Conference Table considers growing pains, trading spaces

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

Conference Table considers growing pains, trading spaces

Nov.14, 2005  News media contact: Tita Parham*  
800-282-8011   Orlando {0397}

An e-Review Feature
By Pam Garrison**

LAKELAND — The Florida Conference Center in Lakeland was built in 1969. Photo by Caryl Kelley, Photo #05-274.

LAKELAND — A visit to the Florida Conference Center in Lakeland would reveal organized chaos as staff compete with painters and carpenters for time and space. Offices are once again being reconfigured to better accommodate department workflow, consolidate workspace and better utilize resources.

As the Florida Conference has grown and expanded to meet the needs of the churches it serves, numerous piecemeal adjustments have been made to the workspace of staff and ministries.

The last several months have been no exception as members of the Florida Conference's extended cabinet have struggled to realign people and offices in a way that makes sense for both the administration and ministry of the conference. An upcoming gathering of the Conference Table will address the space dilemma, and all laity and clergy are invited to be part of the discussion.

The Conference Table will be held Dec. 5 and begin at the conference center, 1140 East McDonald Street, Lakeland, 33801, at 10 a.m. with refreshments and a tour of the building. The first discussion will begin at 11 a.m. Attendees will then meet at First United Methodist Church, Lakeland, at noon for lunch and afternoon sessions. The gathering will end at 4 p.m.

Conference staff with any longevity just chuckle and shrug their shoulders at the changes, having endured the process multiple times in the past. When asked, they readily share stories of their ever-changing physical work environment.

"These moves are difficult," said Caryl Kelley, referring to the many transitions her physical workspace has undergone during her 24-year tenure with the conference. "It's always hard in the midst of the changes to keep up with your work and stay organized, but they (extended cabinet) certainly are creative in their use of space!" 

Despite that creativity, the changes provide only temporary relief and do not address the real problem of inadequate space to meet the increasing opportunities and challenges of ministry.

The United Methodist Building — the conference center's official name — was built in 1969. In addition to conference administrative and ministry offices, the former Lakeland District office, Florida United Methodist Foundation Inc. and Georgia Florida United Methodist Federal Credit Union have all called the conference center home at one time. Over the years, numerous interior modifications have been made.

"One of the biggest challenges we face is not the quantity of space in the current building, but the arrangement of space in a way that provides a quality work space," said the Rev. Dr. Anne Burkholder, director of the conference's Connectional Ministries office. "The infrastructure of the building simply doesn't allow us to use the space we have well. It doesn't help us to be responsible stewards of annual conference resources."

The age of the building presents other obstacles. Mold and mildew have been an ongoing issue for staff and visitors. The air conditioning system is outdated and doesn't heat and cool the building efficiently or effectively, making offices either very warm or very cold. Artificial fluorescent lighting, which is harsh and outdated, is necessary because there are too few windows. Immovable walls and technology requirements dictate the traffic pattern. As a result, several staff sit in the midst of busy traffic patterns and all staff are forced to work with constant interruptions in a distracting environment.

Burkholder says staff are working differently than they did 40 years ago. "Technology has changed, work styles have changed, and we need a work space that reflects those changes and is more suitable to how we work," she said. "We have a great staff. They have adapted and adapted and continue to adapt, in spite of the physical constraints of the building. A quality work space would enhance everything they do."

The Florida United Methodist Foundation recently moved out of the conference center to accommodate its increased growth. The Rev. Tom Marston, president of the foundation, said having a quality workspace has made a big difference to the productivity and morale of the staff.

"The new work space provides access to windows for all staff. Hallways are wider. Color scheme is brighter. Furniture is designed with work tasks in mind. Filing and storage spaces are well defined and easily accessible," he said. "As a result, we simply feel better about ourselves, our work and our workspace. There is a greater sense of openness in many ways that is growing out of a welcoming work environment equipped to address the tasks with which we are assigned. It just feels good to come to work."

After touring the facility last spring, conference trustees and members of the Conference Council on Finance and Administration (CF&A) expressed concern that the existing facilities are not well suited for the evolving life and mission of the conference.

"People were mostly surprised at the condition of the building," said Mary Alice Massey, chair of the trustees. "They saw how inefficient and unappealing the working conditions were, but at the same time, they commented that significant ministry was going on in spite of it all."
From that tour, the trustees and CF&A decided to sponsor a task force to look at the current facility, review options and make recommendations. Florida Conference Bishop Timothy W. Whitaker endorsed the formation of a Conference Center Task Force last July, following the "One Body One Spirit" 2005 Florida Annual Conference Event. The task force was charged with looking at both a short-term "fix" for the next six to12 months and a long-term solution for three to five years.

The long-term solution is the focus of the task force, which is considering renovating the current building, adding space or relocating. Part of that process includes working with Whitaker to convene the upcoming Conference Table. Topics will include a brief history of the building and issues, followed by presentations and discussions on what constitutes a quality office building and workspace in the 21st century, what it would mean to design a building that was mission- and ministry-driven, a comparative analysis of facts and figures, and the process for moving forward.

Individuals interested in attending the Conference Table are asked to register online by going to the Florida Conference Web site at and clicking on the Conference Table button listed in the menu options on the left-hand side or going directly to

For more information contact Pam Garrison at or 800-282-8011, extension 148.


This article relates to Conference Table Initiatives.

* Parham is managing editor of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
** Garrison is administrative assistant to the conference treasurer.

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