Main Menu

United Methodist Men celebrate centennial, decades of ministry

United Methodist Men celebrate centennial, decades of ministry

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

United Methodist Men celebrate centennial, decades of ministry

Sept. 6, 2008   News media contact: Tita Parham*
800-282-8011  Orlando {0906}

An e-Review Feature
By Jenna De Marco**

While the denomination celebrates the 100th anniversary this year of the United Methodist Men’s movement, members of the Florida Conference United Methodist Men are marking their own milestone.

Bishop James W. Henley addresses a group of men at a United Methodist Men’s retreat in 1966 in the field house at the Warren W. Willis United Methodist Camp in Fruitland Park. Henley served as bishop of the Florida Conference from 1960 to 1972. A Florida Conference United Methodist Men’s archives photo. Photo #08-0981.

“We are celebrating 60 years of men’s retreats with three men’s retreats in the fall with different speakers and different types of music,” president Rodney Akers said.

The men’s retreats anniversary coincides with the centennial celebration of the United Methodist Men’s organization, founded at the 1908 General Conference — “the year the Model-T came out,” Akers joked.

When the ministry began, it was called the Methodist Brotherhood and was a conglomerate of other existing men’s ministries. In 1968, when the Evangelical United Brethren Church merged with the Methodist Church, the United Methodist Men was formed.

“We encourage local fellowships to promote — make note of it in their local churches — the 100 years, and it was announced and lifted up at the (2008 Florida) Annual Conference,” Akers said.

Florida Conference United Methodist Men marked the anniversary with a “Men’s Rally for Christ” in Tallahassee this summer. The theme was “100 Years of Making Disciples.” Representatives from the Alabama-West Florida and South Georgia conferences also attended the semiannual event.

“That’s something that has been a little bit unique with three conferences going together,” Akers said. “The numbers were down a bit, but we think the gas prices had something to do with that.”

The rally included praise, worship and preaching from Bishops Michael Watson, now episcopal leader of the North Georgia Area, but was serving the South Georgia Area at the time of the rally, and William Wesley Morris, retired. The Rev. Brad McClain, pastor of Dauphin Way United Methodist Church in Mobile, Ala., and Dr. Maxie Dunnam, former president of Asbury Theological Seminary, also participated.

Lives changed

Meanwhile, the three-day Florida Conference retreats, which take place on consecutive weekends beginning Oct. 10, will include a choice of contemporary, blended or traditional worship. The theme “Jesus is the Lighthouse” carries through to each weekend.

“(It’s) realizing that the lighthouse doesn’t move, and it’s always a marker and an anchor and a standard for guiding our lives,” Akers said.

Sixty years of men’s retreats means many lives molded and changed at the Life Enrichment Center in Leesburg, Akers said.

Florida United Methodist men participate in the first men’s retreat in 1948, held at the Lake Alfred motel. A Florida Conference United Methodist Men’s archives photo. Photo #08-0982.

“That small town has been a place where men’s and couple’s lives have been changed because of these retreats — relationships established with Jesus Christ, relationships restored with friends,” Akers said.

Judge Wallace Jopling of Gainesville attended the first retreat in 1948 and still remembers the spiritual impact it had on him. The retreats offered Jopling what he says were “my most inspiring moments with my Lord.”

“It made me determined that my church was going to have an active Methodist Men’s organization and that I was going to enlist men to go to (the retreat) in the future,” Jopling said.
Jopling, 91, now stays closer to home after many years of service to United Methodist Men.

His wife of 64 years, Miriam Guy Jopling, died a few months ago, and he suffers from leukemia. Jopling’s wife had many relatives who were Methodist pastors, and her mother claimed to be a descendant of John Wesley.

“One of the things I cherish very much is that the Methodist Men of Florida named me to the Society of John Wesley — that was about four years ago,” Jopling said. “I was very humbled and grateful.”

Jopling, who attended a couples’ retreat with his wife two years ago, believes in the retreat ministry.

“I hope (they) will continue to have the retreats they have,” Jopling said. “It finances ministerial students, contributes to the prison ministry and contributes to the Scouts.”

Reaching younger men

This year, retreat speakers include several Florida Conference pastors and worship leaders, as well as church leaders from other areas. The Rev. David Adams, general secretary of the General Commission on United Methodist Men, will speak during the Oct. 17-19 weekend. An additional special presentation that weekend is titled “Hell’s Best Kept Secret,” led by “The Biker and the Preacher.”

The contemporary and blended weekends, Akers said, will target an audience that has been challenging to attract to United Methodist Men — younger men.

The Rev. Dr. Maxie Dunham, former president of Asbury Theological Seminary, speaks at the “Men’s Rally for Christ” in Tallahassee in June. Men from the Florida, Alabama-West Florida and South Georgia conferences attended the semiannual event, which celebrated the 100th anniversary of the United Methodist Men’s organization. Photo courtesy of Florida Conference United Methodist Men. Photo #08-0983.

“We make an effort on some of our enrichment activities — the biker and the preacher, flag football and sports activities, offering some widescreen T.V. games when (University of) Florida and Florida State (University) play,” Akers said. “We don’t change the message. We’ve just got to change the package some. It’s been a struggle, but at the same time, we consider everybody over 15 a part of the Methodist Men.”

Don Heishman, who serves as retreat registrar and assists in the audio-visual operations, suggested bringing more flexibility to the men’s programs in order to reach younger men.

“I think the challenges now are trying to be relevant to some of the younger men who are coming along who just have different expectations of what they want when they get together,” Heishman said. “Also, (we should) give them the challenge of something that they can take back and use on a regular basis.”

With all the responsibilities and activities that vie for men’s time, Heishman says changing the delivery of the message might help hold their interest.

“I think the younger men, and even some of the older ones, they work in sound bytes, and you have to make points fast and keep things moving and also give them some things to work with,” Heishman said.

Details about speakers and retreat registration are available at Local church groups seeking more information about ways to celebrate the 100th anniversary should visit


*Parham is managing editor of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**De Marco is a freelance writer based in Nashville, Tenn.