|Clergy gather for processional before the Service for Licensing, Commissioning and Ordination. Photo by Lance Rothwell|
It was a joyful conclusion to a three-day meeting marked by the Orlando shooting tragedy and its aftermath.
Bishop Ken Carter announced at the beginning of the session that the Florida Annual Conference had received numerous condolence messages from around the country, even from Estonia, regarding the Orlando tragedy. A prayer quilt was sent from a Durham, N.C., church, and it will be given to a conference member who lost a family member in the shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando.
A business session before the service included reports from the Dean of the Cabinet, Treasurer, the Committee on Episcopacy, Connectional Ministries and the Committee on Resolutions, as well as the setting of date and place of 2018 Annual Conference.
Rev. Tim Smiley, North East district superintendent and the dean of the cabinet, reported that in 2015 the conference had six new church starts, four revitalizations and 30 Fresh Expressions groups. For 2017 projections are for 12 new churches, four of which are partnerships with diverse groups, and two revitalizations. The members voted to discontinue seven churches: St. John in Ft. Pierce; Linden in Webster; Mascotte UMC in the North Central District; Paradise of Alachua; Trilby UMC in the South Central District; Wesley Chapel in Broward Co. and First UMC of Fort Myers, with an approved property transfer to Grace UMC of Cape Coral.
Conference Treasurer Tony Prestipino reported that local church membership was 245,000 in 2015, down 8,000 or 3.2% from 2014. Average worship attendance was down 2,000 or 1.5% at 130,000. The Committee on Finance and Administration (CF&A) reported the number of churches paying apportionments at 100 percent was up from 414 in 2014 to 418 in 2015; the percentage paid was 87 percent in 2015 compared to 86 percent in 2014. CF&A’s 2017 budget request was down from 2016—1.73% less. Members approved the report.
|Rev. Patti Aupperlee, First UMC Pahokee, accepts the Discipleship Ministries' One Matters award on her and the church's behalf on Saturday. Photo by Lance Rothwell|
Rev. Dr. Sharon Austin, director of Connectional Ministries, praised the conference’s continued support of Africa University, which celebrates its Silver Anniversary this year, and reported that the conference paid 100% of its promised apportionment. Austin also celebrated this year’s 60th anniversary of the ordination of women in The United Methodist Church.
Janet Earls presented the Discipleship Ministries’ One Matters award, which recognizes local churches that move from zero professions of faith and baptisms to positive numbers. The two Florida awards went to Grace UMC in Plant City and pastor Rick Phillips for outreach to a local mobile home community, and First Pahokee and pastor Patricia Aupperlee for a Fresh Expressions meeting at Moe’s and special services at Miracle Village for sex offenders.
As part of the Connectional Ministries report, Chris Wolf, Gulf Coast district lay leader, promoted the Lineage Retreat for young adults by young adults at the Warren Willis Center Sept. 23-24. David Weber, the new director at Riverside Camp, shared information on improvements and activities at the camp. Carleen Fogle-Miller celebrated the 40th anniversary of the Commission on the Status and Role of Women (COSROW).
The members approved a motion to allow the Annual Conference Planning Committee to make the final decision on a location for 2017’s meeting no later than Sept. 15, 2016. The dates for the 2018 meeting are June 7-9.
Conference churches gave over $69,982 toward the Bishop’s offering. It will support the clergy and laity of our annual conference with resources for leadership development in three areas:
1. Grants for innovative forms of “church beyond the walls” through the Fresh Expressions network.
2. Inspiring and equipping our congregations to see, identify with and reach the neighborhoods around them in evangelistic, prophetic, apostolic, and missional ways.
3. Training a core group of spiritual guides and mentors to encourage and sustain this work that has already begun. The fundamental goal in the stewardship of these resources – both people, our laity and clergy, and money – is that we follow Jesus into the world that he loves and join him in his mission to love, heal, and save the people of Florida. We are discovering that we need new skills and capacities to fulfill this calling.
The ordination offering will support ministerial education.
Members approved a resolution titled “Help End Violence Against Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Questioning Individuals” submitted by Rev. Melissa Pisco of Celebration UMC and Rev. Kim Griffith. Click here for the resolution’s full text.
Lay leader debate response
Responding to Friday’s debate over electing co-lay leaders—Paulette Monroe (the Board of Lay Ministry’s nominee) and Alice Williams—Rev. Jenn Stiles-Williams, senior pastor of St. Luke’s UMC in Orlando, responded with a personal statement she read to the assembly.
“Brothers and Sisters of the Florida Annual Conference, I would like to take a moment to publically apologize to my African American sister, Paulette Monroe, and my LGTB sister, Alice Williams, for a moment yesterday where we fought for crumbs under the table,” Stiles-Williams said.
“Bishop Carter, in your sermon during our opening service, you reminded us of the communion liturgy many of us grew up with and the beautiful refrain we have too easily forgotten:
“We are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under thy table.
“Unintentionally, and for some unknowingly, we have alienated and pitted minority communities against one another.” Click here to read Stiles-Williams complete statement.
The members of the conference rejected the motion to elect co-lay leaders, and Monroe was approved for a four year term as conference lay leader.