|Florida Annual Conference|
Florida Annual Conference
June 10-13, 2009, Daytona Beach, Fla.
The environment was a focus of discussion during the 2009 Florida Annual Conference. More than 1,700 members gathered at Bethune-Cookman University under the theme “Transforming the World by Cherishing the Creation” to consider the Christian response to the issues.
Film festival, speakers plant seeds for change
Laurel Kearns, associate professor of Sociology of Religion and Environmental Studies at Drew University in Madison, N.J., shared during the opening session what she has known since growing up in Sanibel Island, Fla. — that the Christian faith and caring for creation are intimately intertwined. “We are clearly called by God to care for creation,” she said.
With the planet in peril because of widespread pollution, Kearns said people must begin taking responsibility by taking simple actions — turning off computers and televisions, walking and biking more, driving more fuel-efficient cars.
The Rev. Denise Honeycutt, director of mission and global outreach for the Virginia Annual Conference and guest preacher for the communion service, said caring for creation is not a choice. “We, of all people, should be leading the way in caring for this precious creation because it is God’s,” she said. “It’s God’s (creation); it’s not ours. By caring for creation, we may very well find … ourselves transformed.”
The Rev. Pat Watkins, conference Bible study leader, said that care is mandated by the relationship between God, humans and nature. Watkins is a United Methodist Board of Global Ministries church and community worker assigned to the Caretakers of God’s Creation ministry in the Virginia Conference. “God and creation are connected,” he said. “You can’t have one without the other.”
A first-ever “Green Film Festival: Cherishing Creation as Christians in Florida” gave members a preview of the speakers’ points. Held a day before the conference began, the festival featured environmental documentaries, which examined sustainability and energy use. Other films explored the amount of trash produced every day and a story of a California community growing its own organic food.
Members oppose amendments on structure, membership
Votes cast for amendments to the denomination’s constitution show a majority of Florida Conference members oppose changes to the structure of The United Methodist Church and language related to membership.
- Eighteen amendments renaming central conferences regional conferences;
- Five amendments making every annual conference, including conferences in the United States, part of a larger regional conference organized into jurisdictions;
- An amendment proposing church ministries and membership be available to “all persons,” instead of “all persons without regard to race, color, national origin, status or economic condition” (587 to 406).
- Amendment VI, which provides an avenue for General Conference to establish representation for newly created conferences on a non-proportional basis for a transitional time period, was also opposed (555 to 481).
- Amendment II, which seeks to establish conflict of interest polices, failed to receive the necessary two-thirds approval, with 592 yes votes and 473 no votes.
- The remaining six amendments passed with two-thirds approval.
Reaching new communities, helping churches remain vital
Reports show the Florida Conference is making headway in several of the denomination’s four areas of focus: developing Christian leaders, starting new congregations and revitalizing existing ones, engaging in ministry with the poor, and fighting diseases of poverty.
New Church Development reported that 15 new churches and missions were launched in 2007 and 2008, 13 of which were ethnic communities of faith. Seventeen are expected in 2009, with 14 launching as Hispanic, Haitian, Korean congregations and one Russian/Slavic congregation.
Congregational Transformation reported 195 of the conference’s more than 700 churches were among the top 10 percent in one or more of three categories related to growth in professions of faith and average worship attendance.
The Rev. Harold Lewis from the Baltimore-Washington Conference joined the conference staff as its first director of Black Congregational Development.
Considering the conference’s financial health
Florida Conference Treasurer Mickey Wilson said churches gave $19.6 million in apportionments in 2008, down from $20.5 million in 2007. Although giving for conference-level apportionments was $1.6 million less than the $9.5 million budgeted, Wilson said only $500,000 in reserves was needed to offset the loss due to a reduction in spending.
The financial health of the conference is good, Wilson said, with reserves of $14.5 million for retiree health benefits for the next 20 years, $15 million for any future pension deficits, $10 million for emergency claims and $4.5 million in undesignated reserves.
Members approved a 2010 budget of slightly more than $18.4 million — .03 percent less than the 2009 budget.
In other business:
- Members approved resolutions calling for churches to adopt a “Green Church Covenant, each district to name a prison ministry coordinator, and conference leadership to appoint a new director of Congregational Transformation for Hispanic Churches.
- Members contributed $61,000 for the East Angola/Florida Partnership.
- Thirty-nine candidates were licensed, commissioned and ordained. Two received recognition of orders. The average age of those ordained elder and deacon is 44.
- Fifteen clergy retired.
Membership stands at 302,001, down 8,710 from the previous year. Worship attendance stands at 144,149, down 7,205 from the previous year. Church school attendance stands at 45,018, down 2,117 from the previous year.