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Saturday - November 22, 2014
Imagine No Malaria "Tens-Giving" drive this week

“What better way to celebrate Thanksgiving than being grateful that we can save lives with small sacrifices?" says Imagine No Malaria field coordinator Kylie Foley. "Donate to “Tens-Giving”: donate $10 to Imagine No Malaria to buy a bed net and invite 10 loved ones to do the same. Learn and donate at www.imagineflorida.org."

Forward our "Tens-Giving" invite to 10 of your friends, family, or co-workers and include this message: "Happy Thanksgiving! I just purchased a $10 bed net to protect a family from malaria. Because I'm grateful for you, and grateful that we can all be part ending malaria, I invite you to join me this "Tens-Giving." Malaria kills one person every minute, and an insecticide-treated bed net is the best way to prevent this beatable disease. Donate at www.imagineflorida.org and share "Tens-giving" with loved ones you're thankful for!"

Click on the Facebook and Twitter icons with this story and share with your friends. 

Wednesday - November 19, 2014
Tatoo ministry: a fresh expression of Christian commitment

OCALA -- A tattoo parlor is hardly the likeliest place that Christians would be found on a Saturday morning studying the Bible. 

Krista Olson gets the cross and flame tattooed to her forearm
Krista Olson is one of about 12 Wildwood UMC members to get a United Methodist cross-and-flame tattoo.  Photos from Wildwood UMC.

But nearly 40 members of Wildwood UMC did just that Saturday, meeting at Fat Kats Artistry in Ocala. As Bible study got underway, about a dozen members, including Pastor Michael Beck, stepped aside to get the United Methodist symbol - the cross and flame - inked onto forearms, hands and, in at least one case, a foot.

Beck got his tattoo on his hand.

"It's just part of our culture. People get tattoos a lot," says Beck, who became the church's minister about two years ago. "But we thought, ‘What if we could get tattoos that glorified God and became an evangelism tool?’"

Tattoos can stir controversy, especially among some traditionalists who point to a ban against the practice in Leviticus 19:28: "Do not cut your bodies for the dead or put tattoo marks on yourselves: I am the Lord."

But Wildwood UMC is a church focused on finding ways to reach out to unchurched people or those who drifted away from traditional churches that no longer seemed relevant to their lives. Old Testament rules and policies from thousands of years ago were never meant to be permanent, Beck says.

"God loves us, God healed us, and we are Christians in the Wesleyan tradition who want the world to know that," writes Beck in an email. "It is my belief that Christianity has been irrelevant to the majority of this generation for too long. We have to find new and innovative ways to get out where the people are and get in relationship with them. We have to engage the culture and transform it for Christ." 

Nicole Pennington shows off her foot tattoo
Nicole Pennington of Wildwood UMC shows off the cross and flame she had inked to her foot.

The Wildwood congregation is embracing a new perspective from Fresh Expressions, a worldwide Christian movement that seeks to create "fresh expressions of church" in places outside the traditional church setting. It began in the United Kingdom about five years ago.

The Florida Conference is exploring partnering opportunities with Fresh Expressions US, based in Virginia. Beck serves on a task force working on this issue.

"I am grateful for the heart that the Wildwood UMC has for the people of its community, men and women we often do not see or reach with the gospel," says Florida Bishop Ken Carter in an email to Florida Conference Connection.

"And I give thanks for Rev. Beck’s enthusiasm in bearing witness to the saving grace of Jesus Christ in this way.”

Those who got tattoos -- ranging in age from the 20s through 40s -- say the markings will help them be witnesses to their faith.

Krista Olson chose to put her tattoo inside her forearm. "I feel like it is a way of celebrating and commemorating God's grace in our lives," she says. She hopes people will see her tattoo, ask questions and give her a chance to talk about her faith.

"It's an attraction rather than a promotion," Olson says. "That's important, to let them know I'm passionate about it and why I'm passionate about it."

Bible study at the tattoo shop is not the only way Wildwood UMC is reaching out to the community beyond its church walls. On Sunday evenings, a Bible study group called Bibles and Burritos meets at a local restaurant.  

Krista Olson, left, and Brittany Evans wait at an Ocala tattoo shop for other Wildwood UMC members to emerge with cross-and-flame tattoos.

Wildwood UMC members show their tattoos in a group shot
Wildwood UMC members sporting new cross-and-flame tattoos, from left, Jeff Evans, Brittany Evans, Michael Beck, Trisha Lipshaw, Greg Pennington, Krista Olson and Matthew Olson. In the center is Nicole Pennington.

With a blended family of eight children, Beck and his wife, Jill, are encouraging greater participation of families in the church's life. Sunday sermons are designed to include children who work on activities related to the sermon's message. Afterward, they make a presentation to the congregation.

A free breakfast is served on Sunday so that families can sit at tables and be together. The church also participates in a food pantry and soup kitchen ministry with other local churches in the area.

Beck openly acknowledges his path to addiction recovery and shepherds two Celebrate Recovery ministries, one at Wildwood and another at New Covenant UMC in The Villages.

Wildwood UMC, founded in 1881, is one of the oldest churches in the North Central District. But Beck says the past two decades brought a significant drop in church attendance. It has had four pastors in the past three years.

In the past two years, however, a congregation that had dwindled to about 30 worshipers on Sunday now has as many as 150 filling the pews.

"My main point was that God was telling me to reach families," Beck says. "I'm always constantly trying to bring people in."

Olson joined about two years ago after her future husband invited her to a Sunday service. She attended the Catholic church as a child but had not been to church since grade school.

"It's a ministry where people are accepted just as they are, whether brokenhearted, hurt or feeling marginalized," Olson says. "That was me three years ago. I believed in God, but I didn't feel I had any way to fit."

Nicole Pennington joined Wildwood about a year ago.

She picked purple, pink and orange for a small water-color tattoo of the cross and flame, delicately etched on her foot. It is one of several tattoos she has gotten over the years, including a butterfly, flower and feathers. All of them, Pennington says, are spiritual expressions of her faith.

She is beginning to see some people who usually attend the traditional service trickling over into the contemporary service.

"It is really geared toward having an experience with God, not just going through the motions," Pennington says. "We want to really break right through the walls and meet people where they are at, no matter what." 
 

-- Kathy Steele is a freelance writer based in Tampa. 

Monday - November 10, 2014
Bishop Carter reflects on Council of Bishops' statement
This statement was adopted by the Council of Bishops in their meeting on November 7, 2014 in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma:
 
“As bishops of The United Methodist Church, our hearts break because of the divisions that exist within the church.  We have been in constant prayer and conversation and affirm our consecration vow “to guard the faith, to seek the unity and to exercise the discipline of the whole church.” We recognize that we are one church in a variety of contexts around the world and that bishops and the church are not of one mind about human sexuality. Despite our differences, we are united in our commitment to be in ministry for and with all people.  We are also united in our resolve to lead the church together to fulfill its mandate—to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. As we do so, we call on all United Methodists to pray for us and for one another.”
 
Ken Carter, resident Bishop of the Florida Conference, offers an additional reflection:
 
“Many will read this brief statement and seek to parse the words.  And so I offer a sentence-by-sentence interpretation.  
 
“The statement begins with the acknowledgement that there are divisions in our church; as men and women who have been called to seek the unity of the Body (1 Corinthians 12-14) which is now strained or even in peril, this is painful for bishops, and we acknowledge our participation in these divisions.  The meeting of the Council of Bishops was not in any way an act of avoidance of the work we are called to do; and so we rededicated ourselves to the promises we made in our consecrations as bishops.
 
“Many United Methodists (appropriately) understand what it means to be a disciple of Jesus in their own geographical settings (neighborhoods, towns, cities); as a Council, we lead churches in Asia, Africa, Europe and the United States.  There is remarkable diversity in these settings, and significant differences in the way faithful United Methodists understand human sexuality.  This is true within the United States and across the world.
 
“We do remind the church, as bishops, that our unity is not about culture or even human sexuality; our unity is grounded in mission to all people (Acts 1-2) and in our purpose, to make disciples (Matthew 28) for the transformation of the world (Habakkuk 2).
 
“As an aside, our work together also focused on vital congregations, Imagine No Malaria, the Ebola virus and the UMC in West Africa, preparation for the 2016 General Conference, the 75th Anniversary of UMCOR (United Methodist Committee on Relief) and the implications of being a world-wide church. I gave a report from the Task Force on Online Communion, which I have chaired, and I will post my reflection this week on the Florida Conference website.  
 
“My sense is that the bishops are becoming more honest with each other and more accountable to each other.  This is healthy, and is the work of every one of us.
 
“Finally, we ask for prayers as we lead, and we call the church to a season of prayer.  In this way, prayer is not an avoidance of difficult conversations.  Prayer is the most powerful conversation, as we place our trust and confidence in God, who is able to keep us from falling (Jude 1) and is continually inviting us to live in his presence and by his grace.”
 
I want to express again how blessed Pam and I are to be in ministry with the people of the Florida Conference.  
 
The grace and peace of the Lord be with you!
 
+Ken Carter
Resident Bishop, Florida Area
The United Methodist Church
 

 

Monday - November 3, 2014
Share It is conference's new "storycatcher"

The Florida Conference is launching Share It, a new community engagement platform, at www.shareitumc.com, according to Gretchen Hastings, director of Connectional Relations, “and we are pleased to announce that it is in English and Spanish.

"Its overall big, audacious goal is to catch local church stories about getting out of the pews and into the streets," she added. "Its format and purpose is the same as our Facebook page: to provide daily inspiration to our fans and a place for churches to share their stories about ministries." Subscribers can continue to comment on posts or share posts with their social media accounts. (Subscribe here.)

 

 

Changing the world, one story at a time

“We wanted to kick it up a notch in our efforts to publish what local churches are doing to get beyond their walls and have positive impact in their communities,” said Hastings. “Our local churches have so many stories about being the hands and feet of Christ through missions, outreach, prayer, service and worship.”

The goal is to share the good news on all the conference’s digital platforms, she added. “This is a place for local churches to share and engage in conversation about how they are answering Jesus’ call to love our neighbors.

“We want to publish what churches are doing to end hunger in their neighborhoods, help our veterans, tutor children, provide a community-wide prayer ministry or stage a Walk through Bethlehem, for example.”

Click here to share your story, photos or video.

Why a new platform?

“Facebook announced this March that only 6 percent of our 7,400 fans were going to receive our posts unless we buy ads or pay to boost our reach. That means only around 450 of our fans are receiving our posts,” Hastings explained. “Social media reporters predict that in the next year the fan reach will be zero unless we ‘pay to play,’ and we decided that using apportionment dollars to pay Facebook to reach our fans is not good stewardship.”

Unlike Facebook, the conference site will not have ads or mine individuals’ data. “While our focus is Share It, we’ll continue to post to Facebook daily,” said Hastings.

Annual Conference
Annual Conference Event Logos
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Download links for 2014 Annual Conference logo:
 

Large color 2014 Annual Conference logo
 

Large black & white 2014 Annual Conference logo
 

Small color 2014 Annual Conference logo

 

Hotel Information
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Click Here for Annual Conference hotel list.

Pre-Conference Brochure
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Click here for Pre-Conference Brochure

Annual Conference 5K Run
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Thursday, June 12, 2014 at 6:30 am - Lake Hollingsworth - Lakeland, FL

The inaugural Florida Annual Conference 5K is an opportunity to unite our Clergy and Lay Members of the Annual Conference - and connect with the greater Lakeland community - in an initiative to promote faith and fitness in a 3.1 mile fun run/walk around beautiful Lake Hollingsworth. 100% of the proceeds from the 5K will go towards our Annual Conference's support of the Imagine No Malaria campaign. Join this race towards greater health - for ourselves and for our sisters and brothers around the globe.

PACKET PICK-UP & RACE INFO:
Pre-Race Packet Pick-Up ~ Wednesday, June 11 at The Lakeland Center (8 am to 6 pm)
Race Day ~ Thursday, June 12 at Florida Southern College (corner of Ingraham and Lake Hollingsworth Drive, across from the Florida Southern College Wellness Center)
5:30 am Packet Pick-up & Registration
6:15 am Late Registration Ends
6:30 am 5k Start!!!

CLICK HERE to register

      

 

 

 

Group Meals Alphabetical
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Click Here for Group Meals by Day and Time

All events below require advance reservations and payment.
 
