Main Menu

Conference Table focuses on empowering laity to do work of church

Conference Table focuses on empowering laity to do work of church

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

Conference Table focuses on empowering laity to do work of church

April 18, 2006    News media contact: Tita Parham* 
800-282-8011    Orlando {0473}

An e-Review Feature
By J.A. Buchholz**

SEBRING — Florida Conference Bishop Timothy W. Whitaker said he wanted to bring clarity to the roles of both clergy and laity, and although those roles have not been adequately defined, he said both ordained clergy and laity must claim their rightful roles in the church.

SEBRING — Arthur Cross, a member of First United Methodist Church, Winter Park, left, holds a diagram as Dr. Trudy Corry Rankin, a licensed therapist, certified spiritual director and program coordinator for the confernece's Shade and Fresh Water ministry, addresses the group during the “Culture of Laity” Conference Table. Photo by J.A. Buchholz, Photo #06-339.

Whitaker made those comments April 1 at the “Culture of Laity” Conference Table at First United Methodist Church in Sebring. Others attending the gathering expressed their hope for the role clergy and laity can play in transforming the church.

“The laity is the church in mission to the world,” Whitaker said. “In order for there to be healthy churches there must be strong clergy, as well as strong laity.”

And they must work together. “Many (clergy and laity) read from different scripts,” he said. “They don’t have the same expectation of the roles they play.”

Whitaker said clergy and laity must be transformed in order for them to adequately take their place in the daily life of the church. Much of what has been learned throughout the years must be “unlearned” and taught in a new way, he added, saying, “We must be patient and loving so this can happen.”

Florida Conference Lay Leader Bill Walker, who moderated the event, said he believes even more change than has already taken place in the church is to come. He said The United Methodist Church is being called to return to its apostolic roots and core beliefs.

“We’re an institution eagerly yearning to be free of the limits of an institution. We want to be an organism, not an institution because an organism has vitality and growth,” he said.

Walker said one obstacle to that growth and the sustainability of the church is the consumer mentality rampant in today’s society. He said people are concerned with their own personal preferences and cited the book “Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business” by Neil Postman, which includes examples of the connection between consumerism and entertainment and how they relate to each another.

Walker said laity must increase their “acts of discipleship through the witness of the saints” in order for the church to grow and fulfill its mission.

The decreasing number of professions of faith in the conference, as well as other indicators of church health, propelled Whitaker to develop his Bishop’s Fundamentals initiative, which includes goals each church is being encouraged to meet this year. One is that every church will have at least one profession of faith.

Walker said the responsibility for a church’s professions of faith, or lack of them, rests within the congregation. He said clergy alone aren’t the answer to a church’s vitality.

Russ Graves, chair of the conference’s Congregational Transformation committee, said there must be core change within the church.

“We need to get back to the basics,” he said. “The Great Commandment must be the center of our lives and not just lip service. Every church must be in touch with God’s vision for that church.”

Just who is responsible for that vision was also discussed.

Joline Krolicki, a staff member at St. Luke’s United Methodist Church in Orlando, said every church intrinsically belongs to the laity and every person has been called to serve. She said connecting that person to his or her calling is key. Once that connection is made, a type of ownership results.

“The church belongs to the laity. My church is not (the Rev. Bill Barnes’) church,” she said. “It’s my church.”

“You have to let people know the role they play in church is critical. That way they will find joy and significance in what they are doing,” she added. “You have to empower people to do the work of the church, not church work. If someone is passing out bulletins, you let them know that that bulletin is the first thing people will see when they are at that church — before the choir sings, before the pastor walks down the aisle. You just let them know the role they play is important.”

Because getting people involved is sometimes not as easy as it would seem, Walker said it’s important for church members to share their stories with each other. Whitaker cited small groups as a way to provide that opportunity and said the importance of true small groups — versus those that have morphed into hobby or interest groups — can’t be minimized.

SEBRING — Michele Von Son, left, looks on as the Rev. Dr. Rick Neal, superintendent of the  North East District, shares his thoughts during a round table discussion shown for the Conference Table webcast. Both serve on the Florida Conference Board of Lay Ministry. Photo by J.A. Buchholz, Photo #06-340.

The Rev. Dr. Rick Neal, superintendent of the conference’s North East District, said there are “hidden” small groups in service throughout the local church. He said he has found committees coming together as the Body of Christ before regularly scheduled meetings.

During recaps of small group discussions attendees said training and empowering laity to assume leadership roles is important. It was suggested that those who have held positions for a number of years should mentor and train others to continue the work, ensuring more people have an opportunity to serve.

One attendee said filling roles within the church has to move beyond “we need a body on this committee” to a responsibility with more spiritual significance.

Walker closed the meeting saying it was only the beginning of a long journey of being the church at work in the world.

“The responsibilities of clergy and laity are tough issues,” he said. “This is a great forum for us to come together and wrestle with these topics. We are leaving different than we came. I think it’s just great for us to come together as a family and have healthy conversations.”

Bill Fackler, secretary on the Board of Lay Ministry, said after the meeting he was pleased with the discussion.

“I think we heard some critical areas for study, enhancement and growth for the church,” he said. “I think it was excellent for us to be willing to share our hopes and dreams. I hope that we go back and ignite fire within our local congregations.”

Rodney Akers, president of the Florida Conference United Methodist Men, said his fire for ministry was ignited in 1980 when he was asked to visit a men’s prison. What started out as an initial favor turned into a ministry that lasted until 2003. The former Tampa District’s United Methodist Men would visit the 300 inmates at the Hillsborough County Correctional Institute for young men ages 15 to 19.

Akers said the men looked forward to their time at the prison each Monday, sharing a message with the group, singing a song and spending one-on-one time with the inmates. Akers said he still keeps in contact with some today.

“Someone extended the opportunity to me,” he said. “I thought we should do more than just ‘meet and eat.’ If you know Jesus, you can do ministry.”


This article relates to Lay Ministry.

*Parham is managing editor of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**Buchholz is a staff writer for e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.