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2016 Florida Annual Conference

Leading Like Jesus was the theme of the 2016 Florida Annual Conference. About 1,700 participants gathered at the Buena Vista Palace Hotel in Orlando June 16-18.

Support for the June 12 Mass Shootings in Orlando

The gathering commenced five days after the June 12 mass shooting in Orlando that left 49 dead. On Thursday, Bishop Ken Carter called for a moment of silence for those killed in the June 12 mass shooting at Pulse nightclub in Orlando. He read a statement from the bishop and conference cabinet about the tragedy, classified as a hate crime, calling it a “blatant act of mass murder that happened literally in our neighborhood. We are grateful for our connection and the witness of our churches in the greater Orlando area, around the conference, and in the larger connection, in providing a loving response through prayer, counseling, and a variety of practical means.”

Prayer Vigil

Thursday’s session concluded with a 9:30 evening prayer vigil for the Orlando shooting victims, held outside the Buena Vista Palace Hotel convention center. Click here for a photo essay of the vigil.

Conference speakers

Annual Conference speakers included the Rev. Bill Hybels, the founding and senior pastor of Willow Creek Community Church and an expert on equipping and training Christian leaders to transform individuals and their communities through the local church.

Texas Conference Bishop Janice Riggle Huie called for United Methodists to recognize that instead of leading change, we are now leading in the midst of change. “If we can imagine ourselves once again being clear about our purpose, engaging in opposable thinking, networking, innovating...that’s the role of leaders in a changing world.”

Huie pointed out that for one thing to flourish, many things must flourish—leading to complex relationships that are diverse, vary in size, are sustainable and able to reproduce. “Re-imagine our church as an ecosystem rather than as a corporation,” she said.

Lucille O’Neal, much more than a basketball star’s mother, shared her inspirational testimony about leadership. Disney’s Jeff James spoke about business insights in the areas of leadership, service and culture.

Bishop Adam Richardson of the African Methodist Episcopal Church served as the communion celebrant along with Bishop Carter and shared insights about leadership and the aftermath of the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, in 2015.

Strategic Leadership Team Report

The Strategic Leadership Team continues to focus on a few initiatives intended to clarify and extend the vision of the Annual Conference.  With over 30 “Fresh Expressions” in process through the state, we are reaching new people, in new places, in new ways.

The Nehemiah Project has created a unified process for walking with churches toward closure and regeneration. With streamlining of property management and investment, the work of New Church Development and Missional Engagement continues to flourish, allowing the district superintendents to focus on the missional strategy for the districts.

Future work includes more closely connecting the work of the strategic leadership team with the cabinet and conference staff. The bishop and strategic leadership team will seek ongoing feedback from leaders around the conference in September through town hall gatherings. 

Main actions enacted by the conference

Approved changes in health care benefits. The new benefit will be offered to full-time clergy (including deacons) appointed to a local church, district or to the conference staff.  Local churches will replace the current blended rate premium paid to the conference by either enrolling pastors in their local church health insurance plan, if available, or, if the charge does not provide health insurance, the clergy member must be paid additional compensation to purchase health insurance outside the church.

Bishop’s Offering

Conference churches gave over $69,982 toward the bishop’s offering. It will support the clergy and laity of our annual conference with resources for leadership development in three areas:

Grants for innovative forms of “church beyond the walls” through the Fresh Expressions network.

Inspiring and equipping congregations to see, identify with and reach the neighborhoods around them in evangelistic, prophetic, apostolic and missional ways.

Training a core group of spiritual guides and mentors to encourage and sustain the ongoing work.

The ordination offering will support ministerial education.

Ordination, licensing and commissioning, worship and membership

Ordained: 10 as elders, three as deacons.

Commissioned: eight as provisional elders, four as provisional deacons.

Licensed as local pastors: 32.

Number of people retired: 42

The conference treasurer reported that local church membership was 245,000 in 2015, down 8,000 or 3.2 percent from 2014.

Average weekly worship attendance was down 2,000 or 1.5 percent at 130,000.

