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December 20, 2002


Conference Table works to finalize vision, mission

By Michael Wacht

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 other channels.

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 “institution.”

“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 witness.

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

Proposed Vision, Mission Statements

Florida Conference vision and mission statements were arrived at by consensus of the participants at the third gathering of the Florida Conference’s Conference Table Dec. 7.

The statements are drafts that will be finalized at the Feb. 15 gathering of the Conference Table and then presented as recommendations to the Annual Conference at its event in May.

Conference Table leaders are seeking input from conference clergy and laity to improve and build consensus on the statements. Anyone with comments that will change either statement’s meaning, focus and substance is invited to submit those comments to ConferenceTable@flumc.org or by fax at 863-688-8758.

Vision Statement:

God’s transforming grace in Jesus Christ calls us to become one dynamic church with diverse people in many settings, offering a new life of Christian discipleship to the world.

Mission Statement:

The mission of the Florida Annual Conference is to be a vital connection that is part of God’s transformation of the world by:

  • equipping congregations for the task of making disciples of Jesus Christ;
  • transforming existing congregations from a life of institutional maintenance to a life of transformational mission in their diverse communities and the world;
  • reproducing vital congregations in new settings;
  • calling, training and supporting lay and clergy leaders for the church; and
  • engaging in shared ministries that fulfill the vision of the Kingdom of God.
. . .And lo, the star went before them

Photo by Randy Casey-Rutland

"My hope is to have a clear sense of where we're going as United Methodists in Florida," said Bishop Timothy W. Whitaker at the third gathering of the Florida Conference's Conference Table Dec. 7.

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