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Ministry restructures: Mission head leaves position, discipleship role added

Ministry restructures: Mission head leaves position, discipleship role added

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

Ministry restructures: Mission head leaves position, discipleship role added

By Jenna De Marco | May 30, 2009 {1023}

NOTE: A headshot of the Rev. Emily Oliver is available at

In keeping with The United Methodist Council of Bishop’s mission for all churches to enhance their disciple-making practices, the Florida Conference Connectional Ministries office will undergo staff restructuring this summer.

The purpose of the reorganization will be to enhance the service provided to Florida Conference churches in the area of intentional discipleship.

Rev. Emily Oliver

“In the overall staff structure, there are three people in the areas of global mission and justice and no one in the discipleship area,” the Rev. Beth Fogle-Miller, director of the Connectional Ministries office, said of the current organizational model. “I thought we needed a staff person who would be particularly focused on helping make disciples more effectively.”

The Rev. Emily Oliver, who currently serves as pastor of discipleship ministries at Christ Church United Methodist in Fort Lauderdale, has been appointed as the new conference director of discipleship, beginning July 1.

Hiring Oliver is an important step in fulfilling the intentional discipling portion of The Methodist Way, a model of the five primary church practices of disciple-making, Fogle-Miller said.

“If we really expect churches to make disciples, it makes sense to me that we should provide the assistance that they need for those who want it,” she said.

Although Oliver will report to Fogle-Miller, her role in helping churches make disciples will relate to the leadership provided by the Florida Conference Office of Congregational Transformation.

“If we think about the five practices in general we are convinced that those are essential building blocks for effective local churches,” Fogle-Miller said. “We’re really trying to emphasize that all churches are trying to practice those. The Congregational Transformation office is taking the lead in helping the framework overall. They are providing the lead for teaching.”

Oliver will help churches put what they learn into practice.

“(She will be) working with local churches to help them design and implement or strengthen their processes for making disciples,” Fogle-Miller said. “I think our starting point will be working with people who attended the intentional discipleship workshops.”

One of those workshops, titled “The Simple Church,” led by author Eric Geiger of Christ Fellowship in Miami, was offered May 15 and 16 at churches in Gainesville and Boca Raton. Another workshop, called “Deepening Your Discipling Effectiveness,” will be held Sept. 11 at First United Methodist Church in Port Orange and again the next day at First United Methodist Church in Punta Gorda. More information about the upcoming sessions is available at

Oliver will work with church leaders individually and in regional groups, as well as through Internet consulting. 

“(Emily) will feel comfortable with a range of electronic media, and I think one of the things she’ll bring is the capacity for how you can reach younger generations,” Fogle-Miller said. “It’s going to be a real asset to have a younger pastor.”

Oliver will also consult with campus and camp and retreat ministries to strengthen their practices of disciple-making.

“We make disciples in lots of ways, and let’s be the very best stewards as possible of (that),” Fogle-Miller said.

Global mission, justice office undergoes staff changes

As part of the reorganization, the global mission and justice office is also being restructured.

The Rev. Dr. Larry Rankin encourages members attending the 2006 Florida Annual Conference Event to support the East Angola/Florida Partnership. Photo by e-Review staff. Photo #09-1185.

The Rev. Dr. Lawrence Rankin is leaving his position of 14 years as director of global mission and justice for an appointment at a local church. Effective July 1 he will begin serving as pastor at Bayshore United Methodist Church in Tampa. The mission director’s duties will be divided among other mission and justice staff, eliminating the position.

Rankin will continue to provide periodic assistance, however, as a staff liaison to the bishop and conference staff in handling matters related to the Florida Conference’s relationship with The Methodist Church in Cuba and the Haiti/Florida Covenant, Fogle-Miller said, because of Rankin’s extensive experience managing and interpreting the partnerships.

“I’ll be a part-time consultant with Beth and with anything she requests related with global mission and with Haiti, Cuba and East Angola,” Rankin said.

Although the United Methodist Book of Discipline requires that all conferences retain a conference secretary of mission, that role does not need to be filled by ordained clergy, Rankin said. The secretary’s function is to interpret and promote the mission of The United Methodist Church locally, nationally and internationally.

“That position will fall in the hands of Icel (Rodríguez), and she comes with great bilingual gifts and her international exposure and understands the concept of global mission and support,” Rankin said.

