2017 Florida Annual Conference
The Florida Annual Conference met June 8-10 in Orlando, Florida.
Officiating bishop: Kenneth H. Carter
Theme: Revive Us Again
Guest speakers: The Rev. Elaine Heath, dean of the Duke University Divinity School; the Rev. Kevin M. Watson, assistant professor of Wesleyan and Methodist Studies at the Candler School of Theology at Emory University; Cuba Methodist Church Bishop Ricardo Pereira; Tammy Pawloski, director of the Center of Excellence to Prepare Teachers of Children of Poverty at Francis Marion University.
Memorable points or quotes by speakers:
Annual Conference speakers included the Rev. Elaine Heath, dean of the Duke University Divinity School, whose presentation underscored the revival theme. She said the church must be incarnational, embracing “the new kind of thing God is doing…acting “like Jesus without permission” in our time. She believes we are living through “a full blown systems change for the church,” which normally results in confusion and chaos. The Rev. Kevin M. Watson, assistant professor of Wesleyan and Methodist Studies at the Candler School of Theology at Emory University, echoed the theme of revival, calling for a return to and reclamation of Christian conferencing. “The (Wesleyan) class meeting was at the epicenter of the explosive growth of American Methodism.” For revival, “we need to move from information-driven small groups to transformation-driven small groups.”
Many members participated in a blood drive adjacent to the hotel to remember the 49 victims of the June 12, 2016, mass shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando
Main actions enacted by the conference:
- Reduced the number of districts from nine to eight.
- Voted on constitutional amendments.
- Discontinued 16 churches.
- Announced the growth in Fresh Expressions to over 80 entities.
- GC 2016 delegates will serve for the special 2019 General Conference.
- Once, again, Florida contributed 100 percent of its apportionments for Africa University.
The seven resolutions adopted by the conference included:
- A resolution calling on the state of Florida to give all Florida drivers the opportunity to apply for a driver’s license. Currently, the state requires that immigration status be a determinant of a person’s eligibility to apply for a drivers’ license, which means almost 1 million unlicensed drivers are the roads. The intent of the resolution was to welcome immigrant neighbors and make roads safer for all of God’s children.
- A resolution that the conference commit to work to eliminate racism and violence directed toward newly arriving migrants from all parts of the world and express opposition to any immigration policy that excludes refugees solely on the basis of their religion or national origin. The resolution encouraged all churches to educate and equip its members to provide hospitality and welcome to migrants and refugees in their communities.
- A resolution called for an end to the death penalty in Florida and recommending that individual churches and members support advocacy efforts toward this goal.
- A resolution identifying mass incarceration as a critical human and civil rights issue in the United States because of the disparate impact on and disenfranchisement of people of color, youth, and people with limited economic resources. The resolution reaffirmed the commitment of the Florida Conference to speak and act prophetically to disrupt and abolish the growing prison industrial complex in the United States. The resolution said that the Florida Conference, it’s Social Justice Ministry and local congregations are encouraged to provide opportunities for education, mobilization, public witness, and advocate for public policies that will advocate against mass incarceration.
- The conference resolved to oppose any state or federal legislation that seeks to restrict the right to address injustice through boycotts, divestment and sanctions and joins the Rabbinical Council of Jewish Voice for Peace in calling on our elected officials “to resist efforts to stifle the movement toward justice for Palestinians through the current wave of ‘anti-BDS’ legislation.” The resolution required the conference secretary to write letters to the U.S. president, the Florida governor, the congressional representatives and the members of the legislature of Florida (a total of 191 letters), informing those elected officials of this resolution and attaching the full text.
- A resolution supporting Black Lives Matter: A Movement for All Methodists by sharing awareness; supporting and encouraging our congregations to be safe spaces and sanctuary for peaceful protesters, participate in and host sacred conversations and dialogue on race relations and inclusion, and be spiritual allies in prayer, for God to enable the pursuit of justice through those who take a stand and lift their voices for justice.
- A resolution combatting the erosion of human dignity, which called on the people and the churches of the conference to speak out about injustice and the erosion of human dignity, committing to doing everything possible to ensure that all persons are afforded their dignity and human rights.
What did your annual conference do to reinforce the Four Areas of Focus, and what commitments has the conference made for the coming year:
Cuban Pastor Pension Initiative In collaboration with the leadership of the Methodist Church of Cuba, we will work to develop a pension fund for Cuban pastors, based on their years of service there and related to their economic scale. This would be an initiative of Mission and Justice, Methodists United in Prayer and the Conference Board of Pension and Health Benefits. The United Methodist Church’s General Board of Pension and Health Benefits is also supportive and will help us to design and administer the plan. This will be a several year grassroots initiative, in the spirit of shared partnership with the church in Cuba and a shared history with them. Bishop Ricardo Pereira of the Methodist Church of Cuba and the Mission and Justice Committee of the Florida Conference have endorsed this, and a matching gift of $50,000 is in place!
Abundant Health for Haiti One of the four areas of focus for the United Methodist Church in 2016-2020 is the development of Abundant Health Initiatives across our planet. Meds and Food for Kids (mfkhaiti.org) has been fighting malnutrition in Haiti since 2003, having treated over 250,000 children with life-saving medika mamba (medical peanut butter), partnering with over 2,500 Haitian peanut farmers to produce this life saving product, and employing 65 Haitians at their state of the art factory in Cap Haitien, Haiti. MFKHaiti partners with UNICEF, the World Food Programme, USAid, and other agencies, identifying children through clinics and school settings who desperately need treatment. A gift to mfkhaiti.org feeds desperately hungry children. This initiative will be developed through our Haiti Partnership, and will be a primary expression of our mission with the people of Haiti.
Ordination, licensing and commissioning of over 51 individuals. Twelve elders and one deacon were ordained. Fourteen provisional elders and two provisional deacons were commissioned. Twenty-two were licensed as local pastors and 20 clergy retired.
- The conference treasurer reported that local church membership was 239,000 in 2016, down 7,000 or 2.8 percent from 2015. Average weekly worship attendance was down 5,000 or 3.8 percent at 125,000.
- Conference Finance and Administration reported the number of churches paying apportionments at 100 percent went from 418 in 2015 to 417 in 2016; the percentage paid was approximately 87 percent in both 2015 and 2016.
- Conference Finance and Administration 2018 budget request is 2.19 percent less than 2017.
Anniversaries: Four marked 150 years, seven have reached 125 years and one other has reached 100. Four are celebrating 50 years and one is celebrating 25 years. Conference members approved discontinuation of 15 churches.
—Gretchen Hastings, director of Connectional Relations