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Last sessions of annual gathering offer celebration, debate

Last sessions of annual gathering offer celebration, debate

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

Last sessions of annual gathering offer celebration, debate

June 6, 2006    News media contact: Tita Parham* 
800-282-8011    Orlando {0500}

NOTE: This is an overview of the last sessions of the “Witness With Power” 2006 Florida Annual Conference Event June 1-3 in Lakeland.

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

LAKELAND — With one day less than previous years to conduct the business of the conference, clergy and laity attending the “Witness With Power” 2006 Florida Annual Conference Event spent the last sessions recognizing the commitment of individuals to ministry and addressing serious financial and societal issues.

The gathering ran June 1-3. Delegates returned home a day early so they could participate in worship services in their churches Pentecost Sunday.

LAKELAND — Clergywomen process in with candidates for licensing, commissioning and ordination during the "Milestones in Ministry" service, which celebrated, in part, the 50th anniversary of women receiving full clergy rights. Photo by Caryl Kelley, Photo #06-373.

Ordination is an important item on the agenda of each annual conference event. This year’s service of ordination Friday evening featured not only those individuals making a commitment to ministry, but also the recognition of 50 years of women in ministry.

Titled “Milestones in Ministry,” the service included a procession of ordained clergywomen into the Lakeland Center’s Youkey Theater along with the 66 candidates being licensed, commissioned and ordained. The service also celebrated the ministry of clergy retiring during this annual conference event.

This year marks the 50th anniversary of The General Conference of The Methodist Church approving full clergy rights for women during its meeting in Minneapolis, Minn., May 4, 1956. Today, more than 9,700 United Methodist clergywomen serve the church at all levels, according to a recent United Methodist News Service article, with 243 clergywomen serving as members of the Florida Conference.

An ongoing, yearlong celebration of the anniversary has involved worship services, the publication of books celebrating the lives of pioneering clergywomen and writings of other clergywomen, and special observances at annual conferences. A banquet and concert celebrating the anniversary will be held Aug. 15 during the International United Methodist Clergywomen’s Consultation in Chicago.

The concert chorale from Bethune-Cookman College, in Daytona Beach, one of Florida’s denominationally-related schools, opened the service with its music and liturgical dance group. Dr. Mary Elizabeth Moore preached the sermon using Matthew 5:1-12 as her text.

Moore is the author of more than 12 books and has contributed to numerous articles and literary works. She is an ordained deacon and senior fellow at the Center for Interdisciplinary Study of Religion at Emory University.

Moore encouraged women “to salt the earth” and “light the world.” She recalled the hurdles women seeking to enter the ministry and those in ministry have encountered throughout the years. She spoke of past incidents of discrimination against clergywomen: a district superintendent asking a woman clergy candidate not to complete the process because it would undermine her husband’s ministry; a clergywoman being told she would not be promised an appointment close to her husband’s business even though there were 130 churches in the metropolitan area.

Moore said the establishment’s message to women interested in ministry was, “Keep your salt to yourself and your light under a bushel.”

“Aren’t we a mess?” she questioned. “What a messy church and world we live in. Yet, we’re the church of Jesus Christ.”

Moore said women must salt the soup and light the world as God sends women out to do ministry. She said God enflamed the apostles during Pentecost, and it is everyone’s mission to carry on his work in the world.

LAKELAND — Bishop Timothy W. Whitaker and others lay hands on the Rev. Ginny Pearcy, who was being ordained a deacon in full connection. Photo by e-Review Florida UMNS staff, Photo #06-374.

“May God enflame your life,” she said. “May your ministries bless the whole inhabitant world. With God’s help it will be so.”

The Rev. Cheryl Marks-Williams, who was commissioned during the service, said afterwards, as a female clergy, the words were encouraging. Moore’s message was so moving to the Rev. Robin Hager, also newly ordained, that as she was hugging family and friends after the service she was moved to tears.

“Her testimony to the journey through every generation was something,” Hager said. “It helps to put things into perspective. I really connected with all the other women who have gone before me. I liked what she said about maintaining saltiness and remaining luminous. It’s all pretty amazing.”

Attendants were jolted awake Saturday morning after adjourning Friday around 10:38 p.m. with Bible study led by the Rev. Scott Smith.

