Florida Conference: 175 years of helping, servingConference News
This year is the 175th anniversary since the founding of the Methodist church’s Florida Conference. Churches throughout the state will individually celebrate the occasion with cakes, song, and memories of all the good it has bestowed on the Sunshine State.
Judi New is the leader of the FLUMC Archives and History Department in the Florida United Methodist Heritage Center. She assumed that position when long-time archivist Nell Thrift retired last year at the Conference.
“We had an extensive celebration for the 150th anniversary, and this year, they decided that with the General Conference coming up in May, let’s step back and commemorate this huge anniversary,” New said.
“To kind of make it faithful, we thought individual churches could celebrate with a song or celebrate with a cake, then they can send us what they have done, and we can celebrate it Conferencewide over the website.”
Also, the Conference produced a video last year that will no doubt resurface this year at various churches commemorating 175 years of the Florida Conference.
“It is beautiful knowing that all across our Conference churches are celebrating in their own way. It is a way to have joy, looking at where we are as Conference,” New said.
“We have a letter going out from the Bishop with some ideas, including music celebrations, a children’s choir as a generational thing. I like the idea of during worship to sing happy birthday to the Florida Conference,” she said.
While small, the celebrations can look back at all the positives Methodists bring to the state. For example, just last week, Hyde Park United Methodist Church in Tampa was one of several churches in Florida that welcomed the homeless on a cold night to provide meals and a warm bed.
Local TV news prominently featured Hyde Park’s outreach.
The United Methodist Children’s Home has served foster and orphaned children for decades. Churches have, in recent years, offered alternatives to traditional church through Fresh Expressions ministries to bring the word of Jesus Christ to those who might not attend traditional Sunday worship.
“What has been really telling for me is that if you take a look at our history, you will see it has not been all smooth sailing,” said Anita Campbell, chair of the Book of Discipline’s Commission on Archives and History. “We’ve had our share of ups and downs as a denomination, and of course that has been reflected. Through it all, we have remained strong and we are a very forward-thinking Conference.
“If you go back and look at what is happening now,” with the Methodist denomination discussing a split over scripture and the issue of sexuality, “the Florida Conference has taken a lead in trying to get other Conferences and their members to embrace and adopt a forward-thinking agenda.”
Campbell called out Bishop Ken Carter as “a tremendous leader.”
“For us to have been given the opportunity to have this gentleman serve not just as our Bishop, but now everybody else is taking note and saying he should be president of the council on Bishops.”
Campbell, who attends Trinity UMC in Deland, said her church is celebrating its 125th anniversary this year, so it is a double celebration.
As part of that forward-thinking mission, she said, her church is building a new, smaller sanctuary in a part of town where there are growing families, in hopes of drawing more to Christ.
She gave kudos to the Conference for the beautiful space created on the campus of Florida Southern College to store and showcase its historical artifacts.
“It serves as an inspiration for those who want to come and learn the history of our Conference,” Campbell said. “When we found Judi, we found the perfect person to lead us in that direction.”
New, she said, has put much of the Conference’s history online so anyone can go on the website and study genealogy and the history of the church. The documents on the site go back to the 1800s.
“Now we are poised to take archives and history into the 21st century,” she said. “We have been stuck in an older mode, and we need to move out of that, and we are now embracing technology. Judi has been able to introduce a lot of new bells and whistles.”
Campbell said she finds it exciting to know people can go to the web page and research.
“It’s been a great thing, getting all of our ducks in a row. Once that was done, we looked at how can we reach out to our congregations,” she said.
“One thing we are doing is tours and getting people on campus and not just seniors. Also, children coming up through grade school are coming, as well as we are attracting teens.”
Pastor Ivan Corbin, president of the Historical Society of the United Methodist Church, called the Conference’s 175th anniversary “a very big deal.”
Corbin, who pastors the Beach United Methodist Church in Fort Myers Beach, said his church is young in comparison, established in 1953.
“I’m trying to help them understand what they are as United Methodists and a part of this Conference.”
The denomination’s history faces significant challenges moving forward, he said, as it contemplates the possibility of a split.
But for now, he said, it is a time of celebration.
--Yvette C. Hammett is a freelance writer in Valrico
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