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Opening day of Annual Conference brings challenges, hope, and news

Opening day of Annual Conference brings challenges, hope, and news

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The Florida Conference of the United Methodist Church convened its second consecutive virtual Annual Conference meeting, as Bishop Ken Carter noted, "From Tallahassee and Jacksonville to the Keys."

The Annual Conference is a time for offering a vision for the future, praise, hope, information, and encouragement.

Bishop Ken Carter

"The words of Charles Wesley's hymn 'And Are We Yet Alive' seem to have been written just for people emerging from multiple pandemics, struggling with different visions of the future, different visions of the church, polarized by a contested political election and a violent transition of power," the Bishop said in his opening remarks.

"All of this weighs upon us. What troubles have we seen? What mighty conflicts past, fighting without and fears within since we assembled last. And who would have imagined our last assembly would have been in June 2019."

The virtual meeting was available on Zoom, Facebook, and through the Conference website
Bishop Carter emphasized a single word from the hymn "And Are We Yet Alive?" He called it an "important word."

"The word is 'we.' What does the 'we' mean? I don't assume the 'we.' It is contested, and clarity about the 'we' is needed," he said.

"We are the United Methodist Church, right here, right now. I want to give some clarity about what the 'we' means. We are United Methodist followers of Jesus Christ."

That remains true even through some well-meaning disagreements about denomination policy. And how does that happen?

"It begins with prevenient grace. We begin with identity. We were created in the image of God, Genesis 1:26. This is the ground for our belief in the prevenient grace of God, the grace that was there from the beginning of our creation stories and prior to our awareness," the Bishop said.

"The story of God begins in our lives long before we were ever able to figure it out, if we ever do."


Conference Lay Leader Alice Williams identified the four pillars of laity service: Purpose, Presence, Partnership, and Passion.

She sat with Bishop Carter for his perspective on the importance of laity work. 

Alice Williams

"I really do believe in shared leadership," he said. "The most effective leaders exhibit shared leadership. God, I believe, doesn't speak to anyone person, but rather in the midst of us. No leader is going to go very far without the leadership being shared. I believe that is happening in our Conference now."

The pandemic, he said, forced all United Methodist members and clergy to a deeper self-examination of what it means to be a fully devoted follower of Jesus.

It will mean substantial changes going forward in the church's approach to ministry.

"Most of us have had to go deeper in our discipleship and to do it alone," he said. "Right now, things are unfrozen.
Some of the things we've been doing in our churches, we started doing them in the '50s, and we never really changed. This is 2021. We're going to have to stop doing a few things and think about what God wants our church to do.

"I always wanted us to be a big enough tent that everyone could get under it. That tent is the grace of God through
Jesus Christ that saves us. I came to know that for some people, that was not their desired outcome because they told us that. I also came to the sense that unity could not be at someone's expense."

He stressed the vital Christian ministry of justice for all.

"I've lived through large corporations melting down. I've lived through the Haiti earthquake and how that affected people. Here in Florida, I've seen that in communities where Pulse happened and Parkland happened. Hurricane Irma displaced two and a half million people," the Bishop said.

Those issues cannot be addressed by "trying to be a heroic, solo leader. But by trying to collaborate."

Derrick Scott III

Derrick Scott III, executive director Campus to City Wesley Foundation, challenged lay members to make a difference.

"Presence is getting at this idea that as laity if we want to be included, we're going to have to put our hand up. We're going to have to be involved and engaged. We can't be on the sidelines."

Molly McEntire, the Conference Mission Training and Volunteer Coordinator, noted,

"Everyone does not start out as clergy. We start out as laity. God is not just speaking to the clergy. He is not just speaking to the clergy. He is talking to all of us."


Social justice ministry is an integral pillar of Methodism.

"In justice ministry, we look at three aspects: doing justice, loving kindness and mercy, and walking humbly and faithfully with our God," said Rev. Ronnie Clark of Hurst Chapel AME, Lakeland.

"When it comes to doing justice, that's a different story. In the Bible, doing justice means holding kings, and nobles, and officials, and pharaohs accountable for the treatment of all people so that is just and right."

Angie Pattison, PEACE Team Leader First UMC Lakeland, told of protesting against arrests of non-violent young offenders in Polk County.

"We found it was so much worse than we had feared. Almost a thousand children were being arrested in our county for minor offenses. Almost one-third of them were under the age of 14," she said.

"We found that even if later the record was expunged, the record still showed up on background checks when people went to get licensing, just to get a regular job, or just to get a college scholarship."

There is power in collaboration and unity.

"We're changing thousands of lives," McEntire said. "We have to come to the table, not just with people we know."

​And as Alice Williams said: "We are stewards of this particular moment. We have been gifted in this moment. We're gifted at this place and time. Yeah, it may be uncertain, but what happens next is up to us."


Craig Smelser

Craig Smelser was formally approved for the permanent job as the Conference Chief Financial Officer.

He had filled the position on an interim basis for the last few months. The Conference also approved the proposed budget for the coming year. 

Yoniece Dixon, Chair of the Conference Trustees, reported on the sale of five properties.

"These proceeds will help the Conference close out old liabilities, assist in the management of the property during the period the trustees hold it, and then shared between the Conference cabinet development fund and new church development fund," she said.

Part of those proceeds helped acquired new property for the Wesley Foundation FAMU. A new building is expected to open in the fall.



