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Bishop Timothy W. Whitaker reassigned to Florida

Bishop Timothy W. Whitaker reassigned to Florida

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

Bishop Timothy W. Whitaker reassigned to Florida

July 20, 2008     News media contact: Tita Parham* 
800-282-8011    Orlando {0885}

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

LAKE JUNALUSKA, N.C. — Bishop Timothy W. Whitaker was reassigned July 18 to the Florida Conference for the 2009-2012 quadrennium.

Florida Conference Bishop Timothy W. Whitaker waves to the Florida Conference delegation after the announcement that he will be returning to the Florida Conference as its episcopal leader for another quadrennium. Photo by Tita Parham. Photo #08-0933. For longer description see photo gallery.

That announcement was made during the evening session on the third day of the 2008 Southeastern Jurisdictional Conference, held at the Lake Junaluska conference center. The conference ended at noon July 19.

The conference’s main focus was to elect one new bishop in the jurisdiction. The Rev. Paul Leeland, former assistant to the bishop in the North Carolina Conference, was elected on the sixth ballot. He was appointed to the Alabama-West Florida Conference.

Bishops in The United Methodist Church in the United States are elected and assigned every four years at five concurrent Jurisdictional Conferences. A jurisdiction is a geographical region containing a number of annual conferences. The Southeastern Jurisdiction runs from Kentucky and Virginia, then east of the Mississippi River to include Georgia, Tennessee, the Carolinas, Florida, Alabama and Mississippi. There are 15 annual conferences in the Southeastern Jurisdiction with 13 bishops. In the United States, there are 50 active bishops; worldwide, there are 69.

Whitaker has served the Florida Conference since 2001, following the death of Bishop Cornelius L. Henderson. Whitaker was elected in 2001 at a special session of the Southeastern Jurisdictional Conference following Henderson’s death.

Vision for the future

Speaking at a reception to welcome Whitaker and his wife, Melba, back to Florida, the Rev. Sue Haupert-Johnson said on behalf of the Florida Conference’s 52-member delegation to the Jurisdictional Conference how excited they were to have Whitaker return.

During a reception for Florida Conference Bishop Timothy W. Whitaker and his wife, Melba, July 18, the Rev. Sue Haupert-Johnson expresses the excitement felt by the Florida Conference delegation over the bishop’s return to the conference as its episcopal leader. Photo by Tita Parham. Photo #08-0934. For longer description see photo gallery.

“On behalf of all us, I am so delighted to welcome back your mind and your spirit and your leadership and your partner in all of ministry, Melba,” she said. “We’re so excited that you are returning. We pledge to you that we will support your leadership and that we will always, always undergird you with prayer. Welcome back.”

Haupert-Johnson’s comments were greeted with a rousing round of applause.

“Thank you all so much for this warm welcome back to Florida,” the bishop said. “It’s very different from the first time I was sent to Florida. I want you to know that I am relieved that I am returning to Florida.”

His comment was met with echoes around the room of “so are we.”

“But I’m also very, very challenged by the responsibility and the opportunity that we have of being in ministry together,” Whitaker said. “What excites me and challenges me is what I think God can do through us working together in making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. I’m really hoping and praying that, together, we can get centered in our ministry of making disciples around the five practices of the Methodist Way.”

While striving to achieve that goal, Whitaker said the conference must also “participate in God’s work of transforming the world.”

“Because we can’t just look in on ourselves,” he said. “We have to be a part of what God is doing in the world, and I think God will bless us as we do that.”

Whitaker said part of that mandate is “loving the children of Florida.”

“I think our Methodist people, who care so much and who love children, I think they will respond to our call to be more engaged, particularly with children and poverty,” he said.

Bishop Timothy W. Whitaker thanks members of the Florida Conference delegation to the 2008 Southeastern Jurisdictional Conference and guests for their support and shares his vision for the conference’s ministry ahead. Photo by Tita Parham. Photo #08-0935. For longer description see photo gallery.

“So when you think about all of that,” the bishop concluded, “it’s a tremendous challenge. But I know that our working together, and with the energy of the Holy Spirit illuming us and guiding us and empowering us, that The United Methodist Church in Florida can make a difference in God’s world. So, we are really thrilled to be coming back.”

Whitaker thanked his wife, Melba, of whom he said: “I couldn’t get through life without her, much less the episcopacy. Melba is a deeply spiritual person and a person whose discipleship is centered in prayer. She prays for me, and that means a lot, as well as her love, and I’m deeply grateful for that.”

Delight, relief

For the Rev. Jorge Acevedo, who was the first clergyperson elected to the Florida Conference delegation at the 2007 Florida Annual Conference and is a member of the jurisdictional committee that assigns bishops to their areas, the appointment of Whitaker back to Florida culminates months of work.

“I’m grateful that Bishop Whitaker is coming back to Florida,” he said. “It was the right thing to do. There was a real sense of the spirit’s guiding and leading through the whole process, not just in the larger body, but also in the committee when it met to make assignments.”

