Annual Conference Wrap-up: Care for environment, amendments among main focus

By Tita Parham and Mary Lee Downey | June 26, 2009 {1039}

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Both the environment and amendments to the denomination’s constitution were the main focus of discussion June 10-13 during the 2009 Florida Annual Conference.

Members celebrate the ministries of clergy and churches by remembering significant anniversaries of their ordination and founding during the last day of the conference session. Photo by the Rev. Dr. Armando Rodríguez. Photo #09-1228.

More than 1,700 members gathered at Bethune-Cookman University in Daytona Beach, Fla., under the theme “Transforming the World by Cherishing the Creation” to consider the Christian response to environmental issues and tackle the business of the conference.

Film festival, speakers plant seeds for change

Dr. Laurel Kearns, associate professor of Sociology of Religion and Environmental Studies at Drew University in Madison, N.J., shared during the opening session what she has known since growing up in Sanibel Island, Fla. — that the Christian faith and caring for creation are intimately intertwined.

“We are clearly called by God to care for creation,” she said.

With the planet in peril because of widespread pollution, Kearns said people must begin taking responsibility by taking simple actions — turning off computers and televisions, walking and biking more, driving more fuel-efficient cars.

The Rev. Dr. Denise Honeycutt, director of mission and global outreach for the Virginia Conference and guest preacher for the communion service, said caring for creation is not a choice.

“We, of all people, should be leading the way in caring for this precious creation because it is God’s,” she said. “It’s God’s (creation); it’s not ours. By caring for creation, we may very well find … ourselves transformed.”

The Rev. Pat Watkins, conference Bible study leader, said that care is mandated by the relationship between God, humans and nature. Watkins is a General Board of Global Ministries church and community worker assigned to the Caretakers of God’s Creation ministry in the Virginia Conference.

“God and creation are connected,” he said. “You can’t have one without the other.”

A first-ever “Green Film Festival: Cherishing Creation as Christians in Florida” gave members a preview of the speakers’ points.

Members vote June 12 on amendments to the constitution of The United Methodist Church. Photo by Greg Moore. Photo #09-1229.

Held a day before the conference began, the festival featured environmental documentaries which examined sustainability and energy use. Other films explored the amount of trash produced every day and a story of a California community growing its own organic food.

Members oppose amendments on structure, membership

Votes cast for amendments to the denomination’s constitution show a majority of Florida Conference members oppose changes to the structure of The United Methodist Church and language related to membership.

Members opposed:

•  Eighteen amendments renaming central conferences regional conferences;

•  Five amendments making every annual conference, including conferences in the United States, part of a larger regional conference organized into jurisdictions;

•  An amendment proposing church ministries and membership be available to “all persons,” instead of “all persons without regard to race, color, national origin, status or economic condition” (587 to 406); and

•  Amendment VI, which provides an avenue for General Conference to establish representation for newly created conferences on a non-proportional basis for a transitional time period, was also opposed (555 to 481).

Amendment II, which seeks to establish conflict of interest polices, failed to receive the necessary two-thirds approval, with 592 yes votes and 473 no votes.

The remaining six amendments passed with two-thirds approval.

Churches reach new communities, remain vital

Reports show the Florida Conference is making headway in several of 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.

New Church Development reported that 15 new churches and missions were launched in 2007 and 2008, 13 of which were ethnic communities of faith. Seventeen are expected in 2009, with 14 launching as Hispanic, Haitian, Korean or Russian/Slavic (one) congregations.

Greeters welcome one of the more than 120 youth and young adults who attended the annual conference session. Photo by Caryl Kelley. Photo #09-1230.

Members approved a budget of slightly more than $1.5 million for new churches in 2010.

Congregational Transformation reported 195 of the conference’s more than 700 churches were among the top 10 percent in one or more of three categories related to growth in professions of faith and average worship attendance.

More than 120 congregations are currently involved in ReFocus networks (ReFocus is a two-year program that helps churches rediscover their vision through spiritual growth exercises), and the conference now has 15 transformational coaches to work with pastors and lay leaders.

The Rev. Harold Lewis from the Baltimore-Washington Conference joined the conference staff as its first director of Black Congregational Development.

Leaders say conference in good shape financially

Florida Conference Treasurer Mickey Wilson said churches gave $19.6 million in apportionments in 2008, down from $20.5 million in 2007.

Although giving for conference-level apportionments was $1.6 million less than the $9.5 million budgeted, Wilson said only $500,000 in reserves was needed to offset the loss due to a reduction in spending.

During the last two renewal periods, insurance costs decreased by 30 percent or nearly $5.5 million, and last year reserves increased to more than $4 million. Property and casualty premiums decreased by $2 million.

