Conference opens with focus on future informed by past



e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service
      
 

Conference opens with focus on future informed by past

May 31, 2008  News media contact: Tita Parham*
800-282-8011 
tparham@flumc.org  Orlando {0861}

An e-Review Feature
By e-Review Staff

LAKELAND — Following on the heels of classes on the five practices of The Methodist Way the day before, members convened the 2008 Florida Annual Conference Event May 29 at the Lakeland Center with John Wesley’s words ringing in their ears.

The Lakeland High School drum line helps the conference music team open the “Living The United Methodist Way” 2008 Florida Annual Conference Event May 29 at the Lakeland Center. Photo by Greg Moore. Photo #08-0867.

Between verses of “O For a Thousand Tongues To Sing,” excerpts from Wesley’s preface of his “Sermons on Several Occasions, 1746” were read, reminding the more than 1,600 lay and clergy members gathering from across the conference of the church’s Wesleyan heritage.

Those roots, specifically the Wesleys’ practices of disciple-making, were the underlying focus of this year’s conference, which gathered under the theme “Living The United Methodist Way.”

After a musical opening accompanied by eight members of the Lakeland High School drum line, Florida Conference Bishop Timothy W. Whitaker opened the conference’s first session with prayer and the traditional singing of Charles Wesley’s “And Are We Yet Alive,” a hymn that has been sung since the first annual conferences more than 200 years ago. Early circuit riders faced dangerous and sometimes perilous conditions in their ministry and often had no way of knowing when colleagues had died. They sang the song when they gathered each year for their annual conference to celebrate being alive and seeing each other again.

Florida Conference Bishop Timothy W. Whitaker presides over the 2008 annual conference session, his eighth since beginning his assignment as bishop of the Florida Conference in April 2001. In its report to conference members, episcopacy committee members unanimously affirmed Whitaker’s ministry in Florida and expressed their desire to see him return as bishop for four more years. Photo by Caryl Kelley. Photo #08-0868.

Throughout the day and into the evening’s worship service members were reminded of those early beginnings and their call to engage in The Methodist Way of passionate worship, radical hospitality, intentional discipling, salty service and extravagant generosity in order to fulfill the mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.

‘Be thou our bishop’

After welcoming attendees, Whitaker began the afternoon’s business with the traditional organizing of the conference and setting the bar — the area of the Lakeland Center arena in which members needed to sit in order to vote during business sessions.

One of the first items of business was a report from the conference episcopacy committee, which is charged with conducting an annual survey of its 10 members and the Florida Conference Cabinet to consider Whitaker’s work in the conference. Survey results showed overwhelming support and approval of Whitaker’s ministry, and members unanimously affirmed Whitaker’s return to the conference as its bishop, which will be considered at the upcoming Southeastern Jurisdictional Conference July 16-19 when bishops for the jurisdiction are elected and appointed.

In the spirit of late night host David Letterman’s Top 10 lists, the Rev. Wayne Wiatt, superintendent of the East Central District, shared the committee’s top seven reasons why Whitaker should return to the conference as its bishop. Coming in at number seven was, “We have grown to love obscure quotes from 4th century church fathers,” playing on Whitaker’s tendency to quote early church theologians. Coming in at number six, “We are just beginning to understand his lexicon, most of the time,” acknowledged Whitaker’s extensive vocabulary. And coming in at number four, “The Lakeland Starbucks need his business,” reflected the bishop’s well-known love of Starbucks coffee. The number one reason related to Whitaker’s love of American blues, jazz and folk musician Van Morrison, whose hits include “Brown Eyed Girl,” “Gloria” and “Wild Night.”

Sharon Luther is welcomed as the new Florida Conference lay leader following her election May 29 at the 2008 Florida Annual Conference Event. Luther is a member of Cypress Lake United Methodist Church in Fort Myers. Photo by Caryl Kelley. Photo #08-0869.

After the list, conference members joined in singing “Be Thou Our Bishop,” a play on the hymn “Be Thou Our Vision,” with such verses as: “Churches and missions are calling your name; Cab’net and leadership all say the same: Tim and Tim only our bishop we claim, now and for four years must simply remain!” 

Members elect new lay leader

During the Board of Lay Ministry report in the early afternoon members elected Sharon Luther conference lay leader.

Luther is a member of Cypress Lake United Methodist Church in Fort Myers and was associate lay leader in the South West District until her election. She succeeds Bill Walker, a Winter Park attorney and long-time member of First United Methodist Church, Winter Park. Prior to serving four years as conference lay leader, Walker was director of the Florida Conference Council on Ministries until its discontinuance and then as director of its succeeding ministry area, the Connectional Ministries office.

During the laity session May 29, Bill Walker, outgoing conference lay leader, thanks lay members of the 2008 Florida Annual Conference Event for their show of appreciation for his ministry to the conference. Photo by Caryl Kelley. Photo #08-0870.

In the laity session held earlier that day — clergy and laity meet separately each year before the conference session begins — Walker challenged lay members gathered in the Lakeland Center’s Sykes Hall to continue being the link between the conference and local churches.