The number of churches paying apportionments at 100 percent was up from 414 in 2014 to 418 in 2015; the percentage paid was 87 percent in 2015 compared to 86 percent in 2014.

Professions of faith for 2015 were 4,346, down from 2014’s 5,461.

Local Churches

Twenty-three churches are celebrating milestone anniversaries: Six marked 150 years, five have reached 125 years and another three have reached 100. One church was founded 75 years ago, while five are celebrating 50 years and three are celebrating 25 years. Conference members approved discontinuation of seven churches.

This resolution was passed:

Help End Violence Against Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Questioning Individuals

WHEREAS ,we have seen, once again, the violence directed at individuals of the lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, transgender, questioning (LGTBQ ) community with 50 children of God losing their lives this past weekend and dozens of others injured; and

WHEREAS, our Cabinet has reminded us that silence is not an option; and

WHEREAS, our baptism vows call us to resist evil, injustice and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves; and

WHEREAS, our local churches are called to be safe places with no shame and no judgement;

THEREFORE, as the Florida Conference of the United Methodist Church seeks to follow a Biblical mandate of hospitality to the stranger and edification of the least, the lost and the hurting; and in order to prevent suicide, sexual assault, trafficking, and to end homelessness of LGBTQ youth who grow and mature into adults who continue to experience this pain;

BE IT RESOLVED, that the following resolution is adopted by the Florida Annual Conference:

We vow that, as churches and people of faith, we will not be silent about the values of each and every life. We urge our churches, Committees, Campus Ministries and Camping Retreat Ministries to create safe space for each and every child of God.

Further, in the spirit of advocating for safe sanctuary, we call upon every United Methodist to respond to acts of hate, harassment and acts of violence filled with long-held prejudices against all persons, with acts of compassion and liberation.

We call upon the Church and society to intentionally support, advocate on the behalf, and minister to all at risk individuals regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.

Moreover we call upon the church to partner with schools, families and workplaces to ensure that the isolation and bullying which often leads to violence stops.

Respectfully Submitted:

Rev. Melissa Pisco      Celebration UMC

Rev. Dr. Kim Griffith

Statement from bishop and cabinet about shooting 

A Statement from the bishop and the cabinet of the Florida Conference of The United Methodist Church in Response to the June 12, 2016, Violent Crime of Hate against the LGBTQ Community in Orlando, Florida, supported by the members of the Florida Annual Conference: 

II Corinthians 5:19

All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation.

We as the Cabinet of the Florida Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church recognize with deep sadness the blatant act of mass murder that happened literally in our neighborhood. This was a hateful act of violent slaughter of 49 and the serious injury of 53 persons, most of whom were LGBTQ and Latino, at the Pulse Nightclub in downtown Orlando. We have been witness to the effects of this crime of hate on the lives of those who have lost loved ones, and we grieve deeply with them.

On behalf of the Florida Annual Conference we publicly denounce this act of violence against our LGBTQ brothers and sisters and acknowledge how this act deeply affects and diminishes each of us as individuals and the entire human family. 

We are grateful for our connection and the witness of our churches in the greater Orlando area, around the Conference, and in the larger Connection, in providing a loving response through prayer, counseling, and a variety of practical means. We also affirm that the need for those responses will be ongoing. 

In addition, we call upon all United Methodists to claim our witness as Wesleyan Christians to stand against such hateful violence. Toward that end we affirm these words found in the Preamble to our Social Principles:

Grateful for God’s forgiving love, in which we live and by which we are judged, and affirming our belief in the inestimable worth of each individual, we renew our commitment to become faithful witnesses to the Gospel, not alone to the ends of the earth, but also to the depth of our common life and work.

(Book of Discipline p. 104)

It is our deep hope that our response to this act of violence and evil will be lived out in our common life and work in our churches and in the larger community in ways that reflect the reconciling love of Christ. We unequivocally stand against words and deeds, and our complicit silence that do harm to anyone anywhere, and particularly to those in the LGBTQ community.

We pledge ourselves to the demonstration of love to all of God's children, and invite all clergy and laity in the Florida Conference into that same pledge.

Gretchen Hastings, communications director