ORLANDO — Participants at the third gathering of the Florida
Conference’s Conference Table reached a preliminary consensus on new
vision and mission statements for the Florida Conference. Bishop
Timothy W. Whitaker, chairman of the Table, hopes to reach final
agreement on the statements at the Feb. 15 gathering and then present
them for final adoption by the Annual Conference in May.
More than 50 people met at Azalea Park United Methodist Church here
Dec. 7 for the first weekend gathering of the Conference Table. The
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. Whitaker and 17 other conference leaders
are expected to attend each gathering. All conference laity and clergy
are invited to attend.
Bill Walker, the Florida Conference’s director of Connectional
Ministries, began the session by presenting draft vision and mission
statements developed from the work of the previous two gatherings and
input offered by Florida clergy and laity through e-mail, Internet and
Participants discussed the definition of vision and mission
statements and the meanings of certain words contained in the original
draft, such as the word “movement” to describe the conference.
Several people discussed the merits of its use rather than the word
“There is a tension between a genuine movement and an established
institution,” Whitaker said. “We can’t be so naive to think that
we don’t have an institutional life and responsibilities, yet we
want to be a people who are open to the future.”
The Rev. Bert Blomquist, superintendent of the Tampa District,
proposed an alternative draft that was well received. It formed the
basis for the vision statement adopted by participants.
After the addition of a few words to ensure the vision statement
represented the diversity of people and ministry settings in the
conference, participants agreed to accept it.
The proposed draft mission statement and the words included in it
were also discussed.
The Rev. Dick Wills, senior pastor of Christ Church United
Methodist in Ft. Lauderdale, warned against allowing a mission
statement to become a slogan. “Are we willing to adjust everything
we do to accomplish the goal?” he said.
Ron Pecora, a member of First United Methodist Church, Winter Park,
and chairman of the conference’s communications committee, said a
process of accountability will be necessary to support the vision and
mission statements. “Once we complete this process, the process of
measuring will be extremely important to tell where we are on the road
to change,” Pecora said.
The Rev. Jim Harnish, senior pastor at Tampa’s Hyde Park United
Methodist Church, offered a revised mission statement to the one
Walker presented at the beginning of the session. It was then edited
and accepted by participants.
The next step in the process is to solicit feedback from the
conference at-large about the statements’ meaning, focus and
substance, according to Walker. Table leaders are not requesting a
continuation of the “word-smithing” process of adding or changing
specific words or phrases.
Whitaker also presented a list of conference priorities. He said
the learning behind them came from the book “Transformational
Regional Bodies,” written by Roy M. Oswald and Claire Schenot Burkat
and published by the Alban Institute.
“Oswald and Burkat said the purpose of the church is the business
of transforming people’s lives,” Whitaker said. “There are three
basic initiatives in any transforming church body: training in
evangelism, redeveloping congregations and starting new missions. We
need to grow the United Methodist Church here in Florida. Most of the
people in Florida are not practicing Christians. We can’t just say
we want to grow, we have to have a strategy.”
That strategy must focus on transforming existing congregations and
developing new ones, Whitaker said. The conference must also be
involved in “crisis intervention tasks” that focus on recruiting,
mentoring and transitioning pastors, resolving conflicts, and
providing outplacement for incompetent clergy.
In addition to the three basic initiatives, Whitaker also presented
a list of nine agenda items for the Conference Table to consider and
prioritize, including transforming the culture of congregations and
clergy; developing a cooperative parish ministry strategy; training
consultants for conflict resolution; evaluating campus ministry,
operations of the camps and retreat centers, and conference structure;
and developing strategies for global missions and social ministry and
Participants suggested additional priorities focusing on nurturing
lay leadership and ministry, small-group ministry, evangelism training
for clergy and laity, long-term clergy leadership and relevant
outreach to youth and young adults.
The next gathering of the Conference Table is Feb. 15 in the
Sarasota area. A specific location has not been chosen. For more
information on the Conference Table visit http://www.flumc.org/conftable/index.htm.