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September 13, 2002


First gathering begins exploration process

Photo By Michael Wacht

The Rev. Terri Hill (center), co-pastor of Jacksonville's Isle of Faith United Methodist Church, discusses the roles of the creative process during team building exercises at the first gathering of the Conference Table. Participants were asked to use their Explorer and Artist, which look for information and form new ideas, and not to use their Judge and Warrior,
which evaluate and execute ideas.
By Michael Wacht

LEESBURG — More than 10 times the number of people anticipated participated in the first gathering of the Florida Conference’s Conference Table at the Life Enrichment Center here Aug. 28-29. Approximately 150 Florida Conference laity and clergy attended the two-day meeting.

The Conference Table was approved at the 2002 Florida Annual Conference Event as a forum at which conference laity and clergy can discuss and discern how the Florida Conference can best fulfill its mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ. Bishop Timothy Whitaker is the chairman, and 17 other conference leaders are expected to attend and participate. All conference laity and clergy are invited to attend.

The Wednesday evening session was a time for worship and team building among participants. Whitaker’s sermon called participants to be in prayer throughout the process of discernment and discussion.

The Rev. Jim Fogle-Miller, pastor of St. John’s United Methodist Church in Winter Haven, invited participants to explore the process of creativity, which he said involves four steps: exploring new information, forming new ideas, judging those ideas and implementing the good ideas. He said this first meeting was about exploring and forming new ideas and asked participants not to jump ahead and start implementing.

Much of the day Thursday was spent discussing the Florida Conference’s current reality. Following Whitaker’s opening address, participants broke into small discussion groups.

Participants were asked to first explore the missionary context of the church in relation to the society and culture of Florida. Most of the groups reported that a major characteristic of the Florida Conference’s mission field is diversity, including national, racial, cultural, economic and social diversity. Others highlighted the constant change and mobility in the larger culture, lack of community and sense of isolation, and the demand for flexibility and options.

The Rev. Sue Haupert-Johnson, pastor of Tampa’s Hillsborough United Methodist Church, said the church needs to stop calling unchurched people “them.” She said church people talk about unchurched people without having any significant contact with them.

Participants then determined which of the core values in the Wesleyan tradition are relevant for the mission of the church in the present context. Many of the groups reported that John Wesley’s emphasis on a combination of personal and social holiness was important for today’s church. Others said Wesley’s focus on ministry outside the church, unity and God’s grace were important values the church needs today.

The Rev. Jim Harnish, pastor of Tampa’s Hyde Park United Methodist Church and chairman of the Conference Council on Ministries, said the first gathering was the “fun part” of the Conference Table process. “It’s great fun to listen to each other,” he said. “The hard work is saying yes to some things, which means saying no to other things. The hard and really painful work lies ahead.”

The Rev. Clarke Campbell-Evans, Miami District superintendent, said he expects many issues will come to the front as the Table continues to define the conference’s vision.

Bill Walker, director of connectional ministries and one of the sponsors of the Conference Table resolution, said the 17 expected participants will provide continuity to the conversations held at future Table gatherings.

Walker said the Table meetings will be held at different locations around the conference to facilitate as many people as possible participating. The next meeting is Oct. 3 at a location yet to be determined in the southern part of the Melbourne District.

Full coverage of the Conference Table is available on the Florida Conference’s Web site at http://www.flumc.org/conftableaug/.  Florida Conference laity and clergy are invited to comment about the discussions and activities of the Conference Table by e-mailing their input to ConferenceTable@flumc.org

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