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Florida Conference begins restructure

Florida Conference begins restructure

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

Florida Conference begins restructure

By John Michael De Marco | March 19, 2010 {1153}

NOTE: A headshot of Frank North is available at

Significant structural changes to the Florida Conference will position it to more effectively serve local congregations.

That’s according to the Rev. Beth Fogle-Miller, who is spearheading the moves after 15 months of studies and discussions. Fogle-Miller, who serves as director of the conference’s Connectional Ministries office, recently announced an overall strategy and three main tactics that have begun with restructuring ministries and changes in personnel.

Initial changes include reorganizing the Connectional Ministries office, beginning with the conference communications ministry. It was renamed Connectional Relations, and four staff positions were eliminated. The office will retain communications responsibilities and expand services to include conference-wide training and support of district offices.

The conference’s Office of Congregational Transformation was also renamed Center for Congregational Excellence to highlight the ministry’s focus on “helping all churches pursue excellence, rather than focus on those in dire need of transformation,” Fogle-Miller said.

And within the Center for Clergy Excellence, resources have been shifted and staff added to facilitate efforts toward increasing the growth and retention of young adult clergy.

The impetus for these and future changes is the Florida Conference’s vision statement: “God’s transforming grace in Jesus Christ calls us to become one dynamic church with diverse people in many settings, offering a new life of Christian discipleship to the world.” The statement was foundational to a document called “Strengthening Ministry Partnerships,” which was distributed to clergy and lay leaders through e-mail communication from the conference and posted on the conference Web site in late February. The announcement of the changes and the full text of the document are available at

The conference’s role in implementing the vision is threefold: clarify and call, discern and deploy, and relate and resource. The overall strategy, according to the Strengthening Ministry document, is to embrace a structure that “responds to both local and global needs and provides a connection between local church/community needs and programs and the works and initiatives of the global church.”

“There’s been a serious study of what we need, and we’re trying to reform the whole internal conference structure so that it better serves our common ministry and the ministry of the local churches,” Florida Conference Bishop Timothy Whitaker said.

Strengthening connections

The overall strategy is being implemented through three general tactics: creating opportunity and support for the development of young adult leaders and increasing the number and retention of young adult clergy; expanding congregational transformation beyond crisis intervention to a proactive process that includes interventions and support for all churches seeking excellence; and creating a connectional ministries service and staff structure that focuses on supporting churches and ministries in meeting local needs and connecting to the wider denomination.

Whitaker emphasized that the structural changes are not related to the developing conversation across the denomination about potential reforms related to the general church.

“What we’ve been doing is more indigenous to the Florida Conference, rather than related to any work that has been done by the (denominational) Call to Action committee,” Whitaker said. “There used to be a (Florida Conference) Council on Ministries. That structure worked very well for its time. And then there was a period in which it was obviously not working as well anymore. When we reconfigured the conference to form nine new districts, we also proposed a new approach for the conference structure. It had a lot of creative elements to it, but we’ve come to realize that what we created in 2004 really isn’t what we need today.”

Fogle-Miller said the response to the recent announcements of the vision, strategy and restructuring has “by and large been extraordinarily hopeful.”

“People outside the (conference office) building are very excited about us becoming more focused and able to deliver what we say we are going to deliver,” she said. “I’m very glad there will be a department that focuses on how we connect, not just the content of what we communicate — but whether or not, literally or figuratively, our technical and human connections really work.”

Fogle-Miller acknowledged that conference employees “are nervous because it is a huge, huge shift. Folks are uncertain about what role they’ll get to play, but there is certainly plenty of work for them to do.”

The process

The 15-month “incubator” process that led to the formulation of Strengthening Ministry Partnerships focused on one group of conference leadership, supplemented by findings from Marsha Base, an external, Nashville-based consultant, and Fogle-Miller’s ongoing conversation with laity, clergy, district superintendents and conference leaders.

“I know a lot of people,” Fogle-Miller said. “A lot of folks tell me the truth about their experiences and hopes. One of the recurring themes is they feel disconnected. We really need to focus on knitting together those relationships. Otherwise, people lose heart.”

Base has provided consulting work for several other annual conferences and is a former associate general secretary of the General Council on Finance and Administration of The United Methodist Church. She also served as an assistant general secretary at the General Board of Global Ministries. Regarding Base’s input, Fogle-Miller said it was helpful “to have things confirmed by someone else who doesn’t have any stake in it.”

Candidates for ordination as elder respond to questions from Bishop Timothy W. Whitaker at the 2009 Florida Annual Conference Event during the service of licensing, commissioning and ordination. The average age of the 13 newly ordained elders and deacons was 44. Only three ordained in full connection or as probationary members were 30 or younger. File photo by Greg Moore. Photo #09-1238. Originally accompanied e-Review Florida UMNS #1041, 7/6/09.