Rodríguez has worked with Rankin in the mission offices for more than five years and most recently as associate director of global mission. Her passion for that ministry will take a new turn this summer. Beginning in August, she will serve for a year in the East Angola Conference as a missionary of the Florida Conference. Her work will focus on fostering the East Angola/Florida Partnership, which was established in 2003. Rodríguez will promote church-to-church relationships between Florida and Angolan churches and begin preparing the way for teams from Florida to visit the East Angola Conference.

Rodríguez’s husband, the Rev. Dr. Armando Rodríguez Jr., pastor at Christ United Methodist Church in Lakeland, and their daughter, Amanda, will also serve in Angola. Armando will teach at the School of Theology in Quéssua, the spiritual center of the Angolan conference, and help develop curriculum for Angolan pastors and church leaders. Amanda will help teach English and communications and mentor children at the East Angola Conference orphanage.

Communication with Icel regarding conference global mission will continue via e-mail and Internet while she is abroad.

Icel and the Rev. Armando Rodríguez thank the conference for its support during the 2007 Florida Annual Conference Event after being commissioned to serve as persons-in-mission in East Angola. File photo by Greg Moore. Photo #08-0851. Originally accompanied e-Review Florida UMNS #0851, 5/9/08.

“Icel is obviously going to be overseas, and you can do global work from any part of the world,” Fogle-Miller said. “She’ll be coordinating visits for churches within the Florida Conference who want to participate in the partnership with Angola.”

Rodríguez’s other responsibilities include continued work on the mission and justice Salt and Light e-newsletter and Web site and other Florida Conference resources, such as the general church and conference Advances.

“Beyond that, all my work will be focused on the East Angola Partnership … doing everything that needs to be done to be able to receive groups from Florida,” Rodríguez said. “There are several churches that are interested and working towards that. One of the important pieces (is that) the Florida Conference is going to provide grants to churches to help them fund the mission for groups to East Angola.”

While Rodríguez provides continuity in the area of global mission, Melinda Trotti, director of the office’s justice and spiritual formation ministries since 2008, will assume some of Rankin’s other functions. Her primary focus is in the area of justice ministries, working with the Children’s Coalition, Florida Advocacy Days, the Partnership to End Childhood Hunger in Florida and Safe Sanctuaries.

Trotti said she is pleased with the progress many local churches have made in establishing summer feeding sites for children and helping needy families access government food and health insurance programs.

“I will work to resource our conference’s outreach ministries and local churches to be more engaged in ministries with children in the communities surrounding the churches,” Trotti said.

Rankin said uniting and maximizing mission and justice ministries was one of the highlights of his role as director.

“When we are able to afford people who are able to engage in these ministries, the opportunity for missions explodes,” Rankin said. “It goes way beyond my role, and that’s fine with me.”

Rankin’s greatest satisfaction, he said, has not been what he has done, but what he has helped local churches do. “It’s seeing a church alive or brought back because they are engaging in their community with mission and outreach,” he said.

Highlights from conference role

Rankin, raised in a missionary family that served in many Latin American countries, including Cuba, has an enthusiasm for mission that is simply in his blood, retired Bishop J. Lloyd Knox said.

Rankin (left) translates for then Florida Conference Bishop Cornelius L. Henderson in Habana, Cuba, in June 1997 during the service in which the covenant between The Methodist Church in Cuba and the Florida Conference was signed. Photo by Hubert E. Floyd. Photo #09-1186.

“During some 10 years, Larry has been the staff person for the Cuba/Florida ministry,” Knox said. “I have been a part of this group almost from the beginning. Larry has rendered splendid service. Relations between churches in Florida and Cuba have sometimes been difficult. Since Larry understands the Cuban church he has helped in many situations bring helpful results.”

The Rev. Connie De Leo, a missionary working in the Dominican Republic with the General Board of Global Ministries, said Rankin’s help has been invaluable.

“He has continued to encourage me during the seven years I have been serving in the Dominican Republic,” De Leo said. “When both my villages, including our schools, clinics and personal housing areas, were devastated by Tropical Storm Noel (in 2007) … he called me and encouraged me, offering whatever was needed to get through this extremely difficult time.”

Rankin’s passion for mission will go with him to his new appointment at Bayshore United Methodist Church.

“A church does not exist unless it’s involved in outreach and mission,” he said. “Its focus is offering Christ to others.”

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

*Parham is managing editor of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**De Marco is a staff writer for e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.