Acevedo noted that the Florida Conference Committee on the Episcopacy, the Florida Conference cabinet and the “entire annual conference” had expressed their desire to see Whitaker return.

“We’re at a critical time in the life of our annual conference,” he said. “There’s some momentum in his leadership, and the next four years are going to be an exciting time for us as an annual conference.”

The Rev. Beth Fogle-Miller, newly elected director of the Florida Conference’s connectional ministry office, welcomes Bishop Timothy W. Whitaker and his wife, Melba (center), back to the conference for another quadrennium. Photo by Tita Parham. Photo #08-0936. For longer description see photo gallery.

Acevedo said Whitaker got a late start beginning his ministry in Florida after Henderson died because the quadrennium had already begun. And shortly after “getting his bags unpacked,” the conference faced the process of recovery from the 2004 and 2005 hurricanes and restructured the conference from 14 to nine districts. As a result, Acevedo said, “he lost some months in there.”

“So it really has taken these seven and a half years or so … it’s taken a little longer for us to get focused around what our mission is and how we’re going to accomplish that mission in the annual conference,” Acevedo said. “So these next four years will give us more time to live into the hopes, the dreams and the prayers of the annual conference. It will be a very fruitful time.”

The Rev. Beth Fogle-Miller, newly appointed as director of the conference’s connectional ministry office, said she was delighted and relieved Whitaker was returning.

“But there’s much work to be done, and I’m glad he’s going to be here to help lead that,” she said. “I understand his conviction that we are to do more than make disciples for more than just making disciples, but we are to make a positive and practical difference in the world. It’s a sense of moving beyond ourselves or our institutional well-being. We’re supposed to make a difference.”

Sharon Luther, who was elected conference lay leader at the 2008 Florida Annual Conference and attends Cypress Lake United Methodist Church in Ft. Myers, said that she, too, was thrilled.

“We have been praying for this,” she said. “We in the laity are getting so excited about what we’re going to be doing over the next four years, and it’s just a thrilling time for us right now.”

Russ Graves, a member of First United Methodist Church in Melbourne and associate lay leader of the conference — a new position on the Board of Lay Ministry — said Whitaker has cast a vision the laity are catching.

“About six months ago, the bishop gave the laity a challenge,” he said. “He essentially said that we’ve been talking about getting laity involved, and it’s time to quit talking and start moving.”

The bishop, Graves said, is talking about ways the laity can be more effective at getting to the grassroots and starting a laity-lead movement of disciple-making.

A member of the Florida Conference delegation welcomes Melba Whitaker back to the Florida Conference as a partner in ministry with her husband, Bishop Timothy W. Whitaker, during a reception July 18 following the announcement of the bishop’s reassignment as episcopal leader of the Florida Conference for another quadrennium. Photo by Tita Parham. Photo #08-0937. For longer description see photo gallery.

“To have him back to help that vision move forward and to have that empowerment we need to help us make that happen is phenomenal,” he said. “I believed he was coming back, but I was sweating.”

The next four years

Speaking the week before the Jurisdictional Conference began, Whitaker outlined the vision he’d work to achieve if he returned to the Florida Conference for four more years.

“I intend to hold a convocation of all the clergy in the conference Oct. 14 in Lakeland,” he said. “The theme of that convocation will be ‘Making Disciples of Jesus Christ for the Transformation of the World.’ ”

The meeting will be a place where the bishop’s agenda will be clearly spelled out to the clergy.

“I wanted to have a clear demarcation for a new quadrennium,” Whitaker said. “I wanted the clergy to know the emphasis of my administration for the next four years.”

“You know,” he continued, “when a bishop is returned for a third quadrennium and is looking at retirement at the end of that period of time, the questions start to come up about whether the bishop is just going through the motions, about whether a bishop is going to start any new initiatives. The convocation will show that we’re going to be intentional about what we’re going to do together; we’re not going to coast. I owe it to Christ and we owe it to each other that, by God’s grace, we’ll make disciples for the transformation of the world.”

The convocation will focus on three main themes: the process the church will use to make disciples, how churches can participate with God in transforming the world and the Bishop’s Capital Campaign.

The process of making disciples of Jesus Christ is perhaps better known as “The United Methodist Way,” Whitaker said. The bishop noted that new barometers of progress will be introduced so churches can better measure themselves in the five practices of The United Methodist Way.

But making disciples of Jesus Christ doesn’t end with personal salvation, he said. The second theme — transforming the world — is also important.

“As churches lift their eyes beyond the church walls and see what God is doing in their community, in their world, churches are called to participate with God in transforming it,” Whitaker said. “The church has to be involved.”

During the convocation, clergy will also learn more about the ongoing capital campaign, which is raising money for camping and retreat ministries, as well as campus ministry.

“In the next four years, we’re going to build on a lot of work that’s already been done, and we’re going to move in some new directions,” Whitaker said. “We’re going to solidify our leadership in congregational transformation and disciple making, and we’re going to become effective in those areas. We’ll focus on one thing: making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.”

A full listing of episcopal assignments in the Southeastern Jurisdiction is available at by clicking on the SEJ button.


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