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Bishop Tom Berlin: "I want to be in ministry with you"

Bishop Tom Berlin: "I want to be in ministry with you"

Conference News Leadership


As Thomas M. Berlin prepares for the challenge he will face as the new Resident Bishop in The Florida Conference of The United Methodist Church, he and his wife, Karen Berlin, have a message for the people he will soon lead.

"We're excited about coming to Florida. We're excited about the diversity of your conference. Your conference has one of the most exciting ministries in the Southeast Jurisdiction," he said. 

"You've got a number of large, vital churches, but you also have mid-size and small churches that are very vital. You have pastors known all around the connection, and you've got a significant number of younger clergy who will be known around the connection in the coming years. So, to be a part of watching those ministries blossom and come to life, we're really thrilled about that."

Karen Berlin added, "I'm embracing the novelty, the newness of it. It's good to go somewhere new and discover."

Tom and Karen Berlin

She is a Board Certified Behavioral Analyst who works at George Mason University as a Training and Technical Assistance Center Coordinator for Special Education. 

She provides professional learning and resources for educators in special education.

The couple raised four daughters.

Bishop Berlin was elected on Nov. 2 at the Southeastern Jurisdictional Conference at Lake Junaluska, N.C. He was the first of three bishops chosen at that conclave.

"You all have been such a great blessing to my life, and to be elected as bishop is a singular great honor," he told the delegates and attendees that day.

"We can do nothing without Christ and anything with Christ that Christ desires, and there is nothing good I've been a part of that I've done myself. It is oddly humbling to stand before you and accept this special assignment."

Florida Conference Mission Training and Volunteer Coordinator Molly McEntire served as the first elected lay delegate to SEJ. Along with Rev. Alex Shanks, who represented Florida as the first elected clergy delegate, she had an opportunity for an up-close, advance look at the man who was about to become Florida's new bishop.

"What an exciting time for the Florida Conference. Bishop Berlin is an outstanding leader in The United Methodist Church. I look forward to welcoming and serving with him," she said. 

Bishop Tom Berlin and Florida Conference First Elected Clergy Alex Shanks

"He is a deeply rooted disciple of Christ. His passion will help continue to make the Florida conference a place of hope and love. We will be blessed to have him as our bishop."

He begins his new assignment on Jan. 1, succeeding Bishop Ken Carter, who led the Florida Conference for ten years. Bishop Carter moves full-time to the Western North Carolina Conference.

"I have great respect for Bishop Ken Carter and the work of the Florida Annual Conference," Bishop Berlin said.

"I know some of your staff members and am just thrilled to join the work happening in Florida through The United Methodist Church there. We're excited about coming, and we're excited about being with you."

A builder and author with a heart for children 

Bishop Berlin entered ordained ministry in 1988 and comes to Florida after serving churches of all sizes in his native Virginia, including the last 25 years as the lead pastor of Floris UMC, a multi-site, multi-staff congregation in Herndon, Va., near Washington, D.C.

He is a builder. Floris UMC had grown from an average of about 400 people attending worship in 1997 to more than 1,200 before the pandemic struck.

Bishop Berlin also is the author of nine books and has served on multiple boards and outreach ministries, and he has a special heart for children. At Floris UMC, he helped establish an international outreach now known as the Child Reintegration Centre. 

The ministry now serves more than 600 children, providing school fees, medical care, mentoring to caregivers, and training so that their families can be self-supporting and independent.

In 2018, Bishop Berlin also served on the Commission on a Way Forward, where he met Alice Williams. She is the co-lay leader for the Florida Conference.

"Aside from his wonderful sense of humor, I am impressed by his depth of insight into both people and the workings of our beloved UMC," she said. "His collaborative leadership approach, knack for teaching and developing others, and depth of leadership experience will make him a great fit for our conference."

Great challenges ahead

After the winds and waters from Hurricane Ian inflicted cataclysmic damage and death on Southwest Florida in late September, then-Rev. Berlin asked parishioners at Floris UMC to help their Florida brothers and sisters.

Hurricane Ian inflicted catastrophic damage in Southwest Florida

They did, assembling more than 160 flood buckets and donating $10,000 to the Florida Conference for disaster relief.

"Florida has experienced a great tragedy in the recent hurricanes. There is nothing good about those hurricanes and the billions of dollars in devastation," Bishop Berlin said.

"Beyond the numbers, it's about people's lives that have been turned upside down. They've lost their homes, they've lost infrastructure in their communities, schools and children are impacted, elderly people."

It's also a chance to show that a church is more than a building.

"Every time the church shows up and offers love, care, and invaluable resources, there is nothing but good in that because people will see the love of Jesus Christ expressed in that care," he said.

"The more we not only help people but do it in the name of Jesus Christ, the more we help people see The United Methodist Church is with them and for them. I think expressing God's love in those ways is a great opportunity."

A new adventure

The Bishop is a lifetime United Methodist, baptized as an infant at Braddock Street UMC in Winchester, Va., and, he notes, "I've been connected to it ever since."

Karen Berlin's story is different.

"I did not grow up Methodist, so I chose to be Methodist. I think what was behind that were the two words: united and method. I think, for me, #BeUMC means to be Christ in the world," she said.

"The reminders are in our unity, to remember that everyone is a child of God and has God's image printed upon them and to treat them that way. Let's be Christ in a united, effective way."

Florida will be a new experience for them, adapting to a different climate than they experienced in Virginia. The sprawling Florida Conference, stretching from the Panhandle to Key West, is a mix of urban, rural, and in-between.

Bishop Berlin said he looks forward to making it his home. 

Bishop Tom Berlin

"We're excited about being in the Sunshine State. We've never lived in Florida. People come from all over the country and the world to live in your state. So, we're looking forward to getting to know the state, see the beauty of the environment there, and just experiencing that," he said.

His wife agreed.

"You just have new eyes, and you experience things in new and different ways," she said.

"It's always been our experience going anywhere, whether on a short-term mission trip or just anywhere that's new, you have this different energy – it's an energy of discovery. And, you see things you wouldn't see if you were immersed in it. I wouldn't necessarily have anticipated that we would be starting a brand-new chapter at this particular time of our life, but I'm excited."

Foremost, however, is the mission of being the hands and feet of Jesus to a world that needs to experience Christ's grace, hope, and love.

"The mission of The United Methodist Church is to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. We have spent our lives in the local church, and I believe in its vitality and its capacity to make disciples of Jesus Christ – and I think that's what guides us," Bishop Berlin said.

"In terms of a particular vision for Florida, I will not be showing up with a vision. I will be showing up with listening ears. We have a lot to learn. We want to know how God's already been working in Florida. And once we learn more and know more, then we can talk about where the Holy Spirit is taking us all together. I want to be in ministry with you and for you and be a servant as a bishop. I think that means starting with listening rather than talking."

Florida Conference Communicator Brittany Jackson contributed to this story.
Joe Henderson is News Content Editor for FLUMC.org

jhenderson@flumc.org

 


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