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2012 Florida Annual Conference

Florida Annual Conference
June 14-16, 2012, Lakeland, Fla.

The Florida Annual Conference met June 14-16 in Lakeland, Fla., with the theme, "Transforming the World by Being United in Christ." Bishop Timothy Whitaker, who is retiring, officiated.

To highlight the theme of Being United in Christ, speakers at the 2012 annual conference included guests across denominational lines. As Bishop Whitaker observed, the Holy Spirit "has been moving to bring back together Christians who have been separated by the cause of ecumenism. The church is the new community created by the Spirit of God to show to the world the way to live together in unity."

Keynote speaker the Rev. Michael Kinnamon helped open the conference June 14 speaking on ecumenical unity, calling Christian unity as central to God's plan of salvation. A Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) clergyman and a long-time educator and ecumenical leader, he is a retired general secretary of the National Council of Churches. "Christian unity is not an option," he said. "It is a gift to be received and expressed. &ellipsis; Everyone who has communion with Jesus Christ has communion with everyone else who has communion with Jesus Christ." He added, "The church is called to be a demonstration project of what God intends for all of creation."

From other denominations, Bishop John White of the African Methodist Episcopal Church preached during the Service of Holy Communion, and Bishop Ed Benoway of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America preached at the Service of Licensing, Commissioning and Ordination. President Gesner Paul of the Methodist Church in Haiti signed a revised covenant between the church in Haiti and the Florida Conference. The Rev. Russell Meyer, executive director of the Florida Council of Churches, also spoke at the conference.

The Strategic Leadership Team made recommendations to the conference for the alignment of resources and structures around our purpose and vision. Missional outcomes, with supporting action steps, focus on four areas disciples who are becoming more like Jesus; congregations where all people are welcome; communities being blessed with Kingdom impact, and conference structures centered on fulfilling our mission. The delegates approved the report.

The farewell tribute to Bishop Timothy and Melba Whitaker was lighthearted and deeply felt, and the conference expressed gratitude to the Whitakers during the session on Saturday, June 16, noting that his leadership has inspired the Florida Conference to reach out in ways to unite people.

Other actions:

  • Haiti-Florida Covenant. Bishop Whitaker and the Covenant team discerned the need for a revised Haiti-Florida Covenant, and the renewed partnership is defined by openness to God's leading in mutual ministry. Because of this reaching out, more doors are opening to ministry with annual conference leadership. The covenant was signed during the Conference.

  • Inclusivity Training. The Rev. Geraldine McClellan, chair of the conference's Commission on Religion and Race, updated members about three anti-racism measures approved in 2011. The clergy Inclusivity Training events have begun, with about 100 attending the first one. The next three will be held in September and October 2012. The cabinet is developing a process for fostering missional success in cross-racial/cross-cultural appointments, and a new local church version of the Employee Conduct Policy is being developed that adds racial harassment as prohibited behaviors in the Conference Employee Conduct Policy (more below).

  • 2012 General Conference Hospitality Team: The Rev. Jim Harnish and Marilyn Swanson led reaching out to Florida United Methodists, building a hospitality force of over 1000 volunteers. Volunteers reached out to provide warm, Florida hospitality to General Conference delegates from all over the world, and the Conference celebrated the team's success.

Conference churches gave $44,423 toward the offering collected during the Communion service June 14. Seventy percent will be for mission projects in the East Angola Conference based upon needs identified by our missionaries, Leonardo and Cleivy Garcia, and endorsed by our team overseeing the partnership between the East Angola and Florida Conferences. The remaining 30 percent will support Alfalit, a Miami-based nonprofit organization that promotes literacy worldwide. Alfalit celebrates its 50th anniversary this year, and the women of the Florida Conference were key contributors to its creation.

After some debate, delegates adopted a resolution to encourage local congregations to participate in Creation Care Task Force initiatives aimed at environmental stewardship. Some delegates objected to the resolution, saying Christians should focus more on missions specifically set forth by Jesus in the Bible, such as making disciples.

The conference also endorsed the Rev. Debbie McLeod for the episcopacy.

The conference ordained 10 clergy, average age 38, and commissioned 13, average age 40. Twenty-nine clergy retired.

The conference treasurer reported that local church membership was 277,000 in 2011, down 8,000 or 2.8 percent from 2010. Average weekly worship attendance was up 2,000 or 1.4 percent at 142,000.

The conference's Council on Finance and Administration reported the number of churches paying apportionments at 100 percent was up from 360 in 2010 to 381 in 2011; the percentage paid was 81.4 percent in 2011, compared to 78.6 percent in 2010.

The 2013 budget request was 1.4 percent less than 2012.

- Gretchen Hastings and Susan Green