree, it never bore any fruit.

As she was considering chopping down the tree, she thought of the gardener and the tree in Luke 13. And following the biblical example, Jennings instead dug around the tree and fertilized it so that “I had bushels of beautiful fruit.”

“We want to give you some tools to dig around and fertilize for the sake of others,” Jennings said. “It is my sincere prayer that prayer would be the foundation of all we do and that it will aid you as you grow and produce fruit.”

Additionally, the Shade and Fresh Water organization announced the creation of the Melba Whitaker Fund to support clergy.

Shade and Fresh Water is a program agency of the Florida Conference of The United Methodist Church. The group’s vision is to provide a transformative sanctuary for individuals and their families who are professionally associated with the Florida Conference for the restoration of  body, mind and spirit toward more abundant living, according to board member Dr. Trudy Corry Rankin.

In announcing the fund and accepting a prayer shawl from the organization, Whitaker explained the importance of caring for the church’s clergy.

“As the wife of clergy, I know that clergy sometimes do boneheaded things,” Whitaker said. “But if you have a strong clergy family, your church will prosper more.”

The laity session concluded with a thank-you presentation from the United Methodist Women to Sharon Luther, in appreciation for her service as Conference lay leader. Looking back on her four years advocating for laity, Luther stands as a model for how one individual can transform others, said Russ Graves, who will begin his term as Conference lay leader this year.

“Sharon is a true example of what service in the Lord’s vineyard is all about.”


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