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New conference lay leader answers call from God

New conference lay leader answers call from God

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

New conference lay leader answers call from God

July 31, 2008  News media contact: Tita Parham*
800-282-8011  Orlando {0891}

NOTE: A headshot of Russ Graves is available at

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

Sharon Luther says she is excited and humbled about the opportunity to serve as lay leader of the Florida Conference. She says it’s a position God told her to accept.

Sharon Luther is welcomed as the new Florida Conference lay leader following her election May 29 at the 2008 Florida Annual Conference. Photo by Caryl Kelley. File photo #08-0869. Originally accompanied e-Review Florida UMNS #0861/May 31, 2008.

Luther was elected lay leader May 29 at the 2008 Florida Annual Conference. She succeeded Bill Walker, who served in that capacity for four years after working as director of the Florida Conference Council on Ministries until its discontinuance and then as director of its succeeding ministry area, the Connectional Ministries office.

Luther, a lifelong United Methodist, said she was interested in exploring the direction her life would take after completing her term as the South West District’s associate lay leader, but was surprised when she discovered her role as conference lay leader would be so vital and visible.

“God spoke to me at 3 a.m.,” said Luther, a member of Cypress Lake United Methodist Church in Fort Myers. “I refused God at first. I didn’t even tell my husband for two months. I was enjoying the different areas where I was volunteering.”

Luther retired from Sears management in 1993 after 27 years of service. Since then she has been involved in her district’s lay ministry, leadership council and committee on ministry, as well as on the conference Board of Ordained Ministry.

The years of experience in those areas began to make sense to her, Luther said, and she began to see they would help her if she became conference lay leader. The notion of becoming conference lay leader was further cemented in her mind when people began to say, “You should be the conference lay leader.”

After surrendering to the idea, Luther said God again spoke to her and said she should be conference lay leader — that he had been preparing her for the position for 14 years.

“I want to honor Him and praise Him,” Luther said. “I want to do this. I am absolutely thrilled that I have been chosen to do this.”

Luther said her spiritual gifts of faith, encouragement, administration and organization will be an asset to her in fulfilling the responsibilities of the job, especially as she works to create a more team approach between clergy and laity.

Luther says laity can expect an intense level of communication from her. One of her top goals is to make sure laity are properly informed and in a timely manner on important matters.

And now, she says she is prepared and ready to lead.

“I am not nervous at all,” she said. “There is a peace that God has given me.”

Luther says Walker helped make the transition to her new role easier. “Bill has been so gracious in everything,” she said. “He has just been wonderful.”

It helps that Luther loves the church. She says it has been wonderful to be part of The United Methodist Church and feels its ministries and missions are unrivaled.

“I want to support all of its ministries and missions,” she said. “I just so appreciate all that we do, the ways in which we serve not only individual communities, but the entire world.”

New position

Luther will have help with her endeavors. Russ Graves is now serving as associate conference lay leader. It’s a new position in the Florida Conference, but one other conferences have had, according to Luther.

Luther said Graves’ role, although not yet firmly defined, is primarily to inspire, empower, equip and mobilize laity.

Russ Graves

As former chairman of the conference’s Congregational Transformation committee, Graves said his passion is helping laity become more actively involved in all areas of the church.

“I want to help strengthen lay ministry,” Graves said. “I want to help clergy and laity to work together in new and missional ways.”

Graves says he plans to spend two to three months visiting churches whose clergy have been able to inspire laity to intense levels of activity. Since about the 1960s, he said, laity have increasingly become more complacent about allowing clergy to assume responsibility for too many, if not all, church ministries.

Graves said he seeks a balance between clergy and laity, with both sharing responsibility for the ministries and missions of the church.

“I want to get laity out of the pews,” he said. “I want to help them live out the Great Commission and not just talk about it.”

He says that means laity must do more than serve on their church’s board of trustees or finance committee.

“I want the laity to know both clergy and laity are called to serve,” Graves said. “We do have some lay leaders and districts that are passionate about what they do, and I just want to get out to the grassroots level and spread it all around.”

Both Luther and Graves are committed to reaching laity where they are and inspiring them to reach new levels of activity.

Luther said the coming months and years are going to be a great journey.

“I am looking forward to this,” she said. “I’m looking forward to meeting the people and visiting the churches and just everything. I am going to be busy.”


*Parham is managing editor of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**Buchholz is a freelance writer based in Seffner, Fla.