Smith was appointed to start Community of Faith United Methodist Church in Davenport eight years ago. He led the Bible study in a style reminiscent of the way he preaches at his church — pacing back and forth on the stage in jeans and stripped, untucked shirt, holding a Starbucks coffee cup.

Bishop Timothy W. Whitaker asked Smith and Melissa Pisco, who led Bible study during the morning session the previous day, to talk about the importance of reaching out to unchurched people, based on their experience as younger, new-church-start pastors. Pisco is serving at the Studio in Miami, an intentional outreach to people suffering from a variety of addictions.

Smith said he was “pretty freaked out” to be on stage addressing the group and hinted he was out of his element. Judging by the standing ovation he received at the end of his time he had successfully made his point.

Smith talked about a variety of issues, from the importance of serving communion each week to having the courage to do what needs to be done to be living by faith, not fear. Although he rapidly moved from subject to subject, Smith often returned to a reoccurring phrase: “We are in a revolution for the souls of humanity.”

That serious subject was followed by equally serious reports from the conference’s Board of Pension and Health Benefits (CBOPHB) and Council on Finance and Administration (CF&A).

CBOPHB reported a new denominationwide pension plan for clergy will take effect January 2007. A workshop held in September at Hyde Park United Methodist Church in Tampa and web cast live through the conference Web site will provide an opportunity for clergy to ask questions about the plan. CF&A’s presentation included good news about the conference’s finances and a number of recommendations considered each year.

CF&A reported giving to conference and denominational apportionments in 2005 totaled more than $16.8 million, an increase of more than $500,000 in 2004. The percentage of apportionments given was 89.7 percent, compared with 87.6 percent in 2004, and well above the recent five-year average. CF&A also reported money needed for clergy disability and life insurance will no longer be apportioned. Instead, it will be included as part of the monthly clergy pension and benefits billing sent to churches, reducing apportionments by $1.5 million.

The recommendation setting 2007 salaries for district superintendents at $86,180 was approved. The salaries are based on a formula that was approved at the 2004 annual conference and represent a decrease of about 1.5 percent.

The Southeastern Jurisdiction (SEJ) of The United Methodist Church requested churches throughout the jurisdiction contribute to the reconstruction costs of the dam at Lake Junaluska, the jurisdictional headquarters located in western North Carolina. The Florida Conference’s share of this cost is $165,000. CF&A recommended adding $55,000 a year for three years to the SEJ apportionment starting in 2007. It was approved.

Delegates also approved all other recommendations submitted by CF&A, including that the mileage allowance for all people traveling by car for conference meetings be set at 44.5 cents per mile, plus tolls; housing allowances, when provided to employees of conference institutions and groups, be based on the prevailing rental rate in the area in which the staff member is located; the district work fund apportionment be calculated using the same formula for all churches based on the compensation paid to the church’s pastor and other appointed clergy; granting CF&A authorization to negotiate favorable rates for and to establish a loan or line of credit not to exceed $1 million in the event of a financial shortfall to manage cash flow needs for the operations of the conference; and sanctioning that proceeds from the sale of district parsonages, as a result of the shift from 14 to nine districts, be made available to pay for legal and other related redistricting costs.

The total conference budget of a little more than $19.2 million was also approved.

One of the last items of business — resolutions — caused the most debate.

While resolutions seeking to amend the charter at Florida Southern College, supporting the United Methodist Global AIDS fund and calling for the inclusion of a youth address on the agenda of next year’s annual gathering easily passed, several others relating to allowing church membership to homosexuals led to spirited, sometimes chaotic, discussion.

LAKELAND — A delegate takes part in the debate over resolutions related to church membership and homosexuality. Photo by Greg Moore, Photo #06-375.

Three resolutions caused the debate. One called for the annual conference to issue a statement of support for the pastoral letter written by the Council of Bishops (COB) in response to the Judicial Council Decision No. 1032. That decision affirmed pastors have authority to deny or approve membership and stemmed from the case of a pastor in the Virginia Conference being suspended for denying membership to an openly gay man. A previous ruling by the Judicial Council, Decision 1031, effectively reinstated the pastor.

