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Volunteers at General Conference reap more than they sow

Volunteers at General Conference reap more than they sow

Volunteers caring for hospice patients commonly report how their own lives were changed. Adults mentoring at-risk youth frequently say they learn more than their students. And laity serving at Emmaus weekends usually describe how their own faith grew through the act of service.
It’s often the case that when people give of their time and talents they reap untold and unexpected benefits. And that’s just what the Florida Conference predicts will happen for the hundreds of people needed as volunteers when the Florida Conference hosts General Conference 2012 at the Tampa Convention Center, April 24th through May 4th.

Marilyn Swanson recruits a volunteer during the pre-General Conference news briefing recently.

Since this conference brings together delegates from around the world to determine current and future policies of the United Methodist Church, serving as a volunteer offers enormous opportunity for spiritual and social growth. In effect, volunteers have a front-row seat as the theology and structure that govern our church are shaped and articulated.

“The benefit of volunteering during the General Conference is the experience of being onsite while important decisions regarding future policy for The United Methodist Church are being made,” said  Marilyn Swanson, Annual Conference Event Director.
Some 5,000 delegates, visitors and guests are expected to converge in Tampa for General Conference, which will require hundreds of volunteers to help – whether as greeters in the airport, convention center and hotels or as providers of prayer and information.

“Volunteers may sign up for one shift or as many as they are able to fulfill,” said Swanson.
Signing up is easy. Simply go to  for a list and description of the volunteer opportunities, including the needed days and times.

“We hope to fill all the time shifts by the end of March, but will continue to accept volunteers until the event,” notes Swanson.  “If a volunteer finds that he or she needs to change days or times, we can accommodate these changes.”

Once volunteers are registered they will receive information via e-mail, a volunteer vest to be worn during shifts and training for specific duties.

“Volunteers will receive initial instructions via email after they have registered,” explained Swanson. “As the event comes closer, additional training pieces will be sent electronically via email.  Onsite orientation and training will be provided a half-hour before volunteers begin their first shift.  This training time is built into the time shift selected.  Certain positions will require more extensive training, and this is built in to the time commitment that volunteers make when registering.”
The Florida Conference believes this event is a great opportunity to get individual church members, ministry groups and committees more involved in the General Conference. The volunteer website provides a resource “Toolkit” and Volunteer Recruitment DVD, which may be downloaded or obtained by calling 1.800.282.8011 x 197 or by emailing

While there is no cost to volunteers, there is also no reimbursement for housing or meals. But conference organizers are confident that the benefits of the volunteer experience will far outweigh the financial costs.

“As the mission statement of the Florida Hospitality Team states, they will be ‘offering a gift of warm welcome that provides a setting for the unity and health of the church,’ ” said Swanson.