“She picked up on some themes that I thought were probably the case, but hadn’t sat down to put it onto paper the way that she did,” Fogle-Miller said. “We could have gotten there on our own, but it would have taken a lot longer, and I’m not sure it would have been as thorough.”

Moving forward

According to the new vision document’s key tactic of attracting more young adult leaders, there has been a decline from 9 percent to 6 percent in the past 15 years of clergy under age 35. Questioned about factors contributing to this decline, Fogle-Miller said the church had stopped encouraging young people to think about hearing a call.

“We didn’t give them language or a context for understanding what those yearnings or nudgings were,” she added. “We’re going to be having more events or gatherings for young adults to talk about how they might sense a calling toward any number of venues, not just ordination. We’ve had a few more younger clergy recently and more folks in the candidacy process and at seminary.”

Related to the new Connectional Relations department, Fogle-Miller has appointed Frank North, a member of Hyde Park United Methodist Church in Tampa and a businessman in that area, as interim director. North’s role is to provide leadership and stability for ongoing tasks while the conference searches for a permanent director. He brings a background in advertising, marketing communications, event planning and public relations, having worked in both advertising agencies and corporate settings. North most recently was director of corporate marketing communications for Ferman Management Services, based in Tampa, and directed the company’s philanthropic and cause-based marketing activity through the Ferman Community Partnership.

Frank North

“We need someone to help us build bridges between our conference organization and leaders in the field,” Fogle-Miller said. “He will provide strategic direction and leadership of conference Connectional Relations and develop an overall communication plan that unifies and strengthens our brand.”

Fogle-Miller said the conference retained the employees with the most essential skills and knowledge for carrying out the ongoing tasks.

“They already had a pretty broad skill set and seemed like they would be the best fit to keep going forward,” she said. “Hiring the permanent director will have a big impact on what types of skills are needed to supplement their skill set. We’ll need to look at which parts can be done in-house and which parts will need to be subbed out. The philosophy for quite some time has been to do in-house.”

“I am proud of the team that we have,” Fogle-Miller added. “We’re really working on being able to work as teams, rather than very independent, separated areas.”

More coaching and training at the district and church level are also a priority. “If someone says ‘yes’ to being a church leader, we have a responsibility to provide them with the skills and materials that they need,” Fogle-Miller said. “We ought to do that using the most current tools. We’ve got a fair amount available.”

Leadership development, she added, “is not going to happen primarily online. That usually happens in relationship and community.”

“My goal, not just for Connectional Relations, but in general, is to connect leaders with the vision and each other and the resources they need — what effectiveness looks like and why it matters to God; what a Florida with no hungry children would look like,” Fogle-Miller said. “I would like for folks to look back and say, ‘Those were the years when The United Methodist Church really got its act together.’ You’ve got to be making disciples. They ought to be becoming more like Jesus.”

Concerning the conference’s evolving staffing climate, Fogle-Miller said a mix of both ministry and business talents will be necessary. “We need to stay current with what’s current, particularly in the technical areas, and bring a level of expertise and excellence that offers the very best to all of our customers,” she said. “I’m looking for a pretty broad mix of skills that balance excellent people skills and good project management skills with understanding and affection for the United Methodist world. And just some good creative problem solving and customer service.”

There’s been a serious study of what we need, and we’re trying to reform the whole internal conference structure so that it better serves our common ministry and the ministry of the local churches.”

Bishop Timothy Whitaker

The vision document calls for reorganizing other areas of Connectional Ministries in six to eight months. Fogle-Miller said it is too early to get into specifics about these future changes.

“I’m excited about the direction we’re heading,” she said. “Our goal is to be able to help churches really be effective and that as an annual conference we will deliver effective leaders and excellent ministries. I’m excited to get up and go to work. As a clergy person who served some redeveloping churches — if you’re out there and feel like you are by yourself, you just can’t give your best. But if you feel like you’re part of a covenant community and folks are rooting for you and praying for you and you’re doing the same for them, that makes a huge difference.”

In addition to these structural changes taking place and still to come, Whitaker said, he will propose during the upcoming annual conference event the development of a “strategic development team — a small group of laity and clergy with specific gifts and strengths that will provide the direction of the conference.” 

Whitaker said his original vision for the Conference Table was this same sort of small group, but the large gatherings demonstrated “a real hunger for people to hear what was going on and share in the conversation.”

“But we need a small group that can really sit down in an effective way and discuss the vision of the annual conference,” he said. “We need these smaller groups at every level that are action-oriented, rather than larger groups that are representative, but not able to get to the kind of planning and implementation that is needed.”

Related story

Leaders begin examining health, structure of denomination

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 commissioned minister of the Florida Conference and a freelance writer, speaker and consultant based in Nashville, Tenn.