Conference reports remind members of call to ministry

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

Conference reports remind members of call to ministry

June 3, 2008  News media contact: Tita Parham*
800-282-8011  Orlando {0862}

An e-Review Feature
By e-Review Staff

LAKELAND — Alice Williams doesn’t want conference churches to “settle” when it comes to caring for their communities and the ministry needs of the church.

Alice Williams, a lay member of St. Luke’s United Methodist Church in Orlando and convener of the Florida Conference Leadership Connection, shares with members of the 2008 Florida Annual Conference Event how start-up grants from the Leadership Connection have been helping churches and ministries address community needs. Photo by Caryl Kelley. Photo #08-0875.

“We should not settle … don’t settle,” she said in her report during the morning session May 30 of the 2008 Florida Annual Conference Event. “We’ve got to stay engaged. The issues we face will not go away.”
Williams, a lay member of St. Luke’s United Methodist Church in Orlando, is convener of the conference’s Leadership Connection, which she describes as a think-tank and catalyst to help churches “get things started” so they don’t settle in doing the work “God has entrusted us.”
The Leadership Connection works through the conference’s Connectional Ministries office and was formed during the conference restructuring in 2004. At that time, the number of districts was reduced from 14 to nine and the Conference Council on Ministries was dissolved and replaced by the Connectional Ministries office. The Leadership Connection is a team of 15 conference leaders, both laity and clergy, whose goal is to help the conference better address and focus on emerging needs of the church and people living in Florida.
In reports from other Connectional Ministries and conference ministry teams throughout the second day of the “Living The United Methodist Way” conference session, members were reminded about the urgent need to take full advantage of the ministry opportunities Florida’s communities provide.
Helping churches be ‘hands and feet and face’ to community

One of the ways the Leadership Connection achieves its mission is by being a monetary resource to churches and ministries — an “enabler,” according to Williams.
Williams reported the team has reviewed 10 grant requests and provided $80,000 in seed money to help a variety of churches and ministries put their faith into action and live the Methodist Way.
One is Ray of Hope ministry, led by the Rev. Dr. Bill Bailey, pastor of Sellers Memorial United Methodist Church in Miami. It received grant money to help it provide after-school activities to children in an urban area of Miami called The Triangle. The ministry also offers food, health care and other forms of outreach. A divorce recovery ministry at First United Methodist Church, Orlando, also received funds for train-the-trainer sessions it plans to hold at the church in preparation for workshops across the conference designed to help people cope with the process of divorce. 

Alice Williams thanks the Rev. Dr. Anne Burkholder (right) for her leadership to the Leadership Connection. Burkholder is leaving her appointment as director of the conference’s Connectional Ministries to become associate dean of Methodist studies and professor in the practice of ecclesiology and church leadership at Candler School of Theology at Emory University in Atlanta, Ga. Photo by Caryl Kelley. Photo #08-0876.

“Our job is to be the hands and feet and face to our community. We must leverage the giftedness God has given each other,” Williams said, adding the Leadership Connection enables that leveraging.
Now that the 2008 General Conference has approved the four areas of focus for the denomination, Williams says future funding will be aligned with those emphases — 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. She also stressed funding is not intended to be long-term, but rather a jumpstart for ministries.
Williams described the Leadership Connection’s assistance as forward-focused on issues, helping the church grow. “We have an eye on the future,” she said.
That future, Williams said, includes working with churches and Florida Conference Bishop Timothy W. Whitaker in creating “venues” to find out and talk about “topics that are hard to talk about” — interracial appointments, economic issues churches face, children and poverty, environmental issues.
“We are going to need your congregations to take part,” she said.
Being hands, feet to students in South Florida

The Rev. Vance Rains gives the Florida Conference an “A” for its desire to reach the state’s university and college students, but an “F” for the ways the conference is actually in ministry with them.

“We’re losing a generation within our own conference,” he said. 

The Rev. Vance Rains, director of the Wesley Foundation at Florida State University and part-time executive director of the conference’s Collegiate Ministries, shares with members at the 2008 conference session the Board of Higher Education and Campus Ministry’s ambitious goal to start a regional campus ministry for the more than a quarter of a million college and university students on campuses in South Florida. Photo by Greg Moore. Photo #08-0877.

