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June 21, 2002


Leaders hope Conference Table will be chaotic, creative
By Michael Wacht

LAKELAND — Delegates to the 2002 Florida Annual Conference Event May 28-31 here approved the creation of the Conference Table as a place where everyone in the conference is welcome to gather and discuss matters of strategic importance to the conference. The vote was nearly unanimous.

The Rev. Jim Harnish said the table would be focused on conversation. “We desperately need a place where the agencies of the conference can be in conversation,” Harnish said. “We expect it to be a chaotic place where chaos happens, and out of the chaos God will bring something new to creation.”

Harnish is senior pastor of Tampa’s Hyde Park United Methodist Church, chairman of the Conference Council on Ministries (CCOM) and one of the Conference Table’s designers.

Most of the discussion prior to the vote centered on who would attend Conference Table gatherings. “There are certain people who are expected to be in attendance, but it’s open to all people to be involved,” Harnish said.

The expected participants include lay and clergy leaders who represent a variety of conference ministries and agencies, but each session will be open to all clergy and laity. They will meet on an as-needed basis, then report their discussions and recommendations to the annual conference.

John Dowell, conference president of the United Methodist Men (UMM), proposed an amendment to the proposal asking that UMM and United Methodist Women be included in the list of expected agencies. Calling it a “glaring omission,” Dowell said it was “difficult to see how these large, influential groups would be omitted.”

The Rev. LeeAnn Inman spoke against the amendment. “There are a number of people I would like to add, but I understand the point of keeping it simple,” Inman said. “If we care, our voices will be there.”

The amendment was defeated.

The Rev. Linda Standifer, pastor of First United Methodist Church, Hobe Sound, and former chairwoman of the conference Missions Ministry Team, spoke against the proposal, saying the Conference Table will do what the CCOM ought to be doing. She said the CCOM has eliminated meetings and streamlined staff to save money. CCOM meetings now focus on budget and keeping ministry costs down, with no freedom to plan ministry and members of the CCOM not knowing each other.

“The CCOM is broken, but I believe we can fix it,” Standifer said. “Refresh the CCOM. Don’t replace it with another level of hierarchy.”

Harnish said Conference Table meetings would be announced in “every possible way,” including the conference’s Web site and the “Florida United Methodist Review.”

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