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2010 Florida Annual Conference

Florida Annual Conference
June 10-12, 2010, Lakeland

Nearly 1.4 billion people worldwide live on less than $1.25 a day. Nearly 2.5 million Floridians live below the federal poverty line. Changing that reality was a main focus of discussion June 10-12 during the 2010 Florida Annual Conference.

Nearly 1,800 lay and clergy members gathered at the Lakeland Center under the theme "Transforming the World by Eradicating Extreme Poverty" to consider ways of solving the problems of extreme poverty at home and abroad. They also celebrated strides toward achieving 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.

Florida Gov. Charlie Crist talked faith, not politics, during the laity session June 10. As a life-long United Methodist and member at First United Methodist Church in St. Petersburg, Fla., Crist said lessons learned from his church and family "have stuck with me through all these years," guiding his actions throughout his career. "We have a duty and an obligation to help other people," Crist said, when asked what can be done to eradicate extreme poverty.

The Rev. David Beckmann, president of Bread for the World, said what's needed is a faith-based "political push" - churches, individuals and groups changing policies and programs that allow hunger to persist. Bread for the World helps facilitate such efforts, and they're producing results, Beckmann said. In the last three to four decades, 500 million fewer people are living in poverty and 21,000 fewer children are dying daily from preventable causes. "The apostle Paul used his Roman citizenship to advance the purposes of God, and it's clear that we must use our citizenship to advance the purpose of God," Beckmann said.

Members practiced that belief by preparing letters to their U.S. Representatives, asking them to urge Congress to fully fund the international affairs budget, which provides funding for hunger, poverty and disease prevention programs abroad.

Stan Doerr told members he never wants a child to die of hunger because he doesn't have the resources to help. As president and chief executive officer of ECHO (Educational Concerns for Hunger Organization) in Ft. Myers, Fla., he does. From teaching better farming practices to rice farmers in Cambodia to providing nutrient-rich powder to hungry children, ECHO provides the tools missionaries and indigenous people need to address hunger locally. "Not for our sake," Doerr said, "but because we want to get the resources in the hands of people who can use them. &ellipsis; God has called each of us to be a tool in his hand."

The question, said Bishop Peter Weaver of the New England Conference during the gathering's communion service, is how to be that instrument of God. It's only possible, he said, by eliminating the poverty of relationships - narrowing the physical and emotional distance between the materially advantaged and the poor. "Most of us have a poverty of even knowing anything about the gifts and strength and spirit that the poor often have," he said. People must also end the poverty of faith, trusting that "God's abundance will not dry up if we open up our bank accounts and church accounts," Weaver said.

New Church Development reported nine new churches launched during the last conference year, and 13 are slated for this year. Members approved a budget of slightly more than $1.2 million to reach that goal.

More than 100 college students gained ministry and leadership experience as counselors to 4,000 children and youth during conference summer camp programs. Another 12 college students were summer mission interns with Florida outreach ministries through a program coordinated by the conference's justice and outreach and camps and retreat ministries. And more than 200 young adults and college students participated in events that helped them discern their call to ministry and strengthen their faith.

Leaders said the conference's financial outlook is promising. In 2008, expenses exceeded revenue by $10.7 million. In 2009, revenue increased by $14.3 million to $57.9 million, with expenses decreasing nearly $5 million to $49.4 million.

The number of churches paying 100 percent of their apportionments dropped from 407 in 2008 to 366 in 2009, but the percent of apportionments paid fell only about 1 percent, from 80.3 percent to 79.1 percent. Property insurance premiums have decreased nearly $7 million since 2007, totaling 12.4 million. Loss prevention reserves have increased nearly $7 million, from a negative of $900,000 in 2005 to $5.7 million in 2009.

Members approved a budget of $17.5 million - 4.74 percent less than the 2010 budget.

Conference churches gave $124,000, including $15,000 from the New England Conference, to The Methodist Church of Haiti for earthquake recovery efforts and Florida Impact for the Partnership to End Childhood Hunger in Florida.

Forty-four candidates were licensed, commissioned and ordained. The average age of those ordained elder and deacon is 44. Seventeen clergy retired.

Members voted to discontinue nine churches and merge six, forming three new congregations.

Membership stands at 294,935, down 7,562 from the previous year. Worship attendance stands at 146,855, up 2,706 from the previous year. Church school attendance stands at 41,985, down 3,033 from the previous year.

-Tita Parham, managing editor Florida E-Review