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Florida Conference delegates reflect on work at mid-way point

Florida Conference delegates reflect on work at mid-way point

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

Florida Conference delegates reflect on work at mid-way point

April 28, 2008     News media contact: Tita Parham* 
800-282-8011    Orlando {0841}

An e-Review Feature
By Erik J. Alsgaard**

FORT WORTH, Texas — As General Conference wrapped up its first week, several Florida Conference delegates shared their impressions of the work they’ve done so far and hopes for the work yet to come.

The Rev. Bob Bushong, pastor at First United Methodist Church, Winter Park, and Jeannie Jacques, a lay delegate from St. Mark’s United Methodist Church in Lakeland, work together in the Faith and Order legislative committee. Photo by Erik Alsgaard. Photo #08-0824.

The Rev. Clarke Campbell Evans, pastor of St. Paul’s United Methodist Church in Tallahassee, said it has been a great few days for him.

“I’ve enjoyed getting to know a lot of people from across the globe,” he said, “and really getting a chance to sit down and talk about what life’s like in Angola or Colorado. It’s just been a fun experience in that regard.”

Campbell-Evans’ legislative committee on the superintendency is finished with its work and has referred its recommendations to the plenary.

In order to handle the more than 1,500 petitions that were submitted to the 2008 General Conference, 13 legislative committees were formed, each composed of about 50 to 80 people. The committees discuss and vote on petitions that would revise The United Methodist Church’s Book of Discipline and Book of Resolutions. They then send their recommendations to the full assembly. Each delegate serves on a committee.

Disney Weaver, a lay delegate from First United Methodist Church, Haines City, has been working on ordination and the candidacy processes in his legislative committee.

“It’s going well,” he said. “It’s a good second time around, to put into action thoughts and conversations that I’ve had for the last four years.”

Weaver’s committee is recommending changes to the voting rights of local pastors, allowing them to vote on delegates to General Conference. Those recommendations, if adopted by the assembly, would change The United Methodist Church’s Constitution, which would then require approval by two-thirds of the aggregate number of members attending their annual conferences around the world.

“I really would like to see this constitutional amendment go before the annual conference for consideration,” he said. “I agree that it’s a big change, but I think it’s time to do it; it’s time to act.”

The Rev. David Dodge, director of the Florida Conference’s Center for Clergy Excellence, is also working on issues of higher education and ministry.

“Another issue that we spent a great deal of time on was the issue of deacons and the administration of sacraments,” he said. “There is a petition going forth to the plenary session that would call for the bishop to be able to authorize, for the sake of the ministry and mission of the church, that deacons could serve the sacraments. So we’ll see how the plenary goes with that.”

Jad Denmark (left), a lay delegate from Anona United Methodist Church in Largo, talks intently with another member of the legislative committee on which they both served, which dealt with human sexuality. Delegates began voting on recommendations from the committees April 28 and will continue until the end of General Conference May 2. Photo by Erik Alsgaard. Photo #08-0825.

Jad Denmark, a lay delegate from Anona United Methodist Church in Largo, spent the first week of General Conference working on issues related to human sexuality.

“It’s been an interesting experience,” he said of his first time at General Conference. “We’ve done some groundbreaking work, I think.”

In particular, he said, the work on the language of homosexuality has been an experience of holy conferencing.

“There’s a portion of the debate that has been really good,” he said. “It’s been real holy conferencing where people who are moderate to right, theologically, on that issue or moderate and left have really, really worked to reach each other.”

The recommendation being proposed, he said, would remove the so-called “incompatibility” language from The Book of Discipline and make a statement that United Methodists are not of one mind on the homosexuality issue, which Denmark thinks is true for most United Methodists.

“I’m not so sure of the righteousness of one side or the other, but I know that I’m in the middle of it, struggling with it, and I think this (proposed) language speaks to that,” he said. “This type of language will really allow for the younger generations, whether they’re gay or straight, to be more willing to walk into the doors of a church and be embraced by the church and be in conversation with the church.”

The Rev. David McEntire, pastor of First United Methodist Church in Lakeland, said he’s been pleasantly surprised about how caring and cooperative this General Conference seems to be, compared to the last several General Conference sessions.

“From those who have been before, the contrast is quite extraordinary, that people have really taken to heart the impetus that the bishops have laid out before us, to do no harm and to do good and to just make sure that God was in the center of all we do,” he said. “I think that has shaped the debate.

“We haven’t agreed on everything, and we’re sometimes seeing radically opposed views, but people are still the most important thing, and how we treat each other is a model for the rest of the world. I really appreciate that.”

McEntire, who is a member of the same legislative committee as Denmark, reflected on the debates held in his group.

“It’s been interesting to decide how we’re going to approach our statements toward people,” he said. “Do we want to say that how we behave and how we act is for all of us? Do we want to segregate certain people out and go after them? It’s a dangerous thing to do and a dangerous precedent.

“I think one of the most precious things the church has is the ability to speak to people with grace and to speak to people about transformation, rather than condemnation, because it’s really the love of God that changes hearts, not God’s anger. So I’m curious to see if that carries over to the whole plenary session.”

The Rev. Jorge Acevedo (right), senior pastor of Grace United Methodist Church in Cape Coral, and co-leader of the Florida Conference delegation, considers the discussion during a meeting of his legislative committee, which dealt with issues related to discipleship. Photo by Erik Alsgaard. Photo #08-0826.

McEntire, and the rest of the church, will find out starting today, when delegates consider recommen-
dations from the committees. General Conference continues through May 2.

Already preparing for 2012

Marilyn Swanson, who is not part of the Florida Conference delegation, is in Fort Worth to learn about the responsibilities of the host committee. The 2012 General Conference will be held in Tampa, and Swanson will serve as the operations director there.

“That means I will be responsible for organizing all of the volunteer effort of the host committee,” she said. “It will entail making sure that all of the nine different areas the host committee is responsible for are cared for.”

A lot of work falls to the host committee, Swanson said, from working with the international delegation and coordinating the Council of Bishops meeting before the General Conference to assisting with registration and non-emergency needs of visitors and delegates.

“The people from the Central Texas Conference have been very helpful to me. They’ve shared everything that they know,” Swanson said. “They want to make sure I’m armed and ready for 2012 and help us avoid some of the things that they had to overcome in 2008.”


*Parham is managing editor of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**Alsgaard is director of communications for the Florida Conference.