|Left to right: Jim Luther, Bill Owens and Marilyn Swanson, Florida's Staff Liaison for GC Host Operations, look over logistics for a day's work.|
As Methodists from around the world have made Tampa their home away from home for the last week and a half, many have turned to General Conference volunteers for help as simple as directions around the convention center to issues as serious as dental and health problems and broken hearing aids. And many, said volunteers, have been in need of prayer--for personal reasons and for God’s will on contentious issues.
“This morning, we’re helping a Bishop from the Congo find a fix for his broken hearing aid,” said Jim Luther, a member at Cypress Lake UMC in Ft. Myers. He and his fellow volunteers on the “emergency needs” team also have dealt with root canals, sore throats, missing medicine and hospital stays. “We knew we would have to deal with problems like these, but it has been more active than expected,” he said. In all of the above mentioned cases, volunteers have been able to put visitors in contact with the help they needed.
“We have had to be flexible enough to create solutions and be problem solvers,” said John Brown of North Naples UMC. “All of our planning is working out,” added Fred Gardner.
Holly Brown, a member at North Naples UMC, has enjoyed her role as hostess to visitors from around the world. “We’ve been able to contribute to these visitors’ well being and sense of being welcomed,” she said, adding that she had helped a visitor who had never seen an escalator before ride it successfully. Dottie Graves, of Melbourne First UMC, spoke of the joy she had experienced while making the visitors “feel loved.” She also spoke of how surprisingly flexible and willing the 1,125 volunteers had been throughout the conference, working past their shifts and filling in whenever needed.
Because there are so many different languages, volunteers could not actually speak to each visitor about their needs, but through smiles and hand movements and acting, all managed to communicate. “We have handled the language barriers, and greeters at the airport and the Marriott (where most of the international visitors stayed) have really helped,” said Gardner.
While there have been plenty of volunteers from the state of Florida, people have also come from as far away as Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas and Washington. Another way volunteers have served is as a “lost and found,” re-uniting 20 I phones and 3 I pads with their owners. Intact wallets and purses have also been returned. The 25 pairs of glasses that were lost were in the process of being found, said Luther.
|Francis Jennings, left, and Joyce Estes talk about the many visitors praying for God's will to be done in General Conference issues.|
Jim Cook, of Trinity UMC in Gainesville, has been serving as a prayer volunteer and co-chair of the Spiritual Formation Group. He and his fellow spiritual directors have been available to delegates and visitors all during the conference to pray with them and discuss their needs.
“People have been stopping in all along the conference, praying in the chapel, walking the labyrinths and being able to talk to someone one on one,” he said. “As things wrap up and things get a little more contentious, they’ve been praying for God’s will to be done on the important issues,” he said. Spiritual directors have come from all over, too, from places as far away as Louisiana and Washington state--coming to pray and listen, said Cook.
International visitors to the prayer areas have shown their spiritual sides in ways that might seem very different culturally to some of the on-site volunteers. “Some have been kneeling or lying on the floor, and showing how open they are to the spirit,” he said.
Having a quiet, safe place for people to come and take a rest from the busy voting and crowded halls was a goal of planners and volunteers. Frances Jennings, a member at Avondale UMC in Jacksonville, said that in the extensive planning for this time, much emphasis was placed on prayer and the places for and means to pray.
Beautiful prayer mantles, designed by Joyce Estes, member at St. George Island UMC, have enhanced the spiritual and prayerful experience at conference. In addition, a huge net covered an entire wall in the prayer area, allowing people to write their prayers on paper fishes and attach them. “The net has prayers about everything from dogs to divorce to babies---whatever is on their hearts,” said Estes. Jennings added, “When the nets come down, these prayers will go to a local church for prayers all year long.” It’s clear that the planning, the care and the prayers of volunteers at General Conference will be remembered long after the visitors, with their cares, broken hearing aids and other problems have gone home.