Asamblea Hispana/Hispanic Assembly Dinner
College Heights UMC, 924 South Boulevard, Lakeland, 33803 
Friday, June 13, Dinner 5:00 PM
To register contact: Mercedes Andrades, mercyc004@yahoo.com

Asbury Theological Seminary
Dr. Timothy Tennent, President of Asbury Seminary, featured speaker
The Lakeland Center, Room Hollingsworth A
Thursday, June 12, Dinner 5:00 – 7:00 PM
Cost of meal: $24.00 per person
Reservations Deadline:  Monday, June 2, 2014
Payment Deadline:  Monday, June 9, 2014
To register contact Bill Tillmann: bill.tillmann@asburyseminary.edu or 407-760-8665

Black Methodist for Church Renewal
The Lakeland Center, Sikes J
Friday, June 13, Lunch 12:00 PM
Cost of meal: $25.00 per person
Reservations Deadline:  Monday, June 2
To register contact: Gertrude Stewart, gjarrett38@aol.com

Candler Club (Florida)
Contact:  Sarah Miller; sarah.miller@flumc.org
Abuelo’s Mexican Food Embassy
3700 Lakeside Village Blvd
Lakeland, 33803
Wednesday, June 11, Lunch 11:45 PM

Celebrating Our Beloved Community
Contact: Sandy Voigt, flumc-sw@flumc.org
The Lakeland Center, Sikes K
Thursday, June 12, Lunch 12:00 PM
Cost of meal: $20.00 per person
Reservations Deadline:  Monday, June 2
To register click here:

Clergy Mates
Contact: Tasha Smith, flumc-se@flumc.org
Florida United Methodist Center, 450 Martin Luther King, Jr. Ave.
Third Floor Conference Room
Friday, June 13, Breakfast 9:00 AM
Cost of meal:  $0.00
Reservations Deadline:  June 2
To register click here:


Clergy Women
Contact: Anne Butcher; abutch413@yahoo.com
The Lakeland Center, Sikes J
Wednesday, June 11, Dinner
Cost of meal: $23.00 per person
Reservations Deadline:  Monday, June 2
To register click here:

Council on Finance and Administration (CFA)
The Lakeland Center, Morton
Friday, June 13, Lunch
Reservations Deadline:  Monday, June 2
To register contact:  Sue Bennett, sbennett@flumc.org

Deacon/Diaconal Ministers
The Lakeland Center, Lake Parker D
Thursday, June 12, Lunch 12:00 PM
To register contact Winnie Dean, wdean@flumc.org
Cost of meal: $17.00 per person
Reservations Deadline:  Monday, June 2

Duke Divinity Alumni
Guest Speakers: L. Gregory Jones and Susan Pendleton Jones
Contact:  Katie McNichol, mkmcnich1@gmail.com
The Lakeland Center, Sikes I
Wednesday, June 11, Lunch 12:00 PM
Cost of meal: $22.00
Reservations Deadline:  Monday, June 2
To register click here:

East Central District
Contact:  Janet Kelley, jkelley@flumc.org
Trinity UMC 715 Cornelia Ave., Lakeland, 33815
Friday, June 13, Breakfast 6:45 AM
Reservations Deadline:  Monday, June 2
To register go to https://florida-reg.brtapp.com/EastCentralDistrictBreakfastatAnnualConference2014 .

Educational Opportunities Tours
Contact: Kathy Bouchard, kbouchard@travelwithus.com
The Lakeland Center, Sikes F
Friday, June 13, Lunch 12:15 PM
Cost of meal: $0.00
Reservations Deadline:  Friday, June 9
To register contact: kbouchard@travelwithus.com

Extension Ministry
Contact:  Aaron Rios, arios@flumc.org
The Lakeland Center, Parker
Saturday, June 14, Breakfast 7:00 AM
Cost of meal:  $15.00
Reservations Deadline:  Monday, June 2
To register click here:

Fellowship of Associate Members and Local Pastors
Bishop Ken Carter, featured speaker
Contact: Susie Horner, susie.horner@flumc.org
Trinity UMC, 715 Cornelia Ave., Lakeland 33815
Thursday, June 12, Dinner 5:15 PM
Cost of meal: $17.00
Reservations Deadline:  June 2
Payment Deadline:  June 2
To register click here:

Florida United Methodist Evangelicals
Contact:  Rod Groom, rod.groom@gmail.com
United Methodist Temple, 2700 S. Florida Ave., Lakeland, 33803
Thursday, June 12, Lunch 12:00 PM
Cost of meal: $15.00
Reservations Deadline:  Monday, June 2
Payment Deadline:  Monday, June 2
To register click here:

Florida United Methodist Foundation, Inc.
Learn about our new investment offerings and meet Fund Manager Bob DiMeo
Contact: Nadara Brock, nbrock@fumf.org
The Lakeland Center, Sikes J
Wednesday, June 11, Lunch at 12:00 PM
Cost of meal:  $0.00
Reservations Deadline:  June 2
To register click here:

Haitian Ministry Committee
Contact:  Rosemary Gagliardi, rbgaglar@att.net
Florida Southern College Cafeteria, Lakeland, 33801 
June 13, Breakfast – 6:30 AM
Cost of meal: Individuals pay for their own meals

Historical Society
College Heights UMC, 924 South Boulevard, Lakeland, 33803 
June 11, Dinner – 6:00 PM
Cost of meal: $15.00
Reservations Deadline:  Thursday, June 5
Payment Deadline:  Thursday, June 5
To register contact Nell Thrift, thriftmail@aol.com

Lay Servant Ministries
Contact:  Rod Groom, rod.groom@gmail.com
United Methodist Temple, 2700 S. Florida Ave., Lakeland, 33803
Friday, June 13, Lunch 12:00 PM
Cost of meal: $12.00
Reservations Deadline:  Monday, June 2
Payment Deadline:  Thursday, June 2
To register click here:

Methodist Federation for Social Action (MFSA)
United Methodist Temple, 2700 S. Florida Ave., Lakeland, 33803
Thursday, June 12, Dinner 5:30 PM
Cost of meal: $15.00 adults; $13.00 children
Reservation Deadline:  Monday, June 2
To register contact:  Marta Burke, martabee@aol.com, 305-975-2032

Reconciling Methodists
Contact: Martha Rutland, Martha.rutland@vitas.com
Fred’s Southern Kitchen
2120 Harden Blvd., Lakeland, 33803; 863-603-7080
Friday, June 13, Dinner 5:15 PM

Retiree Luncheon
Contact:  Lois Durham, ldurham@flumc.org
The Lakeland Center, Sikes H
Friday, June 13, Lunch 12:00 PM
Cost of meal: $10.00
Reservations Deadline:  Monday, June 2
To register click here:

South West District
Contact: Sandy Voigt, flumc-sw@flumc.org
Florida Southern Alumni Room, Charles Thrift Alumni Center
Florida Southern College
Thursday, June 12, Ice Cream Social 8:30 – 10:00 PM

United Methodist Connectional Federal Credit Union
The Lakeland Center, Lake Parker C
Friday, June 13, Lunch 11:45 AM – 2:00 PM
Reservations Deadline:  Friday, June 6
To register contact:  Renea Hazelbaker at reneacu@verizon.net or 863-687-2136

United Theological Seminary
Contact: tmmercury@yahoo.com
The Lakeland Center, Lake Parker C
Wednesday, June 11, Lunch 11:30 AM – 1:30 PM
Cost of meal: $15.00 - $16.00
Reservations Deadline:  Monday, June 2

To register click here:

Youth Ministry Luncheon
Contact:  Joel Pancoast, jpancoast@flumc.org
First UMC – Lakeland, 72 Lake Morton Dr., Lakeland  33801
Thursday, June 12, Lunch 12:00 PM
Reservations Deadline:  Thursday, June 2
To register click here:
 

News
Saturday - November 22, 2014
Imagine No Malaria "Tens-Giving" drive this holiday week

“What better way to celebrate Thanksgiving than being grateful that we can save lives with small sacrifices?" says Imagine No Malaria field coordinator Kylie Foley. "Donate to “Tens-Giving”: donate $10 to Imagine No Malaria to buy a bed net and invite 10 loved ones to do the same. Learn and donate at www.imagineflorida.org."

Forward our "Tens-Giving" invite to 10 of your friends, family, or co-workers and include this message: "Happy Thanksgiving! I just purchased a $10 bed net to protect a family from malaria. Because I'm grateful for you, and grateful that we can all be part ending malaria, I invite you to join me this "Tens-Giving." Malaria kills one person every minute, and an insecticide-treated bed net is the best way to prevent this beatable disease. Donate at www.imagineflorida.org and share "Tens-giving" with loved ones you're thankful for!"

Click on the Facebook and Twitter icons below this story and share with your friends. 

Friday - November 21, 2014
FSU Wesley offers support, prayers after campus shooting

TALLAHASSEE (UMNS) -- The shootings at a Florida State University library early Thursday had United Methodists on that campus gathering for prayer and mutual support.

“Everyone’s pretty emotionally shaken,” said Rev. Mike Toluba, pastor of the Wesley Foundation at FSU and Tallahassee Community College.

FSU Wesley prayer service
FSU Wesley students gather for prayer in the wake of gunfire on campus that injured two people and ended with the shooting death of the gunman by police. Photo from Rev. Mike Toluba. Feature photo of campus prayer service at FSU fountain by Alvaro Galbaldon, Florida State University. 

A man opened fire at Strozier Library about 12:30 a.m. Nov. 20. Three people were shot, including two students, with two hospitalized and one released. Police shot and killed the assailant.

The Associated Press identified the latter as Myron May, a lawyer who earned an undergraduate degree from FSU.

The victims’ names had not been released as of Thursday afternoon.

Toluba said he had no indication any Wesley Foundation student was injured or had been in shooting range.

To read more, click here.


 -- Sam Hodges is a staff writer with United Methodist News Service.

Friday - November 21, 2014
It's a 'Ruby Red' Christmas
for Apopka church

APOPKA -- By now, it’s a solid tradition of longstanding favorites, but the 40-year-old Christmas bazaar at First UMC, Apopka, always manages to bring something fresh to the community, according to Sharon Fisher, who has been involved for 19 years. 

Hand-decorated candles and painted word blocks on a display table
Hand-decorated candles and crafts donated by members of First UMC, Apopka, have helped make the annual bazaar a community mainstay for 40 years. Photos by Don Youngs. 
Shoppers mill about through decorated trees and display tables
Shoppers turn out for baked goods, decorations and Christmas shopping at the "Ruby Red Christmas" bazaar. 

The name for 2014’s event, held Nov. 15, was “Ruby Red Christmas.” It featured 34 Christmas trees covered with red decorations and surrounded by red items for sale.  About 25 year-round volunteers have been working to create items for the bazaar since the second week in January.

Items included creative offerings such as a kids’ yo-yo tree, vintage lace doilies, cookbooks, wreaths crafted from corks, gourmet recipe mixes, a jewelry tree, and teacups, said Fisher, who maintains she doesn’t have a title, just a lot of experience with the event.

The church began the bazaar all those years ago as a way to help pay off its fellowship hall.

When that goal was achieved, members turned their attention to other needs in their community and beyond, including the Florida United Methodist Children’s Home, which received $2,000 from the drawing held at the bazaar last year.

Eleanor Jones, who has been involved for the past five years, said that she and the other “bazaar ladies” also use their talents to raise money for other needs at the church, including curtains for the fellowship hall.

“All (the) money goes for good causes,” she said.

Ten years ago, money from the bazaar helped create a Memorial Garden at the church, a place where bricks bought and donated through the event are inscribed and placed to honor those church and Sunday school members who have passed away. Funds from the bazaar help maintain the garden, which is landscaped and features a pond.

More recently, proceeds helped outfit a playground and purchase window blinds for preschool classrooms at the church.

Jones said the volunteers have many different abilities and skill levels, but all are acting out their faith with creativity and love. Fisher emphasized that there are no vendors involved in the bazaar; all the items have been created or gathered by church volunteers.

Included in the mix were many indoor plants for sale, and this year’s drawing was for items including a quilt and shams, gift certificates and gift baskets, wreaths and ornaments. Breakfast, including homemade cinnamon rolls, and lunch are mainstays at the event, bringing sometimes 300-plus visitors to the church, Fisher said.

On the day of the event, about 30 volunteers were on hand to sell and serve.

The church’s willingness to support this effort year-round by making space available for working and storing items is a large part of the success, Fisher said.

“We started meeting in one room and, as rooms became available, we were able to have workrooms for sewing and storage for fabric,” she said.

“And these ladies recycle everything under the sun.”  

-- Anne Dukes is a freelance writer based in Atlanta. 

Thursday - November 20, 2014
E-readers help Portuguese-speaking Africans

The United Methodist E-Reader Project recently got a boost through obtaining Portuguese content for e-readers for theological schools in Angola and Mozambique. Rev. Adriano Quelende, director of Global Formation for Spiritual Leaders at the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry (GBHEM), recently visited the annual conferences of Angola East and West, as well as Mozambique North and South annual conferences and acquired additional theological content for the Portuguese e-readers.

Missionaries Cleivy and Leonardo Garcia with children in Quessua mission
Missionaries Cleivy and Leonardo Garcia stand with children from the Quéssua mission in East Angola. Photo from Cleivy and Leonardo Garcia.

In each area, Quelende visited schools of theology to deliver a few e-readers and showed librarians, teachers and students how to use the e-readers. Quelende and staff of Discipleship Ministries will return to these areas in 2015 to deliver more e-readers and to provide complete training.

The School of Theology at Quéssua in the East Angola Conference, which is in covenant with the Florida Conference, was among schools to receive the technology. 

“With the e-readers, our students can access much-needed resources at any time and any place without having to come to the (school’s) library to use our printed resources," said Rev. Dr. Leonardo Garcia, a missionary from the Methodist Church of Cuba who teaches at the school.

"Besides that, the amount of books contained in the e-readers surpasses by far the amount of books that we have available at the library, which does not exceed  2,500 books.”

Garcia is based at Quéssua with his wife, Rev. Dr. Cleivy Garcia, who is the school's vice dean.

Icel Rodriguez, Global Missions director for the Florida Conference, said the conference was involved in the project by identifying theological resources in Portuguese that could be put into PDF format for access by the readers. She said she anticipates some more readers will be delivered to the school in 2015.

The GBHEM and Discipleship Ministries are continuing to grow the E-Reader Project, a simple way to help theology schools in remote areas have access to current textbooks and reference books. 

