June 16th, 2023 | Rev. Dr. Mark Charles (& our lay delegates)
Friends, I’m still on a high of encouragement after the gathering of Annual Conference. Last week, I shared some of my own experience with you in the Pastor’s Note. This week, I’d like you to hear directly from Memorial’s two Lay Delegates: Phyllis Sweeney and Donna Feith. I asked them both to write up a few thoughts on their experience of AC.
Please read on and I think you will be encouraged yourself below!
I had the opportunity to go to this year’s Florida Annual Conference as one of your two Memorial UMC Lay Delegates. Thank you! I am so happy I got to do this; the conference was great. It was my first time attending an Annual Conference (even though I’ve been a Methodist all my life and have held many different positions in church leadership over the years). I was curious, excited, and prepared… having attended 3 (Creation Care, Building a Beloved Community and What does it mean to #BeUMC) of the 14 pre-conference workshops that were offered on Zoom the week before the Conference, I read all the materials associated with resolutions that would be presented or deferred to various committees and I skimmed the 178 page online “Workbook” of the Conference which contained most of the Committee Reports and budget figures that would be presented. I was ready to do the business of the Conference.
Annual Conference is the annual business meeting of our FLUMC Conference – 8 Districts all over the State of Florida. Everyone together on the campus of Florida Southern College in Lakeland, FL. What joy I felt from the very first “Laity Session” on Thursday morning that this was going to be an uplifting event, not a boring business meeting. Worshipful and joyous music, insightful Bible Study, meaningful and uplifting worship services - all focused on the theme “Abound In HOPE”. And then there were the Committee Reports – this is where I was never so proud to be a United Methodist! We are a connectional church. WE are doing (through our apportionments) so many exciting ministries throughout Florida – things we never could accomplish just by ourselves in our local Memorial UMC. It’s not the Conference (THEM) that are doing all these things, it’s US (WE!) who are doing these works. I was so proud of US! Disaster Relief, Zoe Empowers, United Methodist Men, Campus Ministry – Wesley Foundation/Impact, #BeUMC, Scouting Ministries, Fresh Expressions, Committee on Resolutions, Camp Ministry, and so many more reports were given with both hope and humor! Even the Report from the Finance Committee was hope-filled – yes, budgets will have to be cut across the board (and by a significant 30%!) but apportionments will not be raised, we will continue to do what we are doing, just scaling back. It may not be pretty for a time, but it is what we must do – what any family or business must do when income is decreased for whatever reason.
Bishop Tom Berlin encouraged the assembly to follow the Holy Spirit as we all go forward into what the UMC will become, the Holy Spirit wants to show us the way. Let’s live into the future that will be. Acknowledging that there will be changes, but that “We can do hard things!” as we go forward together.
Laity, lay delegates, are an important part of the conference equation. It’s about us, the lay members of the local churches AND our pastors together doing the work of being the hands and feet of Christ locally and across the FLUMC Conference. I had the opportunity to meet a couple of former pastors of MUMC, Rev. Beth Fogle-Miller and Rev. Ann Burkholder. I enjoyed meeting and talking with a few of the other lay delegates at lunches or the Beloved Community Dinner on Friday night with great speakers about “Ending Gun Violence”.
Thank you, Church, for allowing me to represent you at this year’s Annual Conference – AC2023! If I am ever to attend another Annual Conference, the bar has been set high for me as to what an Annual Conference can be.
I’ve attended many conferences, and this was the best so far. Bishop Berlin set the tone as a very spiritual person, with a sense of humor, and he kept the theme of the Conference, Abound in Hope, throughout. It was a very uplifting and promising experience. There was much meaningful worship and music, and the atmosphere of the conference was positive. One effect of the churches who are disaffiliating is that we won’t be receiving apportionments from them. Therefore the conference budget will have to be reevaluated. This will be painful, but we can do it. A personal thrill for me was seeing the name “Rev. Anna Brook Opalinski” on the screen as she read the scripture during the memorial service for clergy members who died during this past year. Anna Brook (daughter of one of our former Senior Pastors, the Rev. Dr. Brett Opalinski, and much loved at Memorial) has been appointed as associate pastor at Trinity UMC in Tallahassee. Another personal highlight was being in a worship service led by Rev. Drew Weseman, our former Associate Pastor. He has recently received an appointment as pastor of a church in Michigan where he and his family are currently living. It’s always good to catch up with friends whom you usually just see at conference. I came away this time with a feeling of hope for the United Methodist Church. Let’s live out our callings, and we will be fine.
Read more about the 2023 Florida Annual Conference & find videos of each session HERE.