Pre-conference classes help members focus on mission, service

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

Pre-conference classes help members focus on mission, service

By Derek Maul | May 5, 2010 {1169}

With a full docket of business to address at the 2010 Florida Annual Conference Event, Bishop Timothy Whitaker wants to keep the conference theme front and center.

Classes offered a day before the official start of the June 10-12 session aim to achieve that goal, addressing aspects of discipleship, service and mission.

The Rev. Harold Lewis talks with attendees about the importance of churches developing a vision all members can learn and embrace during a workshop titled “Do You See What I See?” Lewis is the director of Florida Conference Black Congregational Development. His workshop was one of eight offered before the 2009 Florida Annual Conference Event. File photo by Caryl Kelley. Photo #09-1200. Originally accompanied e-Review Florida UMNS #1030, 06/11/09. Click on picture for larger photo or view in photo gallery.

The classes are free of charge and open to all laity and clergy. Led by conference staff and local church leaders, they are designed to help conference members and guests begin considering the conference theme, “Transforming the World by Eradicating Extreme Poverty,” and delve deeper into other aspects of ministry. The classes and the conference’s business sessions and worship will take place at the Lakeland Center.

“We know we’re part of a global fellowship,” Whitaker said. “But there’s always the question, are we mindful of our other brothers and sisters? Most live in extreme poverty. How can we participate in the Eucharist without being aware of our neighbor’s need?”

“June 9 aims for a blend of thematic classes that work with the topic for conference,” said the Rev. Beth Fogle-Miller, director of the conference’s Connectional Ministries office. She says pre-conference classes and workshops held each year for a number of years before the start of the annual business session have become a way for conference staff and leaders to be “good stewards of people’s travel time and money.”

“While they (members) are here, it just makes sense to have some elective offerings for those who want them,” she said. “The consistent good attendance has underscored that people do want to learn.”

The Rev. Dr. Jeff Stiggins agrees and says the nine classes, scheduled Wednesday afternoon and evening, are not limited to the scope of the conference theme. Stiggins is executive director of the Florida Conference Center for Congregational Excellence, formerly the Office of Congregational Transformation.

“While we have sought to select class opportunities that reflect the conference theme, we have also provided opportunities that continue our focus on being missionally faithful and fruitful,” Stiggins said. “We sought the input of a breadth of people in selecting topics.”

Those topics include discipleship, prayer, leadership, mission, Hispanic/Latino ministry, poverty, peacemaking and salty service. The common theme is the call to faithful discipleship and the imperative to apply the work of the church to the transformation of the world.

Stiggins said the classes provide an opportunity to learn from successful experiences. “Some congregations are knocking the ball out of the park missionally, and we want to celebrate that,” he said.

Melinda Trotti is offering two workshops on salty service, one of the five practices of the disciple-making process The Methodist Way. Trotti is director of the conference’s justice and outreach ministries.

The Rev. Lyndol Loyd, co-leads The Methodist Way class on intentional discipling before the 2008 Florida Annual Conference Event. He stressed that churches can no longer assume the people they are trying to reach have any level of biblical knowledge. File photo by Greg Moore. Photo #08-0860. Originally accompanied e-Review Florida UMNS #0859, 05/29/08. Click on picture for larger photo or view in photo gallery.

“I love to connect people with their passion,” she said. “This is an opportunity to find ways to be engaged both locally and globally.”

Trotti’s first class shares learning opportunities for service locally; the second focuses on international service.

“Participants will be introduced to a variety of ways they can match their passion and Christian call for mercy and justice with effective action avenues sponsored by The United Methodist Church in Florida and beyond,” she said. “This day is designed to make the conference event work even better. The keynote speakers will be addressing the theme, and these classes will prime the pump.”

Trotti plans to give enough information so that churches can follow up with specific initiatives if they are so moved. “There are so many ways both individuals and churches can get involved in salty service,” she said.

Jim Harnish, senior pastor at the Hyde Park United Methodist Church in Tampa, is motivated to see transformational leadership blossom in local congregations.

“Leadership is the critical factor in building healthy churches and reversing dramatic decline,” he said. “Healthy leaders who can grasp God’s vision and lead congregations into new life.”

Harnish said he believes today’s culture is hungry for the Methodist tradition and people are looking for what the church has to offer. He said that he is more hopeful than optimistic.

“Hope comes from a deeper place than the evidence at hand,” he said. “It’s a spiritual issue — a deepening life of prayer and discipleship, so the Spirit can work with us.”

His workshop, Transformed Leaders for Transforming Congregations, will utilize principles from his 2004 book “You Only Have to Die.”

And in today’s world, hope is a rare commodity for many. The Rev. David Berkey, executive director of the conference’s camps and retreat ministries, will facilitate a film series titled “Reality of Poverty in the U.S. and World Shared on Film,” which features two movies depicting poverty, unemployment and the hidden costs of market manipulations.

The presentation examines the economics of coffee, the social fallout of international trade and the growing economic squeeze that is forcing millions of workers into the ranks of the poor.

“The film series speaks for itself,” Berkey said.

While the classes are being held in conjunction with the annual business session, those who are not attending June 10-12 are invited to take advantage of the learning opportunities. A complete listing and description of the classes offered is available at

More information about the annual session is available at Individuals not able to attend the conference event may view business sessions and worship services via webcast through the conference website at beginning June 10.

Related story

Bishop links discipleship to service at annual session

News media contact: Tita Parham, 800-282-8011,, Orlando

*Parham is managing editor of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**Maul is an author and freelance writer based in Valrico, Fla.

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