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Faith triumphs over adversity in Florida (Dec. 14, 2004)

Faith triumphs over adversity in Florida (Dec. 14, 2004)

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

Faith triumphs over adversity in Florida

Dec. 17, 2004    News media contact:  Michael Wacht*    
407-897-1140     Orlando  {0209}

An e-Review and UMNS Feature
By Joretta Purdue**

Adversity may bring out the best in some people, if the financial giving of United Methodists in some areas is any indication.

"Our connectional giving is up this year," reported Randy Casey-Rutland, treasurer of the Florida Conference. Giving increased despite the fact that "many of our churches were negatively affected by three hurricanes this year."
Some 30 percent of all United Methodist properties in Florida were damaged by the storms. More importantly, Casey-Rutland noted, members lost homes, businesses, jobs and sometimes friends or loved ones.

"Hurricanes-as any disaster-have profound and long-term effects, but with every disaster is an opportunity for ministry," he said. The response of other less-affected congregations within the conference and of the larger connection have supported the congregations in the hard-hit areas and offered an opportunity to refocus on people in need.

The annual conference's process of transformation over the past year may be important, too, he added. Florida Conference has restructured itself, reducing the number of districts from 14 to nine. The new districting will take effect June 2005. At that time every church in the conference will be part of a church cluster. Theological and ecclesial motivation has shifted the focus from vertical to horizontal relationships-or from churches relating to district and conference events and ministry to relating to neighboring churches. The churches work together to improve the church and the world, Casey-Rutland said.

All the local churches have been affected, and the changes have generally been well received and seen as positive changes, he added. "There have been lots of people involved in discussions of who we are as a church," he explained.
"Hurricanes provided opportunity and motivation to be in ministry, to reach out to people. The churches have responded in powerful and exciting ways," he said.

Western North Carolina, in the northward path of the hurricanes, experienced heavy flooding and mudslides this summer, destroying or damaging hundreds of homes and other structures.

"The floods have spurred increased giving to Advance specials for relief," acknowledged the Rev. William C. Wyman, conference treasurer, but the regular operational funds have received less. "Our economic conditions here are really, really, really not recovering well."

Textile and furniture plants have closed, and their jobs have gone elsewhere. "A lot of our churches are in desperate economic conditions," Wymun said.

Western North Carolina Conference's giving to the general church is running 11 percent behind this time last year. Florida's giving is up almost 4 percent. Meanwhile, Illinois Great Rivers Conference-central and southern Illinois-has risen sharply.

Brenda Barton, conference treasurer, explained the conference voted last year to give the general church 100 percent of the amount asked, so this year the conference simply divided that amount and has been paying 12 equal installments. Since giving is cyclical at the local level, the conference is using reserves to supplement its receipts.
Barton has been tracking the area's congregational giving. At the end of November, it was 1.83 percent less than last year, continuing a downward trend she has been seeing for the past seven years. One factor, she said, is a lack of growth in many towns within the conference while church expenses continue to rise.

Florida, Western North Carolina and Illinois Great Rivers are three of the 63 conferences in the United States, along with 59 annual conferences in other parts of the world. Each is different, but each is the same as they seek to know what it means to be a part of God's church in the 21st century.

"People need to give in the same measure that God has given to us," said Sandra Lackore, treasurer of the United Methodist Church and head of its agency for financial administration. She called Advent a time to be thankful for being alive and for God's gift of his son.

 "God first gave to us, so we give back what is God's," she said. "It's not about budgets. It's about Christian discipleship."


This article relates to Stewardship and Transformation.

*Wacht is director of Florida United Methodist Communications and managing editor
of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**Purdue is a retired United Methodist News Service news director.