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Delegates urged to take up the gauntlet of those who passed

Delegates urged to take up the gauntlet of those who passed

Rev. and Mrs. Douglas F. Hallman lighting the candles during the Service of Remembrance on Friday.  -Photo by Rev. Armando Rodriguez

Amid a long day of listening to reports and taking care of church business, Annual Conference attendees took time out Friday to remember those who once labored at similar chores.

Twenty-four pastors, 20 spouses and one diaconal minister who died in the past year were honored at the 2012 Service of Remembrance at The Lakeland Center.

The service included scripture readings, stirring vocals, a reading of the names, bell tolling and a poignant sermon delivered by Rev. Newton Williams, senior pastor of Ebenezer UMC in Jacksonville. Williams explained to the audience that his participation in the service was “ironic” because his wife of 39 years was one of those listed in the program. Derya Ann English Williams died in November.

Williams said he knew it would be hard to preach the sermon but added, “The Lord will make a way somehow.”

He praised his late wife and spoke about the special role clergy spouses play in their partners’ calling as pastors. He then focused on celebrating the lives of those who have “labored in the vineyard and gone on,” and challenged those who are here to take up the work they started.

He closed his remarks by quoting both the words of a Charles Wesley song, “to serve the present age,” and an old spiritual that says, “I want Jesus to walk with me.” He then told his listeners, “God be with you. Vaya con Dios.”

In addition to the names printed in the 2012 Worship Book, four names were added to the list too late for publication. They were Doris Brackman, Ray Grossman, Mildred Daniel and Louis Diaz Darce.

Rev. Russell Meyer, executive director of the Florida Council of Churches, called for all denominations to work for common goals.  -Photo by Rev. Armando Rodriguez

In other Annual Conference business Friday:

  • Rev. David Dodge, executive director of the Center for Clergy Excellence, encouraged delegates from congregations and ministries of all sizes to nurture those interested in pursuing ordination, particularly young people.
  • Delegates endorsed by applause the candidacy of Debbie McLeod for bishop in the Southeastern Jurisdiction (SEJ). A decision will be made next month at the SEJ Conference in Lake Junaluska, N.C.
  • Rev. Russell Meyer, executive director of the Florida Council of Churches, applied the “Unity in Christ” theme to a call for United Methodists to work with other denominations toward common goals. He listed recent multi-denominational campaigns that pushed for fair wages for Florida farm workers, a stop to racial profiling in assessing potential criminal activity and more attention to the needs of the poor by lawmakers in Tallahassee.
  • Delegates voted to close five churches in the Conference, citing dwindling membership and worship attendance and/or financial struggles. The churches are Grapevine Community UMC, Port St. Lucie; First UMC, Deltona; Taft Livingston Memorial UMC, Orlando; Good Shepherd UMC, Lake Placid; and Christ UMC, Lakeland.
  • Delegates approved a $17.6 million Florida Conference budget for 2013.
  • Conference attendees were advised that changes to future clergy retirees’ health benefits and individual church property insurance plans will need to be contemplated in the months ahead because of escalating costs.
  • After some debate, delegates adopted a resolution to encourage local congregations to participate in Creation Care Task Force initiatives aimed at environmental stewardship. Some delegates objected to the resolution, saying Christians should focus more on missions specifically set forth by Jesus in the Bible, such as making disciples.

Editor Susan Green contributed to this report.