Annual Conference focuses on opportunities in the midst of challengesCOVID-19 Fill The Table Inclusivity
The Annual Conference is a long-standing tradition in the Florida Conference of The United Methodist Church. Leaders, clergy, and laity from around the state gather in-person for three days of meetings, inspiration, and worship.
But on Saturday, COVID-19 turned the multi-day, in-person gathering into a one-day virtual Annual Conference. It was held at the Conference office in Lakeland, with Bishop Kenneth Carter presiding over his eighth statewide meeting.
His message to United Methodists throughout Florida was entitled "The Temptation To Abandon Connection." It was right on point with the times in which we live.
A community that survives and flourishes is one that teaches us to look not to our private preferences, but for the good of others.
"Our connection, as a Florida Conference, as United Methodists is to seek that place where we can survive and flourish together, so that all can live under their own vine and fig tree, in the language of the Old Testament, so that together we can help the forest to be fruitful for ourselves and generations to follow," he said.
"We gather virtually as an annual conference in a season of multiple viruses. The first is COVID. 13,000 Floridians have died with this virus. The second is racism, the accumulation on this continent of four hundred years of slavery and its legacies. The third is economic dislocation from loss of work and livelihoods in many of our communities."
How should Methodists address this trilogy of disruption?
"The temptation is to put on our running shoes and flee from the threat. To go it alone. To say, I am not my brother or sister’s keeper," the Bishop said.
"A mature connection of disciples knows that we are members one of another. We look not to our own good, but to the good of others."
This year's Annual Conference was originally scheduled for June at Florida Southern College, but the virus forced the delay. The agenda for the original three-day gathering was reduced to a focused one-day platform on Zoom of essential business items only.
Voting members cast their ballots virtually.
"When Bishop Carter proposed the 2020 Annual Conference theme, In Christ, For Others: Transformation through Mentoring and Reverse Mentoring, we never imagined that we would face a coronavirus pandemic that would compel us to adapt and in the process become transformed," Director of Connectional and Justice Ministries Rev. Dr. Sharon Austin said. "The process of adapting infused our Annual Conference planning with new energy and the realization that we have the capacity to live into a different future that builds on innovation and technology.
"The persons who are elected today will lead us through the next quadrennium and there are significant needs throughout our Conference and our Church for grateful servants who love all of God’s people to become the hands and feet of Christ through many seasons of our shared ministry."
Even in this uncertain time, Bishop Carter stressed that we trust God and work to further His kingdom.
"If you listen, you will hear loud sounds in the forest. It would be tempting to look for our running shoes. But I hear another voice. It is the calling, confirming voice of the one who created all of the people who inhabit this beautiful peninsula that is Florida, who created us for each other, who reassures us of a future and a hope," he said.
"Together let’s discover and create spaces together, spaces that allow us to grow into the image of our God who is good, all the time, even amidst uncertainty, spaces where we can lean on the everlasting arms of the One who is our refuge and strength, spaces where we can reassemble, once again, to glorify God, to tangibly experience the ties that bind, spaces that help us to remember who we are, to remember: We are a connection."
Alice Williams was elected to serve a four-year term as Conference Lay Leader.
Williams succeeds Paulette Monroe, who has served as the Lay Leader since 2016.
"This was an awesome journey: challenging and yet rewarding all at the same time. I was able to meet and greet so many wonderful people. Visiting churches was a delightful experience, especially on Laity Sunday, in addition to travelling to unimaginable places," Monroe said.
"We began our work with a vision and mission statement that defined the work of the Laity: To make faithful disciples in a shared ministry, to empower laity by providing opportunities and to encourage discipleship ministries.
"Our goal was to empower all lay members of the Florida Annual Conference to take authority and go out into their communities and make disciples of Jesus Christ."
Williams is a third-generation United Methodist. She attends St. Luke's UMC in Orlando.
She had a 30-year career with The Walt Disney Company before leaving in 2015 to start Williams Consulting of Florida LLC. It provides faith-based and not-for-profit organizations with HR and Organizational Design expertise.
She holds a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration from the University of Central Florida, a MBA from Rollins College - Crummer Graduate School of Business, and is a former Senior Practitioner with the Society for Human Resource Management.
