DAYTONA BEACH – Annual Conference 2015 opened Wednesday for Florida’s United Methodist Church with many attendees saying they hope to stay united in spirit, even as different viewpoints threaten to divide the denomination. Click here to see Thursday's coverage, including election results.
With elections of delegates to General Conference and jurisdictional conference next year among the major focal points of this year’s meeting, lay members interviewed at a morning meet-and-greet gathering said they were keenly aware of the importance of choosing people of wisdom and discernment. The turnout was so strong that the gathering spilled out of the meeting room into hallways, as voting members plied nominees with questions.
“I have to vote on nine of these people to go to General Conference,” said a lay member from Central Florida who asked that her name not be used.
“What’s important to me is to look them in the eye and let them tell me their story and believe it.”
Voting members of the Florida Conference, meeting at Methodist-affiliated Bethune-Cookman University, are charged this year with electing nine clergy and nine lay delegates to send to General Conference 2016. Another nine from each category are chosen to go to the Southeastern Jurisdictional Conference next summer and seven from each category to serve as alternates, for a total of 50 slots to fill.
Wednesday morning started with 38 lay nominees and 40 clergy members who put themselves forward for election. This year, for the first time, Florida Conference members were given a three-hour window on Annual Conference opening day to nominate themselves for election. Dr. Ken Minton, Florida Conference secretary, said 23 clergy added their names to the slate of candidates, along with 14 lay members.
At the end of the evening, six delegates had been selected.
Lay delegates elected in the fourth round of balloting were young adults Molly McEntire of First UMC, Lakeland, one of the youngest candidates, and Derrick Scott III, campus ministry director in Jacksonville and an associate lay leader for the conference. No candidate garnered the required number of votes for election in the first three ballots.
Among clergy, Rev. Sue Haupert-Johnson, North Central District superintendent, was the first delegate elected on the second ballot. Rev. Alex Shanks, pastor of First UMC, Coral Springs, and vice chairperson of the Florida Conference Strategic Leadership Team, was elected on the third ballot, followed by Revs. Rini Hernandez, superintendent of the South West District, and Dionne Chandler Hammond, co-pastor of First UMC, Melbourne, elected in the fourth round of voting.
Voting will continue through Saturday or until all delegate and alternate positions are filled.
Before delegate elections began, all voting members were asked to signal by electronic ballot whether to suspend deadline rules in order to allow Florida Conference members to consider four petitions as resolutions for the Florida body before they are forwarded to General Conference for consideration. Because of concerns about the voting devices, the vote was taken twice. But neither ballot drew the required two-thirds majority to suspend the rules. Conference officials said the petitions can still be considered at General Conference.
The petitions, listed on pages 180-189 of the Annual Conference workbook, generally outline conditions for United Methodist clergy or local churches to disaffiliate with the denomination “for reasons of conscience,” propose new limitations on apportionments and call for the church to withdraw from the Relgious Coalition for Reproductive Choice.
Resolutions presented on pages 174-180 of the conference workbook will be subject to a vote later in the annual meeting, and attendees were encouraged Wednesday to review them.
Before voting began, conference lay leader Russ Graves and other key laity leaders discussed what it means for United Methodists to have a “dangerous church,” or one that is making a difference in the world.
Graves said he believes some Christians spend more time feeling frustrated about disappointments than looking with anticipation to the fulfillment of God’s will for each person.
“I believe that Jesus still heals people. I believe that Jesus still speaks to people," Graves said. "I believe Jesus still is in the miracle business. And I believe one of the problems in our church today is we just don’t believe he can do what God says he can do.”
Annual Conference continues today with a 5K walk/run fundraiser to benefit Imagine No Malaria. Participants will start at the Daytona Beach Pier at 6:30 a.m. and head north along the beach. Parking is at Breakers Oceanfront Park. Click here for information.
For other Annual Conference information, click here.
-- Susan Green is the Florida Conference managing editor.