Annual Conference closes with appointments, prayer, and a challenge




The second and final day of the 2021 Florida United Methodist Annual Conference began with a reminder from Bishop Ken Carter about the primary focus of the gathering.

"Some of you may have heard of Simple Church. It's a way to get focused on the main thing, which is to keep the main thing the main thing. We have tried in this extended series of multiple pandemics to be a simple Annual Conference and keep a focus," he said.

"The three priorities are vital and sustainable local churches, including Fresh Expressions of church and Hybrid Church. Second, the health and resilience of clergy and spiritual leaders in an extended natural disaster.

"And third, the work of dismantling racism on the journey to be an anti-racism Annual Conference, as an act of discipleship."

Michael Beck and Piper Ramsey addressed the first priority, helping churches stay vital and sustainable through outreaches that include Fresh Expressions and Hybrid Church.

They are the cultivators of Fresh Expressions.

"Our theme of Annual Conference this year is A Community of Love and Forgiveness. This is a theme that's really important to me. There was a group of Methodists at St. Mark's United Methodist Church in Ocala, Florida, who rallied around me at my infant baptism," Beck said.

"They committed to raising me in a community of love and forgiveness, and they did that. They fed me through their never-ending potlucks. It was a community that was accessible, safe, and real."

That community's location was important.

"It was accessible because it was right in my neighborhood. They spoke a language I could understand. It was safe. It was a community of healing, not harm. It was an inclusive community of grace. And it was real. There were real people, with real issues and real healing taking place," Beck said.

"The experience of that community of love and forgiveness changed the trajectory of my life."

He now takes that outreach to any number of places – tattoo parlors, bowling alleys, restaurants, or anywhere the curious and spiritually hungry want to gather. The church is where the people are, not where the building is located. 

Michael Beck

"We realize today that many people will not come to know a community of love and forgiveness through just a traditional form of church. We have to go and find ways to be the church for them where they are," he said.

"This is happening all over our Florida Conference. People are forming new Christian communities with people who don't go to church all across the state – communities of love and forgiveness."

Piper Ramsey focuses on online and social media outreaches, which she called "a way of trailblazing new communities together."

"We have seen more people than ever before opening themselves up to online spaces as legitimate places for connection," she added

The pandemic forced churches throughout the Conference to reimagine what worship looked like. And now, even though many churches resumed in-person worship, the online element remains strong and is here to stay.

Piper Ramsey

"What is it going to look like to be the church in a nearly post-pandemic world?" Ramsey asked. "Social media is a ripe mission field.

"I say we take advantage of the change in the status quo that COVID has brought and change along with it. If we learned anything from 2020, it's that it's OK to break the rules sometimes."

Everyone is invited to register for a Hybrid Church Webinar on June 17, 4 p.m. Click here for more information. bit.ly/hybrid-church

"We must not stamp out this new growth in search of what was," Ramsey said. "Fresh Expressions is a movement that is all about journeying into that unknown territory, where those outside of our traditional churches dwell."

FILL THE TABLE

The pandemic fully exposed the chronic of food insecurity for millions of Americans, including more than 13 million children.

To address this, the Florida Conference launched Bishop Ken Carter's Fill The Table initiative last July. The goal was to feed 3 million Floridians by September 2021.

They already far exceeded that goal.

"Our Florida United Methodist churches' outreach ministry and partners heard the call and acted," co-coordinator Emily Autry said.

Fill The Table has thus far provided more than 5.1 million meals, including nearly 4.3 million served by local churches.

"I want to give glory to God for this, and truly thank United Methodists on the ground across the peninsula," Bishop Carter said.

"When I think about Fill The Table, I think about the prayer of a single parent who wonders 'how am I going to feed the children that I love? Where is this food going to come from?' Friends, you have done it. I thank God for you."

More than 42 million people experience food insecurity

"The pandemic has most impacted families that were already experiencing hunger, or were one paycheck away from experiencing hunger," co-coordinator Molly McEntire said.

