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Governor talks faith, not politics at conference event

Governor talks faith, not politics at conference event

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

Governor talks faith, not politics at conference event
By J.A. Buchholz | June 12, 2010 {1181}

LAKELAND — United Methodists attending the 2010 Florida Annual Conference Event June 10-12 got to see a different side of the man who is leading the state.

Florida Gov. Charlie Crist told lay members he appreciated the opportunity to talk about his faith, something he is not often able to do. “Lessons I was taught by my family and church have stuck with me all these years,” he said, adding that throughout his time in public service he has always tried to use those lessons to do what is right. Photo by Dave Summerill. Photo #10-1462. Click on picture for larger photo or view in photo gallery with longer description.

Instead of sharing details about his bid for a U.S. Senate seat or highlighting the things he would do if elected, Florida Gov. Charlie Crist talked about his faith and religious upbringing during the laity session June 10.

Crist is as a member of First United Methodist Church in St. Petersburg, where his family has worshipped for five generations. He and his wife, Carole, were also married at the church Dec. 12, 2008.

“I want to thank you all for what you do,” Crist said after greeting hundreds of lay members representing the conference’s 700 churches. “I want to thank you for being committed to God and our Lord.”

Crist said his own faith is not on the backburner of his life, but front and center at all times.

The word of God lifts people, he said, especially during such challenging times as those facing the nation and state today, from a tough economy to the threat of oil washing onto Florida’s shores from the spill in the Gulf.

Early beginnings

Crist was born in Altoona, Pa., but his family moved to Florida when he was 3 years old. He graduated from St. Petersburg High School in 1974 and then went on to Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, N.C.

Confessing that he often took the sunshine in Florida for granted, Crist said he grew weary of the grey winter weather and returned to attend Florida State University.

After graduating, Crist received his law degree from Samford University’s Cumberland School of Law and was hired as general council for Minor League Baseball in St. Petersburg, dealing with baseball contracts, player disputes and trademark security. He earned $19,000 a year, he said, and while a good living by his standards, he felt there was more for him to do.

Crist made a run for state senator in 1986 and was defeated. “It’s no fun to lose,” he said.

Using the lessons he learned from that first attempt, Crist regrouped and ran for the same seat in 1992. “It was a great joy to do that and be victorious,” he said.

Service guided by faith

Throughout his career in public service, Crist said, he has always tried to do what is right. That can be a challenge, he added, with special interest groups “tugging at the ears and hearts” of those in office.

Members thank Crist for sharing personal details about his life and faith. Photo by Angie Bechanan. Photo #10-1463. Click on picture for larger photo or view in photo gallery with longer description.

“The best thing to do is do what, in your heart, you know is right,” he said.

Crist said that belief was instilled in him at a young age by his parents and church and through time spent at the Warren W. Willis United Methodist Camp in Fruitland Park.

“Lessons I was taught by my family and church have stuck with me all these years,” he said. “As governor, or a doctor or pastor, it’s always nice to be able to fall back on your Lord and take great comfort in that. He’s always with you.”

Even through challenges and difficulties, Crist said, God is always present.

“I always pray to God,” he said. “It’s funny, the more I thank him, the more good things happen. He’s always there if you just reach out to him. If you reach out to him, it’s amazing the good things that will happen.”

Crist says he is not a financially wealthy man, but there are many ways for a person to be rich. “I feel very, very rich in many ways,” he said. “I’m a blessed man. All of us are.”

He is blessed, he said, to have been taught by his family to treat others as he wants to be treated. “It’s not complicated,” Crist said. “In political life people don’t always understand that.”

Crist said he experienced that misunderstanding after greeting the newly sworn-in President Barack Obama in early 2008 in Ft. Myers during the president’s visit to Florida. Crist said he shook his hand and drew near to him.

“A lot of people seemed to be critical of that kindness,” Crist said. “It was odd to me, I must tell you. Simply by showing respect, trying to be decent to your fellow man, in this case the President of the United States of America, was viewed by some as not right. That’s OK. People can judge me — whatever they want. I know who the ultimate judge is.”

Getting to know fellow laity

Despite having another engagement in Orlando, Crist took questions from the audience after his brief address and greeted well-wishers on the floor of the auditorium. Among them were his mother and two sisters, who accompanied him to the session.

Lay members wait to greet Crist after his message. Photo by Angie Bechanan. Photo #10-1463. Click on picture for larger photo or view in photo gallery with longer description.

His sister Margaret Wood said it was an honor to hear her brother speak so openly about his faith.

“I’m very excited and proud to be here,” she said. “It’s very special because it’s something he doesn’t do very often.”

Kelly Jarvis, a member in Orlando, not only greeted Crist, but asked him to say hello to her friend Jason Reed, who is serving in the United States Army in Iraq.

“What are you doing in Iraq?” Crist asked the young man on Jarvis’ cell phone. “Fighting for our freedom? I thank you for that.”

Talking with reporters after leaving the auditorium, Crist said he thought it was important for him to be able to share his faith story and added it was especially significant to him since his pastor, mother and two of his three sisters had attended with him.

Crist said his faith is always with him, playing a major role in his life.

“I pray every day,” he said. “To rely upon God and Jesus is very important to me.”

Click the arrow in the frame below to view Gov. Charlie Crist’s address at the laity session.

News media contact: Tita Parham, 800-282-8011,, Orlando
*Parham is managing editor of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**Buchholz is a freelance writer based in Seffner, Fla.