Corey Jones, chairman of the Florida Conference Young Adult Network Table, addresses lay members at the laity session. A concurrent clergy session also took place. Photo by Greg Moore. Photo #09-1231.

The financial health of the conference is good, Wilson said, with reserves of $14.5 million for retiree health benefits for the next 20 years, $15 million for any future pension deficits, $10 million for emergency claims and $4.5 million in undesignated reserves.

Members approved a 2010 budget of slightly more than $18.4 million — .03 percent less than the 2009 budget.

Members give resolutions green light, say no to others

Clergy and lay members voted on five resolutions.

The “Church-Creation Care Resolution” — the first of two addressing environmental issues —was adopted without opposing discussion. Sponsored by the conference mission and justice team, it called for each Florida Conference church to implement a “Green Church Covenant,” through which members agree to reduce consumption and urge elected officials to develop green energy investment and jobs as a way to fight poverty.

The “Resolution to Support the Cornwall Declaration on Environmental Stewardship” did not pass. It proposed that the conference adopt the Cornwall Declaration, an environmental stance supported by the Cornwall Alliance, “a coalition of clergy, theologians, religious leaders, scientists, economists, academics and policy experts committed to bringing a proper and balanced Biblical view of stewardship to the critical issues of environment and development,” according to its Web site. 

“It … could be a tool to invite people back to the discussion about what creation care looks like,” said the Rev. Michael Hudson, pastor of Ortega United Methodist Church in Jacksonville, speaking in favor of the resolution.

Others expressed concern about the declaration because of its development by non-United Methodist related groups. The Rev. David Berkey, executive director of the conference’s camps and retreat ministries, urged members to defeat the resolution because the declaration “specifically contradicts the (United Methodist) Social Principles.”

Members also did not pass the “One Mind, One Heart, One Spirit, One Body” resolution, which called Florida Conference members to “agree to set aside personal judgments with humility and simply agree to disagree on issues of homosexuality.” Those in opposition said the statement contradicted decisions made at the 2008 General Conference and 2007 Florida Annual Conference Event, where members voted to table resolutions on the homosexuality issue in favor of better coordinated discussions outside the annual session setting.

The Rev. Sharon Patch, a retiree in full connection, “passes the mantle” June 13 to the Rev. Joseph Kim (kneeling), newly ordained an elder in full connection. Photo by Caryl Kelley. Photo #09-1232.

Two additional resolutions calling for each of the conference’s districts to name a prison ministry coordinator and conference leadership to appoint a new director of Congregational Transformation for Hispanic Churches were approved.

Members celebrate clergy, church legacies

Members remembered 36 clergy and spouses who had died since the last annual conference session June 11 during the annual memorial service.

The Rev. Dr. Rick Neal, superintendent of the Florida Conference’s North East District and a retiree this year, said the service is a “bittersweet occasion.”

“We remember with rejoicing all the good things about the people being remembered here today … that we will not build on this relationship as we have in the past, for a season, and we’re sad,” he said. But that sadness, he added, is also mixed with joy for loved ones as they take their final step in a lifelong journey following God.

Fifteen clergymen and -women retiring not from their personal ministry, as so many said, but from a life of professional ministry, were recognized the last day of the conference session.

After a statement about each retiree was read, the Rev. Sharon Patch, a retiree in full connection, “passed the mantle” to the Rev. Joseph Kim, newly ordained an elder in full connection. The mantle is “symbolic of submission to God,” Patch said.

Members also celebrated church and clergy milestones: the 25th and 50th anniversaries of the ordination of 30 clergy and the significant anniversaries of 36 churches, including two 175th anniversaries (New Hope United Methodist Church in Istachatta and Bethel United Methodist Church in Tallahassee).

A candidate for ministry is commissioned a probationary elder during the service of licensing, commissioning and ordination July 12. Photo by the Rev. Dr. Armando Rodríguez. Photo #09-1233.

In other business:

• Members contributed $61,000 for the East Angola/Florida Partnership.

• Thirty-nine candidates were licensed, commissioned and ordained. Two received recognition of orders. The average age of those ordained elder and deacon is 44.

•  Members approved the discontinuance of seven churches and the merger of four into two.

• Membership stands at 302,001, down 8,710 from the previous year. Worship attendance stands at 144,149, down 7,205 from the previous year. Church school attendance stands at 45,018, down 2,117 from the previous year.

News media contact: Tita Parham, 800-282-8011, tparham@flumc.org, Orlando

*Parham is managing editor of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**Downey is a freelance writer based in St. Cloud, Fla.


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