Quelende, a West Angola native, also met with bishops, theology school deans, pastors and students in each annual conference to hear their ideas about additional theological content and the growth of the project.

Rev. Adriano Quelende with students receiving e-readers in Africa
Rev. Adriano Quelende, center, and students at a theology school in Africa show e-readers that will expand learning opportunities for Portuguese-speaking ministers. Photo from GBHEM.

In Angola West annual conference area, Quelende met with Rev. Kalumba Alfredo, general secretary of the Angola Bible Society. The Bible Society was impressed with the project and offered over 500 Portuguese books, in digital format, to be loaded on the e-readers.

Portuguese content continues to be added to the e-readers, with the help of the Methodist Theology School in Sao Paulo, Brazil. Dr. Paulo Garcia has pledged wholehearted support and has donated numerous texts to the project. The e-reader currently includes ebooks on Christian education, evangelism, preaching, counseling, church leadership, United Methodist worship and Wesleyan theology.

“The e-reader project will help our churches in Africa have better prepared pastors,” said Quelende. “GBHEM and Discipleship Ministries are making an investment in the intellectual formation of pastors in Africa. With better prepared pastors, we will have better church for sure.”

In Mozambique, Bishop Joaquina Nhanala was happy to hear about the project and encouraged GBHEM and Discipleship Ministries to continue to expand the reach. “This project comes in the right time for pastors in rural areas who are serving churches with only a Bible. The e-reader, loaded with many books, offers hope for them.”

Quelende found that many people on the continent of Africa are excited about the project. “The e-reader project will revolutionize theological education in Africa,” he said. “Students and staff had great ideas for additional content.”

Some suggested more books about the history of Methodism, Bibles in different African languages, hymnals, The Book of Discipline and books with United Methodist liturgy.

In addition to GBHEM and Discipleship Ministries, funding for the E-Reader Project comes from annual conferences, local churches, individual donors, universities and from the students themselves through a student fee each semester, which helps offset the price of the e-reader and its content. To learn more or donate online, visit www.umcereader.org.

-- Smeck is interim director of the Office of Communications at GBHEM. Susan Green, managing editor of Florida Conference Connection, contributed to this story. To access the original version, click here.

 

Thursday - November 20, 2014
Faith leaders join consumer advocates to push for lower payday loan rates

WASHINGTON (RNS) -- Dozens of faith leaders and consumer advocates are pressing Congress to create a national interest rate cap for payday lenders instead of the exorbitant three-digit rates currently charged to people in several states.

Eighty activists from 22 states came to Washington in hopes of shaping new regulations that are expected from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Many of their congregations are surrounded by payday loan businesses that they say prey on poor residents by charging high interest rates and creating a cycle of debt.

Rachel Anderson makes speech from Capitol steps
Rachel Anderson, director of faith-based Center for Responsible Lending, speaks in Washington, pressing Congress for interest rate caps to protect the poor. RNS photo.

“Together, you guys are really bringing a strong message and a light and a moral perspective about predatory lending that’s valuable,” said Rachel Anderson, director of faith-based outreach for the Center for Responsible Lending, which spearheaded a three-day visit and training session for religious leaders on Capitol Hill. “We hope that your message is heard strongly.”

The leaders asked members of Congress on Wednesday, Nov. 19, to pass legislation capping interest rates, citing a 36 percent interest cap required by the Military Lending Act.

“If it’s fair for the military, we felt it should be fair for all people,” said Rev. Susan McCann of Grace Episcopal Church in Liberty, Mo.

Stephen Reeves, an advocate with the Georgia-based Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, said a cap would eliminate “creative loopholes” used by the payday loan industry.

“That’s the solution -- to make these funds affordable and attainable, where the trap is not set for the members of our communities and our churches,” he said.

The Community Financial Services Association of America, which represents payday lenders, rejects charges of preying on poor and minority communities, saying payday lenders “provide services to a broad cross-section of Americans because there is widespread demand.”

They say “payday advance customers are typical hardworking adults who may not have savings or disposable income to use as a safety net when unexpected expenses occur.”

A number of United Methodist leaders, including Bishop Minerva Carcano of the Los Angeles Area, California-Pacific Conference, have pushed for more protections from "payday lenders" who sometimes charge as much as 400 percent interest on loans.

In October, the National Association of Evangelicals issued a statement calling on payday lenders to offer products that “do not exploit poor and vulnerable borrowers” and urged the CFPB to investigate abuses.

NAE Vice President Galen Carey said consumers like him may have access to a 3.5 percent interest rate through a credit union, but others do not.

“That sort of resource is not available to all people, and so that’s why we need to have other provisions,” he said.

-- Adelle M. Banks is a writer for Religion News Service. Reposted with permission. Copyright 2014 Religion News Service. Susan Green, managing editor of Florida Conference Connection, contributed to this story.

 

Tuesday - November 18, 2014
Tattoo ministry: a fresh expression
of Christian commitment

OCALA -- A tattoo parlor is hardly the likeliest place that Christians would be found on a Saturday morning studying the Bible. 

Krista Olson gets the cross and flame tattooed to her forearm
Krista Olson is one of about 12 Wildwood UMC members to get a United Methodist cross-and-flame tattoo.  Photos from Wildwood UMC.

But nearly 40 members of Wildwood UMC did just that Saturday, meeting at Fat Kats Artistry in Ocala. As Bible study got underway, about a dozen members, including Pastor Michael Beck, stepped aside to get the United Methodist symbol - the cross and flame - inked onto forearms, hands and, in at least one case, a foot.

Beck got his tattoo on his hand.

"It's just part of our culture. People get tattoos a lot," says Beck, who became the church's minister about two years ago. "But we thought, ‘What if we could get tattoos that glorified God and became an evangelism tool?’"

Tattoos can stir controversy, especially among some traditionalists who point to a ban against the practice in Leviticus 19:28: "Do not cut your bodies for the dead or put tattoo marks on yourselves: I am the Lord."

But Wildwood UMC is a church focused on finding ways to reach out to unchurched people or those who drifted away from traditional churches that no longer seemed relevant to their lives. Old Testament rules and policies from thousands of years ago were never meant to be permanent, Beck says.

"God loves us, God healed us, and we are Christians in the Wesleyan tradition who want the world to know that," writes Beck in an email. "It is my belief that Christianity has been irrelevant to the majority of this generation for too long. We have to find new and innovative ways to get out where the people are and get in relationship with them. We have to engage the culture and transform it for Christ." 

Nicole Pennington shows off her foot tattoo
Nicole Pennington of Wildwood UMC shows off the cross and flame she had inked to her foot.

The Wildwood congregation is embracing a new perspective from Fresh Expressions, a worldwide Christian movement that seeks to create "fresh expressions of church" in places outside the traditional church setting. It began in the United Kingdom about five years ago.

The Florida Conference is exploring partnering opportunities with Fresh Expressions US, based in Virginia. Beck serves on a task force working on this issue.

"I am grateful for the heart that the Wildwood UMC has for the people of its community, men and women we often do not see or reach with the gospel," says Florida Bishop Ken Carter in an email to Florida Conference Connection.

"And I give thanks for Rev. Beck’s enthusiasm in bearing witness to the saving grace of Jesus Christ in this way.”

Those who got tattoos -- ranging in age from the 20s through 40s -- say the markings will help them be witnesses to their faith.

Krista Olson chose to put her tattoo inside her forearm. "I feel like it is a way of celebrating and commemorating God's grace in our lives," she says. She hopes people will see her tattoo, ask questions and give her a chance to talk about her faith.

"It's an attraction rather than a promotion," Olson says. "That's important, to let them know I'm passionate about it and why I'm passionate about it."

Bible study at the tattoo shop is not the only way Wildwood UMC is reaching out to the community beyond its church walls. On Sunday evenings, a Bible study group called Bibles and Burritos meets at a local restaurant.  

Krista Olson, left, and Brittany Evans wait at an Ocala tattoo shop for other Wildwood UMC members to emerge with cross-and-flame tattoos.

Wildwood UMC members show their tattoos in a group shot
Wildwood UMC members sporting new cross-and-flame tattoos, from left, Jeff Evans, Brittany Evans, Michael Beck, Trisha Lipshaw, Greg Pennington, Krista Olson and Matthew Olson. In the center is Nicole Pennington.

With a blended family of eight children, Beck and his wife, Jill, are encouraging greater participation of families in the church's life. Sunday sermons are designed to include children who work on activities related to the sermon's message. Afterward, they make a presentation to the congregation.

A free breakfast is served on Sunday so that families can sit at tables and be together. The church also participates in a food pantry and soup kitchen ministry with other local churches in the area.

Beck openly acknowledges his path to addiction recovery and shepherds two Celebrate Recovery ministries, one at Wildwood and another at New Covenant UMC in The Villages.

Wildwood UMC, founded in 1881, is one of the oldest churches in the North Central District. But Beck says the past two decades brought a significant drop in church attendance. It has had four pastors in the past three years.

In the past two years, however, a congregation that had dwindled to about 30 worshipers on Sunday now has as many as 150 filling the pews.

"My main point was that God was telling me to reach families," Beck says. "I'm always constantly trying to bring people in."

Olson joined about two years ago after her future husband invited her to a Sunday service. She attended the Catholic church as a child but had not been to church since grade school.

"It's a ministry where people are accepted just as they are, whether brokenhearted, hurt or feeling marginalized," Olson says. "That was me three years ago. I believed in God, but I didn't feel I had any way to fit."

Nicole Pennington joined Wildwood about a year ago.

She picked purple, pink and orange for a small water-color tattoo of the cross and flame, delicately etched on her foot. It is one of several tattoos she has gotten over the years, including a butterfly, flower and feathers. All of them, Pennington says, are spiritual expressions of her faith.

She is beginning to see some people who usually attend the traditional service trickling over into the contemporary service.

"It is really geared toward having an experience with God, not just going through the motions," Pennington says. "We want to really break right through the walls and meet people where they are at, no matter what." 
 

-- Kathy Steele is a freelance writer based in Tampa. 

Wednesday - November 12, 2014
Bishop outlines plans to bolster black UM churches
Bishop Ken Carter speaking at Black Clergy Conversation event
Bishop Ken Carter
Rev. Harold Lewis speaking at Black Clergy Conversation event
Rev. Harold Lewis

ORLANDO -- In a fast-paced, increasingly diverse culture where Christian churches of all denominations struggle to continue making disciples of Christ, United Methodists face challenges reaching almost any audience you could name.

But has the Florida Conference done enough to nurture black congregations in a state with a high population of African-Americans? And what more could be done?

About 60 pastors representing nearly 70 congregations across the Florida Conference turned out Monday to ponder that question at a gathering called “Black Clergy Conversation with the Bishop,” organized by Rev. Harold D. Lewis Sr., director of Multicultural and Justice Ministries for the conference.

Lewis characterized the meeting as the “beginning of a dialogue” to discuss how the organization, institution and system of the Florida Conference affects the growth of churches that serve predominantly African-American flocks.

Among issues voiced by those attending were a shortage of new black church plants in comparison to church starts intended to serve other segments of the population, lack of support for new black preachers and lack of investment in new technology for African-American congregations trying to appeal to young people.

Florida Bishop Ken Carter told the group that he knew, despite sharing some similar experiences as a preacher, he could never fully understand the challenges and frustrations of African-American pastors in Florida’s United Methodist Church.

“Yet I do feel called to try to move to a new place and try to create something together,” the bishop said.

“We can create a self-renewing and growing black church with expanding opportunities for leadership that joins Jesus in changing lives and neighborhoods and creates new futures for black youth. … How can we create that together?”

The bishop outlined plans to partner with Black Methodists for Church Renewal, the church’s organized black caucus, and Strengthening the Black Church for the 21st Century (SBC21), a General Board of Discipleship (GBOD) program that includes an intentional focus on laity.

Carter said he also has a verbal agreement with bishops of the Mississippi and South Carolina conferences to work together to bolster African-American churches. That effort may include cross-appointments of clergy across conference lines and welcoming to Florida a satellite campus of a large African-American United Methodist church from outside the state. 

Although Florida counts more than 3 million African-Americans in its population – nearly three times that of either of the other two states – Mississippi has the most African-American churches of any annual conference and South Carolina has the most African-American members, Carter said. 

Rev. Margaret Kartwe-Bradley lifts hand in praise during musical worship
Rev. Margaret Kartwe-Bradley, center,  pastor at Sellers Memorial UMC and Kelly's Chapel, Miami, lifts her hand in praise during musical worship provided by Solid Rock UMC, Orlando, at the Black Clergy Conversation with the Bishop.  Photo by Susan Green.

Ideas he outlined for nurturing future leaders included strengthening ties with United Methodist-affiliated Bethune-Cookman University, a historically black school in Daytona Beach. Students interested in ordained ministry could be encouraged to go to Gammon Theological Seminary in Atlanta, which offers an African-American culture, and also be paired with clergy mentors, the bishop said.

He also reminded the group that last year half the Annual Conference offering was set aside for a program to cultivate young clergy of color, and plans include appointing more young black associate pastors in vital black congregations where they can learn from successful lead preachers before taking the helm of their own church.

If everyone in the room collaborated to work toward the goal, there could be 15 to 20 truly strong black churches in the Florida Conference by 2020, the bishop said.

Some in the room said opportunities for black young adults were hindered in the Tallahassee area, which has a significant African-American population, when the Florida Conference stopped supporting a Wesley Foundation ministry at Florida A&M University.

