Capital campaign bears fruit with new worship, program center

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

Capital campaign bears fruit with new worship, program center

By Erik J. Alsgaard | Jan. 13, 2009 {0962}

LaBELLE — The dedication of a new program and worship center at Riverside Retreat in LaBelle last month was the first result of a multi-million dollar capital campaign undertaken by the Florida Conference.

The new Alice W. Lockmiller Program and Worship Center at the Florida Conference Riverside Retreat seats 100 people comfortably for worship, features a 300-degree view of the Caloosahatchee River and offers rooms for workshops, planning retreats and meetings. Photo by Erik Alsgaard. Photo #09-1084. For longer description see photo gallery.

The Alice W. Lockmiller Program and Worship Center was made possible, in part, by one of the first major gifts to the campaign, given by Lockmiller when she was in her late 90s.

“Alice was in her late 90s when she made an eight-year pledge. Talk about optimism,” said Tom Wilkinson, vice president of development at the Florida United Methodist Foundation, who was on hand to celebrate the day.
The Together! $30-million campaign focuses on enhancing ministries to children, youth and families, such as the camps and retreat centers, Florida United Methodist Children’s Home and Wesley Group Home for the developmentally disabled. The campaign’s objectives also support higher education and campus ministries throughout the state, new ministry initiatives, student scholarships, new church development and congregational transformation.

Previously, Trish and Daniel Bell, who live in Coral Gables and are members of Kendall United Methodist Church in Miami, and an anonymous donor, pledged $2 million each to the Together! campaign.

Lockmiller did not live to see the dedication of the new center that bears her name. She did, however, have the foresight to make certain her estate plan would complete the $700,000 gift in the event of her death, Wilkinson said.

“She was a terrific person, an absolutely committed Methodist Christian who has supported United Methodist and Methodist ministries literally around the world,” he said.

About 100 people gathered Dec. 13 for the grand-opening celebration, which featured a sermon from Florida Conference Bishop Timothy W. Whitaker, music and liturgical dancers from nearby United Methodist churches and a ribbon cutting ceremony.

The new building, which seats 100 people comfortably for worship and features a 300-degree view of the Caloosahatchee River, offers several additional rooms for workshops, planning retreats and meetings. Every room has state-of-the-art flat panel television monitors.

Liturgical dancers and choir members from United Methodist churches near the Florida Conference Riverside Retreat in LaBelle take part in the dedication of the retreat center’s new program and worship center. Photo by Erik Alsgaard. Photo #09-1085. For longer description see photo gallery.

Martha Pierce, director of Riverside Retreat, said the building has been a long-time dream.

“I started the dream about a year or two after I got here,” she said. “That was eight years ago. I never really even thought it could be possible and pull all of this team together. But then Alice gave the money, and I put my idea out and the contractors liked it, so they went with it.”

The new center offers exciting possibilities for many people in the southwest part of the conference, said the Rev. Alan Jefferson, superintendent of the South West District.

“Many of our people can’t make it to the ‘hub,’ which is at Leesburg,” he said, referring to the United Methodist Life Enrichment Center and Warren W. Willis Camp in Fruitland Park, near Leesburg. “This gives them an alternative which is within an hour’s drive. I see this as a great place where ministry can occur closer to a population that’s really nearby.”

The Rev. David Berkey, director of the conference camps and retreat ministries, echoed Jefferson’s comments and said the new center is the start of a revitalization plan for Riverside Retreat.

“I hope we can grow the summer program here for children in particular,” Berkey said. “In the South West District, this is a regional site. We’re only two hours from Miami and very near Ft. Myers, so it would be a great opportunity for the whole south of Florida to grow a summer program here. Adults, children, youth, families and day use — people who come out and have meetings during the week and have lunch and use this building for that purpose — that’s what we hope for.”

Prior to development of the Lockmiller Center, Riverside Retreat did not have a place that offered enough space for groups to come together and worship or participate in program ministries, said the Rev. Alex Shanks, chairman of the camps and retreat ministries board. He and Whitaker, Berkey and Jefferson cut the ribbon on the new center.

“This is the first of many projects in the capital campaign, and I think it’s wonderfully significant that it’s happening here in this place,” Shanks said. “This will be a central hub of worship and programming for Riverside Retreat.”

As speed boats sought to interrupt the first-ever sermon delivered in the new worship center, Whitaker used Genesis 2:8-17 to remind people of their place, as human beings, in God’s creation.

Using Genesis 2:8-17 as the text of his message during the dedication of the Alice W. Lockmiller Program and Worship Center, Florida Conference Bishop Timothy W. Whitaker reminds those attending of their place, as human beings, in God’s creation. Photo by Erik Alsgaard. Photo #09-1086. For longer description see photo gallery.

“For one thing,” he said, “we discover that we are part of what God has created. We walk amidst the plants and trees of the earth. We live among all the animals. At the same time, we are different from other creatures. We have consciousness more than any other animal — reason and understanding, a sense of moral responsibility and the ability to pray to the Creator of the universe.

The bishop said Riverside Retreat, like other church camps, exists to help people learn the way of living in the world.

“Genesis describes how we who are unique among all other creatures are to live our lives,” he said. “It says God placed us in the garden to till it and keep it. Human civilization should not exploit or destroy the goodness of God’s creation. How to sustain civilization, and also to care for the good earth, is the most important challenge that we as human beings face in our time.”

The bishop praised Lockmiller for her generous gift and said he hoped her example would inspire all United Methodists “to give our support to the common ministries of the church.”

“It’s good to remember Alice,” he said. “It’s good to think about what’s going to go on inside this building in the years to come. It’s good to enjoy the beauty of this camp, and it’s also good to be refreshed by remembering our Creator and giving praise to God’s name.”

News media contact: Tita Parham, 800-282-8011,, Orlando

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

Donate here to the Florida Conference Hurricane Michael Fund to help churches and the neighborhoods that surround them. Through December 31, 2018, donations will be matched up to $500,000. Volunteer to bring yourself or a team to help with the recovery.

Contact Us

The Florida Conference of The United Methodist Church

450 Martin L King Jr Ave
Lakeland, FL 33815

(863) 688-5563 or toll free (800) 282-8011