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2008 Florida Annual Conference

May 29-31, 2008, Lakeland, Fla.

More than 1,600 laity and clergy convened the 2008 Florida Annual Conference at the LakelandCenter in Lakeland, Fla., with John Wesley's words ringing in their ears.

Between verses of "O For a Thousand Tongues To Sing," excerpts from Wesley's preface to a book of his sermons were read, reminding members of the church's Wesleyan heritage. Those roots, specifically the Wesleyan practices of disciple-making, were the underlying focus of the conference, which gathered under the theme "Living the

United Methodist Way

More than 700 members and guests attended workshops on the five practices of The Methodist Way on May 28, a day before the conference session officially began. Teams of laity and clergy whose congregations excel at a particular practice led the 90-minute workshops on passionate worship, radical hospitality, intentional discipling, salty service and extravagant generosity.

Members also heard from the Rev. Randy Maddox, professor of theology and Wesleyan studies at DukeDivinitySchool, and Northern Illinois Conference Bishop Hee-Soo Jung, guest speaker and preacher, respectively.

The two spoke about the theological vision and spiritual meaning of The Methodist Way of salvation and discipleship.

Reminding members of Methodism's start with John and Charles Wesley on a college campus, the Florida Conference Board of Higher Education and Campus Ministry said it's time for the conference to make ministry with young people a priority, not just one of its ministries. That includes reaching more than a quarter of a million college students in South Florida-160,000 alone at MiamiDadeCollege. To do that, the board plans to develop a regional campus ministry in the area. The conference currently has a campus ministry at the University of Miami, in addition to six others in a state with 1 million students on 60 college campuses.

The New Church Development committee reported it will use 75 percent of the slightly more than $1 million in funding approved for new churches and missions to launch non-Anglo congregations-Hispanic, Haitian, Korean and Chinese. Seventeen new churches and missions have begun since 2005. The goal for 2008 and 2009 is 19 and 16, respectively.

Conference members approved funding for a conference-level director of African-American Congregational Development to provide resources and assistance to Florida Conference African-American churches. More than 9 percent of the conference's 722 churches are African American.

Florida Conference Treasurer Mickey Wilson said churches gave nearly $15.3 million in apportionments in 2007, down from nearly $16.8 million in 2006.

The amount collected for property and casualty premiums in 2007 was $18.3 million, up from $15 million. The total cost of insurance premiums decreased 22 percent, saving the conference more than $4 million in 2008.

Despite the reduction in apportionment giving, Wilson said a drop in operating expenses and little storm activity in 2007 helped strengthen the conference's financial condition.

Members approved a 2009 budget of nearly $18.5 million-an increase of slightly more than 6 percent.

In other business, conference members:

  • Adopted resolutions setting March 31, 2009, as a Florida Conference day of celebration of children at the state's capitol in Tallahassee, Fla.; encouraging every Florida Conference church to celebrate Peace With Justice Sunday by collecting an offering; endorsing U.S. House Resolution 1078's call for a global Marshall Plan and urging Florida's congressional representatives to co-sponsor the House resolution; and creating a procurement task force that will explore the feasibility of developing a procurement process and report its findings to the 2009 session. A resolution calling for each congregation to implement an annual Green Church Covenant was referred to another body charged with focusing on environmental issues;
  • Heard about the work being done by the conference's newly formed Children's Advocacy and Ministry Coalition to end childhood hunger in Florida. Along with education and advocacy, the coalition is participating in a statewide 10-point plan to end hunger, including providing all Florida children with a healthy breakfast, helping after-school programs provide healthy food options and expanding summer meal programs;
  • Celebrated the 100th anniversary of the Florida United Methodist Children's Home and the 60th anniversary of The Advance for Christ and His Church; and
  • Celebrated significant anniversaries of ordination of 30 clergy, including two celebrating their 70th anniversary. Twenty-six clergy retired.

During the conference session:

  • Forty-three candidates were licensed, commissioned and ordained. Three received recognition of orders;
  • Churches gave an offering of $70,143 for the Florida Conference's East Angola/Florida Partnership, Justice for Our Neighbors legal immigration clinics and children's ministries;
  • The conference episcopacy committee affirmed Florida Conference Bishop Timothy W. Whitaker's return to the conference as its bishop.

Of 524 members who visited this year's wellness fair, the majority were in good health, with 209 having healthy blood pressures and 216 good cholesterol levels.

Membership stands at 310,711, down 7,005 from the previous year. Worship attendance stands at 151,354, down 3,827. Church school attendance stands at 47,135, down 2,277.

Tita Parham