Others said the lengthy ordination process in The United Methodist Church is a hindrance to those of limited financial means, and Carter agreed.

Reached for comment Wednesday about FAMU, Rev. David Fuquay, director of Higher Education and Campus Ministry for the Florida Conference, said by email that plans are underway to launch some form of ministry at FAMU by next fall. He said he and Rev. Dr. Bob Gibbs, North West District superintendent, have been connecting with key leaders in Tallahassee to help with the planning process.

Lewis said after the presentation that a meeting similar to the Black Clergy Conversation will occur in February for lay members in leadership in Florida Conference black churches. Later in the year, clergy and laity will be invited to meet together to continue the collaboration.

Also leading discussions during Monday’s event were Dr. Fred Allen, national director for SBC21, and Rev. Candace Lewis, executive director of GBOD’s Path 1 program, a collaboration of church planters, bishops and staff members from annual conferences and general agencies tasked with training leaders for new churches.

Carter opened and closed his remarks at the event by thanking those in the room for faithfully preaching the gospel, despite obstacles and possible past slights.

“You will never know the lives you are changing, influencing, transforming simply by being a preacher.”

-- Susan Green is the managing editor of Florida Conference Connection.

 

 

Monday - November 10, 2014
Online, offline faith go hand in hand

Photo illustration of colorful digital stream through mobile phoneGod bless online media. Almost half of U.S. adults (46 percent) say they saw someone sharing “something about their faith” on the Internet in the last week.

And one in five (20 percent) say they were part of the Internet spiritual action on social networking sites and apps, sharing their beliefs on Facebook, asking for prayer on Twitter, mentioning in a post that they went to church.

“The sheer number of people who have seen faith discussed online is pretty striking,” said Greg Smith, associate director of religion research for Pew Research Center.

Megachurch pastors have mega-followings online. Joel Osteen of Lakewood Church streams his Houston services online. Rick Warren of Saddleback Church has 1.8 million likes on his Facebook page. And Pope Francis has more than 4.6 million English-language followers, chiefly American, for his @Pontifex Twitter feed.

Not only do religious people find faith online, so do 50 percent of the “nones” — people who claim no denominational identity, from atheists to the vaguely spiritual. And 7 percent of nones say they have posted online comments. David Silverman of American Atheists, tweeting @MrAtheistPants, has more than 29,000 followers.

Yet, all this digital discussion of faith does not appear to be a substitute for offline activities such as attending church, Smith said.

The survey on “Religion and Electronic Media,” released by Pew on Thursday (Nov. 6), found that 40 percent also reported sharing their faith in a real-world setting.

“It’s the people who attend church most often who are most likely to engage in online religious activity,” Smith said.

The two groups with the highest church attendance led the way online. Among white evangelicals, 34 percent said they shared faith online and 59 percent did so in person. Black Protestants were also avid about sharing their faith: 30 percent shared online and 42 percent in person.

The survey also measured faith participation and “old media,” finding:

  • 23 percent watched religious television.
  • 20 percent listened to religious talk radio.
  • 19 percent listened to Christian rock.

Old-media fans were older, too. People older than 50 were twice as likely as those younger to watch religious TV.

And new media — online sites and apps — drew 58 percent of people younger than 50 but only 31 percent of their elders.

The survey did not offer any trend data. It was the first time Pew Research’s religion project investigated this question.

But the findings dovetail with a 2011 survey by the Pew Research Internet Project. That survey, “Civic Engagement of Religiously Active Americans,” found these believers are also “joiners” — highly engaged not only in religious life but also in civic and charitable activities. And they are just as involved in technology and online activities as anyone else.

The new survey on electronic media, with 3,217 participating, was conducted online and by mail May 30 to June 30 using a randomly selected, nationally representative American Trends Panel. The margin of error is plus or minus 2.2 percentage points.

-- Used with permission from Religion News Service. Copyright 2014 Religion News Service. All rights reserved. No part of this article may be reproduced without written permission.


 

Friday - November 7, 2014
Bishops call for prayer in human sexuality statement

Click here for Florida Bishop Ken Carter's relfection on the statement.

OKLAHOMA CITY, Okla. -- The Council of Bishops issued a statement concerning human sexuality, addressing their diverse perspectives and calling the people of The United Methodist Church to be in prayer, both for their leaders and for one another.

The statement reads:

"As bishops of The United Methodist Church, our hearts break because of the divisions that exist within the church.  We have been in constant prayer and conversation and affirm our consecration vow “to guard the faith, to seek the unity and to exercise the discipline of the whole church.” We recognize that we are one church in a variety of contexts around the world and that bishops and the church are not of one mind about human sexuality. Despite our differences, we are united in our commitment to be in ministry for and with all people.  We are also united in our resolve to lead the church together to fulfill its mandate — to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. As we do so, we call on all United Methodists to pray for us and for one another."

The bishops worked together on the statement during several executive sessions during their weeklong meeting in Oklahoma City.

The statement came near the close of the council's meeting, which opened on Monday with the bishops reaffirming the commitments they made when they were consecrated. During the president’s address, Bishop Warner H. Brown, Jr. of the San Francisco Episcopal Area asked the bishops if they would stand with him to reaffirm their vows as he prayed.

Brown called for unity within the church and encouraged finding “places where we can agree to work together and find common ground.”

“Leading a church, such as ours, with a diversity of perspectives means we must let people know we hear them, and that we are listening both to those voices that are in the majority and those that are in the minority so that all know they’re heard,” Brown said.

In November 2013, the council voted to form a task force that would lead conversations about human sexuality, race and gender with the goal of coming to a shared theological understanding amid differing perspectives and cultures. The task force will continue its work.

“The Council of Bishops is charged to lead the church in a time of prayer and discernment. The task force will seek to work for the council as the conversation continues,” said Bishop Rosemarie Wenner, who chairs the task force. "In a worldwide church serving in very diverse contexts and composed of faithful Christians who have different opinions, we, the bishops, are committed to pastoral care for all our people as we continue to find a way forward.”

-- Statement forwarded by United Methodist Communications Press Center.

 

Blogs
Tuesday - December 9, 2014
Your members are looking at your website on their phones

Does your website display properly on mobile devices? Have you ever checked?

Maintaining a web presence is challenging. Now that everyone accesses the internet from all different kinds of device—e.g. phones, tablets, laptops, TVs—keeping your website looking good requires a design that doesn’t discriminating against how content is viewed.

While you may not have the know-how or drive to learn multi-device design all on your own, there are plenty of free options to choose from at WordPress that are designed for a wide range of devices. Installing a theme is a one-click install. Check them out for yourself!

Tuesday - December 2, 2014
You already have a Google Plus account

If your church has a YouTube channel then you already have a Google Plus account. The comment sections are hosted by Google Plus and commenting on videos are done through Google Plus accounts.

So now that you find yourself with an account, should you use it or set it adrift into cyberspace?

By not taking advantage of your account, you could be missing out on some great opportunities. Google Plus’s start has been slow but while other social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter are beginning to shrink, Google Plus has seen consistent growth. It has been adopted as more of an information rich media platform rather than for immediate gratification.

Recent statistics also suggest that marketing efforts get more engagement on Google Plus than they do on Twitter. You can read more about it in this article about Google Plus’s value written by Nate Elliot. 

 

Tuesday - November 25, 2014
Are you spending too much money on web design

Your church has enough real world expenses as it is. Lucky for us, having deep pockets is not the only way to come across a professional website. WordPress.org is free software that has a huge store of plugins and themes for you to choose from.

It’s a one-click install to start using one of their themes. All you have to pay for is a webhost. Plus, there’s tons of information available online for how to successfully manage, prepare and update a quality website using nothing but WordPress tools.

EMediaCoach has published a great introduction video for getting started on WordPress that can help your church save a fortune on developing your website.

Tuesday - November 25, 2014
Church ministries qualify for FREE advertising from Google

Social media isn’t limited to your standard platforms like Facebook and Twitter. The point of a social media campaign is to make connections online. Using Google Ads lets you skip the middle man and start connecting directly with people in Google’s search results.

Eligible church ministries receive $10,000 per month in free Google advertising. Right now the only requirement is that your ministry has an active charity status, meaning you have a current 501(c)(3) status with the IRS.

To apply you’ll need a Gmail account and a copy of your Employer ID (EIN).

The application can take up to 14 days to process and Google reserves the right to approve or deny any application regardless of charity status. For $10,000 a month in free advertising, it’s definitely worth a shot!

Apply at Google for Nonprofits today!

Tuesday - November 18, 2014
Give your accounts a personal touch

Can you spot the difference between these two addresses?

YouTube.com/WhatAreUMCDoing
YouTube.com/UZ1ybp4y7RIoMpsJk2ItkuYg

Obviously, the first one is better. It’s readable. It’s short enough that someone can remember it or type it directly into the navigation bar. It’s not a scary mess of characters.

Having a clear and easy to read web address is an important part of a social media strategy that often gets overlooked. Unfortunately, it can be an expensive mistake to not grab your personalized web address before someone else grabs it first.

Do your social media platforms have personalized web addresses? If you haven’t added them yet, go ahead and use these links to update your social media addresses right now.

YouTube
Facebook
Twitter
Instagram
Google Plus
Pinterest

Important note! Editing your web address for Pinterest, Instagram and Twitter will also change your username.

 

Tuesday - November 18, 2014
Giving Tuesday
On December 2, United Methodists once again are invited to extend the spirit of giving thanks into the Advent season by participating in UMC #GivingTuesday. And every gift made online through The Advance at www.umcmission.org/give on December 2, 2014 will be matched up to $1 million.*
 
In 2013 on UMC #GivingTuesday, United Methodists collectively raised a record $6.5 million online. Through The Advance, 11,000 individuals and churches in 34 countries gave more than 16,300 gifts to mission and ministries they believe in. It was a wonderful sign of commitment and extravagant generosity, maximizing the impact of thousands of United Methodists coming together on one day to transform the world.
 
When Methodists are united … we provide an alternative to the consumer-driven shopping traditions in the United States of Black Friday, Local Business Saturday and Cyber Monday. UMC #GivingTuesday offers an opportunity to begin the holiday season by giving instead of getting, by supporting organizations and missionaries who have been researched and approved by the United Methodist General Board of Global Ministries. And 100 percent of all gifts made through The Advance are given directly to the designated project. In the spirit of healthy competition, we are preparing a special Advance award to be given to the annual conference that raises the most funds online through The Advance on December 2. 
 
Please consider contributions to the following projects and missionaries by visiting www.umcmission.org/give. You can also click on each Advance number to go directly to the donation page: 
 
UMCOR-EBOLA RESPONSE:
International Disaster Response -  Advance # 982450
UMCOR Sustainable Recovery and Development - Advance # 3021951
UMCOR Global Health - Advance # 3021770
 
Imagine No Malaria - Advance # 3021190
Participating in the global fight to eliminate malaria deaths by 2015.
 
New Life Center in Zambia - Advance # 15057A
Ministering through projects such as PET handicap bike, Printing Press, and educational classes
 
Quéssua Mission Projects in East Angola - Advance # 105625
Providing infrastructure in agriculture, health and nutrition and equipping surrounding communities. 
 
Evangelical Methodist Seminary and Scholarships in Cuba - Advance # 3020760
Training laity and pastors for ministry.  
 
Hot Lunch Program in Haiti - Advance # 418790
Providing hot meals three times per week to over 22,000 students.
 
Give Ye Them To Eat in Mexico - Advance # 07629A
Enhancing the lives of villagers with training that moves them from subsistence to sustainability.
 
Laos Mission Initiative - Advance # 14927A
Supporting congregation & community development thru’ mission partnership, pastors' salaries, leadership, Bible training, social outreach, worship & Christian Education materials. 
 
UMVIM SEJ - Advance # 901875
Facilitating teams and individuals to serve projects in the US and internationally.
 
Missionaries with Covenant relationships in the Florida Conference:
 
Africa
Delbert Groves - Advance # 12150Z
Sandy Groves - Advance # 12151Z
Kenneth Koome - Advance # 15148Z
Jacques Umembudi Akasa - Advance # 14020Z
Poto Valentine Shutsha - Advance # 14163Z
 
Asia
Jonathan McCurley - Advance # 3021131
E. Barte - Advance # 13985Z
B. Barte - Advance # 13984Z
 
Latin America
Connie DiLeo - Advance # 14169Z
Carmen Melendez - Advance # 3021884
William Llanos - Advance # 3021458
Rocio Barcenas - Advance # 3021457
 
Europe
Britt Gilmore - Advance # 3021322 
Alison Gilmore - Advance # 3021321
 
Middle East
Alex Awad - Advance #10825Z 
Brenda Awad - Advance #10826Z
 
United States
Kim King Torres - Advance # 982904
Gordon Greathouse - Advance # 07695Z
Teca Greathouse - Advance # 07696Z
 
Young Adult missionaries:
Elizabeth Fink - Advance # 3021833
Tiffania L. Willets - Advance # 3021500
Anna Jo Gill - Advance # 3021486
Hillary Taylor - Advance # 3021492
Erica Oliveira - Advance # 3021491
Brad Kenn - Advance # 3021490
 
 
* Global Ministries will allocate matching funds dollar for dollar up to the first $1 million in gifts to Advance projects received online on December 2, 2014, between 12:00 a.m. and 11:59 p.m. EST. A maximum of $2,500 per individual gift to a project will be dispersed as matching funds. A project may receive a maximum of $25,000 in matching funds.
 
