Florida bishop says he has unfinished business for next term (Sept. 21, 2004)

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

Florida bishop says he has unfinished business for next term

Sept. 21, 2004    News media contact:  Michael Wacht*    
mwacht@flumc.org     Orlando  {0168}

An e-Review Feature
By J.A. Buchholz**

LAKELAND — Florida Conference Bishop Timothy W. Whitaker said he is pleased to be reassigned to the Florida Conference by the Jurisdictional Committee on Episcopacy because he still has work to do here.

Whitaker was reassigned to the Florida area for the 2004-2008 quadrennium during the Southeastern Jurisdictional Conference July 14-17 at Lake Junaluska. He began his new term Sept. 1.

FORT PIERCE — Bishop Timothy W. Whitaker, right, and Esquibel Duclona, lay leader of Fort Pierce Haitian United Methodist Church, survey the damage done to the church by Hurricane Frances during the Labor Day weekend. Whitaker began his new term as bishop of the Florida Area by visiting communities hit hard by hurricanes Charley and Frances. Photo by Michael Wacht, Photo #04-0094.

Now that he's returning, Whitaker said there are some hefty items on the plate of the annual conference. Among the unfinished business is the ambitious work of the Conference Table, which Whitaker said he is eager to continue.

The Conference Table was created in 2002 as a venue for clergy and laity to discuss the connectional life and current context of the United Methodist Church in Florida. At gatherings in 2002 the group created the conference mission and vision statements. The goal for the next two years is for nine task forces, selected by the Rev. Dr. Anne Burkholder, director of the Conference Equipping Network, to focus on different issues affecting the conference and present their research at Conference Table meetings.

While the Conference Table is important to Whitaker, he cites other goals that are also priorities, including increasing the conference's record of connectional giving, stewardship and professions of faith. He said he is pleased with the plan that has been developed by the Florida United Methodist Foundation to focus on giving and stewardship.

Tom Marston, president of the foundation, will be keeping clergy and laity informed about the importance of apportionments, or connectional giving. The plan calls for Marston to be the contact person for the conference's Connectional Stewardship Ministry, which will work to educate congregations about apportionments and financial giving.

"I think we will make some progress in that area," Whitaker said.

Whitaker is also hoping to see growth in the number of professions of faith recorded by the conference. "I don't think we've had enough conversations about increasing the number of professions of faith, and I'll be lifting that up as a major concern," he said. "That's something we need to focus on."

Forty percent of local United Methodist congregations did not record any new professions of faith last year, according to Whitaker.

"In Florida 22 percent reported no new members by profession of faith, so our record is better than that of the general church, but still, if 22 percent of your churches did not record one profession of faith, there are some problems," he said.

Whitaker sited several possible reasons for the lower numbers. "It says we are not really as passionate as we ought to be about sharing the good news of Christ with others or don't care about the people in our communities as much as we should or we haven't developed or organized the kind of ministry to reach them."

Whitaker said he's confident the conference can improve in that area because of people's commitment.

"The lay and clergy are wonderful to work with," he said. "I feel very fortunate to be able to work with the people of Florida. We have people who are dedicated, smart, talented and open to change."

The conference has been rapidly adapting to the recent wave of hurricanes that has struck the state in the past two months. It has responded with the creation of the Storm Recovery Center and help from the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR). Whitaker said the storms will not hinder the conference, but enable churches to help one another.

"Hurricanes are just part of life in Florida," he said.  "Dealing with natural disasters does pose additional challenges to all of us. Nevertheless, challenges enable us to grow in ways we would not grow otherwise. I think that dealing with the recent hurricanes will enable the United Methodist people across the state to grow closer to one another and to become more involved in our communities as we help one another and our neighbors to recover from the storms."


This article relates to the Episcopacy.

*Wacht is director of Florida United Methodist Communications and managing editor
of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**Buchholz is a staff writer for e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.

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