Rains gave that assessment while reporting on the progress the Florida Conference and its Board of Higher Education and Campus Ministry have made in reaching out to the state’s college students.
Rains, director of the Wesley Foundation at Florida State University, was recently hired as part-time executive director of the conference’s Collegiate Ministries. His primary responsibilities include serving as liaison between the Board of Higher Education and Campus Ministry, the conference and seven campus ministries, as well as helping develop new and existing campus- and church-based student ministries.
Within the Florida Conference there are 1 million students on 60 college campuses, Rains said. Of that number, Rains said 80 percent do not know Jesus when they arrive at school and 90 percent do not return to church after high school. Rains also cited a Pew Forum study that found there’s a significant increase in spiritual interest among freshman, but no one filling their needs.
Reminding members that Methodism started with John and Charles Wesley on a college campus, Rains said, “It’s time for the conference to make ministry with young people a priority, not just one of our ministries.”
He says the church can’t take its college students for granted and assume they’ll return to the church when they have children of their own. “After they have kids they’re not coming back,” he said.
One of the board’s priorities — what Rains says he and the board are most excited about — is a vision to reach South Florida’s students. South Florida is home to more than a quarter of a million college students on a number of large campuses, including Florida International University with 38,000 students, Florida Atlantic University with 30,000 students and Miami Dade College, which, alone, has 160,000 students and is the largest college worldwide, according to Rains.
Rains says these students are multi-ethnic and unserved by The United Methodist Church or any other denomination. The board hopes to change that by first starting a full-time campus ministry at Florida International University and then developing a regional ministry reaching each South Florida campus. The University of Miami already has a Wesley Foundation.
Reaching new communities

Students aren’t the only emphasis of the Florida Conference. The conference’s New Church Development team is putting significant resources behind efforts to launch new communities of faith among non-Anglo populations.
Reporting for the New Church Development committee, chairman Dave Elyea emphasized the contrast between the demographics of United Methodist churches and their surrounding communities.

Florida Conference Bishop Timothy W. Whitaker (left) presents the Rev. Ramiro Exposito, pastor of Tampa Hispanic Regional United Methodist Church, with a certificate recognizing the church as a new mission of the conference during the New Church Development committee's report May 30 at the 2008 Florida Annual Conference Event. The mission will launch in Tampa July 1 as a regional model, the first of its kind in Florida. Photo by Greg Moore. Photo #08-0878.

According to Elyea, 90 percent of Florida Conference church members are Caucasian, while the state of Florida has seen a 37 percent increase in Hispanic residents and a 50 percent increase in African-American residents in the last 10 years alone.
Given those statistics, “We can’t keep doing business as usual,” he said.
To address the demographic discrepancy, New Church Development will use 75 percent of the slightly more than $1 million in funding approved at the conference session for new churches and missions to launch non-Anglo congregations — Hispanic, Haitian, Korean and Chinese.
The team also plans to hold summits within the next year and a half with lay and clergy leaders of Haitian, African-American and Korean churches and missions to ensure new church models for these groups are culturally relevant. A summit has already been held with Hispanic church leaders.
The Rev. Dr. Mont Duncan, director of New Church Development, also reported 17 new churches and missions have begun since 2005. The goal for 2008 and 2009 is to launch 19 and 16 communities of faith, respectively.
Helping churches achieve their mission

Another emphasis of the conference is to help existing churches be fruitful and vital — living the United Methodist Way of making disciples.
The Rev. Dr Jeff Stiggins, director of the Office of Congregational Transformation, reported on 70 of the conference’s churches that were among the top 10 percent experiencing significant numbers of professions of faith and average worship attendance in 2007, gauged in terms of highest numbers and greatest numeric and percentage increases.
Professions of faith and average weekly worship attendance are considered two of the most missionally significant measurements of a congregation’s effectiveness.
Stiggins also announced the recipients of several annual awards, given to recognize achievement in helping newcomers become an active part of a United Methodist faith community. The Harry Denman Evangelism Award was given to Michelle Factor, a member of Killearn Lakes United Methodist Church in Tallahassee, and the Rev. Chan Young Jang, pastor of Korean United Methodist Church of South Florida.
The award is named for the late Dr. Henry Denman, a distinguished lay evangelist, and is presented annually to a United Methodist lay- and clergyperson for outstanding work in Christian education. 

Despite continuing losses in membership in the Florida Conference, the Rev. Dr. Jeff Stiggins reported to members attending the 2008 Florida Annual Conference Event that significant gains in professions of faith and average worship attendance among 70 of the conference’s churches are a sign of hope to other churches that missional effectiveness is possible. Photo by Greg Moore. Photo #08-0879.

The Grindheim-Sims Award, given annually to the pastor of a small membership church who has distinguished him- or herself through evangelism and church growth, was given to the Rev. Louis Telcy, pastor of La Piscine Mission in Naples.
Last year La Piscine Mission received 51 people on profession of faith and increased its weekly worship attendance by 50 people — an increase of 77 percent.
Soon to be working with Congregational Transformation in helping churches remain vital and healthy is a new conference-level director of African-American Congregational Development.
Members approved a recommendation to fund and support the position, which will work in consultation with the director of Congregational Transformation to provide resources and development assistance for the conference’s African-American churches.
Of the conference’s 722 churches, approximately 75 or 9.6 percent are African-American. The recommendation was made based on the African-American Task Team’s review of the African-American Comprehensive Plan, which was adopted at the 2007 conference session.