Please share this blog with your friends by using the email icon in the upper right corner of the page (the icon looks like an envelope). New readers can subscribe here. To unsubscribe, send your full name and e-mail address to dataupdates@flumc.org with the subject line “Unsubscribe-Global Missions Blog.”
 

Thursday - November 13, 2014
Online Communion in the United Methodist Church: A Pastoral and Missional Reflection

Online Communion in the United Methodist Church:

A Pastoral and Missional Reflection

 

Bishop Ken Carter

bishop@flumc.org 

Florida Area, United Methodist Church

 

Presented to the Committee on Faith and Order, 

United Methodist Church

October 30, 2014

 

Communion is Personal and Ecclesial

 

Laura lived for most of her life in the mid-western United States, in small towns, where her father was a Methodist pastor, and then in Indianapolis, where she worked as a young adult,  and later met her husband.  They would raise a family, and in later years would come to spend a part of each winter on the southwest coast of Florida.  She and her husband dreamed of retiring there, and in fact, this is what happened.  Shortly after relocating to Sanibel Island her husband died, and Laura found it difficult to return to the small church they had discovered.  Instead, she began viewing the online worship service of one of the large regional (United Methodist) churches in that area.  The one missing piece was the experience of Holy Communion, which had been a part of her formative years.  In time, however, she would learn that the elements could be mailed to her, in a small package, and that she could partake, in her home, as she viewed the service each week.  This struck her as both interesting and awkward.  She was pleased that the church would think of persons in her situation, and yet she puzzled about what it meant to receive the elements by mail and to partake of them in the solitude of her den.

Jacob had grown up in the church, and after becoming active in a campus ministry he attended seminary.  This led to two assignments in pastoral ministry, the second being a new congregation, where he would serve for several years.  In the new congregation Jacob developed a passion for reaching men and women who were outside the fellowship of most United Methodist churches, and so he deepened his interest in the methods of innovative churches.  One of these innovations was the way a number of churches were using digital technology to extend the message of the gospel to those who could not, or would not cross the threshold of a physical sanctuary.  The more he explored this form of ministry, the more intrigued he became; indeed, in his mind the possibilities were limitless.

One of Jacob’s close friends in seminary was named William.  William had grown up in an evangelical church, but his studies and experiences in the chapel services of the seminary led him to embrace the more catholic traditions of United Methodism.  William served as a student pastor in seminary, and found deep fulfillment in the authorization, as a local pastor, to celebrate the sacrament of Holy Communion with his small church.  He sought out electives in liturgical studies, and upon completion of seminary, attended graduate school to purse a doctorate in worship.  After completing his PhD., William was asked to teach in one of the denominational seminaries.  Like Jacob, he was discovering his passion, only William’s was in teaching a new generation of clergy to value the centrality of Holy Communion within the context of worship, and as  a formative and essential act in the mission of making disciples.

In a typical congregation, we approach the Lord’s Table with our differing life experiences and aspirations.  In the same manner, Laura, Jacob and William come  to the Sacrament of Holy Communion from different perspectives:  in the person who receives, and in light of a particular pastoral situation; in the desire to offer the means of grace to larger numbers of people, beyond the walls of the church; and in the calling to teach and value the sacramental practice in the midst of the worshipping community.  Our present moment, as online communion is both a practice in some congregations and at the same time a practice in question, is in some manner the encounter between Laura, Jacob and William.  To make sense of their relationships, and what each might say to the other, it helps to get on the balcony (in the language of Ronald Heifetz) to gain a broader perspective.

 

Scripture and Tradition

 

Communion is at the heart of the ministry of Jesus in the gospels; he eats with sinners, breaks bread with his disciples, and feeds the five thousand.  The eucharistic words—taken, blessed, broken, given—are spoken in open fields, at a passover meal, and both prior to and following his suffering, death and resurrection.  The work of Dom Gregory Dix (The Shape of the Liturgy) in particular helped to expand our understanding of the significance of the meals of Jesus.  If we are to become disciples of Jesus, and if we are to make disciples of Jesus, we will necessarily reflect on the centrality of this meal, in the formation of his followers and in the definition of community.   And if we are to understand this meal in the ministry of Jesus, we will take seriously how he embodied the Passover tradition and how he extended the table in ways that elicited complaint and critique, gladness and joy.

Among the values inherent in the meals associated with Jesus in the gospels are the following:  a preference for offering the meal to greater, rather than fewer numbers of people (Matthew 14. 13ff); a willingness to share table fellowship with outsiders (Luke 15. off);  the element of surprise in revealing himself in the broken bread (Luke 24); and the bread from heaven that provides for our human needs and yet is also a sign that points beyond itself (John 6; Exodus 16). 

Our particular tradition—the United Methodist Church—has a rich foundation in understanding the act of communion, thanks to the early Methodist practices, the hymns of Charles Wesley, and, going farther back, to our lineage in the Anglican Church.   John Wesley believed Holy Communion to be a converting ordinance—situated in a context of the preached word and lived accountability in the class meetings—and thus located the means of grace in the order of salvation.  The hymns of Charles Wesley convey the mystery of the divine gift and the real presence of Christ without speaking of it as transubstantiation or as a memorial.  We also practice open communion; the table is ecumenical, and participation is for all who respond to the invitation to self-examination, and the aspiration to mature in discipleship.  The early Methodists discovered a strong connection between the doctrine of grace and the means of grace, leading to a body of work characterized as “practical divinity”.

Grounded in a particular tradition—the providence of an incarnate God in Jesus Christ who invites us into a mission of extending grace, the presence of a mysterious God who converts us within a community of sanctifying grace—we move now to the question of our present ecclesial moment:   What are the possibilities and problems inherent in the practice of online communion for United Methodists?

Possibilities

 

A first possibility lies in the extension of the sacrament (i.e., grace) to a constituency beyond the walls of the church.  This seems congruent with our original missional impulse as a people called Methodist,  expressed more specifically in field preaching outside of cathedrals or chapels.  The call upon the church (the Council of Bishops and/or the Committee on Faith and Order) for clarity is precisely from congregations who are seeking to reach persons outside of the time and space now set aside for public worship each week.

A second possibility lies in the growing realization that digital media is a “third place” (in the language of sociologist Ray Oldenburg).  In a church culture, the first two places were home and work, and the most prominent third place was the church building.  In a post-Christian culture, where much of our mission field now exists, third places are more likely to be coffee shops, athletic settings and/or, increasingly, digital media.  Those pressing the church to reflect on communion as an online experience are connecting a significant context for ministry (internet culture) with a central act of ministry (Holy Communion); it is true that “United Methodists want our faith to be enlivened and made more relevant to our daily lives” (This Holy Mystery, 2).

 

Problems

 

The question of online communion, given its missional and perhaps even evangelical possibilities, does present problems, however, and here I will name two.  A first problem lies in the tangible nature of Holy Communion itself—the bread and wine are physical substances that one eats and drinks, indeed that one receives in a setting led by an authorized representative of the church.  Holy Communion is an embodied experience.  To deny this embodied reality is the return toward the heresy of gnosticism, the separation of spirit and flesh and the privileging of one over the other.

A second problem relates to the absence of face to face accountability and support where there is no actual Christian community.  The communion meal, especially in the letters of Paul, is linked to the integrity of physical community, indeed its flourishing, and its care for one another.  And the liturgy of the United Methodist Church includes both the confession of sin, the pronouncement of forgiveness and the sharing of the peace of the Lord.  How these actions are in any sense real, in a purely digital framework, is one of the profound questions before us, and indeed a recurring theme in This Holy Mystery (2004) is the communal nature of the sacrament of Holy Communion.

 

Seven Questions

 

Given this brief foundation in scripture and tradition, and an initial sketch of the problems and possibilities inherent in online communion, I will frame my reflection on the subject of online communion around seven questions.  I think we will serve the church as we think constructively about the assumptions embedded in response to these questions, and the result can be a better conversation.  Ultimately the conversation will occur among members of the Council of Bishops (collegially, and in their global contexts), delegates to the 2016 General Conference, liturgical scholars and pastors who serve congregations.  Each of these constituents brings a needed voice to the conversation: bishops, who order the set-apart ministry of the church; delegates to the General Conference, who will amend our present statement (This Holy Mystery), or not; liturgical scholars, who carry the historical memory of doctrinal development; and pastors, who live at the intersection of the church’s witness and human need.

 

1.  What is the Christian relationship to culture:  resistance, consumption or stewardship?  Or some combination of the three? 

 

The question of online communion can be understood as the presenting issue of a deeper question: what is the relationship between the church and culture?  This question was explored most prominently in the last century in H. Richard Niebuhr’s Christ and Culture, in the form of five typologies: Christ against culture, Christ above culture, Christ of culture, Christ and culture in paradox, and Christ transforming culture.  More recently, Andy Crouch (Culture Making) has suggested that Christians in the twenty-first century have a default perspective against culture, while not adequately acknowledging how we as people of faith shape culture ourselves.

Clearly, participation in the digital world (for economic, entertainment, communicative and educational purposes) has shaped our culture in the last decade; I note the last decade because the relevance of digital or online engagement has not emerged in the adoption and potential revision of This Holy Mystery since its acceptance by the church in 2004.  Crouch is helpful in reminding us that we often uncritically or unconsciously reject culture, or consume it; instead, we might reflect in a more nuanced way on our creation of culture.

 

2.  What is the meaning of embodiment and community?  

 

So a woman moves from her home in Indianapolis to Southwest Florida.  A nearby church, out of a genuine desire to connect with its community, offers communion via its televised service.  The wafer and juice are distributed through the mail.  The participant receives this package from the church, opens it, and at the appropriate time in the service, she communes.  The question before us is simple: how is she a member, in this act, of the body of Christ?   The question can be asked in a different way: How do we maintain the  integrity of the church in reference to sacramental authority, and at the same time contextualize and offer the gospel in appropriate ways?  We live in this tension. 

In the Body of Christ, we confess and forgive.   How is this best communicated?  How do we most faithfully speak and hear these words?  In personal and virtual relationships, we are not always truthful or honest.  So how are we accountable to each other in communion?  The experience of face to face accountability in giving and receiving cannot be present in a purely digital offering of Holy Communion.  

There is substantial literature related to the tendency toward self-deception in online relationships.  Hagel and Armstrong (Net Gain: Expanding Markets Through Virtual Communities) had noted that vital communities satisfy four types of consumer needs: interest, relationship building, transactions, and fantasies.  We might also ask how virtual relationships approximate, or seek to be a substitute for intimate relationships between persons.  Christian tradition is grounded in the reality of incarnation: embodied, corporal and bodily relationships.  

 

3.  How is social media analogous to field preaching?  

 

We recall the words of John Wesley in Bristol:  “I submitted to be more vile…”.  Inherent in this phrase is a taking leave of a prior practice that was circumscribed in space and time:  preaching in the chapel or cathedral at the appointed time.  The decision “to become more vile” is a movement toward the needs of people with a word that converts.  So what, then, of the sacrament that also converts?

This question is all the more important given the ecumenical movement’s influence on United Methodism in the last half of the twentieth century, in the evolution toward a balance of Word and Table, which constitutes the wholeness of worship.   The local preacher would become the local pastor, and the local pastor’s license to preach inevitably led to questions around sacramental authority (or presidency).  It seemed unnatural to offer the word without the sacrament.  In this way United Methodist is in the process of living into its “evangelical catholic” identity, to recall the designation by Albert Outler.

Does it logically follow that we are to become more vile in offering communion in ways and forms that seemed unnatural to us?  The conversation is at the heart of disagreements between new church developers, who want to extend the presence of Christ, and liturgical theologians, who question the validity of the presence of Christ in an act that lacks dimensions of incarnate relationships and accountable discipleship.   Representative of the latter point is Ed Phillips, chair of the This Holy Mystery committee and professor at Candler, who notes that Holy Communion as a converting ordinance for John Wesley was “not a radically open table…but a disciplined table” which included the act of genuine repentance.  Further, he finds no evidence of field communions in early Methodist practice.  Some have suggested that the best analogy for field preaching is online preaching, and that online communion is more similar to John Wesley’s setting apart of Thomas Coke for the work of superintendency/episcopacy in America, or the early Methodist practice of the LoveFeast.  As Methodists we do have, in our history, the practice of offering grace through worship in ways that appear at first to be irregular.

 

4.  What is essential in the act of Holy Communion?

 

We begin with definitions of materiality:  bread is baked, broken, shared, tasted.  Wine is cultivated, poured, tasted.  In the beginning there is the harvest of grain and the cultivation of vineyards.  Each context produces imagery that defines the gospel narratives:  Jesus is the bread of heaven that gives life to the world (John 6); he is vine and we are the branches (John 15).  The materiality of these narratives is consistent with the larger meta-narrative of the Triune God who inhabits time and space; in the Nicene Creed, “for us and for our salvation he came down from heaven and was incarnate”.  So how is it possible to enact Holy Communion—the intimate and real presence of God with us (Matthew 1) in the bread and cup, in the absence of human, flesh and blood relationships? 