  • By 88%, voters approved restructuring to allow for a Conference co-Lay Leader. Derrick Scott was appointed for now the as Associate Lay Leader. 
  • Voters by 52% approved a resolution calling for the addition of a non-binary column to the membership gender section when churches report their membership. 
  • A resolution called Valuing God's Gift In Uncertain Times passed with 58% to encourage protection of the unborn.
  • A resolution to encourage the Conference churches to advocate for the use of solar energy also passed with 74%. It was hailed as both an environmental and economic step forward and was greeted enthusiastically by the Creation Care Task Force and supporters. Rev. Andy Oliver, whose Allendale UMC knows the benefits of solar use, noted, “Over the next 20 years we will save $200,000+ in energy costs. And perhaps the best part, about one in 10 new people who come to Allendale have said that they came to be a part of a church that takes care of the environment. Solar panels are evangelism, and brought new people closer to Christ."
  • A resolution denouncing the QAnon Movement as anti-Christian, and against the values inherent in the United Methodist Social Principles passed with 57% approval.

It encourages clergy to preach about the dangers of QAnon Movement's teachings, and likewise give guidance to church members who may have come under the QAnon Movement’s influence.


The Conference noted the long and dedicated service of 27 pastoral leaders who move on to retirement.
They combined for 724 years of service.

"We recognize this is an extraordinary season to retire in the United Methodist Church," Bishop Carter said. "We have been prevented in many of our churches from fully honoring the gifts and legacy of clergy who have served in local churches, and giving and receiving that comes when we acknowledge each other."

Those retiring, with their years of service in parenthesis:Dave Baldridge (35), Russell Belcher (42), John Bennett (21), Glenda Brayman (14), Karen Burris (24), David Carefoot (39), William Corristan (38.5), Timothy Ehrlich (34), Milford Griner (17), Teresa Hill (41), David Hodges (39.5), Leroy Lallance (20), Joanes Martin (29), Joessa Merricks (14), Fawn Mikel (19), David Moenning (31), Joe Moxley (7), Ira Steve Nolin (16), Carl Rainer (17), Timothy Smiley (44), David Spaulding (25), John Stephenson (40), Thom Street (14), James Walling (16), Waite Willis (47), Kenneth Zimmerman (40).


"I remember my affliction and my wandering, the bitterness and the gall. I well remember them, and my soul is downcast within me.

"Yet, this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: Because of the Lord's great love, we are not consumed for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. I say to myself, "The Lord is my portion; there, I will wait for him. The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him, to the one who seeks him." --Lamentations 3:19-25

The opening day concluded with the poignant Service of Remembrance, where we remember pastors and their spouses who died during the last year.

Gammon Theological Seminary President-Dean Rev. Dr. Candace M. Lewis offered words of comfort, starting with Jeremiah's words from Lamentations.

"It was during Jerusalem's desolation that Jeremiah questions and accuses God of being unfair, asking God why have we become the laughing stock of all the nations? And Jeremiah is not like us. I think Jeremiah fears what we fear in light of loss. We fear further attack and injury," she said.

"Our defenses are down. Our walls and our walled selves are now vulnerable to further loss. So, we ask questions. Why this God? Why now God? Why did they have to die? Why did we have to experience this pandemic season? Why, God, am I hurting?

"And why am I hurting if you are so good? These are questions we ask when we are grieving, angry, and in despair."

It's a natural response, and God understands. He also provides healing through the pain.

"It is OK. Because it is in those questions that we can experience freedom, and we give ourselves permission to voice our grief and our pain, our lament," Dr. Lewis said.

"Friends, let us remember. Even as we acknowledge our losses and challenges of this season, we also have joys and things we can celebrate. We, too, can remember – as Jeremiah did – he says yet I call this to mind, and therefore I have hope."

We remember these Clergy members:

Theodore Wesley Jennings, Jr.

Bruce Allerton Mitchell

Bruce Gaston Williams

Gilmer Eugene Benton

Donald Francis Rock, Sr.

David Russell Harris

Richard Elroy Humston

Clinton Elmore Logan, Jr.

Morrell Steed Robinson

Wayne Mabry Johnson

Johnny Lester Arnette

Robert Armand Fortier

William Bruce Caldwell

Jennings Albert Neeld, Jr.

John Wesley Harrington, Jr.

Robert E. Gorday

Roland David Vanzant

Delbert James King

Charles Richard Jones

John D. Banks

John Raymond Tindell

Danny E. Morris

Eriberto Soto

Jose P. Bove

Charles Jack Copenhaver Kelley

Stan Allen Beatty

Charles Gideon Forbes

Marvin Ross Park, Jr.

Earl Wayne Speakman

Drew Allan Parsons

Frank Fabio Sanfiel

We remember these Clergy spouses:

Sue Anna Stiggins

Florence Virginia Weldon Sikes Hall

Edith Wittler Brock

Marjorie Ann Beaver Titus

Joan Elizabeth Duke Whitten

Mildred Coppen Harrison Grossman

Mary Jacqueline Stinson

Eleanor Southard Hankins

Elizabeth Anne Kirby Selph

Frances Louis Carrick Meier

Viola May Schmitt Pherigo

Betty Jean McKnight Spivey

Kathleen Asceneth Hendricks Parks

Earl Demps

Ann Sageser Haggard

Paul Glen Wright

Frances Plant Burruss

Mary Rosetta Williams Gunsalus

Eula Mae Crider Brabham

Michael Alan Schonewolf

Joanne Marie Ferguson Fiske

Helen Scott Tenney

Luis Alberto Gutierrez

William Victor Clontz

Nita Belle Yowell Shaw

Geraldyne Dorothy Shultz Parsons

Helen Carolyn Williams Bronson

Minerva Arias Viera

Barbara Isabelle Kent Cole Waddell

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Photos by Conference Communicator Brittany Jackson



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