In addition to helping laity achieve that goal, Luther’s role will include addressing items that emerged from a “speak and seek” segment of the laity session, including the need to implement a Hispanic language prayer line, solve matters of ambiguity in lay ministries, envision ways of being more missional and less institutional, reduce responsibilities so laity can do fewer things better, and recognize the significant growth of Hispanic and African-American residents of Florida and find ways to reach them.

Guest speakers challenge members to take seriously living Methodist Way

Nearly two hours of the opening session were devoted to a time of presentation and discussion with the Rev. Dr. Randy Maddox, professor of theology and Wesleyan studies at Duke Divinity School and an ordained elder in the Dakotas Conference of The United Methodist Church.

The Rev. Dr. Randy Maddox leads a session May 29 at the 2008 Florida Annual Conference Event on the importance of the Wesleyan practices of discipleship, which he stressed “have been central to Methodist vitality since its earliest days.” Maddox is professor of theology and Wesleyan studies at Duke Divinity School and an ordained elder in the Dakotas Conference of The United Methodist Church. Photo by Greg Moore. Photo #08-0871.

Maddox’s message, titled “A Holy Conversation About the Methodist Way,” emphasized the three Wesleyan convictions — doctrine, spirit and discipline. Maddox said United Methodists need to gather what he called “wisdom from the deep convictions of the Wesleyan Way, not just the Methodist Way.”

Using examples from both John Wesley’s teachings and Charles Wesley’s hymns, Maddox said it is not enough to remain pure and innocent. Christians must also be beneficent, excelling in both holiness and compassion, to succeed as a church.

Northern Illinois Conference Bishop Hee-Soo Jung preaches during the communion service May 29 at the 2008 Florida Annual Conference Event. His sermon was titled “What a Beautiful Journey: The United Methodist Way.” Jung’s own spiritual journey began in a very Wesleyan way — in a Methodist class meeting in South Korea where he says he was converted to Christ and the Christian way of life. Photo by Greg Moore. Photo #08-0872.

Guest preacher Bishop Hee-Soo Jung of the Northern Illinois Conference shared his vision for the church during the communion service that evening.

His message, titled “What a Beautiful Journey: The United Methodist Way,” contrasted the differences between religion and spirituality.
 
Jung claimed churches often excel in either holiness or hospitality when they should instead find a way to live in what he called the holy tension created by embracing both.

Members consider work of whole church

Before communion during the evening session members heard a report from Walker, and the Rev. Jorge Acevedo, pastor of Grace United Methodist Church in Cape Coral, about action taken at the 2008 General Conference, the church’s top lawmaking body. The two led the Florida Conference delegation to the April 23-May 2 assembly, held in Fort Worth, Texas.

A total of 992 delegates from 50 countries considered more than 1,500 petitions to change the denomination’s Book of Discipline and Book of Resolutions.

Bill Walker (left), outgoing Florida Conference lay leader, and the Rev. Jorge Acevedo, pastor of Grace United Methodist Church in Cape Coral, report May 29 at the Florida Annual Conference Event on actions taken at the 2008 General Conference in Fort Worth, Texas. The two led the Florida Conference delegation to the April 27-May 2 assembly. Photo by Greg Moore. Photo #08-0873.

Among the recommendations approved were four areas of emphasis for all conferences in the denomination based on several of the Council of Bishops’ seven vision pathways, or ministry goals: developing principled Christian leaders for the church and the world, starting new congregations and revitalizing existing ones, engaging in ministry with the poor, and fighting diseases of poverty, such as malaria, tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS.

General Conference delegates also approved a denominational budget of $642 million for the next four years that was developed around the four focus areas, with the church’s general agencies aligning their work and budget requests with those emphases.

The Rev. Tom Farmer, senior pastor at St. Paul United Methodist Church in Largo, leads the 2008 Florida Annual Conference Event’s memorial service May 29 for clergy and spouses who have died since the last annual conference session. Photo by Caryl Kelley. Photo #08-0874.

Several recommendations from General Conference must be approved by a two-thirds vote of the aggregate of all annual conferences and will be considered at a future Florida Conference session, including 23 constitutional amendments that would make it possible for the church in the United States to be structured more like a regional or central conference, fitting into a more uniform global structure that is less U.S.-focused when issues and business of the denomination as a whole are being considered.

Memorial celebration remembers ‘salty service’ of clergy
 
The Rev. Dr. Tom Farmer, senior pastor at St. Paul United Methodist Church in Largo, led this year’s memorial service, which was held in the morning following the clergy and laity sessions.

The service honors clergy and their spouses who have died since the previous conference session.

“We are here to remember 30 sisters and brothers who have gone on before us,” Farmer said. “Our memories can be centered today on a legacy that will last.”

More information about the conference session, including a schedule of activities and reports presented, is available at http://www.flumc2.org/page.asp?PKValue=1339.

Steven Skelley contributed to this report.

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*Parham is managing editor of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.




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