In the ecumenical statement Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry (Faith and Order, WCC), the relevant sections are “The Eucharist as Communion of the Faithful” (21) and “The Eucharist as Meal of the Kingdom” (24).  The following is representative of the corporate character of Holy Communion:

“Reconciled in the eucharist, the members of the body of Christ are called to be servants of reconciliation among men and women and witnesses of the joy of resurrection. As Jesus went out to publicans and sinners and had table-fellowship with them during his earthly ministry, so Christians are called in the eucharist to be in solidarity with the outcast and to become signs of the love of Christ who lived and sacrificed himself for all and now gives himself in the eucharist.” While such a statement is a challenge to many worshipping communities, it presents difficulties for the individual consumption of the elements apart from fellowship with other disciples.

5.  Can (or should) we ignore digital media?

 

 Churches (even a renewal movement like Methodism) can, in time, become fixed in its traditions.  And yet Gil Rendle has reminded us that it is wise to be steady in purpose but flexible in strategy.  This leads to a question: is online communion more about purpose or strategy?  This arguing for the former would insist that an online expression of Holy Communion compromises the sacrament itself: how can one forgive or reconcile another person?  Or how can one taste the bread or drink from the cup in communion with others?  Others contend that online communion is simply the practice of offering the sacrament to persons via an innovative strategy.

For the latter perspective, the bias is toward increasing access of individuals to the sacrament, and the refusal to enter the digital world is a limiting factor.  If the analogy is print media, one might ponder the experiences of newspapers, magazines and journals.  A generation ago, news, features and essays were transmitted in paper documents that were accessed through subscriptions or purchased in newsstands.  Today much of this content is conveyed online.  So does this analogy hold for the church?

Again, the emergence of online worship services is a sign that the church may indeed follow in the path of media over the past years.  Some publications have ceased to exist, and others offer content exclusively online; yet others have a hybrid strategy:  there is a combination of print media and online access.  Will the church follow suit, supplementing physical participation in worship with online experiences?  

 

6. How does the medium change the message?

 

There are some who would insist that digital culture is incompatible with sacramental life.  Here we might recall the basic principle found in the Nairobi Statement on Worship and Culture that  worship is “counter-cultural” and thus “resists the idolatries of a given culture.”  Among the most eloquent proponents here is the philosopher Albert Borgmann.  In a series of works across a lifetime, and most recently in a collection of essays entitled Power Failure (Brazos Press), Borgmann makes explicit connections between Christianity and technology. He describes technology as an almost invisible culture, one that permeates our lives and one in which we participate uncritically: "It is in the dailiness of modern life that technology has been most powerful and consequential," he insists.

Technology, he suggests, constitutes our “modern rule of life,”, intentionally borrowing a term from the classical spiritual disciplines.  We are shaped by technology with even knowing it. We have lived through a time of unprecedented technological innovation. Our lives have seemingly been made easier by the elimination of activities that require effort: preparing meals, reading to our children, walking through neighborhoods.  Devices, in the beginning, provide real help, but in time they become ends in themselves.  “They help us”, Borgmann argues, “in ways that we do not need to be helped.”  

Borgmann calls for a “culture of word and table.”  A culture of the word includes practices of conversation and reading, listening, sharing and testimony.  A culture of the table is the presence of a family, or a gathering of friends, around a dinner table, the bringing together of food and conversation, body and spirit.  The connection with Holy Communion is obvious, as the meal which helps us to remember God’s gift of salvation in Jesus Christ. 

 

7.  Is the way forward either/or, or both/and?

 

We recognize finally that our calling is to make disciples in a digital world.  This is the lesson of hybrid learning.  We in fact will need to form (and inhabit) online  community and make disciples in the digital world.  These are necessary but not sufficient expressions of church; ideally, online Christian communities will have some overlap with face-to-face Christian communities.  While word and sacrament are not separated, ideally,  the word seems to be more compatible to the digital world and Holy Communion less so.  This is consistent with research around hybrid learning (digital and classroom) in the field of education.  Writing in the Harvard Business Review, Darrell Rigby describes “digital-physical mashups”, and notes that customers “now weave their digital and physical worlds so tightly together that they can’t fathom why companies haven’t done the same”.   This is the spirit in which our document, This Holy Mystery, was offered to the church:

 

This Holy Mystery is characterized by the effort to avoid rigidity on the one hand and indifference on the other. Neither extreme is true to our heritage nor faithful to the Spirit who leads the church forward in the work of making disciples living toward the new creation” (3).

Recalling the language of “traditioned innovation” in the writings of Gregory Jones, our challenge is to find a way of offering communion to persons who engage the church digitally, while at the same time retaining the materiality of the experience.  Perhaps worship is streamed online (word), but missional disciples are sent into communities (homes, third places) with the elements of bread and wine for the dispersed people of God.

A sketch of our foundational resources, and an exploration of seven critical questions prepares us to offer the guidance that the church is seeking.  There are deep and profound disagreements across the church on the subject of online communion.  This guidance is offered with the hope that conversations about Holy Communion will lead the church into greater unity.  As we say in the words of the Epiclesis:

Make us one with Christ, 

one with each other, 

and one in ministry to all the world.

 

+

 

(Bishop Carter is a member of the Committee on Faith and Order and chaired the Task Force on Online Communion.)

Monday - November 10, 2014
Missionaries from Zambia itinerate in the Florida Conference

Delbert and Sandy Groves are missionaries with the General Board of Global Ministries of the UMC serving in Zambia.

 

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Monday - October 27, 2014
Where did you see God today?

I am...Innocent...Pure...Free...Giving...Loving...Happy...Full of life...Made in God's image...

I want what you want...To be loved...To be held...To be accepted...For someone to care that I exist...

“Since you did it for one of the least important of these, you did it for me.”

There is no greater good than to minister to others.  It may seem at times we are taking a small water hose to a raging fire…helping others in such a short time span…and with few resources of our own…  It may seem like we aren’t doing enough to make much of a difference…  But doing good for others…is never ours to judge.  It is not ours to determine the outcome…  It is ours to simply do as our Father told us to do.

Twenty-eight people gathered from First UMC-Claremore (OK), Kingston UMC (OH), Pasadena Community Church (FL) and First UMC-St. Petersburg (FL) …headed to Alajuela, Costa Rica for this UMVIM trip.

Our destination and “home base” was Centro Metodista, an out base facility for housing mission teams coming-and-going into Costa Rica.  It is located merely minutes from the San Jose International airport.

This base provided dormitory residential facilities.  David and Doralbis Sardiñas are the residential managers, overseers, coordinators – you name it, they do it, at this facility.  They were our hosts for this trip.

Our team provided three organized ministries during our week stay:  1) construction work at the facility, 2) Vacation Bible School and 3) medical clinic.  The VBS and medical clinic were held at a nearby church, that of Pastor Victor and Grace Vargas, Tuetal Sur Methodist Church in Alajuela.

It was a blessing that our leaders, Bruce and Ruth Anderson, were committed to “keeping close to God” during the week.  Every meal one of the team members shared a personal devotional and Carmen led us in singing together.  Every day Bruce asked us to share our testimony, “Where did you see God today?”  Following are some of the stories the team members have shared for this article.  As Luke, writing to Theophilus, encourages, “Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us.”  So too, we write our stories:

"I saw God in a young boy who meticulously colored his craft project for VBS. He spent the entire time making sure that every detail was perfect. Then when it was time to leave, he proudly presented it to me as a gift. His gift reminded me that we can never outgive God and that He brings blessings upon our own feeble acts of giving."

 "I saw God in many ways. Therein gives me such desire to go back. I had a granddaughter who brought her 90-year-old grandfather and her baby into the clinic to be seen.. She was so loving and so concerned for her very old 90-year-old grandfather. And just the fact that they came in families.  It wasn't just one person coming to be seen, they wanted to make sure all their family was taking care of,  but  not just medically. They were coming to the church..AND…they came back in the afternoon-- the mothers, one father and they brought their children for the vacation Bible school. And then at the end of vacation Bible school, as they were leaving, once more, I see God as all of our wonderful volunteers made sure that each person in each family had something to take home with them."  

"I saw God during our worship experience at Tuetal Sur Methodist Church. The Holy Spirit, in us, conquered the language barrier. We were greeted by the congregation with welcoming hugs and faces shining with the love of Jesus. There was such energy from the praise band, glorifying our Risen Lord.  They were singing in Spanish and I was singing in English. And, last, but not least, I was touched by Victor’s sermon and will always remember his dramatics, casting out the fishing pole. I felt truly connected with the global community of believers." 

"I saw God in so many places so I will chose the Sunday service at the inner city church.   I felt the love of God through the people at that service.  You could also feel the love the choir director has for our Lord.  With God there are no barriers." 

"I saw God while participating in the Church Service at La Iglesia Evangelica Metodista El Redentor -The Methodist Evangelical Church of the Redeemer.  They greeted us so warmly and gave us a bulletin with the words, so we were able to worship along with them in Spanish, or in English if we liked, because they were singing hymns that we knew.  I really felt a fellowship with them, and thought how great it was to be  praising God and worshipping God our Creator, in two languages.  It was kind of like singing in tongues, and we really felt that the Holy Spirit was among us." 

"At the leadership training on Sunday afternoon, Greg spoke a lot about having cultural sensitivity when we go to other countries on God's mission.  I think it was important to try to speak a little Spanish if  one can do so.  But the language of the heart was so much more important, whether we were hugging crying children, holding babies so their mother could  be free to do the crafts, or packing snacks and a toy for each child who came to the Vacation Bible School.  We saw God in the fact that the number of children who came was almost twice the second day, and many many more on the third day.  We were so happy to hear that Victor’s church was fuller than it had ever been the Sunday after the Bible School." 

"I saw God in the children that came to VBS.  One young man, Kenny, particularly captured my heart the first day.  He arrived early with his two younger siblings.   Although he was just 10 or 11 years old himself, I was mesmerized in the way he helped them get settled in the circle on the floor with such honor, grace and compassion.   He didn’t sit with them but went and stood against the back wall as an observer.  My heart tugged because this was his time also to be loved upon and learn about the great love Jesus has for him.  How could I draw him in? I couldn’t communicate with words however they weren’t necessary.  God had already given me all that was needed to invite, a smile. A smile was returned by a smile and then bigger smiles. As Kenny joined us on the floor, and in the craft room and on the soccer field with his beautiful smile, God reminded me of his faithfulness to provide specifically what is needed to share great love."  

"I love reading everyone's stories.  I am touched to hear everyone share how their hearts have been opened and changed.  The excitement to return  gets me excited too.   I think we've all been bitten and moved by the mission bug, it is now in our blood and we will never be the same!  Reminds me of a book from YWAM-[Youth with a mission] --  "Forever Ruined for the Ordinary". I was blessed to be part of this loving, dedicated, and kind team.  I was sooo excited to finally be able to go on a mission trip again after being sidelined for 10 years due to medical issues. I saw God everywhere...  in all of you ,  all of our new Tico friends,  spectacular nature and scenery,  worshipping and  sharing communion with our sisters and brothers - I think it may be like that in heaven-  - I could go on and on... I was touched by  the children who came to  us.    They came so excited, and trusting and eager to be part of whatever we were going to do.  They graciously accepted our inability to speak their language.  They came early just to be with us and in anticipation.  They were all clean despite their living conditions  and dressed in their best clothes.  I saw little ones running in the gate and jumping around and giggling and twirling  in  excitement and  pure joy.   When they left they were so loving to give hugs and promises to come back. They gave us their best, their joy, and their love.  What priceless treasures  they bestowed on us. They touched  me and made my heart sing and smile.  They  reminded me,  God wants me to come to Him like that and  His heart smiles when I do."  

"I saw and felt God's presence in a local woman, Aida. I would describe her as the Rose Oescher of the church we served in Costa Rica. From the first time we met, we bonded. It was hugs and love each time we saw each other thereafter. However, on the last day of clinic, I was trying to thank Aida for praying over all the patients that we had seen. Now keep in mind, I speak no Spanish and she speaks no English. She then grabbed my hand and led me to the back of the church where she put her hands on my head and began praying over me. I never felt so humbled yet special in all my life. I had no clue what she was praying, but it didn’t matter... I FELT it! I physically felt her words of prayer rushing through my body, penetrating each capillary. I couldn’t speak; all I could do is cry and feel weak in the knees. After she finished praying, I knew I had to get back to my team. I tried sneaking into the back of the team meeting hiding my swollen, watery eyes and avoiding conversation because I knew I couldn’t talk about what just happened to me. I was numb, overcome and vulnerably tender-hearted. Realizing I just couldn’t join my team quite yet because I was so emotional, I slipped back out. I heard my mother’s voice, in all her years of nursing wisdom saying, “When you feel you’re in a situation where you need to regain your composure, it’s always acceptable to excuse yourself to go wash your hands. You can go into the bathroom for privacy and run your hands under the water”.  So, I walked quickly to the bathroom to be alone to stop this crazy crying. As I enter the bathroom, I hear someone in there. It’s Aida! Crying loudly! The Holy Spirit touched her as well! The water works just poured out all over again! What a mess, but it was a beautiful, God-kissed mess! Eventually, we were able to join our group again, but it took me a few days to be able to talk about this without getting emotional. That was an extremely powerful “moment” for me that I will NEVER forget and Aida is a person now etched in my heart for the rest of my life." 

May God be glorified by sharing the stories of His good deeds through His chosen ones!

