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October 25, 2002


Conference table starts recasting vision, mission

Photo by Michael Wacht 

The second gathering of the Conference Table began with worship, during which participants were asked to form groups of three, anoint each other with oil, and pray for a specific request from each person and for enlightenment and guidance from God through the holy spirit.
By Michael Wacht

PORT ST. LUCIE — Participants at the second gathering of the Conference Table Oct. 3 at Grapevine United Methodist Church here worked at creating new vision and mission statements for the Florida Conference. The present reality of the connection was also a focus.

The Conference Table was approved at the 2002 Florida Annual Conference as a forum at which laity and clergy can discuss and discern how the 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 participate. All conference laity and clergy are invited to attend.

Whitaker began the session by presenting proposed vision and mission statements, calling them “starting points for reflecting.” He said they were not intended to be adequate as they were. Instead, they were to present a “theological understanding” of what vision and mission should include. He challenged participants to understand and talk about the meaning behind the words.

Whitaker presented the current vision and mission statements along with his proposals. “The present vision statement is based on an assumption that the conference is an institution to provide services,” he said. “It should reflect the fact that we’re a community connected in Jesus Christ to accomplish his mission in Florida. In reality, so often we don’t act as if we’re in community. If we act as if we’re in community, we would grasp another meaning for conference. Think more relationally than purely institutionally.”

The bishop’s proposed vision statement was, “Our Vision is to become a missionary church that invites all people to be transformed through faith in Jesus Christ, the Savior and Sovereign of the world.”

Participants were challenged to discuss the vision statement’s key terms and form an alternative statement using their list of key words.

Many of the groups said the word “inviting” was not strong enough and did not fully express how the church ought to reach unchurched people. One group offered the word “welcomes” because church members are not always ready to accept the people who are invited. Other groups chose the word “call” because of its Biblical undertone. Several added the word “intentional” before both inviting and welcoming.

Several groups recommended the vision statement be expanded to include a definition of transformation, including who is doing the transformation and into what people are transformed.

The Rev. John Denmark, pastor of First United Methodist Church, Seminole, said the vision should be for the people who are doing ministry, not focused on outsiders or visitors. “When people come in, they become part of the vision,” he said. “It’s not like what hospitals do with their vision statements when they put it on a plaque and hang it near the elevators.”

The Rev. Bruce Jones, pastor of Memorial United Methodist Church in Fernandina Beach, said the vision statement should be such that when you “ask any church member about it, they respond, ‘Why, yes. It’s this, this and this, and we’re committed to it.”

In presenting his proposed mission statement, Whitaker challenged participants to see the conference as one church and not a collection of many churches. He also asked them to understand “the mission of the church is only a result of God’s initiative.”

“God is the one who has a mission,” he said. “God’s mission is to transform the world into a new heaven and new earth.”

Whitaker said his proposal reflected the reality that the conference is made up of churches and ministries that are not congregations. He also said he included diversity because of its focus at the first gathering.

The proposed mission statement said, “Our Mission is to participate in God’s purpose to transform the world by being one church in many locations in which we are connected to one another through faith in Jesus Christ in order to claim the diverse gifts of the Holy Spirit for the ministry of inviting all people to live as disciples of Jesus Christ.”

Participants were asked to look at the tasks the mission statement calls the conference to perform and discuss the steps that are part of or done in preparation for accomplishing the tasks.

Many said participating in God’s purpose was a primary task of the conference, but doing so requires people to renounce any purpose that is not God’s, have a willingness to act and risk, and to discern God’s will and purpose.

Several groups focused on “the diverse gifts of the Holy Spirit” and discussed ways the church can help people recognize and use their gifts.

The Rev. Mike Loomis, pastor of Melbourne’s Satellite Beach United Methodist Church, said his group did not get very far in redrafting the mission statement because of pessimism among members. “There is cynicism around the process for those who’ve been through it before,” he said. “We’re still fighting the same swift current that keeps pulling us back to the place where we don’t believe God will change what we currently have.”

The Rev. George Lutz, pastor of Kendall United Methodist Church in Miami, said the church must die in order to be transformed. “We are going to die, one way or the other—doing things we’ve always done or die to the things that are precious to us and all about us…things that are not part of Him…” he said. “I’m part of the issue, part of the problem, because I am part of us. I don’t die well, and I don’t die easy. We have to die to ourselves.”

The next two Conference Tables are Dec. 7 at an undecided location in Central Florida and Feb. 13, 2003. For more information about the Conference Table visit the Florida Conference’s Web site at http://www.flumc.org

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