|Rev. Jorge Acevedo|
As they gear up for Annual Conference next month in Lakeland, Florida Methodists say the sting of watching global church reform fizzle at UMC’s General Conference in Tampa hasn’t deterred them from their central mission of strengthening local congregations.
General Conference delegates interviewed said lessons learned at the global level can be applied to the Annual Conference, scheduled for June 14 to 16 in Lakeland.
“People seldom change when they see the light,” said Rev. Jorge Acevedo, pastor of Grace UMC in Cape Coral. “They change when they feel the fire.”
A 25-year veteran of working in recovery ministries, Acevedo sees last month’s lost opportunities as a step toward positive change.
“General Conference 2012 will have been an exercise that moved us to healing as a denomination, or we will dwindle away into despair,” he said. “Elevating the institutional pain may be one of the few benefits.”
Rev. Debbie McLeod, pastor of Mandarin UMC in Jacksonville, said the work that went into the recommendations for reform that failed at General Conference can still be used to push for improvements.
“I am not discouraged,” she said. “Jorge Acevedo and I both worked on the Call to Action for three years. The research was good. The directions are compelling. While I would have preferred for significant restructure to take place at GC 2012, none of what we learned is wasted.
“The church wasn’t ready to reform the General Church structure,” she added. “But the most important part of the Call to Action is the accountability for annual conferences and local churches to recruit young leaders and focus on vital congregations. Before General Conference, we said that church vitality was the most important part of the Call to Action, and that is still true.”
For others, like Rev. Jim Harnish, senior pastor of Hyde Park UMC in Tampa, the disappointments revealed the path to future success.
“General Conference confirmed the systemic dysfunctions of our life together, which makes it almost impossible to align our resources in a way that would create and sustain vital congregations,” he said.
“It also uncovered some of the deep fissures that will continue to plague us in the years ahead. It was another confirmation that the hope for our movement comes from the bottom up, not from the top down.”
|Rev. David McEntire|
And for Rev. David McEntire, senior pastor of First UMC in Lakeland, the lost opportunities are providing the motivation to continue the efforts.
“[As a result of the failed resolutions,] the church will be forced into a reactive rather than a proactive position in the years to come, " McEntire said. “Personally, I am not willing to accept this and will work to advocate, pray and give time for the type of reform which promotes the mission to the church while being honest about the critical need to restructure the church.”
Other delegates pointed out that the act of coming together as a church in one community was in itself a healing and relationship-building process that will strengthen the church in the long run.
“While the ‘big stuff’ may take more time to complete than what was allowed to us, the most important aspect of General Conference was working with delegates from around the world to improve The United Methodist Church's doctrine,” said Walter L. Dry Sr., Gulf Central District lay leader and member of First UMC Spring Hill.
“Seeing the phenomenal way our volunteers provided gracious, joyful, warm-hearted hospitality for our sisters and brothers from across the church was important," noted Harnish. “Their welcome and assistance went far beyond anyone’s expectations. The best part is that they really had fun doing it.”
Buoyed by the successes on the personal level and wide open about the challenges of the global church, delegates are looking forward to Annual Conference.
“The places where people make commitment to Christ are at the altar rail of their local church, at summer camp, in campus ministries, in ministries with the poor,” McLeod said. “We have the joy of focusing there and allowing the Holy Spirit to renew us in every local church in our Annual Conference.”
The Annual Conference will begin with workshops and registration for clergy and laity on June 13 at The Lakeland Center, 701W. Lime St. The conference is scheduled for June 14 through 16. For information, click on “Annual Conference 2012” under Quick Links at www.flumc.org.