|Volunteers hand out voting devices during Annual Conference 2019. -Photos by Lance Rothwell|
Jurisdictional clergy delegates elected include Candace Lewis, Justin LaRosa, Melissa Cooper, Jennifer Stiles Williams, Debbie Allen, Matthew Williams, Vicki Walker and Clare Chance.
Jurisdictional laity delegates are Riley Standifer, Martha Gay Duncan, Alejandra Salemi, Steve Gardner, Wyatt Robinson, Will Cooper, Jessica Scott and Rushing Kimball.
Alternate clergy delegates include Vidalis Lopez, Mary Downey, Emily Hotho, Michael Luzinski, Robin Hager, Daphne Johnson and Ivan Corbin.
Alternate laity delegates are Heidi Aspinwall, Robert “Kim” Lee, Robert Grizzard, Caryn Royer, Britt Holdren, Raymond Pandley II and Elizabeth Preston-Hughes.
In opening remarks Thursday, Florida Conference Bishop Ken Carter emphasized inclusion and connection as The United Methodist Church faces current challenges and prepares for those that will come.
“We are in a divergent time. We have left behind a convergent time,” he said. “We united as a church during that convergent time, the 1960s. Gil Rendle writes that in a convergent time, the questions and answers are the same for everyone.
“In a convergent culture, the person who is different hides or conforms. In a convergent culture, immigrants come, and they blend in.
“In a divergent culture, we are not asking the same questions and the answers are multiple. In a divergent culture we lead with our differences. This is not about one of us or another. This is the air we breathe.” Click here for the Bishop’s full remarks.
Special speaker Rev. Dr. Cynthia Weems: The Potter’s Hand
|Special speaker Rev. Dr. Cynthia Weems, South East District superintendent spoke Thursday morning. -Photo by Lance Rothwell|
What does your mother’s fine china have to do with the modern United Methodist Church?
As South East District Superintendent Cynthia Weems explained in a well-received message Thursday morning, it can teach Christians a valuable lesson about being the church to a seeking world in these modern times.
“Perhaps you, like I, have struggled with a misguided impression of the Christian life. For years, I compared the health of my Christian life to something a bit like a pattern of fine china,” she said. “Proper, perfect, matching the rest of the crowd, no scuffs or cracks, all shiny.
“Perhaps you, like I, learned through tears and heartache that the notion our spiritual life is meant to be unbroken, perfect, matching and untouched is false. Through life’s hurts, trials and pain, we learn that there are better images for our Christian journey.”
She cited Jeremiah 18:1-6, the story of the potter’s hand as the roadmap for how the church today should reach out to the world.
“It is one I began to be drawn to over the years when the comparison with fine china just did not work anymore,” she said. “This idea that God molds and shapes us – and knows what to do when we are spoiled, troubled, misshapen – is beautiful. It is comforting. It is challenging.
“Now, let’s be honest. The North American church has long taken pride in associating itself with fine china. Perhaps that is why I so long compared North American church that screams ‘China cabinet’ – beautiful, everything matching, not one piece out of place, plenty of place settings for the whole family, a matching pattern and locked away for the whole week. Ouch!”
She pointed out the increasing number of innovative approaches to worship happening in the Conference – campus ministries and coffee shops teaming up, churches in tattoo parlors, or meeting outside while people are kayaking. And the Florida Conference just opened a church in the nation’s largest women’s prison.
Weems also drew inspiration from her 13-year-old daughter during a talk about china. She asked her daughter to say what comes to mind when looking at china.
She used the words pretty, fragile, untouchable, distant and irrelevant. And then said, “I don’t think about china much. Only on special occasions.”
|The prayer garden included the traditional labyrinth. -Photo by Lance Rothwell|
“Friends, I see the way my daughter stares at the china cabinet in our dining room,” Weems said. “She knows it’s there. She knows the dishes only come out once or twice a year. She knows they are fragile, untouchable and distant. I don’t want my daughter to feel about the church the way she feels about my grandmother’s china: pretty, but useless. Irrelevant.”
Conference churches gave more than $36,702 toward the Bishop’s offering Wednesday evening. The offerings will be divided evenly between establishing a United Methodist Church inside a state prison and funding for the Florida A&M University Wesley Foundation.
A pastor will be assigned to serve at Lowell Correctional Institution for women in Reddick. The Conference will partner with Prison Congregations of America, a consulting group that helps denominations establish worshiping congregations in prisons.
Part of the vision for IMPACT@FAMU Wesley Foundation is to create a “home away from home” for our students, an office/pastoral care area for the Executive Director, and a place to worship, gather, learn, play, and pray for the FAMU campus at large. The offering will help make that vision a reality.
Connectional and Justice Ministries
The department provided reports on Campus Ministries, Camps and Retreats, Social Principles and the Institute for Modern Worship.
Campus ministries engage students through worship, missions, small groups, leadership development and a community of support.
