Conference renews emphasis on social justice, spirituality

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

Conference renews emphasis on social justice, spirituality

April 17, 2008   News media contact: Tita Parham*
800-282-8011  Orlando {0832}

NOTE: A headshot of Melinda Trotti is available at

An e-Review Feature
By Steven Skelley**

During the past decade the Florida Conference Connectional Ministries office has been streamlining its areas of emphasis in an effort to better resource local churches.

Social justice and spiritual formation ministries have been in flux as part of that process.

Melinda Trotti

But with the addition of a staff member to the Connectional Ministries’ Global Mission and Justice office, the conference is renewing and redefining its focus on both.

Melinda Trotti, who most recently worked as interim director of the Florida Conference Life Enrichment Center, began serving as director of Justice and Spirituality Ministries in January.

While the Rev. Dr. Larry Rankin, who oversees Global Mission and Justice Ministries, works with conference staff member Icel Rodriguez on global missions, Trotti said she is concentrating her efforts “on justice with our neighbors here in Florida and in the communities that surround the local churches.” 

Trotti has begun working with laypeople and district and conference offices to develop coalitions, training events and programs that meet the social justice and spiritual formation needs of local churches. That includes helping churches discover creative ways to connect with people in need in their communities.

A major focus of that emphasis is children. At last year’s annual conference event, members voted on and approved a conferencewide social witness initiative to address a variety of children’s issues. Within that mandate, members specifically agreed conference churches would develop ministries to end hunger among Florida’s children.

The Rev. Dr. Anne Burkholder, director of Connectional Ministries, said this redefined area helps foster the Wesleyan understanding of the relationship between vital piety and social witness. She said Trotti is uniquely qualified to lead that task.

“Melinda combines (with social justice) a unique calling to spiritual formation,” Burkholder said. “She is a thoughtful, deliberate person who seeks to bring a wide variety of people to the table.”

Burkholder said the mission of conference ministry staff is to partner creatively with churches and ministries to “equip world-changing disciples.” Trotti’s work will focus specifically on helping churches and ministries accomplish goals related to spiritual formation and social justice.

Trotti said she believes spirituality is a component of social justice because “one moves people outward” and the other moves people to focus inward. One without the other offers an incomplete picture of what a Christian should be striving to achieve, she said.

Trotti is currently working with Florida Conference Bishop Timothy W. Whitaker on the “In Defense of Creation 2” Conference Table June 14 at Trinity United Methodist Church in Gainesville. The session will address nuclear proliferation, environmental issues, and global health and poverty.

She also recently visited the Coalition of Immokalee Workers in Immokalee, Fla., which is organizing to increase the piecemeal wage paid to tomato pickers by one cent per pound. The Coalition has been instrumental in bringing six cases of human trafficking to the attention of the FBI and prosecuting contractors who held workers in enslavement. The group also operates a radio program in Spanish that educates workers about their rights and how to identify potential enslavement situations. A representative of the coalition will attend the 2008 Florida Annual Conference Event to share petitions and other educational materials.

Trotti has already helped organize what she calls “two very specific trainings.” One was the Day Camp Training Seminar at Pine Hills United Methodist Church and Berea Haitian Mission in Orlando March 8. It provided tips and information for churches offering summer day camps in their communities and hands-on resources for church leaders wanting to start a day camp ministry. 

The second training, called Ministry From The Kitchen, will be held Aug. 23. It will provide resources to help local churches become summer feeding centers for children, develop menus and quantity food buying procedures, learn how to work with local health departments, and transform their kitchens into ministry centers for people in need.

Both the prayer chapel (background, left) and labyrinth at the Florida Conference Life Enrichment Center in Fruitland Park, near Leesburg, offer opportunities for spiritual reflection. File photo #08-0810.

Related to her spiritual formation responsibili-
ties, Trotti is developing a brochure that includes information on the Five Day Academy for Spiritual Formation, Three Day Academy for Spiritual Formation in Spanish and the portable labyrinth. It also includes details about Spiritual Formation Gathering Days, which, Trotti says, are designed to “offer participants one- and two-day retreats on a variety of topics and experiences of spiritual formation.”

“Topics will include understanding God’s will, how to hold a spiritual formation retreat, Taize worship, experiencing God in the natural world and others,” Trotti said.

Trotti has also been working with the newly-developed Children’s Ministry and Advocacy Coalition, which is composed of both Florida Conference ministries — camp and retreat ministries, outreach ministries, the Council of Bishops’ Initiative on Children and Poverty task force and others — and community groups, such as Florida Impact.

The coalition was formed during a children’s summit in February with the goal of developing strategies that encourage local churches to be involved in ministry and advocacy for children. The group is focusing on prayer and education, promotion of advocacy at the annual Children’s Week events in Tallahassee, and the Ten Point Plan to End Childhood Hunger in Florida, which was developed by Florida Impact and includes government, corporate, church and school representatives striving to end childhood hunger by offering healthy food choices where children “live, learn, pray and play.” Florida Impact invited the Florida Conference to be one of the plan’s denominational members.

Since 1979, Florida Impact has worked to reduce hunger and poverty in Florida. Its mission is to inspire and enlist Floridians in securing justice for and with those whose economic rights have not been realized. The Florida Conference has been a supporter of the organization since its inception.

Each member attending the 2008 Florida Annual Conference Event May 29-31 in Lakeland will receive a compact disc “tool kit” that outlines ways churches of all sizes can help address the needs of hungry children.

Churches interested in more information about justice and spirituality ministries may contact Trotti at 800-282-8011, extension 755, or


*Parham is managing editor of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**Skelley is a staff writer for e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.

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