COVID-19 presented special financial challenges for churches throughout the state. Accordingly, the Conference approved an overall budget of $16,807,719 for 2021. That represents a $2.5 million reduction from 2020.
"Recognizing the financial challenges in local churches and wanting to help reduce some of that stress, CF&A and conference leadership took a hard look at conference expenses," said Harriet Mayes, Chair of the Council on Finance and Administration. "With much dialog and pencil sharpening we concurred that the budget could become leaner without damaging the quality of services and support provided to our churches
"Since 2017, the overall annual budget has been reduced $4.1 million or about 20%. This includes reductions in both General and Conference annual budgets."
Despite all that, Interim Treasurer Mickey Wilson said the Conference is in good shape financially.
"While apportionments received thru June 30 were down for the same period in 2019, related expenses are down even more," he said. "The Conference has done a remarkable job in realigning staff positions and reducing expenses. Having Annual Conference in this manner is just an example of reduced expenses.
"You are all to be commended for your faithfulness in paying your apportionment and the Episcopal, Conference and District leaders for taking seriously the need to reduce expenses and continue to be good stewards of your money."
Voters approved the nominations for members of Conference boards, agencies, committees, and task teams.
COMMITTEE ON EPISCOPACY
Co-chair Molly McEntire announced a gift of $57,000 to the African University Scholarship fund in honor of Bishop John K. Yambasu, who died recently in a car accident.
"We invite other Florida United Methodist to join the Committee on Episcopacy by making a gift to this scholarship in honor of Bishop Carter and Reverend Pam Carter and their leadership in our midst," she said.
Under the leadership of Bishop Carter, the Conference set a goal of providing three million meals in the next calendar year to those most in need. The aim is to engage 100,000 United Methodists throughout Florida to help provide food to individuals and families facing devastation during this pandemic.
The initiative is called Fill the Table.
A special offering was dedicated that initiative. Donations can be made online at Fill the Table or by sending a check to Florida Conference Treasurer with Advance # 100015 clearly marked in the memo.
The Bishop also formed a Task Force on Anti-Racism. The task force includes three teams: Training and Accountability; Public Policy and Witness; and Beloved Community.
"We are extremely grateful for Bishop Carter during this unprecedented time. Where there has been stress, fear, and division, we are grateful for his solid, consistent and compassionate leadership during this time," she said.
"We are grateful that our Bishop has provided us with strong leadership and guidance on COVID-19, strife in our world and the importance of confronting racism. During this time of unprecedented challenges, Bishop Carter’s leadership is more important than ever."
Rev. Dr. Rini Hernandez gave an update on the vital Latino/a Initiative.
The team has been meeting regularly to develop new and existing congregations to ensure growth, particularly in the 18-30 age group.
"We've been investing in leadership development and helping them discern their specific call to different ministries," he said. "It doesn't necessarily have to be pastoral ministry."
They have met with various groups around the state to launch new Hispanic initiatives.
The Hispanic population is the largest ethnic minority in the United States. There are approximately 5.8 million Hispanics and Latinos in Florida, about 27% of the state's population.
There are estimates that in 2040, the Hispanic population in Florida will be 50% of the total population.
To everything there is a season, and for these 37 people the time has come to retire from active ministry. COVID-19 forced changes in the normal way they are recognized,
"We honor those who served among us and now enter into the retired relationship as clergy of the Florida Conference," Bishop Carter said. "We acknowledge that this is an extraordinary time. Many of these men and women were not able to have the appropriate rituals of saying goodbye to local churches in ministry and to receiving their affirmations and best wishes. Perhaps we'll have the time to do that in a future year."
The Conference still found a way to honor them. There were short videos of each retiree with testaments to the work they did and the difference they made.
Mary Ashcraft -- Zig Bays -- Marilyn Beecher -- T. Glenn Bosley -- Mitchell Rick Cabot -- Jerry Carris -- Larry Case -- Janet Chilcote -- Sue Corley -- Chuck Engelhardt -- Wayne Finn -- Darrell Fiske -- Sue Garcia -- James Govatos -- Gary Gray -- David Michael Groos -- George Hatmaker -- Migdalia Icaza Willetts -- Jeanne Icenhour -- Dan Jackson --Jeffrey Kantz --Terry Knight -- Joe MacLaren -- Marguerite Matthews -- Debbie McLeod -- Tim McNeil -- Terry Medlin -- Beth Murchison -- Gary Myers -- Carlos Otero -- Alyce Parmer -- Drew Parsons -- Stan Posey -- Priscilla Scherrah -- Susan Schrier Clouse -- Steve Souders -- Jim Thomas.
