LAKELAND – As the Annual Conference opened Thursday afternoon, the message went out to United Methodists across Florida about a renewed collaboration that will seek to make disciples for Jesus Christ.
Offered by the Strategic Leadership Team (SLT), it is called “On Mission Together” and it involves everyone, from top leaders in the Conference to each person who attends a local church.
“As we worked through this process, we wanted to keep three things in mind as we were developing this identity,” SLT member Candace Lewis said.
|Dr. Candace Lewis, district superintendent of the Gulf Central District, rallies Annual Conference members around "On Mission Together." -Photo by Lance Rothwell|
Those key things: Keep it simple, passionate and aligned.
“This phrase, On Mission Together, speaks to not only the collaboration between the Conference and the churches, institutions and ministries, but really it is a phrase that speaks to every person who is seeking to make disciples for the transformation of the world,” Lewis said.
“You can also use the hashtag #onmissiontogether so that we see on social media the collective impact we are having.”
And what is the goal?
That can be found in the mission statement: Equipping leaders to make disciples of Jesus for the transformation of communities across Florida and beyond.
“Making any sort of impact on our world takes leadership, and each time one of us steps up to make disciples and transform our communities it is a step toward leadership. Our goal is to equip clergy and lay leaders serving in churches, institutions and in their communities to fulfill the mission of the church.”
At the urging of Bishop Ken Carter, the Conference approved a new way of approaching resolutions.
After studying the early roots of Methodism, Bishop Carter noted that churches approached resolutions by reflecting as a group how the proposals related to their faith instead of arguing pro or con.
He believes that model can be useful in dealing with today’s complex issues that impact Methodists throughout the state.
“We’re leaders and hopefully we can begin to model how to have these conversations,” he said.
|Disaster Recovery’s department used the metaphor of chains to encourage members to link together in support of Hurricane Irma recovery. -Photo by Lance Rothwell|
“What this means is that on Friday, we will begin our conversation with the first question – what is the faith that we should teach as United Methodists.” On Saturday the questions discussed were "How to Teach" and "What to do."
The change in how resolutions are considered fit the theme of the Annual Conference, Remembering Who We Are.
The new approach means submitted resolutions can be referred to a Conference board or agency for consideration.
The update on Connectional Ministries gave a clear picture of the depth and variety of the UMC’s global reach, and it affects every member.
As Director of Connectional and Justice Ministries Sharon Austin noted, “Resources means more than money. It also means people. It’s a bit of this and a bit of that, but it’s all important in the conversation. The connectional resource of people is one that is often overlooked.”
Connectional ministry builds bridges to neighborhoods and communities, and that is amplified and spread through a variety of sources and innovative outreaches like Fresh Expressions.
The monthly Twitter traffic topped 52,000, and the Conference Facebook page has 8,700 followers with an annual reach of 1.4 million.
The growth also shows in the camps and campus ministries. Camp participation has greatly increased in the last year.
“We believe they continue to make a real difference,” Director of Camps and Retreats Ministries Mike Standifer said. “We are continuing to invest in the leadership and discipleship of the next generation.”
Director of Missional Engagement Clark Campbell-Evans highlighted the important work being done in Haiti, Angola and Cuba, along with a new partnership with a church in Argentina.
Also, a joint Haiti-Florida covenant committee will be renewed and approach fresh missions in that island nation.
The ongoing work to help people devastated by hurricanes Irma and Maria last year will continue in cooperation with the United Methodist Committee on Relief. UMCOR gave an initial $1 million grant for that work and recently approved an $8 million, two-year grant.
|Bishop Ken Carter leads the Board of Ordained Ministry and historic questions with the team of ordinands. -Photo by Lance Rothwell|
“As our churches reeled from the enormity of these disasters, you also responded in amazing ways,” Disaster Response Coordinator Pam Garrison said. “Feeding neighbors quickly turned into feeding neighborhoods. The disaster is still very real. Let’s keep the conversation going because the need is now.”
Florida United Methodist Foundation
Mark Becker, President of the Florida United Methodist Foundation, told how money it generates “represents stewardship and ministry in action.”
That includes $8.2 million the Foundation passed on to Conference churches and agencies last year. The money was used to help pay for operations and various ministries.
“Those dollars come from payments churches and agencies receive from the planned gifts we manage for individuals,” he said. “They also come from the grants we award and earnings from investments in our funds.”
Churches and individuals invested $145.8 million last year in the Development Fund, which Becker called “one of our core ministries, and one of the most worthwhile ways to partner with the Foundation.”
The investments provide for, among many other things, low-interest loans for churches and ministries.
“That means your investment is building new sanctuaries, so more people can worship, adding classrooms so people of all ages can continue learning what it means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ,” Becker said.
“And renovating areas for youth so they have a safe place to gather and learn.”
Bishop Sue Haupert-Johnson delivered the sermon for Thursday night's communion service. Click here to view.