Familiar face moves to episcopal office

Editor's note: This is the third in a series that takes a closer look at people in new leadership roles at the Florida Conference.

LAKELAND -- Rev. David Dodge, recently named assistant to Bishop Ken Carter, won’t have to spend a lot of time putting faces to names when it comes to facilitating the appointment process. He knows almost all the clergy in the Florida Conference.

In his previous role as executive director for the Center for Clergy Excellence, he spent more than 16 years visiting seminaries all over the U.S. and recruiting clergy. He has bought meals for those struggling on student budgets and kept up with careers and geographical moves. He expects his knowledge of pastors’ gifts and competencies to help the bishop match people to opportunities and challenges. 

Rev. David Dodge at Annual Conference 2013 ordination service
Rev. David Dodge, then executive director of Clergy Excellence, speaks to ordinands at Annual Conference 2013. Photo by Dave Walter.

“Because of my knowing this younger generation of clergy -- since visiting them every year and having dinner together -- we’ve been able to try to make sure they’re happy and that they return to the Florida Conference,” Dodge said. “I’ve made sure they get at least one good free meal at seminary.”

His other major task is serving as chairperson of the 2014 Annual Conference planning committee, which has already begun meeting. He will also serve as an “ear” for district superintendents on matters that don’t require the bishop’s immediate attention.

Dodge is working on improving the appointments process through technology and other changes, keeping in mind that the bishop sets the tone.

“We’re trying to take some of the processes used for appointment-making into the 21st century,” he said. His assistant, Aaron Rios, has been charged with making some of the forms more user friendly, so superintendents can get information to the bishop’s office quickly and efficiently.

New this year is a plan to set up a process to approve ministers who are interested in serving in the Florida Conference but come from other conferences or denominations.

“There will be a committee which interviews them and can make recommendations about them and determine if they are a good fit for us,” Dodge said.

Another new push for Dodge is working on Carter’s initiative regarding young clergy of color, an effort that has received funding from part of the 2013 Annual Conference offering and the Florida United Methodist Foundation. Meetings to discuss launching the initiative started this month, with Dodge as the point person.

Rev. Dr. Bob Bushong, senior pastor at First UMC, Winter Park, has known Dodge for about 20 years, mostly from working together on the Board of Ordained Ministry.  Bushong praised Carter’s appointment of Dodge as a “brilliant choice.”

“He has the gift of administration and is highly organized. He can see the big picture,”  Bushong said. 

Rev. David Dodge headshot
Rev. David Dodge

“He is a great listener and works well with people because he is insightful…. He has a deep commitment to Christ and the church and he knows this conference really, really well.”

Dodge is an ordained deacon in the Florida Conference. Asked why he chose that path, he said, “It was about call. It was not my choice, but was God’s choice, calling me to a ministry of education, of nurture and administration.”

Conference staff members who know Dodge say the calling was true: He has a formidable knowledge of The United Methodist Church and is known for being a stickler when it comes to church terminology and proper administrative procedure.

“David is a walking Book of Discipline,” said Winnie Dean, Dodge’s longtime administrative assistant when the two worked in Clergy Excellence together.  “I think The Discipline must be printed on the back of his eyelids or something because he knows it so well.”

Dean said she was a bit intimidated when she first learned 17 years ago that Dodge was taking charge of the office where she had already begun working. Previously, as chairperson of the Board of Diaconal Ministry, he had already corrected her alphabetizing on a list of names.

“I thought, oh no, I’m doomed! He is obviously really picky. How in the world will this go?”

Instead of the experience Dean dreaded, she said, she found “a kind, caring, compassionate, helpful, friendly and funny guy,” who gently pushed her to grow in her job and ministry.

Dodge and his wife, Patti, have been married for 41 years and have a grown daughter, Lara Zapata, who works as an environmental consultant in Indianapolis. Their son, Dana, died in 2003 at age 27.

Dodge holds a bachelor’s degree in behavioral sciences and master’s degrees in intercultural studies and Christian education, all from Scarritt College of Nashville, Tenn., which nurtured Christian students until closing in 1988. Dodge also did graduate work in educational psychology at the University of Florida. He was consecrated as a diaconal minister in the Alabama-West Florida Conference, then ordained as a deacon in the Florida Conference.

-- Anne Dukes is a freelance writer based in Atlanta.

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