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Gathering challenges churches to identify social issue all can address

Gathering challenges churches to identify social issue all can address

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

Gathering challenges churches to identify social issue all can address
Jan. 18, 2007    News media contact: Tita Parham* 
800-282-8011    Orlando {0606}
An e-Review Feature
By J.A. Buchholz**

LAKELAND — There are many needs in Florida — too many for United Methodists to tackle all at once — but what are one or two issues of justice and mercy common across Florida that all conference churches can make a real difference in addressing?
That’s the question clergy and laity will consider at the next Conference Table, titled “Shaping a Common Social Witness,” Jan. 27 at First United Methodist Church of Spring Hill.
The session is designed to create conversation around ways conference churches can become more directly involved in social justice issues as an expression of their witness to the love of God for the world and the denomination’s unique Wesleyan heritage. The day will feature time for personal sharing, Bible study, worship and discernment. The goal is that a compelling societal issue of concern to communities across the conference will surface, uniting all conference churches in a common mission. Conference leaders will then take that suggested focus to the 2007 Florida Annual Conference Event for a vote by members.
While he believes the conference has been involved in social issues on some level, the Rev. Clarke Campbell-Evans feels it hasn’t had the impact it could have had. Campbell-Evans is chairman of this Conference Table’s planning team and senior pastor at Saint Paul’s United Methodist Church in Tallahassee.
“The church is called by Christ to have a concern for the poor, but that is not purely to do charitable work, but also to work for justice,” he said, adding, “Jesus complained that the religious folks had neglected the weightier matters of justice and mercy and faith (Matt. 23:23).” 

He said The United Methodist Church and Florida Conference excel in the area of mission and response following natural disasters. “We are pretty good at having strategies around mercy ministries, such as the area of mission, and exploring faith development through creative worship and small groups, but where do we focus upon issues of justice?” he said.
He marveled at the idea of what it would look like if the church focused its interest on one or two common concerns and said the church has a responsibility to have a voice about social issues impacting society.

The planning team is hopeful that by the end of the day participants will have targeted one compelling issue the entire conference can collectively support. Campbell-Evans said Florida Conference Bishop Timothy W. Whitaker has encouraged the team to help participants focus on a smaller group of issues to avoid getting bogged down in multiple items and areas that might divide the church.
Campbell-Evans said he and the planning team are more concerned about making sure every church, regardless of size, can support the one or two common social issues than being able to discern one area of focus in light of the many that can be addressed.
“If you come, you will have the opportunity to be in on the ground floor of a creative process to make a difference in our state and enhance our witness for Christ,” Campbell-Evans said of potential participants, adding the gathering will give people the chance to be a voice for the voiceless.

Contemplating what can be done and then doing it is also important in the life of the church, Campbell-Evans says, quoting Micah 6:8: “What does the Lord require of you but to do justice and to love kindness and to walk humbly with your God.”
“God cares about the way we relate to one another and order the world we share,” he said. “The question is how we can do that most effectively as a leading church in the state of Florida.”
The session will begin with on-site registration at 10:30 a.m. Lunch will be provided at a nominal charge for those who register in advance at The event will conclude by 4 p.m.
All Conference Table gatherings are web cast live so those who are not able to attend may access the session on their home or office computer while it is taking place. Interested individuals may enter the webcast on the day of the event by visiting the conference Web site at and clicking on the webcast button.
After completing the registration form onsite participants will be asked via e-mail to respond to two brief questions, providing input for the day’s conversation. All webcast participants and those interested in the conversation but not able to attend or participate via the webcast are also asked to answer the questions, which are posted on the conference Web site at
The session is the 17th Conference Table in the series. The format was created in 2002 as a venue for clergy and laity to discuss the connectional life and current context of The United Methodist Church in Florida in the 21st century.
This article relates to Church and Society/Conference Table.
*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.