LAKELAND – The landscapes and population may be a little different, but Bishop Ken Carter believes the key to rebuilding The United Methodist Church in Florida is the same as in the Western North Carolina Conference (WNCC) he leaves behind: focusing on the kingdom of God and Jesus’ instruction to heal, feed and welcome people.
|Bishop Ken Carter and his wife, Pam|
“Those are the spiritual practices that the church must recover,” he said on his first visit to Florida since his election last month. “If we recover those core experiences of what it means to be a follower of Jesus, the church begins to be rebuilt.”
Carter won’t officially settle into the bishop’s office until Sept. 1. But he and his wife, Pam, took a whirlwind tour of Lakeland and the Florida United Methodist Center last week, and Carter began meeting with department directors and other leaders to help shape his goals for the Florida Conference as he begins his four-year term.
Most recently a district superintendent in Lake Junaluska, N.C., Carter was elected July 18, one of five new bishops chosen by ballot at the Southeastern Jurisdictional Conference. The following day, he was appointed by the jurisdiction’s episcopacy committee to serve Florida, where the bishop’s seat is being vacated by the retirement of Bishop Timothy Whitaker.
Carter led the WNCC delegation to General Conference in Tampa in May and has visited Florida many times. Even so, he said he realizes he has much to learn about the state and its churches before setting goals for the Conference.
“Obviously, a lot is happening here that is good and healthy and strong,” he said. “So a part of the beginning phase will be to understand the culture, to meet the leadership, to be in the churches, to speak to and listen to the leadership across the Conference.”
The next step, he said, will be to determine the needs of the state and how they relate to the Gospel of Jesus.
“I believe in the mission of the church, in the mission of Christ and that is really where Christian faith connects with basic human needs, like hunger and housing and access to education,” Carter said.
“Florida is a mission field, in that the world has sort of come to Florida,” he said, adding that it is important to meet people where they are in ministry. “Many people arrange their lives to come to Florida, and I think people come here for different reasons.”
Serving basic needs in the community often is the best way to help others connect with God, Carter said. United Methodists involved in tutoring or pushing for a summer lunch program for disadvantaged children, or working in homeless shelters may invite the help of people who otherwise wouldn’t attend a worship service. After service and Christian fellowship, they discover they want something more.
“They follow them [Methodists] into the church, and in the church they make sense of ‘how I was experiencing God as I was doing this,’” Carter explained.
Community service is important, “yet it is also true that this is more than social work,” he said. “It’s fundamental to what it means to be a Christian, and I think that’s what I love about being a United Methodist.”
Dr. Bob Bushong, chairman of the Florida Conference Committee on Episcopacy and senior pastor of First UMC, Winter Park, spent some time Thursday with the new bishop. He said he believes Carter will exercise his own leadership style. But Bushong said he was reminded in many ways of Whitaker, whom Bushong called a “tremendous leader.”
“My sense of him is that he is … a good listener,” Bushong said of Carter. “He’s collegial. I sense him as being open-minded, and that appeals to me.”
He said Carter seemed to grasp quickly some of the characteristics of the Florida Conference that make it unique, including its mix of small and large churches, its diversity of population and the challenges of cultivating young adult leaders.
Carter has held numerous leadership roles in the church, including serving as pastor of small and large churches and on regional and national committees. He also is the author of eight books, the most recent of which is “Pray for Me: The Power in Praying for Others.”
Pam Carter has been serving as missions specialist in the WNCC. She and her husband have been to Haiti many times, and the new bishop predicted his wife will continue to be interested in mission work there.
The couple has two grown daughters. Liz works as a Chinese translator and research analyst for Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., and the younger daughter, Abby, recently graduated from Huntingdon College in Montgomery, Ala. Ken Carter said he expects them to be frequent visitors but not make their home in Lakeland.
“We’re excited about being here,” Carter said. “We ask that people pray for us, and we will pray for them.”
Churches that would like to play Bishop Carter's video message for large groups may download the video as an MP4 file for local playback by going to the Vimeo page, http://vimeo.com/46962130, clicking the blue download button below the video and right-clicking on the file quality you want. Then click "save" to save the file to your local hard drive.