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Annual Conference concludes with praise, purpose, and renewed hope

Annual Conference concludes with praise, purpose, and renewed hope

Conference News Inclusivity

The darkness that shrouded the Florida Conference of the United Methodist Church at its 2022 Annual Conference was banished in the just-concluded A.C. session in Lakeland. Uncertainty about the future of the Conference gave way to purpose and renewal.

The music was outstanding during Annual Conference (photo by Lance Rothwell)

It was three days of spirit-filled worship, incredible music, and inspiring messages as attendees and those watching online received an infusion of hope and purpose. While disaffiliation continues to be an issue for the Conference, the bigger picture is about the work ongoing by the many remaining churches.

“It just felt so good,” Rev. Magrey deVega of Hyde Park UMC in Tampa said. “It was joyous.”

Lay delegate John Eaton added, “I’m so glad I came.”

Bishop Tom Berlin, who led the Annual Conference for the first time since taking over in January, struck that upbeat tone at Saturday’s service of licensing, commissioning, and ordination of new pastors.

The Florida Conference's newest pastors were licensed, commissioned, or ordained Saturday on the final day of the Annual Conference.

Using the parable of the hidden treasure from Matthew 13 about the man who sold everything he had to buy a field as a theme, Bishop Berlin told those about to be ordained, licensed, and commissioned to buckle up for an amazing journey.

“Be aware of what you are doing today. To find this treasure, you have to be more than committed. Jesus said that they sold everything. To buy the field, the person sold everything they had,” he said. 

“The merchant sold every good pearl they possessed to gain the pearl of great price. Jesus is not asking if you and I are committed. He’s telling us that if we want to find the treasure of the Reign of God, we have to sell out. We must be undeniably committed.”

That commitment changes lives that once might have seemed lost.

Bishop Berlin illustrated that point with a story about Kathy, a young mother with two children. Her marriage was in trouble, she had anger issues, and she hadn’t yet discovered hope in Christ Jesus.

“A friend invited her to the church where I was the pastor. Over time I saw her give her life to Jesus. I saw her invite her neighborhood friends to her life group. I saw her volunteer to lead a small group for middle school girls for over a decade. I saw her special love and ministry to older adults in the church and community. I saw her open treasure after treasure after treasure,” he said.

Attendees received inspiring messages and music (photo by Lance Rothwell).

“You do this work long enough, and you will see lost people find new life in Christ. You will see people become loving and generous. You will hear stories of how people learned to forgive others or rise above the harm inflicted on their past so that their present becomes a story of courage and reawakening.”

Being a pastor means answering the phone with the calls that come at 2 a.m. He did that one night when a member of his congregation called to say his father had just died. The death was not unexpected, and Bishop Berlin said he had asked that son to let him know when it happened.

They talked for a while, and that might have been the end of it for a while, but his wife, Karen, firmly said that he go to the hospital.

“Do you really think he would call at 2 a.m. if he didn’t want you to come over,” the Bishop said his wife told him. “I went to the hospital. I prayed. I read scripture. I offered words of consolation and hope as we sat in the grief of that death. 
In all things, we see the beauty of God’s love and provision.

"That night, Karen was teaching me that we don’t have to do this. We get to do this. That is why Paul said to count it all as joy. It’s joy that makes you sell out. Joy that leads you to be undeniably committed. You are treasure hunters. You have no idea where that quest may take you. Places of wonder and abandon lie before you.”

He was speaking to the newest ministers in the Conference, but his words apply to everyone who calls themselves a United Methodist. The world needs the gift we have, the gift we are supposed to share. Whether preaching from the pulpit or offering a kind word to someone you just met at the park, we are all ministers.

There were dozens of stories during Annual Conference about the contributions of the laity in their churches and communities. Being a follower of Jesus Christ is not a spectator sport. When the still, small voice of the Holy Spirit speaks to us, it’s because our Lord has a job for us to do on his behalf.

The goal of this year’s Annual Conference was to leave the division of the last few years behind and get on with that work. It’s about inclusion and seeing that everyone has value and a calling. It also emphasizes the “United” part of our denomination’s name.

It’s about hearing the calling he gave to the new pastors and realizing it applies to everyone. It’s about valuing service over being served.

“You have no idea where this thing will take you. But I’ll tell you this. If you pursue this calling with abandon, if you sell out, if you cut ties with the complainers and the whiners and the cynics and throw your lot with those who have a shovel in hand and sweat on their brow, it doesn’t matter where you end up, it will be treasure after treasure after treasure, and pearl after pearl after pearl,” he said.

“You will dig long and hard, hours and days at a time, wondering if there really is any treasure to be found. You will dig giant holes and wonder how you are missing it until one day, you hear the shovel clank against the chest. You will dig it out to discover that the treasure you find is of such value and such beauty and significance that it makes it all worthwhile. It is the treasure that is worth the sacrifice of all the other treasures.”

Joe Henderson is the News Content Editor of

The following people were licensed, commissioned, or ordained as pastors in the Florida Conference of the United Methodist Church


Jill Berquist
Janean Briseno
Esteban Eliezer Cortes
J. Brian Dow
Ellyn Rose Fox
Amanda Green
Lauren Kim
David P. Owsley
Sam Rodriguez
Leo Vollbracht II
Robert (Woody) Woodward

Class of 2022
Carlene Rachel Barbeau
Paola Lemus Bustillos
Carey S. Taylor
Anna Nicole Swygert

Class of 2022
Timothy Jones-Barton
Lucas Bonates
Mary McNeal Jackson
William Edward Kendust
Shawn A. Klein
Gary W. Logan
Clark McClain
Kipp Alan Nelson
Sherlain L. Stevens
Kaylee S. Vida
Sarah Robles Wise

Class of 2023
Kolby Jayke Golliher
Rushing Johnstone Kimball
Joshua Adam Landen
J. Bryant Manning
Anna Brook Opalinski
Richard Anthony Purcell
John Albert Shughart III
Jonathan Tschanz
Karen V. Williams


Paige Elizabeth Holaday
Matthew Scott Kern
Ellen Arterburn Pollock


Madeline Baum
Haley Grace Eccles
Christopher S. Haden
Katelyn Harrington
Zachary Austin Hutchinson
Jetro Jeune
Gwang Hyun Jacob Park
Ben Myers Richards
Janet Nicole “Nicki” Taylor



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