Molly McEntire (left) and Emily Autry

She told the story of a woman named Hope, who was furloughed for her job at Disney World. She came to St. Luke's UMC in Orlando, which was providing food for those facing shortages.

She kept coming back, inspired to help.

"Soon after, she took over and directed the volunteer team. Ten months later, she coordinates all the corporate donors, semi-truck deliveries of farm-to-family boxes, volunteer teams for transporting donated goods, packaged donations for the giveaways, and works with 12 interfaith agencies," McEntire said.

It's about engaging the whole person, feeding the body but also the soul. McEntire told the story of a young man helped by people from Conway UMC in Orlando.

"He visited the food pantry and he shared that all he had eaten in the last two days were gummy vitamins. He had gone to the 7-11 across from their church for a free coffee," she said.

"He said he prayed for food. He came outside and he saw a volunteer putting out the food pantry signs. That young man ate because of that local United Methodist church."

But the work goes on, and will continue even after Fill The Table closes in the fall.

"There is still so much work to be done and we need all your help," Autry said.

For more information, go to FillTheTableFlorida.org.

"The success of Fill The Table is because of all of our Florida United Methodists working to feed their communities, or working with their community partners," McEntire said. "Together we are stronger. May we continue to show the love of Christ and work with them."

ANTI-RACISM TASK FORCE

The Florida Conference of the United Methodist Church is dedicated to overcoming racism wherever it exists. It is poison to our relationship with God, and it has no place in society.

That was the thrust of a presentation led by Rev. Dr. Sharon Austin, Director of Connectional and Justice Ministries for the Conference.

"The time is now," she said. "Our work, our journey, is not about guilt. It's about growth and about growing together."

Jana Hall-Perkins, Rev. Dr. Sharon Austin, and Lee Hall-Perkins

Rev. Austin announced a new part-time position as Coordinator of Dismantling Racism and Anti-Racist Conference. Those chosen to lead that effort are Lee Hall-Perkins and Jana Hall-Perkins. 

She also presented a powerful video laying out the anti-racism foundation for the Conference.

"In Exodus, God hears the cries of the people, who are suffering, who are enslaved. And God comes down to deliver them," the Bishop said in the video.

"This year, God has heard the cries of the people. Centuries of racism could no longer be ignored. We simply cannot be disciples of Jesus Christ, we cannot love the scriptures and say that we're shaped and formed by them if we do not hear these cries."

He mentioned Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, three Black people who died violent deaths in 2020. Their deaths ignited a reawakening of the insidious consequences of racism in this country.

The church must be an agent of change.

"I appeal to you, let us stay on this journey to be an anti-racist church. It is my journey, and I'm not there. Isn't that the way it is with God? God is not finished with us yet. God is calling us, and God has something to teach us. And that's what it means to be a disciple," the Bishop said.

Change begins with recognition and repentance.

"As Jesus' people, we begin with the knowledge that all persons are created in the image of God. We seek to name the injustices of the Florida United Methodist Church and work toward healing and unity," Conference Lay Leader Alice Williams said.

"We acknowledge our complicity and our collective need to create greater self-awareness. We repent for the sins of our spiritual forebearers who split in 1844 over the right to own enslaved Africans and their descendants.

"And we repent for the creation of a central jurisdiction which segregated Black Methodists in 1939. We repent of our individual and collective sins of commission and commission, particularly our silence and when we have not actively worked for racial justice."

Rev. Alex Shanks, Assistant to the Bishop, said healing can begin by acknowledging that Methodists have racist issues in their history.

"We lament over the ways Black United Methodists have not been fully integrated, appreciated, and recognized across the connection and across our Florida Annual Conference since the creation of the United Methodist Church in 1968," he said.