The Conference concluded with an inspiring Service of Remembrance for the clergy and clergy spouses who died in the last year.
"We have gathered here to celebrate the lives of those who have served faithfully through the years and now share the triumph of Christ," Bishop Carter said. "We affirm through praise and thanksgiving the goodness of our Lord. Let us rejoice in God's presence with us, in death as in life, among those who mourn and those who now see Christ face to face."
The ceremony included a sermon from Rev. Debbie McLeod that focused on Chapter 2 of Paul's letter to the Church at Philippi.
"This short letter is full of love and longing," she said. "Imagine the tears that ran down Paul's face as he dictated this letter."
It was the perfect description of the selfless lives pastors choose as they put others ahead of themselves.
"Few of us, when we are young, dream of growing up to get a job where we get to work six days a week," she said. "And go to meetings where paint colors are discussed for hours. And where we scrimp to make every penny go as far as it can.
"... Normal people don't say, 'I don't really need to decide where I will live or what community I will serve. Just send me where you need me most. Better yet, Bishop, give me something really hard to do. And I realize the pay may be minimal.' Friends, every congregation is hard. They are just hard in different ways."
But, she said, fulfilling God's plan is all the reward they need.
"When we empty ourselves of ourselves," she said, "then we available for the surprising joy of God's adventures."
Zack Colson -- March 7, 2019
Clark Sutcliffe Reed -- April 1, 2019
James Nowell Broomall, Jr -- April 13, 2019
Lawrence Willard Armbrust -- April 22, 2019
Roberta Doris Flanagan Walker (Local Pastor) -- June 7, 2019
Edward Lee Dinkins, Jr -- June 9, 2019
Robert A. Weimert (Associate Member) -- July 22, 2019
Albert Francis Donovan -- August 11, 2019
Paul Frederick Andrus -- August 19,2019
Alfred Henry Tracy -- August 22, 2019
Jack Leland South -- October 2, 2019
Duncan Laidlaw Gray (Associate Member) -- October 31, 2019
Frances Helen Foley Guest -- November 26, 2019
Rodney Fredric Johnson -- December 1, 2019
Lawrence Carlton O’Steen -- December 6, 2019
Lyman Haywood Kirkwood -- December 27, 2019
Jiles Ellsworth Kirkland -- December 29, 2019
Armour Rand Sutherland -- January 2, 2020
George Thomas Hubbell, Jr. (Local Pastor) -- January 5, 2020
Thomas Warren Otto -- January 26, 2020
Ross Melick Geiger -- February 5, 2020
Mary Lou Tutt (Full Deacon) -- February 11, 2020
Raymond Leroy Gass -- February 16, 2020
Carl Robert Wall (Local Pastor) -- February 29, 2020
Logan Whalen -- March 9, 2020
Ruth Marie Walther -- August 4, 2015
Jean Furman Dart -- September 17, 2019
Alice Lee Butler -- September 27, 2018
Kay Kriser Clark -- April 6, 2019
Beatrice Ann Miller Denslow -- May 1, 2019
Charlotte Louise Mott Yates -- May 15, 2019
Barbaranna Elizabeth Phillips Jones -- June 29, 2019
Virginia Lee Wood Miley -- July 20, 2019
Richard Lee Garcia -- August 18, 2019
James Elwood Carroll -- October 4, 2019
Lucy Eleanor Boozer Harward -- October 16, 2019
Betty Jean Hamilton -- November 7, 2019
Margery Dyckes Schantz -- November 20, 2019
Elizabeth Mendoza DeBusk -- November 29, 2019
Mary Elizabeth King Bain -- January 7, 2020
Agnes Motley Fair -- February 7, 2020
Ruth Louise Humphries Gee -- February 27, 2020
Jean Lamar Sealey Crook -- March 5, 2020
Josephine Philbeck -- March 10, 2020
--Joe Henderson is News Content Editor for FLUMC.org
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