Paul Marshall, member of First United Methodist Church in St Petersburg, Florida

A feature video of the trip can be seen here:  http://youtu.be/r0JIWQvCXDY

 

Classifieds
Friday - November 21, 2014
Director of Contemporary Music Ministry

Director of Contemporary Music Ministry, Part-time (possibility of growing to full time)

Position Description
Classification:  Part-time  (20 hours/week)
Supervisor:  Lead Co-Pastors

Principal Characteristics:
A vibrant worshipping community in the peaceful western corridor of Ocala seeks a part-time Director of Contemporary Music Ministry with the possibility of moving to fulltime in the future.  This position’s primary focus will be on providing excellence in worship while leading a diverse community of worshippers in an authentic expression of faith.  This person should have both vocal and instrumental experience with some formal training preferred.  This person will help take an existing praise team to a new level of excellence while also helping to bring varied expressions of praise and worship to the 9:30 contemporary worship service.

Additionally, this person will offer youth worship and enable our youth to develop their own gifts in vocal and instrumentals to also lead in worship experiences. 

In all settings, this person is a leader, developing musical teams while helping people grow deeper in their own personal faith journeys.


Qualifications: 
- Growing, authentic relationship with Jesus
- Passion for leading worship and developing others gifts to lead worship
- High school Diploma required, some music education preferred

Primary Responsibilities:
- Lead Sunday morning worship & youth worship.
- Develop individuals & teams (both youth & adult) to lead worship.
- Become a valuable team member with pastors & staff.
- Build relationships in both the church and community.

Salary is based on education, experience, and demonstrated contemporary worship capabilities.                                                

Application deadline is December 20, 2014.  Send resume, cover letter and video (link to YouTube acceptable) of worship leading and/or vocal/instrumental performance to:  careers@ocalawestumc.org or OWUMC, 9330 SW 105th Street, Ocala, Florida 34481.

Friday - November 21, 2014
Media Person

Media person needed for Family of God UMC.  Knowledge of PowerPoint & Easy Worship software. Part time- Sunday 9:20-11:00

Thursday - November 20, 2014
Administrative Assisitant/Receptionist

Outstanding opportunity for an individual with strong multi-tasking skills to join a well known and growing church founded in 1926. This position will be responsible for the seamless coordination of the work flow of church staff. The ability to anticipate upcoming needs, prioritize and plan ahead is a strong component of this position. Prior experience in human resources is preferred along with fluency in Spanish.

Excellent salary and benefit package will be offered to the selected candidate. For a confidential discussion and detailed position description, send resume and salary history to: ghhdhntr@outlook.com

Thursday - November 20, 2014
Director Of Children's Ministry

Outstanding opportunity with growing church founded in 1926. Reporting to the Associate Pastor, this position is designed and is accountable for cultivating and encouraging the spiritual formation of children from birth through grade 5. This person will be responsible for the creation and implementation of comprehensive age-appropriate discipleship strategies. Fluency in Spanish is a plus. Excellent compensation and benefit package will be made available to the selected candidate. For a detailed position description and confidential discussion, send resume with salary history to: ghhdhntr@outlook.com

Thursday - November 20, 2014
Piano Wanted

Cristiana Juan Wesley is looking for a piano. If you or your church has a piano and would like to donate to our church we greatly appreciate your donation.

Tuesday - November 18, 2014
Free Handbell Tables with Covers

7 Handbell tables

Tables sell new for $170 each (X7 = $1190)

Custom royal blue jacquard fabric covers

Great starter set. $600

(foam cushions and table cart not included)

Tuesday - November 18, 2014
Sonlight Youth Choir Director

Sonlight's Mission Statement: To meet young people where they are, using music and community as a bridge to a meaningful connection with God.

This is accomplished through unconditional love and acceptance, student driven leadership with guidance from the Director and the Trinity community, performance of secular and sacred music, creating intentional focus themes, and leading the 9:40 worship service.

Position Description
Classification:  Full time Program Staff (40 hours/week)
Supervisor:  Senior Minister

Principal Characteristics:
A person who has a deep love for youth, accepts them where they are, without judgment, with great respect and appreciation, who loves Jesus and wants to build a bridge to a deep connection with Him by engaging the music youth listen to, discerning a sacred message in secular songs to bring meaning and understanding to the life experiences young people live.

This person will build on past successes of the Sonlight Choir, with the goal of continuing and growing the youth choir that will lead worship at the 9:40 worship service at Trinity.  This will require a keen knowledge of many aspects of music, and perhaps the ability to engage additional persons in helping to provide musical expertise to prepare the choir and band for excellence in their presentation on Sunday mornings.

The primary musical medium will be secular songs through which the students and director together find a sacred, connecting meaning and share that with conviction and passion.  Music is contemporary and can range from U2 to Rascal Flatts, Brandon Heath, Coldplay, Phish and other artists heard on most radio stations.

Qualifications: 
- Desire to connect with youth
- Bachelor’s Degree or equivalent experience
- Experience with sound equipment
- Instrumental and/or choral experience
- Prior conducting experience strongly preferred
- Strong communication and interpersonal skills

Primary Responsibilities:
- Direct the Sonlight choir as it leads in weekly worship.
- Arrange music as necessary to display choir talents.
- Develop an overall theme, and, with the choir members, select relevant songs to be sung
- Work closely with support teams (Sonlight leadership council, parent advisory group, parent fundraising group) to provide for the needs of Sonlight, including an annual tour.
- Be an integral part of the staff of Trinity.
- Work closely with the Youth Ministry Team of Trinity.
- Work closely with the Director of Music and Worship Arts to plan worship services, intergenerational experiences, and other opportunities in Trinity and the community.
- Work closely with the students in Sonlight to enable Sonlight to be a truly "student led choir," which means their involvement in selecting the theme, the music, tour destination, leadership structure within the choir (officers, section leaders, greeters).
- Work with support teams to choose solo and focus parts.
- Work closely with the Sonlight Band director.
- Help choir plan and execute events to connect with the local community.

Salary is commensurate with the responsibilities of leading this large choir.

Application deadline is December 31, 2014.  Send resume and other application materials to:  jobs@trinitygnv.org or Sonlight Director, Trinity United Methodist Church, 4000 NW 53rd Avenue, Gainesville, FL  32653.

Friday - November 14, 2014
Director of Children's Ministries

East Lake United Methodist Church (www.eastlakeumc.org/), a Christ-centered congregation, worshipping 350 weekly in Palm Harbor, Florida, is looking for an energetic and creative full-time Director of Children’s Ministries.  Building on a current core group of about 40 active children, the position will be responsible for leading and expanding a program that inspires discipleship for children, commitment and trust with parents, and dedicated involvement for volunteers. The director will lead ELUMC’s efforts to create a nurturing and welcoming faith community where families can build relationships with other families; children may explore and develop a relationship with Christ, and participate fully in a Spirit-led, mission-oriented church. The children’s ministry program serves children from birth through fifth grade.

The successful candidate will have a college degree and 3 years experience, or significant experience in children’s ministry leadership, as well as a strong personal faith consistent with the United Methodist tradition.  Resumes can be sent to TCharlto@aol.com. All inquiries can be directed to Missy Carfield of Ministry Architects (941) 544-7648.
 

Friday - November 14, 2014
Two Positions Available at First UMC of Boynton Beach

First United Methodist Church of Boynton Beach is seeking to fill these two positions:
 
Church Financial Secretary
First United Methodist Church Boynton Beach is seeking to fill a position for a part time 15-20 hours a week Financial Secretary . The candidate must have had previous experience in the field of Church financial's.
Please send resume to hclarkedwards@bellsouth.net
 
Preschool Director
First United Methodist Church Boynton Beach is seeking to fill a position for a full time Preschool Director. Seeking a candidate who has a Bachelors degree and  experience and is aware of the Palm Beach County Preschool Regulations.
Please send resume to hclarkedwards@bellsouth.net

Conversations
Tuesday - November 18, 2014
Being a Christian doesn't always look like you think it should

Christian subcultures are an entertaining phenomenon. Multiple brands of Christianity claim the same Lord and read the same Bible, and yet they promote a set of values sometimes as different as apples and orangutans.

I once heard a story about a Christian woman from the East Coast who confronted a West Coast youth-pastor, who allowed “mixed bathing” at youth events. “I can’t believe any so-called Christian leader would allow boys and girls to swim together!” She expressed her concern, all the while puffing on a cigarette. The youth pastor couldn’t help but smile, speechless at the irony.


I attended a conservative Brethren church when I lived in Scotland. Some of the women wore head coverings and none of them spoke in church. When I had our Irish pastor and his wife over for dinner, I asked them what he would like to drink. “Beer please,” the preacher said. “And for you, madam?” “I’ll take a glass of Chardonnay, thank you.” Were they liberal or conservative? I guess it depends on which subculture you come from.


When you try to cut out Christians with a religious cookie cutter, you not only tarnish diversity, but you trample on grace. It’s one thing for Christian subcultures to cultivate unique values. But it becomes destructive when those values are chiseled on Sinaitic tablets for all to obey.

It’s even worse when Christians expect instant holiness from recent converts—holiness, that is, in areas where we think we’ve nailed it.


It’s a shame that some believers have scoffed at some of Shia Labeouf's recent comments about 
converting to Christianity, pointing fingers at the fact that he still uses bad language weeks after becoming a Christian. It's worth noting that some are speculating that Labeouf's conversion may have actually been more of a rather dramatic example of method acting than a true conversion but, regardless, many Christians chose to focus on his language instead of his heart. God only knows the true believers from the false. But to judge a man’s faith because there’s a residue of potty mouth?

Bad language may take years to weed out. Even more difficult to extract is the pride that drives judgmental Christians to mock the Spirit’s work in a man seeking his Creator. That sin could take decades to discover. Grace means that we are all works in progress, and God shaves off our rough edges in His timing. Just look at the thugs God works with in the Bible.


I know we’re programmed to see the 12 apostles as saints with halos and contemplative faces. But actually, they were criminals. These guys were more like prisoners than pastors, and few of them would have been let inside our churches today.


Take Peter, for instance. Peter walked with Jesus for three years, witnessing miracle after miracle, sermon after sermon. Still, on the night before Jesus’s death, a servant girl asked Peter if he knew Jesus. “I do not know the man!” Peter responded. And he even evoked a curse on himself to prove he wasn’t lying (Matthew 26:74).


Can you imagine if your pastor did that? “Good morning, church. I just want to say that I don’t even know who Jesus is!” We have a hard time forgiving pastors who commit adultery. I don’t think we’d know how to handle a pastor who had a public bout with doubt.

Then there’s James and John, whom Jesus nicknames “sons of thunder.” Apparently, they never made it through an anger management seminar. On one occasion, these two hotheads wanted to nuke an entire village because they wouldn’t let them spend the night (Luke 9:51-56). The whole village—women and children. Luckily, Jesus stepped in to prevent the destruction. These two holy apostles would have been better fit as bouncers outside an expensive casino in Vegas owned by a mobster, than preachers of the gospel of love.

My favorite pair is Simon the “Zealot” and Matthew the tax-collector. How did those two thugs get along?


Matthew’s vocation was nothing less than political and religious treason. Tax-collector’s were Jewish agents of Rome, who mediated pagan oppression through taking money from innocent people. Imagine if you found out that your childhood friend was making a living off funneling money to ISIS. Would you use him to plant a church? Apparently, Jesus did.


Tax-collectors were more than extortionists. They were known for living excessively immoral lives and hanging out with all the wrong people. Religious Jews, in fact, believed that tax-collectors were passed the point repentance. Matthew didn’t have a moral bone in his body. But of course, after becoming a Christian, he immediately stopped sinning and never used bad language ever again.


Yeah right.


Simon, as a “Zealot,” probably grew up on the other side of the tracks. The “Zealots” were named such not because they were prayer warriors. They were just warriors—Jewish jihadists. The “Zealots” were known for killing their Roman oppressors or other Jews who were sell-outs. They were aggressive, violent, and they did anything but love their enemies. Had Simon met Matthew on the streets, there’s a good chance one of them would have been found lying in chalk.


To build His Kingdom, Jesus handpicks what could be compared to the leader of the Black Panther party and the grand wizard of the KKK. I doubt anyone closed their eyes at that first prayer meeting.


You cannot sanitize grace. You can’t stuff it into a blue blazer and make it wear khakis. Grace is messy, offensive, and it sometimes misses church. To expect God to pump prefabricated plastic moral people out of a religious factory is to neuter grace and chain it inside a gated community. If God’s scandalous relationship with the 12 thugs means anything, then we should expect a variegated spectrum of righteousness and be patient—or repentant—when such sanctification doesn’t meet out expectations. God meets us in our mess and pushes holiness out the other side.

Not anti-mixed-bathing holiness. But the real stuff. The holiness that serves the poor, prays without ceasing, redeems the arts, loves enemies, elevates community above corporate success, and preaches the life-giving Gospel of a crucified and risen Lamb in season and out.

Courtesy Relevant Magazine www.relevantmagazine.com. Photo courtesy Bigstock. The opinions are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position or policy of the Florida Conference.

Tuesday - November 18, 2014
Christmas in No Man's Land

Jesus Showed Up in No Man’s Land

 
We went to Ruth Eckerd Hall last week to hear “Celtic Thunder,” five Irish singers who really know how to move a crowd.  It was their Christmas concert, loaded with favorite carols and pop songs.  They did a powerful song I had never heard before.  It told the amazing story of the way peace broke out between the trenches on the first Christmas of the “The Great War,” better known in the United States as WWI.
 
During the applause that followed, I overheard an older man’s voice behind us say, “Some people don’t realize that it actually happened.”  But it did.
 
