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Commentary: Calling a special session of the annual conference

Commentary: Calling a special session of the annual conference

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

Commentary: Calling a special session of the annual conference

An e-Review commentary by Bishop Timothy W. Whitaker | Jan. 29, 2009 {0967}

NOTE: A headshot of Whitaker is available at

A special session of the Florida Annual Conference will be held Feb. 28 at 10:30 a.m. at Branscomb Auditorium at Florida Southern College in Lakeland. The purpose of this session will be to vote on resolutions that pertain to selling the current Florida Conference Center in Lakeland to Florida Southern College and purchasing another building in Lakeland.

This session needs to be held soon so the conference may have the opportunity to purchase another building. That is the reason why I have called a special session at the end of February.

Full information about what will be presented at the annual conference will be posted on the Florida Conference Web site at The reason this information is not posted now is because certain types of negotiations are still in process. Conference officials will be able to provide significant, specific information very soon.

For several years the conference has continued a task force to study opportunities to move to a new conference center. During the 2008 Florida Annual Conference, the task force reported that Florida Southern College was interested in the current conference center as the location of its school for children with certain learning needs. The 2008 conference voted to continue the work of this task force, and since the 2008 conference, there have been several developments that make it possible to proceed toward a new conference center. These developments have occurred almost simultaneously.

First, since the 2008 conference, Florida Southern College has obtained generous donors, who are not members of The United Methodist Church, who will make it possible for the college to purchase the conference center to become a school.

Moreover, the Florida United Methodist Foundation will need to move to a new location in several years, and the foundation has indicated it is interested in being a partner with the trustees of the Florida Conference in purchasing a new facility. The interests of both the conference and the foundation would be protected in a trust agreement.

Furthermore, a property under development in Lakeland became available as a new location for the conference center.

These developments represent a unique convergence of interests that will never come again. Therefore, the officers of the conference believe this is an opportunity that should be seized at this time. It is not possible to wait until the 2009 Florida Annual Conference in June to consider this since the owners of the property the conference wishes to purchase require the conference to make a decision in a timely manner.

If all of the pieces of this proposal come together, it will be possible for the conference trustees to sell the current property and purchase a new property to develop as a new conference center without asking the congregations of the Florida Conference for any financial giving to this project. Also, this transaction will not affect in any way the on-going Bishop’s Capital Campaign “Together! Bringing Hope, Changing Lives.”

Conference leaders would not be proposing this project if it cost the conference’s congregations any money. Some may wonder why the conference is proposing a new conference center in the midst of a recession. The answer is probably two-fold. First, there was a convergence of interests and opportunities whereby the conference trustees, the foundation, Florida Southern College and a developer could work together at this time to meet the needs of each of the parties. Second, conference leaders did not think the conference would have had the opportunity to purchase and develop the new property if the economy were not in a recession. If the conference does not move forward with this project, Florida Southern College will secure another property for its school and the Florida United Methodist Foundation will make other plans to move to new offices.

The Georgia Florida United Methodist Federal Credit Union recently has indicated it would also enter into an agreement for use of the proposed new facilities for its offices to serve the public.

Many are eager to have all the specific information about this project. It will be posted to the conference Web site as soon as it can be provided.

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

*Parham is managing editor of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**Whitaker is bishop of the Florida Conference.