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Leaders, members consecrate new conference center

Leaders, members consecrate new conference center

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

Leaders, members consecrate new conference center

By J.A. Buchholz | June 29, 2010 {1191}

LAKELAND — The end of the 2010 Florida Annual Conference Event marked the beginning of a new chapter for the Florida Conference.

The new Florida United Methodist Center was consecrated June 12 following the conclusion of the 168th annual session.

The new Florida United Methodist Center is located at 450 Martin Luther King Jr. Ave., Lakeland, FL 33815-1522. Photo by Frank North. Photo #10-1493. Click on picture for larger photo or view in photo gallery.

The roughly 34,000 square-foot building facing downtown Lakeland’s Lake Wire houses the episcopal office, Florida United Methodist Foundation, Georgia Florida United Methodist Federal Credit Union and conference staff.

“There are a lot of stories in the Bible about when new buildings are built or when existing buildings are remodeled and reconstituted,” said the Rev. Beth Fogle-Miller, director of the conference’s Connectional Ministries office and the first speaker during the consecration and ribbon-cutting ceremony, held outside the building. “In that tradition we come today. The building itself embodies our oath, and our long-term goal is not that it’s a fabulous building, although, frankly, I think you will agree we have a fabulous building.”

Instead, Fogle-Miller said, she has high hopes the building will be an instrument by which “fabulous communities” will be built within the conference.

Of the many benefits of the new center, Fogle-Miller said, one is noteworthy.

“One of the things I think is most wonderful about this building is it literally brings together four major entities of our annual conference,” she said.

While introducing Lakeland Mayor Gow Fields, Fogle-Miller also noted that those groups have a place in a larger body.

“We believe very firmly in being good citizens because we build communities together, rather than in isolation,” she said.

“It certainly bodes well for Lakeland to have an organization led by Jesus Christ to have its headquarters here, right on the north side of downtown,” Fields said. “That is a great statement for our community, and we’re certainly glad to have you here, and we pray God’s continued blessings on you all.”

Florida Conference Bishop Timothy W. Whitaker said the new conference center is a blessing.

“When I think about this new building, it seems to me it’s a gift of God and also an act of faith,” he said.

Whitaker recounted how a conference task force was formed in 2005 to explore the idea of a new facility for conference staff. While various approaches were taken, he said, they never worked out, and the task force would then report back to the conference requesting more time to research options.

“I give a lot of credit to the task force on this building,” Whitaker said. “They kept the faith and then, all of a sudden, everything came together. Florida Southern College (FSC) came seeking our building. The (Florida United Methodist) foundation was interested in being a partner with us because the foundation’s lease on its building was coming to an end, There was an opportunity for the credit union to come back and be a part of us.

Florida Conference Bishop Timothy Whitaker (front right), Lakeland Mayor Gow Fields (left) and other conference leaders cut the ribbon at the consecration ceremony. Photo by Alain Boniec. Photo #10-1494. Click on picture for larger photo or view in photo gallery.

“It just kind of happened suddenly. Then we had the approval of all the members of the conference at the special session. Really, the way it came together seemed to be a gift of providence, and for that we’re deeply grateful.”

Whitaker said he is thankful the former conference center will continue to be a place of service for those in need.

“I find tremendous satisfaction in knowing how the building we have occupied for about 40 years is going to be used by FSC,” Whitaker said. “This is going to be a school where young people who have certain kinds of learning disabilities will be receiving their instruction and care. Isn’t it wonderful to know the place we have used for service to God is now being used for this purpose? Again, that seems to me a sign of providence.”

In October 2009, FSC President Anne Kerr announced that a $3.5-million gift had been given by Marjorie and Hal Roberts of Lakeland to establish the Roberts Academy, a transitional school for gifted children with dyslexia. The previous conference center was considered a prime location for the school, given its proximity to the college.

The Roberts Academy, Roberts Center for Learning and Literacy, the Florida Southern Department of Education, and FSC preschool and kindergarten programs will be housed in the former United Methodist Building.

When FSC offered to purchase that building, it made it possible for the conference to purchase the former Holland and Knight law offices on Lake Wire, which had been previously viewed, but deemed too difficult and expensive to renovate.

Conference members approved the relocation plan and funding for it in a special session of the annual conference in February 2009. The $3.5 million FSC paid for the purchase of the current building, plus $1.5 million from the Florida United Methodist Foundation and about $1 million from unrestricted, undesignated conference reserves, made the purchase and renovation of the Lake Wire property possible. The credit union also entered into a lease valued at $500,000. No additional apportionment dollars were used.

“It feels wonderful to be here,” said the Rev. Bob Gibbs as he toured the second floor of the three-story building after the ceremony. “I had no idea it would turn out so nice.”

Gibbs is pastor at St. Andrew’s United Methodist Church in Brandon. He also chaired the relocation task force.

Gibbs said he found the natural light flowing in from the numerous windows and the openness of the floor plan appealing.

The building space is a combination of open, modular shared areas and offices. It also has a number of quiet rooms that can be used for private conversations or prayer.

Dorothy Collins, a member at Pasadena Community United Methodist Church in St. Petersburg, said she knew the previous location well as a member of various conference committees and plans to become very acquainted with the new building.

“This is an important day in the life of the church,” said Collins, who has been a member at her church for 66 years. “This building is glorious.”

The Rev. Dr. Roland Vanzant, a retired conference pastor, is pleased with the final product. He toured the building after the ceremony.

“I think it’s a great asset to the community and The United Methodist Church,” he said. “It’s wonderful to have all the ministries back in one building.”

The new center is “green” and LEED certified, a recognized standard for measuring building sustainability in the United States and a number of other countries around the world.

The building’s green attributes, such as using chilled water to make the air-conditioning unit run more efficiently, will help save on energy costs and maintenance. In a chilled-water system, water is cooled at 40-45 degrees Fahrenheit, then piped throughout the building and connected to air handlers as needed. Rainwater will be collected for landscaping, and the carpeting selected is made from a large percentage of recycled material. Energy efficient light bulbs and sensors that automatically turn off lighting when a room is no longer occupied are also being used.

The new conference center is located at 450 Martin Luther King Jr. Ave., Lakeland, FL 33815-1522. The phone number remains the same: 863-688-5563 or 800-282-8011.

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.