LAKELAND – The intent of the 2018 Annual Conference has been to re-connect United Methodists with the basics of their faith through the theme “Remembering Who We Are”—with the hope that believers will build on that to realize what they can be.
|Dr. Paul Chilcote delivered his presentation, "Replicating our Wesleyan DNA," on Friday morning. —Photo by Lance Rothwell|
Rev. Dr. Paul Chilcote, professor of theology at the Asbury Theological Seminary in Orlando, spoke on both of those pillars during an address Friday morning to open the second day of the Conference at Florida Southern College.
Citing a John Wesley sermon on grace, Chilcote noted that grace is free, grace is for all and, importantly, “God excludes no one from the reach of this love.”
That concept, he said, is what modern-day Methodists have in what he called their Wesleyan DNA.
That includes three principal points: a message of grace and love; a method of growth in community, and a mission-church for the world.
Grace and love, he said, is exemplified in the biblical story of the Samaritan woman at the well and her encounter with Jesus.
“If love is God’s essence, and if grace is the way in which we encounter that love in our lives, both grace and love overwhelmed her on that day,” he said. “She encountered God’s love and grace in the flesh.”
That grace, he said, should be shared through the second pillar—growth in community.
“Created in the image of a relational God, we all crave genuine, true, life-giving relationships with God and others,” he said. So, in a new community—the church—how do we learn to love well, to love as Jesus loves? We practice, he explained.
That includes such Christian tenets as prayer, fasting, acts of mercy, partaking in the Eucharist and immersion in scripture.
All of that, Chilcote said, “leads us to the third important strand of our Methodist DNA—the Wesleyan discovery of a mission-church for the world.
“Folks, the church does not exist for itself,” he said. “It is not about you or me, or the local congregation we call home. We exist to demonstrate God’s love to and for others, for all. That is our reason for being.”
|Rev. Dr. Geraldine McClellan delivered the Service of Remembrance sermon. —Photo by Lance Rothwell|
Rev. Dr. Geradine McClellan had a simple message she delivered in the Memorial Service, where former clergy or their spouses who passed away in the last year were recognized.
“We come to celebrate those you loved, and lost and are now sitting in their Father’s house,” she said.
She added, “Don’t forget to remember.”
Remembering is essential for Christians.
She pointed out how the early Israelites, many of whom couldn’t read or write, remembered their duty to God by passing the story of their flight from Egypt from generation to generation, often by word of mouth.
In modern times, she said it was important to remember the lessons of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert Kennedy and the battles they fought for equality and justice. That battle for justice continues today on many fronts, including Parkland in South Florida and Santa Fe, Texas—sites of recent mass school shootings.
“God has his eyes on you. He has not forgotten you,” she said. “Remembering is to encourage us.”
|Twenty churches celebrated anniversaries on Friday afternoon —Photo by Lance Rothwell|
Retirements and anniversaries
The Conference recognized 19 clergy members who are have observed the milestone of 50 years since their first ordination, along with 13 others who were ordained 25 years ago.
Rev. G. William Sims was saluted on the 75th anniversary of his ordination.
The Conference also honored 33 retirees for their long service.
The conference ordained, licensed and commissioned 62 individuals. Those ordained included sixteen as elders, two as deacons. Those commissioned included nineteen as provisional elders, one as a provisional deacon. Those licensed as local pastors were 24.
|On Saturday, 62 individuals were ordained, licensed and commissioned. —Photo by Lance Rothwell|
Harriet Mayes, chairperson of the Finance and Adminstration Committee, delivered an uplifting message.
“The financial records of the Florida United Methodist Church are in good order,” she said.
Members approved the 2019 total budget of $20.4 million.
Rev. Dan Jackson, director of Vital Church Initiative, led a presentation celebrating the chartering of three churches: Nueva, North Central District, The Collective, East Central District, and Bethesda Haitian, South East District. The three churches met the criteria for chartering: Average Weekly Attendance of 225, financial stability, disciple making process, leadership development process, missional connection with the community and a vision for the future.
Members approved discontinuing 12 churches in the Conference.
- East Central District: Christ UMC in Sanford, Reeves Memorial in Orlando and Trinity in Winter Haven.
- Gulf Central District: Manhattan Avenue UMC in Tampa.
- North Central District: Druid Hills UMC in Ocala.
- North East District: Community in Lake Como, Franklintown in Fernandina Beach, Inman Memorial in Jacksonville and St. Stephens in Hastings.
- South East District: Faith Kendale and Iglesia Cristina Juan Wesley, both in Miami.
- South West District: First UMC in Bowling Green.
Rev. Dr. Gary Spencer, dean of the Cabinet and superintendent of the Atlantic Central District, reported on a recent merger where long-standing Good Shepherd UMC (West Palm Beach) agreed to join with the stronger Community of Hope (Loxahatchee), a strategy to keep the Good Shepherd congregation intact.
|Members gather to inspiring music on Friday. —Photo by Lance Rothwell|
Attendance at Good Shepherd, which has an 1,800-seat sanctuary, had fallen to about 200 on most Sundays, Spencer said.
After joining with Community of Hope as a satellite campus, attendance at Good Shepherd has rebounded to about 350, and the church will undergo a $1 million renovation.
This strengthening strategy "is absolutely what we need to do,” Spencer said.
Other business items
The Board of Trustees continues to oversee the property entrusted to all the Methodists in Florida. The Trustees are responsible for the needs of the Conference Center, the Episcopal Residence, provide guidance to the Campus Ministries and, starting with Annual Conference 2015, the management of abandoned and closed local church property. The trustees continue to monitor campus ministries on the current property conditions and assist with maintenance needs.
Since the last annual conference, the Trustees have sold or transferred 12 properties.
The Committee on Episcopacy met with Bishop Carter in October 2017 and February 2018. They reviewed the Southeast Jurisdiction Episcopal Review and Evaluation instrument.
Bishop Carter’s time outside of the Florida Conference has been focused on his role as one of the moderators for the Commission on a Way Forward and his service (beginning in May 2018) as President of the Council of Bishops.
There was an error made in the language of the first constitutional amendment from General Conference 2016. As instructed by the Secretary of the General Conference, re-voted on the amendment. To learn more about the reason for the re-vote click here. For the corrected language of the constitutional amendment click here.
—Joe Henderson is a freelance writer based in Brandon.