It calls students into a personal relationship with Jesus Christ by training them to become servant leaders and sending them to serve God through the local church and encouraging the development of Christian community.
|Members listen to the Connectional and Justice Ministries report. -Photo by Lance Rothwell|
Camps and Retreats reported on their rebranding of Camps with the Life Enrichment Center.
A revision of the Social Principles has been ongoing with the goal of presenting a final draft to General Conference 2020 for consideration. Rev. Dr. Sharon Austin, director of Connectional and Justice Ministries, held several listening sessions around the conference regarding the proposed revisions in 2018.
The goal is to make the principles more succinct, more theologically grounded and more globally relevant.
The Institute for Modern Worship reported about the launch of this initiative and its Genesis Conference, held earlier this year in Orlando.
Worship leaders, pastors and musicians from across Florida gathered to discuss the vision and goals of the Institute.
“It was a remarkable event,” Jeremy Hearn, worship leader of First UMC Lakeland said. “We want to express deep appreciation to Sharon Austin for getting behind this.”
|Anniversary churches displayed their banners and retiring archivist Nell Thrift were honored Thursday afternoon. -Photo by Lance Rothwell|
Archives and History
The long-serving archivist of the Florida Conference officially retired Thursday. Nell Thrift, who carefully kept records, photos and a record of Florida United Methodist history in cooperation with Florida Southern College, was saluted by Rev. Alfred T. Day, General Secretary of the General Commission on Archives and History. She will be succeeded by Rev. Judith “Judi” New.
Fifteen churches celebrated milestone anniversaries: two marked 175 years; five marked 150 years; three have reached 125 years; three have reached 100; one is celebrating 75 years; one is celebrating 50 years.
Florida United Methodist Foundation
The Foundation’s annual meeting is part of its presentation to the Conference.
Churches and individuals invested $133.2 million in the Development Fund, earning nearly $2.7 million in interest.
“That means your financial resources are building new sanctuaries so more people can worship, adding classrooms so people of all ages can continue learning what it means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ,” Foundation President Mark Becker said.
“The funds also help churches refinance existing loans, helping them be better stewards of their resources.”
He reported that by December 2018, churches had $124.7 million in loans at a lower interest rate, resulting in $1.6 million in savings.
Former students from Gammon Theological Seminary in Atlanta were recognized by Bishop Carter and received a warm ovation.
|The expo provided opportunities to learn about ministries. -Photo by Lance Rothwell|
A historically African American institution, Gammon’s mission, in partnership with The Interdenominational Theological Center, is to recruit, support and educate pastors and leaders for The United Methodist Church.
“We recognize the importance of the black church,” Bishop Carter said. “We recognize our sins of the past with regards to segregation.”
There were multiple reports about UMC efforts around the state, nation and world. Director of Global Missions Icel Rodriguez highlighted a partnership with East Angola.
It led to rebuilding the Quessua Methodist Mission, which is the heart of Methodism in Angola. The mission was devastated after years of war, but cooperation between the Conference and Angola government led to the mission being rebuilt.
Work is ongoing to restore self-sustainable community practices and expanding health and education opportunities.
A friendship initiative with Argentina has resulted in strengthening the relationship between that country and Florida. Besides learning about each other’s cultures, a university exchange program is being established.
Pastor Steve Price reported on ZOE Ministries and the positive effect it is having in Kenya. ZOE seeks to empower orphans and vulnerable children to move beyond charity; its tag line is “Beggars to Bosses.” ZOE supplies aid for children living in extreme poverty throughout the world, battling disease, hunger, exploitation, abuse, illiteracy and hopelessness.
Disaster Response Coordinator Pam Garrison shared that the United Methodist Commission on Relief (UMCOR) has contributed $11.3 million in grants for five hurricane-recovery projects involving 784 households since 2016.
The demographics of Florida present a clear opportunity and need for The United Methodist Church to expand its presence with the state’s growing Hispanic and Latino population.
|Rev. Jose Nieves, Rev. Dr. Rini Hernandez and Rev. Esther Rodriguez speak about strategies for meeting the spiritual needs of the Latino and Hispanic community. -Photo by Lance Rothwell|
Toward that end, the Rev. Dr. Rini Hernandez in January was named director of New Church Development and Hispanic/Latino Ministries. He and his team have been developing strategies for meeting the spiritual needs of the Latino and Hispanic community.
“The fastest growing group in the Conference is our Latino sisters and brothers,” said Clarke Campbell-Evans of the Office of Missional Engagement.
It represents 26 percent of Florida’s population, but out of 840 active clergy in the state there are only 60 Latino pastors.
“Our mission is to identify, empower, and equip spiritual leaders in the Florida Conference who are passionate about making disciples in a multi-cultural, multi-generational and multi-lingual Latino/a context,” Hernandez said.
Thursday evening included a special “Night of Spirit Led Innovation,” with events held at various venues in Lakeland. These included examples of Fresh Expressions: Dinner Church events, Hands-On Church (aka Messy Church), Pints and Parables, Designing Innovation, Tattoo Parlor church and an evening Yoga class.