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Annual Conference headed to Disney in 2016

Annual Conference headed to Disney in 2016

LAKELAND – Florida Conference members voted Saturday to say good-bye to The Lakeland Center for at least two years, opting instead for a smaller but potentially less expensive venue at Downtown Disney in Orlando for the 2016 annual church business meeting.

The dates announced, chosen by Bishop Ken Carter, were June 15-18, 2016, although there was discussion of making the meeting a three-day, two-night event to reduce the financial burden on attending delegates.

David Dodge speaking to crowd
Rev. David Dodge discusses the Florida Conference Cabinet recommendation to hold Annual Conference 2016 at Downtown Disney in Orlando. Photos by Steve Wilkinson.

The 2015 Annual Conference, which will include election of delegates for the 2016 General Conference in Portland, Ore., and Southeastern Jurisdictional Conference in Lake Junaluska, N.C., will be held at Bethune-Cookman University in Daytona Beach. The 2015 location was approved at last year’s Annual Conference.

The 2016 event will be held at the Buena Vista Palace Hotel & Spa, which offers meeting space for up to 1,700. That’s considerably less than assembly halls at The Lakeland Center, which has an arena, exhibit hall and Youkey Theatre, each able to seat 2,000 or more.

Rev. David Dodge, assistant to the bishop, said the Florida Conference Cabinet recommended the Orlando venue after asking event management contractor Conference Direct to solicit bids from Tampa, Orlando and Lakeland.

Compared with The Lakeland Center’s bid and accounting for expenses related to holding the event away from Florida Conference headquarters in Lakeland, the move to Orlando would save nearly $84,000, Dodge told the crowd. 

Derrick Scott III performs at closing session Annual Conference 2014
Derrick Scott III, a Florida Conference campus minister and associate lay leader, adds his rhythm and voice to the young adult musical worship that marked Annual Conference 2014.

Buena Vista offered to provide meeting space free and offer a discounted lodging rate of $134 per night for attendees. Prices negotiated at hotels near The Lakeland Center have ranged from about $70 to $130 a night in recent years.

Several speakers from the audience expressed concern that there may be hidden charges in the Orlando offer. They also worried that some attendees – including youth delegates who have traditionally been housed at Florida Southern College – might be priced out of attending.

Dodge said conference leaders have considered that and could use some of the anticipated savings to provide more affordable lodging options.

In response to concerns that seating might be tight for certain aspects of Annual Conference, particularly the retirement and ordination services that typically draw family and friends, Dodge said overflow space is an option at Buena Vista.

Nearly 1,700 voting members – 848 clergy and 843 laity – registered for this year’s Annual Conference. Dodge said individual sessions typically don’t draw more than 1,500 audience members, however.

Other action from the final day of Annual Conference 2014 included the following: 

Bishop Ken Carter hugs Dorothy Collins, iPad winner
Bishop Ken Carter hugs iPad winner Dorothy Collins, who filled out her Annual Conference passport and saw her name drawn on the event's final day.
Kay Roach of UMW sinks a basket for Imagine No Malaria
Florida UMW vice president Kay Roach sinks a ball in the basket for the third time, beating Bishop Ken Carter in a friendly competition intended to draw attention to the new Florida Conference partnership with Imagine No Malaria.
Bishop Ken Carter admires a T-shirt he won for losing at basketball
Bishop Ken Carter admires the "UMW Heat" shirt he won for losing in an Imagine No Malaria publicity game against Kay Roach of United Methodist Women.

• Florida Conference secretary Ken Minton reviewed new rules approved earlier in the four-day meeting for election of General Conference and jurisdictional delegates next year. The nomination period will be Sept. 1, 2014, to Feb. 15, 2015. A provision has been added to allow same-day self-nominations as late as the morning of opening day of Annual Conference 2015. However, Minton warned, candidates waiting that late to put their biographies and statements before delegates will not receive the careful consideration that earlier submissions will receive. Additional information about 2015 elections and candidate eligibility is available in the Annual Conference workbook, pages 69-72. According to a formula approved by General Conference, Florida members will elect 18 delegates – half clergy and half laity – for General Conference and the Southeastern Jurisdiction. Seven clergy and seven lay members will be chosen as alternates.

• The conference officially kicked off its partnership with Imagine No Malaria, the United Methodist campaign to eliminate malaria deaths worldwide, with particular focus on Africa. Mike Kennedy, chairperson of the Global Missions and Justice Committee, said a goal of saving 250,000 lives by the end of 2015 has been adopted for the Florida effort. Attendees were encouraged to text the word "malaria" to 27722 to donate $10, which will buy, ship and install a pretreated bed net to ward off mosquitos.

• Rev. Pam Carter, who with district staff, United Methodist Women and other volunteers, organized a sale of donated jewelry to help fund mission trips for young adults, announced that the effort raised about $19,300 over the first three days of Annual Conference 2014.

• Attendees learned contributions to the bishop’s offering totaled $76,000 during the annual meeting. This year, the total collected will be split between Africa University and the new Young Adult Missional Movement. Donations can still be made by check to the Florida Conference Treasurer, with “Bishop’s Offering” in the memo line.

• Conference leaders recognized 23 graduates of the Latin-Hispanic Academy, a training program started two years ago in the South East District. Those who completed the program are certified as lay missionaries. About 300 people have attended academy training since the program’s inception.

• The fully stamped “passport” of Dorothy Collins from Pasadena Community Church was chosen in a drawing, winning her an iPad. Passport booklets were issued to all members attending to encourage them to visit various stations at this year’s Annual Conference.

• Attendees were invited to participate in a survey about Annual Conference 2014 at

-- Susan Green is the managing editor of Florida Conference Connection.