A second resolution, titled "Integrity," expressed gratitude to Judicial Council for its ruling and “maintaining integrity regarding the vows of membership in The United Methodist Church.” A third asked for a petition from the Florida Conference to the General Conference to amend paragraph 214 of the Book of Discipline to include a sentence that prohibits the exclusion of individuals from membership based on their sexual orientation or “gender identity.”

In an attempt to manage discussion and voting because of the potential to approve competing resolutions, the resolutions committee accepted a motion from the floor to make the resolution on Integrity a substitute for the resolution in support of the COB’s pastoral letter. Delegates raised objections and questioned the committee’s authority to allow only some of the resolutions properly before the body to be considered. The substitution motion did not pass.

Motions calling for a secret ballot on the resolutions, some language substitutions and tabling the resolutions until a later date were also not approved.

A motion by the Rev. Dr. Anne Burkholder, director of the conference’s Connectional Ministries office, to defer the resolutions to the Conference Table did pass. The Conference Table will develop a process of Christian conferencing that can be used to discuss the issues raised by the resolutions in the future so those discussions are more productive. Burkholder said the floor of annual conference was not the proper venue to address such difficult issues.

Barbara Russum, a member of Lakeside United Methodist Church in Lake Worth, said she agreed with that decision.

“I think that’s where it belongs,” she said. “Then (conference leaders) can bring it (a resolution) back to us when it’s more clear and concise.”

LAKELAND — District superintendents are sent forth during a brief appointment setting ceremony June 3 that ended the 2006 annual conference event. Photo by Caryl Kelley, Photo #06-376.

The conference ended with a short ceremony to set appointments and introduce the conference’s district superintendents.

This year marked the first year all sessions were web cast live through the conference Web site. A total of 2,289 viewers spent an average of nearly an hour each participating in the webcast. A total of 900 clergy, 875 laity and 500 visitors attended the annual conference event.

In other business:

n Five congregations were approved for discontinuation: Christ United Methodist Church in Gainesville, North United Methodist Church in Sarasota, Big Coppitt United Methodist Church in the Keys, Lakeview United Methodist Church in Miami and Mount Moriah United Methodist Church in Starke.

n The 2005 Grindheim-Sims Award was given to the Rev. Casey Neely, pastor of the Olga Ft. Myers Shores campus of Grace United Methodist Church, Cape Coral. The award is given annually to the pastor of a small membership church who has distinguished him- or herself through efforts in evangelism and church growth. The Denman Evangelism Awards were not presented because not enough applications were received. The Denman Evangelism Awards are presented annually to a United Methodist clergy- and layperson in each annual conference for outstanding work in Christian evangelism. The award is named for the late Dr. Harry Denman, distinguished lay evangelist whom Dr. Billy Graham called “my mentor in evangelism.” The awards are made possible by The Foundation for Evangelism, which was founded in 1949 by Denman. Criteria for the award are the ratio of persons received on profession of faith to beginning of year membership and performance in eleven ministry areas specified in the founding charter for the award.

n  Bishop Timothy W. Whitaker announced a total of $101,073.06 has been collected for this year’s annual conference missional offering. A portion of that, $3,287, was collected before the event. Sixty percent of the funds will go to the East Angola/Florida Covenant, 30 percent to Encounter with Christ in Latin America and 10 percent to the Bishops’ Initiative on Children and Poverty (BICAP)/Children’s Harvest to purchase backpacks and school kits for at-risk children and youth.

The Florida Conference launched a partnership with the East Angola Conference of The United Methodist Church in February 2003. The 2005 offering helped complete the rebuilding of the church at Quéssua, an area that was once a thriving missionary and spiritual center of The United Methodist Church in Angola and whose many buildings were either severely damaged or destroyed during the country’s 27-year civil war. These funds also helped provide a community health training in Angola last November and bought bicycles for new pastors who had no way to travel within their jurisdictions and commercial radio equipment to enhance communication within the East Angola Conference. They also helped bring two East Angolan students to Florida for a year to study at Florida Southern College and share their experiences with local churches. This year’s offering will fund ongoing reconstruction of Quéssua, support children of the region, secure capital purchases for self-sustainable development projects and fund missionary work.

n Whitaker also reported nearly $5,000 was collected June 2 for the Florida Conference Ministerial Education Fund.


This article relates to the 2006 Florida Annual Conference Event.

*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.