"We lament for the ways white privilege and white supremacy impact all our structures today, causing harm to our siblings of color. The harsh reality is that the sin of racism is alive, and it robs our faithful witness of love to the world. As scripture reminds us in James 5:16, therefore confess your sins to one another and pray for one another so that you may be healed."

RESOLUTIONS

Voters approved two resolutions

  • The resolution for Ethnic, Gender and Racial Equity in Clergy Compensation, Responsibilities, and Appointments passed with 90% approval.

It provides for equitable compensation and benefits for work of equal or comparable value and similar length of service and/or experience.

  • The resolution Prophetic Call for White Responsibility and Accountability in Dismantling Racism was affirmed with 61% approval.

Among its requirements is a call upon people who benefit from white privilege to acknowledge and repent of the ways they have abused their privilege and power, so that all might rediscover their calling to be ambassadors of reconciliation and peace.

To invite White United Methodist clergy and laity of the Florida Conference to acknowledge that the church has been complicit with white supremacy, that it has exalted white privilege, and has perpetuated harm to people of color.

Also, initiate in every local church, ongoing conversations about white supremacy, white privilege, racism, and oppression and to build cross-cultural and cross-racial relationships with nearby faith communities. Every local church will include a report on these conversations in their annual Fall Charge Conference.

NEW SUPERINTENDENTS

Two new District Superintendents were announced.

Dr. David Allen of Stewart Memorial UMC in Daytona Beach will take over as Superintendent North Central District.

"I'm excited, honored, and humbled to see what God has in store. I'm looking forward to walking alongside the people of the North Central District." 

Bishop Carter, Rev. Emily Hotho, Dr. David Allen

He achieved his Bachelor of Arts degree in Religion & Philosophy from Bethune-Cookman University; and Master of Divinity and Master of Christian Education from the Interdenominational Theological Center in Atlanta.

Emily Hotho, the pastor at Skycrest UMC in Clearwater for the last nine years, assumes the position as Superintendent of the Gulf Central District.

"I love the local church and love serving as a pastor, and really the only thing that could call me away from that work day-to-day is the chance to work and serve more churches for our common mission together," she said.

She has undergraduate degrees in Religion and Music from Southern Methodist University, and a Master of Divinity from Duke University. She’s been an ordained Elder in the United Methodist Church since 2006.

​Emily is married to Mat and has three sons: Liam, Evan, and Jackson.

LEADERSHIP ACADEMY

​The Conference has established a Leadership Academy Pilot Program

The purpose of the Academy is to equip emerging lay and clergy leaders throughout our Conference to serve effectively in mission and ministry within the local church, their district, conference, and community.

It has four objectives.

Provide a context for excellence in leadership development, research, and service, as we integrate the extensive work of our anti-racism task force.

Identify, recruit and equip interested laity and clergy for courageous and transformational leadership beyond the walls of the local church

Inspire participants to reflect leadership skills that honor diversity, equity, and inclusion while being grounded in an understanding of Wesleyan theology and the history and polity of the UMC.

Provide opportunities for participants to grow in intra- and inter-personal awareness through workshops, classes and critical engagement with God, self, and neighbor.

LOCAL PASTORS

Bishop Ken Carter put it succinctly: pastoring is about love.

That's especially true on a local level, where those designated as local pastors of the United Methodist Church have a special responsibility to share the love of Jesus with their congregations and communities.

On Saturday afternoon, 22 local pastors were recognized on the final day of the 2021 Annual Conference.

They included:

June Avril, Mollie Bradshaw, Joe Cassaly, Julie Fleurinor-Moore, Jeremy Green, Donna Hendren, Gerry Hobbs, William Kendust, Chris Kelbaugh, Josh Landen, Brittany Leclair, Walter A. Marsella, Mary Evelyn Maxwell, Kevin Michael Mayes, Faith McHale, Julie Miller, Dario Alberto Perez, Michael Stephens, Kaylee S. Vida, Edward White, Karen Virginia Williams, Sarah Robles Wise.

