Theme of annual gathering reflects unity experienced after 2004 storms

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

Theme of annual gathering reflects unity experienced after 2004 storms

May 6, 2005    News media contact:  Tita Parham*    
800-282-8011     Orlando  {0289}

n  New mission opportunities for delegates feature prominently at 2005 conference.

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

LAKELAND — Florida Conference Bishop Timothy W. Whitaker said the theme for the upcoming annual gathering of Florida Conference United Methodists came to him after a period of reflection and prayer.

He said the theme "One Body, One Spirit" evolved after a time of remembering the series of hurricanes that swept through the state last year.

"I developed the theme through a period of reflection upon the life of the annual conference," he said. " ... one of the things that I realize we've been through is disaster. It's been very difficult on everybody, particularly on a number of people in our state and in our conference. I think, in spite of all the tension we've had, we've tried to work together as one body in one spirit. I think we've set up a very fine disaster response program, and I think it's making a contribution to the lives of people.

"It seems to me this is a moment in history to celebrate how, in response to disaster, despite our weaknesses and failures, we have worked as one body and one spirit."

The "One Body One Spirit" 2005 Florida Annual Conference Event is June 2-5 at the Lakeland Center. More than 2,000 United Methodists from across the conference will gather to worship, be in ministry and handle the business of the conference.

The Rev. Charles Weaver, assistant to the bishop and chairman of the annual conference program committee, said the theme demonstrates how the conference was able to come together after the 2004 hurricanes.

"The whole storm recovery effort was an example of the church working together in mission," he said. "Also 'One Body, One Spirit' came out of the 2004 annual conference when we adopted 'Connecting for Transformation.' "

Delegates attending last year's annual gathering approved the Florida Conference Cabinet's "Connecting for Transformation" proposal, which recommended reducing the conference's districts from 14 to nine, encouraged churches to be part of a cluster group of churches within their district and changed the responsibilities of district superintendents.

Whitaker said the idea of churches being grouped in clusters was also very much on his mind when he decided on the theme.

"I realize this (clusters) is a radical departure from the way we have tried to be church in modern times, even though I think it's very consistent with our tradition," he said. "It's really a very simple idea. Let's come together and pray for one another and help one another be faithful and fruitful as the Body of Christ.

"It seems like the appropriate time, when we come together at annual conference to launch into this new way of being church, that we remember God's gift and call to us to be one body and one spirit."

Whitaker said he is looking forward to being 'one body and one spirit' when the hundreds of delegates come together to worship and study.

"I think that one of the things that is really attractive about Methodism is its system of conferencing," he said. "We count on having these conferences at a regular time as a type of homecoming."

DAYTONA BEACH — A mission opportunity at the 2004 annual conference included a fun day for families at the band shell here that provided food, entertainment and a chance for area residents to get to know their United Methodist neighbors. Photo by Geoff Anderson, Photo #05-0163.

One new event Whitaker said he is especially looking forward to is the "One Celebration Supper" June 4, 6 to 9 p.m., on the campus of Florida Southern College. The occasion is designed as a relaxed evening with family and friends that will feature barbecue or picnic-style foods, games for children and youth, comedy and entertainment by Soul Journey of Palm Harbor United Methodist Church, Tampa Bay jazz recording artist Belinda Womack and the Soul Surfers of Daytona Beach. Tickets are $10 per person and must be reserved online by May 20.

Whitaker said a time of fellowship is a good thing, but noted that conferencing is also a time of business. He said this annual conference, unlike last year or previous years, will deal with significant business issues of the church, but overall will not be remembered for its legislation.

"You don't have to have a lot of legislation to have a significant annual conference," he said. "Sometimes it's the sense of unity and spiritual experience of the annual conference that matters more than the legislation."

Bishop Charlene Kammerer will contribute to that spiritual experience by preaching at the conference June 3 and 4. Kammerer is bishop of the Richmond Annual Conference and was elected from the Florida Conference. Whitaker said Kammerer has a special sense of the importance of the unity of the church, in which people of diverse gifts live together as one community.

Dr. Greg Jones, dean of Duke Divinity School, will also participate by leading Bible study in the morning and afternoon June 4.

While the guest preacher and Bible study are regular parts of annual conference, new mission opportunities taking place June 1, before conference convenes, to June 3, will provide multiple opportunities for attendees to be the church in Lakeland. The Florida Conference Storm Recovery Center (SRC), Habitat for Humanity and the Society of St. Andrew will join Celebrate Jesus and Children's Harvest initiatives, mission staples of the past several annual conference events.

On June 1:

n  Celebrate Jesus volunteers will walk through and visit neighbors in the downtown Lakeland area surrounding Wesley United Methodist Church.

n  The SRC will help volunteers connect with the organization Rebuild Polk After Disaster to repair homes that were damaged by the 2004 hurricanes in the areas around Lakeland.

n  Delegates will assist future homeowners by performing a number of tasks on the site of homes under construction, such as slinging a hammer or sawing lumber, through Habitat for Humanity.

Children's Harvest will begin assembling more than 1,000 backpacks filled school supplies June 2 and will continue until all of the school kits are completed. Additionally, the Society of St. Andrew (SoSA) is asking delegates to purchase a five-pound bag of potatoes and place it in a marked bin at the Lakeland Center June 2 and 3. SoSA will give the potatoes to food distribution charities that feed hungry people in the Lakeland area. SoSA is a gleaning organization that uses the traditional Biblical practice of gathering crops that would otherwise be left in the fields to rot or be plowed under after harvest.

DAYTONA BEACH — Neighbors attending the fun day for families on the beach during last year's annual conference event were treated to free food and the music of bands from around the conference, plus a chance to learn more about the conference’s churches and their ministries. Photo by Geoff Anderson, Photo #04-0033.

"Different people will have different interests and different callings," Weaver said. "There will really be something for everybody."

Whitaker said he encourages delegates to participate in the mission opportunities. "Let's come to annual conference, not just to sit through meetings, but to make a witness to Christ," he said. "One way to do that is by participating in one of these missional opportunities."

Weaver said he is also looking forward to Rev. Marcia McFee leading attendees during times of music and praise. McFee, from California, served as worship leader at last year's annual gathering.

Music and praise, as well as the business and other events that will take place on the main stage at annual conference, will be more intimate than in previous years when the event was held at the Lakeland Center. Organizers have decided to use only 60 percent of the center's arena in an effort to recreate some of the closeness experienced at the 2004 annual conference held at the Performing Arts Center of Bethune-Cookman College in Daytona Beach.

"There is a lot of business that has to be taken care of, and you can do only so much to make that interesting, but it has to be done," Weaver said. "The 2004 annual conference is going to be a hard act to follow, but we are doing our best to incorporate some of the creative ideas from that conference to add a fresh feel to conference here in Lakeland."

For more information about annual conference, to register for pre-conference mission opportunities or register for the One Celebration Supper, visit


*Parham is 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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