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General Commission on Religion and Race audits inclusiveness of Florida Conference (Jan. 8, 2004)

General Commission on Religion and Race audits inclusiveness of Florida Conference (Jan. 8, 2004)

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

General Commission on Religion and Race audits inclusiveness of Florida Conference

Jan. 8, 2004    News media contact:  Michael Wacht*   
407-897-1140, Orlando  {0001}

An e-Review Feature

Conference boards and ministries report successes and challenges of including minorities on boards and agencies.

By J.A. Buchholz**
LEESBURG  - Representatives of the General Commission on Religion and Race (GCORR) were impressed with what they learned about the Florida Conference and its commitment to eliminate racism and be inclusive of ethnic and racial minorities.
GCORR heard reports from conference agencies, boards and ministries Dec. 12 and 13 at the Life Enrichment Center in Leesburg. It was one of several conference audits the agency conducts each quadrennial. GCORR monitors the progress of racial and ethnic minority inclusiveness in the church, assesses the rate of progress and recommends needed changes to leadership.

Two GCORR staff members met with minority representatives in Lake City, Leesburg and Miami prior to the December meeting and will compile a report based on those findings, as well information from conference agencies, boards and ministries, by some time in March.

Dr. Arnett Smith, chairperson of the Florida Conference Commission on Religion and Race, said he was impressed with the level of commitment and honesty at the meeting.

"We have come a long way," Smith said. "The Florida Conference is no longer a 'good old boy' network. There are still some concerns, such as the lack of communication, minorities and leadership not being informed. I think we still need to work on inclusiveness on local and conference levels in the future."

Judith Pierre-Okerson said she was pleased with the openness of the dialogue shared between conference staff, pastors and laity, but not with state of racial inclusiveness in the conference.

"I am hopeful, not pleased," she said. "I don't think we are where God wants us to be."

The Rev. Lew Arnold, associate pastor at St. Luke's United Methodist Church in Windermere, said the meeting affirmed for him that the church has some hard work to do in the area of inclusiveness. He said the meeting was the best conversation he has had about race in three years.

"I think it went very well," said Arnold, who serves on the Conference Commission on Religion and Race. "I think it highlighted the amount of work we have to do on many levels. The hard work is how to do it. I think the white or Anglo people need to be aware of institutional problems for people of color and should have intentions of balancing the scale."

Erin Hawkins, GCORR associate general secretary, said the conference is beyond other conferences in its efforts at inclusiveness. She said the pre-December meetings held around the conference revealed minorities have concerns about the commitment of leadership being inclusive in regard to agencies and boards and also the financial distribution of resources.

"The Florida Conference has a distinct uniqueness to it because of its ethnic diversity," Hawkins said. "There are still many concerns that are shared across the connection, but the Florida Conference is ahead of the curve because of the great leadership of Bishop [Timothy W.] Whitaker. There is an energy and commitment here that I have not seen in other conferences."

Hawkins said GCORR audits two conferences a year and compiles a report for leadership that shows what the conference looks like in terms of racial inclusiveness.

GCORR was established in 1968 for the primary purpose of challenging general agencies, institutions and connectional structures of the United Methodist Church to be inclusive. It is committed to the church having full and equal participation of the racial and ethnic constituency in the total life and mission of the church. It seeks to accomplish these goals through advocacy and by reviewing and monitoring the practices of the entire church in order to further ensure racial inclusiveness.

For more information about GRORR visit its Web site at


This article relates to Ethnic Local Church Concerns and Church and Society.

*Wacht is director of Florida United Methodist Communications and managing editor
of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**Buchholz is a staff writer for e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.