"The teaching of Jesus is clear. The fruit of intimacy with Jesus is love. When we have been with Jesus, we love each other. You're being licensed for pastoral ministry to bear witness to the love of God in this world, and especially to the communities in context to which you're being sent," the Bishop said in his message based on the gospel of John, Chapter 15.

That's where Jesus spoke about the vine and the branches.

"The beauty of ministry is local, and local is all bound up in a passage that is about soil and bearing fruit. When I came to from North Carolina to Florida, I knew that plants and trees that grew in North Carolina would not grow in Florida," Bishop Carter said.

"The more you get to know the soil and the people where you live, the more you listen to their dreams, the more they reveal their wounds, you will discover the intimacy of abiding with people. And you will discover this is what Jesus does with us."

It's all about being available to the people around us.

"The teaching of Jesus is clear. The fruit of intimacy with Jesus is love. When we have been with Jesus, we love each other. You're being licensed for pastoral ministry to bear witness to the love of God in this world, and especially to the communities in context to which you're being sent.

"The beauty of ministry is local, and local is all bound up in a passage that is about soil and bearing fruit. When I came to from North Carolina to Florida, I knew that plants and trees that grew in North Carolina would not grow in
​Florida. The more you get to know the soil and the people where you live, the more you listen to their dreams, the more they reveal their wounds, you will discover the intimacy of abiding with people. And you will discover this is what Jesus does with us."

SERVICE OF COMMISSIONING

The Conference held its annual Service of Commissioning Saturday.

Paige Holaday, David Joseph, and Rachael Williams were ordained as provisional deacons.

Provisional elders included Ian Campbell, Marisa Copeland, Edgar Cortes, Pamela DeDea, Lee Hall-Perkins, Katelyn Harrington, Michael LeBlanc, Margaret Odom-Tomchin, MaryAnn Piccioni, Bailey Schreiner, Ben Spangler, and Chris Tabone.

In his remarks, Bishop Carter likened the work of these ministers to, as Jesus said, scattering seed on the ground. In Mark 4, the Bishop said, Jesus illustrates the work of God as the everyday labor of a farmer who plants to live.

"You are being sent to labor in God's kingdom," Bishop Carter told those being commissioned. "But remember that there are natural and profound rhythms to this calling. In our natural rhythm of life, we work, and we rest. In the company of God's kingdom, we sleep, but the work continues. Even as we sleep, the seed sprouts and grows; we cannot account for why this is.

"Our temptation can be to believe we are self-sufficient. We want to convince ourselves that we have earned what we possess. We can point to particular projects or academic degrees. Now, you enter in fields of labor. We grasp handfuls of seeds, and we scatter them."
That lesson, he said, is what they need to remember.

"The church is not calling you to do great things," Bishop Carter said. "The church is calling on you to plant small seeds."

SERVICE OF ORDINATION

To close Annual Conference, 14 people were ordained in new elders

They include: Amos Adhemar, Benjamin Collins, Emily Edwards Shughart, Pierre Exantus, Pamela Green, Kevin Johnson, David Killingsworth, Meghan Killingsworth, Richard Landon, Matthew McNutt, Anil Singh, Amy Scroggin Armistead, Allexis Willcox, and Dawn Worden.

"In Christian freedom, you give yourself to and for others," Bishop Carter told them. "You do this because you love God. And because you know God loves you. Because you know this, you can love your neighbor.

"By loving your neighbor, you will again experience the love of God. In this Wesleyan tradition, which you are a part of, that is exactly what holiness means."

It's all about love.

"You will become a holy person," Bishop Carter said, "by loving the people God places in your path."

SEE YOU NEXT YEAR!

The Annual Conference for 2022 is June 9-11 at Florida Southern College in Lakeland.

Joe Henderson is News Content Editor for FLUMC.org

Photos by Conference Communicator Brittany Jackson

 


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