Despite significant signs of health in local churches, however, the conference statistician reports membership in the Florida Conference in 2007 was 310,711, a decline of 7,005 or 2 percent from 2006. Average weekly worship attendance was 151,354, a decline of 3,827 or 2 percent. Professions of faith totaled 6,897, a decline of 796 or 10 percent.
Considering the conference’s financial health
Reporting for the conference Council on Finance and Administration, Florida Conference Treasurer Mickey Wilson said apportionment giving totaled nearly $15.3 million or 81.7 percent in 2007, down from nearly $16.8 million and 87.2 percent in 2006 and below the recent five-year average of 86.3 percent.
He also noted the amount collected for property and casualty premiums increased from nearly $15 million in 2006 to $18.3 million in 2007.
Despite the reduction in apportionment giving, Wilson said a drop in operating expenses and little storm activity in 2007 helped strengthen the financial condition of the conference, as did a drop in insurance premiums. 

The Ministry Protection committee reported there has been a decrease of 22 percent in the cost of property, casualty and workers’ compensation insurance premiums — the first premium reduction in many years — saving the conference more than $4 million on insurance in 2008.
Celebrating new ‘workers in the field’

Candidates pray before being ordained probationary members of the conference during the service of ordination, commissioning and licensing May 30 at the 2008 Florida Annual Conference Event. Photo by Greg Moore. Photo #08-0880.

Conference members stood and cheered as 46 candidates processed down the aisles and gathered at the foot of the Lakeland Center arena stage for the 2008 service of licensing, commissioning and ordination.
Whitaker preached a sermon from 2 Timothy, noting that, “Tonight, your life will change forever.”
Twelve candidates were licensed as local pastors, 16 were commissioned as probationary members, 13 were ordained as elders, two were ordained as deacons and three received their recognition of orders.

In other business:

•  Members approved a recommendation by the Conference Center Task Force to take another year to solidify plans for a new conference center and report back to the 2009 conference session. The team envisions a conference center that not only houses conference staff, but is a center of ministry, providing training for clergy and members and outreach, worship and spiritual growth to the surrounding community. For several years, task team members have been considering the feasibility of renovating the current conference center, tearing down and rebuilding, or finding space in an alternate location in an existing building or new construction.

The Rev. Ken Minton, conference secretary, reported May 30 that the 2008 Florida Annual Conference Event offering taken at the communion service the previous evening totaled $70,143. The offering will support three conference ministries: 60 percent will be directed to the East Angola/Florida Partnership, 20 percent will support the legal immigration counseling ministry in Central Florida and 20 percent will strengthen Florida children’s ministries with the Council of Bishops’ Initiative on Children and Poverty. Photo by Caryl Kelley. Photo #08-0881.

•  Leaders of the Florida Conference Network of Ministries of Young People, which includes separate “tables” for youth, young adults and workers with young people and was formally approved at last year’s annual conference event, reported on accomplishments of the network since its inception. The youth table is planning a training weekend for student leadership teams in October; the young adult table is providing training for young adults currently in the church and finding new ways to reach non-churched young adults; and the adult workers table has crafted a three-year plan concentrating on connecting and networking in 2008, training in 2009 and resourcing in 2010. The team reported fewer youth and young adults attended this year’s conference session, following on the heels of a first-ever young people’s delegation of 100 youth and young adults at last year’s event. The drop in attendance was attributed to some schools still being in session and the conference session starting earlier this year.

•  The Florida United Methodist Foundation reported having assets of more than $227 million under its management in 2007 and investments in participant accounts of the Florida United Methodist Development Fund totaling $93.6 million. In 2007 the Development Fund awarded 23 new development loans to churches totaling $20 million, the largest of which was $4.5 million.

The prayer garden and labyrinth at the 2008 Florida Annual Conference Event May 29-31 offered laity and clergy the opportunity to get away from the busyness of the conference session for a time of prayer and reflection. Photo by Greg Moore. Photo #08-0882.

•  Members celebrated the 60th anniversary of The Advance for Christ and His Church, created as a ministry of spiritual and physical relief in response to the devastation of World War II.
•  Members honored the significant anniversaries of 30 clergypersons’ ordination. Eighteen clergy celebrated 25 years of ministry, 10 celebrated 50 years of ministry and two celebrated 70 years of ministry. Members also honored the ministry of 26 retiring clergy.
•  Members joined 19 congregations in celebrating their 25th to 125th anniversaries, as representatives of the churches marched through the arena carrying banners from their congregations.
More information about the conference session, including a schedule of activities and reports presented, is available at

Steven Skelley contributed to this report.


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

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