In spite of being denied by military officials on both sides and being hidden by the propaganda machines in both Great Britain and Germany — truth is always the first casualty of war — the story still got out. You can read about it in “Silent Night: The Story of the World War I Christmas Truce” by Stanley Weintraub.
 
The Christmas truce is being remembered in the UK with a deeply moving television commercial this year.  You really need to see it.  If you watch it here you can also see a background piece that includes readings from the letters and journals of men in the trenches.
 
Remembering History
 
Edmund Burke may have been the first to say, “Those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it.” While I’m all for expressing appreciation for people who served in the military, severing Veteran’s Day from Armistice Day has helped insulate us from a history we cannot escape.
 
In many ways, WWI continues to haunt us, not the least of which is that it planted the seeds for WWII.  Another is the way the British and French invented Iraq without paying attention to the ethic and cultural history of the region.  Equally ignoring that history, the folks who led us into our own incursion into Iraq popped the cork on those ancient conflicts, with one of the untended consequences being the horrendous evil that is being unleashed by ISIS.
 
The centennial of the beginning of WWI is a good time for any of us who care about the future to do some remembering of the past.  Fortunately, The Great War produced a flood of great literature.  A good place to begin is with Barbara Tuchman’s Pulitzer Prize winning classic, “The Guns of August.”  I’ve also appreciated Adam Hochschild’s “To End All Wars” and “The Great War and Modern Memory” by Paul Fussell.  You can sample the amazing flood of poetry that flowed from the war at  The Poetry Foundation.
 
Understanding what happened in the past doesn’t justify evil actions in the present, but when we fail to remember the past we are, in fact, doomed to repeat it.
 
Jesus In the Trenches
 
But for people of faith, the story of the Christmas truce goes much deeper than simply retelling a great story. It stands as a glimpse of the Kingdom of God, coming on earth, in the middle of the hellish mess we make of things, as a gift of grace.  It’s a small reminder that “the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.”  (John 1:5)  It’s a vivid witness to the words of Samuel Ryan:
 
A candle-light is a protest at midnight.
It is a non-conformist.
It says to the darkness,
‘I beg to differ.’
 
As we light our candles during this Advent season, may the memory of Christmas, 1915 inspire us to be among those who “beg to differ” with the violence, conflict, and hatred of a darkened world.
 
Grace and peace,
 
Jim
 
Friday - November 14, 2014
Court rejects atheists' demand to end tax break for clergy housing

(RNS) A federal court of appeals rejected a case brought by an atheist organization that would have declared tax-exempt clergy housing allowances — often a large chunk of a pastor’s compensation — unconstitutional. 

“This is a great victory for fair treatment of churches,” said Luke Goodrich, deputy general counsel for the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which filed an amicus brief on behalf of pastors from several major denominations.
 
“When a group of atheists tries to cajole the IRS into raising taxes on churches, it’s bound to raise some eyebrows,” he said. “The court was right to send them packing.”
 
Thursday’s (Nov. 13) ruling overturns a 2013 decision by U.S. District Court Judge Barbara Crabb, who had ruled that the exemption “provides a benefit to religious persons and no one else, even though doing so is not necessary to alleviate a special burden on religious exercise.”
 
But the Freedom from Religion Foundation, a Madison, Wis.-based First Amendment watchdog group that has pursued the case since 2011, vowed to fight on.
 
“We are disappointed but we are not giving up,” said Annie Laurie Gaylor, FFRF’s co-president. “We are so clearly right and the law is so clearly unconstitutional.”
 
The Chicago-based 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned Crabb’s ruling in favor of the atheists because it found Gaylor and FFRF lacked “standing” — meaning they had no right to sue because the law did not affect them.
 
Gaylor and Dan Barker, her co-president and an ordained minister, did not seek a housing allowance for themselves under the law.
 
“Dan took the allowance when he was a minister, but now that he is head of the largest atheist and agnostic organization in the country, he cannot take it,” Gaylor said. “That clearly shows preference for religion.”
 
Churches routinely designate a portion of a pastor’s salary as a housing allowance. So, for example, a minister who earns an average of $50,000 may receive another third of income, or $16,000, as a tax-free housing allowance, essentially earning $66,000. Having to pay taxes on the additional $16,000 ($4,000 in this case), would mean a 6 percent cut in salary.
 
The exemption is worth about $700 million per year, according to the Joint Committee on Taxation’s Estimate of Federal Tax Expenditure.
 
Supporters of the tax break say it helps alleviate government costs for social services by routing that assistance through houses of worship. Tony Perkins, president of the Washington-based Family Research Council, said “society has tried to relieve the clergy’s housing burden because of the tremendous social benefits churches offer the culture.”
 
Most clergy, he said, “despite their exceptional educations, receive only modest salaries.”
 
The Orthodox Union, which represents Orthodox Jews, noted that the housing allowance helps many rabbis live in homes they might not otherwise be able to afford because “congregational rabbis and other clergy members must reside within walking distance to their synagogues” because observant Jews do not drive on the Sabbath or most holidays.
 
Gaylor said FFRF was reconsidering its legal options and would not drop the case. The only venue left to hear the case would be the U.S. Supreme Court.
 
“We are regrouping,” she said.
 
Courtesy Religion News Service www.religionnews.com. Photo courtesy Bigstock.
Monday - November 10, 2014
Bishop Carter reflects on Council of Bishops' statement
This statement was adopted by the Council of Bishops in their meeting on November 7, 2014 in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma:
 
“As bishops of The United Methodist Church, our hearts break because of the divisions that exist within the church.  We have been in constant prayer and conversation and affirm our consecration vow “to guard the faith, to seek the unity and to exercise the discipline of the whole church.” We recognize that we are one church in a variety of contexts around the world and that bishops and the church are not of one mind about human sexuality. Despite our differences, we are united in our commitment to be in ministry for and with all people.  We are also united in our resolve to lead the church together to fulfill its mandate—to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. As we do so, we call on all United Methodists to pray for us and for one another.”
 
Ken Carter, resident Bishop of the Florida Conference, offers an additional reflection:
 
“Many will read this brief statement and seek to parse the words.  And so I offer a sentence-by-sentence interpretation.  
 
“The statement begins with the acknowledgement that there are divisions in our church; as men and women who have been called to seek the unity of the Body (1 Corinthians 12-14) which is now strained or even in peril, this is painful for bishops, and we acknowledge our participation in these divisions.  The meeting of the Council of Bishops was not in any way an act of avoidance of the work we are called to do; and so we rededicated ourselves to the promises we made in our consecrations as bishops.
 
“Many United Methodists (appropriately) understand what it means to be a disciple of Jesus in their own geographical settings (neighborhoods, towns, cities); as a Council, we lead churches in Asia, Africa, Europe and the United States.  There is remarkable diversity in these settings, and significant differences in the way faithful United Methodists understand human sexuality.  This is true within the United States and across the world.
 
“We do remind the church, as bishops, that our unity is not about culture or even human sexuality; our unity is grounded in mission to all people (Acts 1-2) and in our purpose, to make disciples (Matthew 28) for the transformation of the world (Habakkuk 2).
 
“As an aside, our work together also focused on vital congregations, Imagine No Malaria, the Ebola virus and the UMC in West Africa, preparation for the 2016 General Conference, the 75th Anniversary of UMCOR (United Methodist Committee on Relief) and the implications of being a world-wide church. I gave a report from the Task Force on Online Communion, which I have chaired, and I will post my reflection this week on the Florida Conference website.  
 
“My sense is that the bishops are becoming more honest with each other and more accountable to each other.  This is healthy, and is the work of every one of us.
 
“Finally, we ask for prayers as we lead, and we call the church to a season of prayer.  In this way, prayer is not an avoidance of difficult conversations.  Prayer is the most powerful conversation, as we place our trust and confidence in God, who is able to keep us from falling (Jude 1) and is continually inviting us to live in his presence and by his grace.”
 
I want to express again how blessed Pam and I are to be in ministry with the people of the Florida Conference.  
 
The grace and peace of the Lord be with you!
 
+Ken Carter
Resident Bishop, Florida Area
The United Methodist Church
 

 

Friday - November 7, 2014
Arguing the minors and missing the majors

Courtesy of Religion News Service

Like other citizens of our free land, Christians tend to divide sharply, predictably and with heated language.

We disagree about almost everything, from cultural norms to attitudes toward wealth and power; from personal behavior to what Jesus intended.

To judge by our blog posts, our comments, our letters to the editor and our remarks in public, we are appalled at what other Christians believe. How can this person have that viewpoint and still call himself a Christian? Does she not know that her words heap burning coals on her own head?

In view of our fiery words, you’d think we had explored the extremes of Christian faith and were shouting across a vast, unbridgeable chasm. In fact, we differ within a narrow spectrum, like those who debate Coke vs. Pepsi.

That narrow spectrum tends to be far removed from what Jesus actually said, did and expected. We argue about things that don’t matter because we can’t stand the things that do matter. We argue about sex, for example, in order to avoid the topic Jesus actually addressed, namely, wealth and power.

And when we do address wealth and power, we tend to affirm the individual’s right to have as much as they can get, even though Jesus said no such thing.

We debate the nuances of free-market capitalism, when in fact Jesus sounded far more like Karl Marx than like Andrew Carnegie.

We debate preaching style, rather than stand under the gospel’s radical call to repentance — not the momentary remorse of a listener touched by a word, but the deep reconsideration of life that Jesus envisioned.

We argue about faith vs. works, rather than accept Jesus’ call to radical self-denial.

We fuss about theories such as the atonement, rather than stand in awe at God’s love and see God’s love as normative for our own dealings with hatred and greed.

We “stand up for Jesus,” as if we were Texas A&M fans standing up for football over Texas, rather than walking with Jesus into the world’s storms.

We wax eloquent in proving the other wrong, but fail to imagine how God sees all of us. We draw borders around our preferred ways of being a Christian and define all other ways as sinful, rather than see God ignoring all of our borders.

Personally, I think we are terrified. What God wants of us is far beyond anything we are ready to give. So we fuss endlessly about the institution of church and don’t risk seeing the one who had no place to lay his head — because that one has his hand out saying, “Come, follow me, and let us be homeless, property-less, despised and misunderstood together.”

The path Jesus actually walked is marked by suffering and total reliance on God. So we debate finer and safer points, which require far less of us. Our impassioned and yet trivial disputes push God away and make God seem small.

(Tom Ehrich is a writer, church consultant and Episcopal priest based in New York. He is the president of Morning Walk Media and publisher of Fresh Day online magazine. His website is www.morningwalkmedia.com. Follow Tom on Twitter @tomehrich.) The opinions are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the policy and position of the Florida Conference.

Thursday - November 6, 2014
Leading in the age of the image

C. Kavin Rowe

Our age is one of profound transitions -- global, cultural, digital. We are on the move, and our daily lives are increasingly marked by significant new patterns of thinking and relating and being in the world.

There are many striking things about these changes, but perhaps none quite so striking as the role images now play in our individual and collective lives.

Reality has never before been visually shaped to the degree that it is today. Images are of unprecedented importance to our entire society, and their virtually ubiquitous reach is likewise unprecedented. Unless we intentionally get away, we are almost never outside a space dominated by images -- whether that space is as small as an iPhone screen or as large as the mall or an airport.

Partly because it is a brand-new change -- relative to the long view of history -- and partly because it’s a complex topic, we have not thought enough about the move toward a visually dominated daily life. But Christian leaders need to be thinking about images. As Rich Mouw and Andy Crouch observed in the Seminary of the Future report, we live in the age of visualcy.

We have all seen Christianly inspired art (or at least Christian kitsch). Scenes from the Bible, doctrinal truths, liturgical practice and so on have shaped artistic production for nearly two millennia. It was not always so.

In fact, we have no evidence of any Christian art until after about the year A.D. 200. And even then, the initial attempts at art were tentative or cautious -- five loaves and two fish in a catacomb, a faceless shepherd with a sheep on a sarcophagus. Jesus himself was not depicted until well into the fourth century.

This overall development toward a Christian artistic culture illustrates something of its Jewish roots. With some exceptions, Jewish tradition around the time of the New Testament did not engage in robust artistic production. Most of all, Jews did not portray God. Even the Gentiles knew this about the Jews: the Roman historian Tacitus, for example, notes that in stark contrast to regular pagan practice, the Jews conceive of God with their minds alone and set up no images of their God in their cities or temples. The reason for the rejection of images was simple: imaging God was a violation of the second commandment, or, more simply, idolatry.

When Christians began seriously to produce art, they did so under the conviction that in the incarnation God had made a statement about the importance of matter. The material world could be used to depict the saving acts of God -- and God the Son himself -- precisely because God had assumed and redeemed human nature. The second commandment was not violated, because God had imaged himself with the stuff of the created world.

Of course, Christians then vigorously debated (and frequently fought about) how best to understand such depiction: whether icons were legitimate forms of artistic representation, whether images of any kind were to be allowed in church, whether we could depict God the Father and the Holy Spirit or only the Son and so on.

All this history evidences a thoughtfulness about the power of images that most modern Christians would scarcely understand -- a deep care and concern for the way art can or cannot mediate God, for what is proper to God’s nature and what isn’t, for the fact that images themselves can conscript our imaginations, for the power of the everyday world of visual representation for both good and ill.

It would be too easy to offer well-known truisms about images and stop there -- that women ought not to take the measure of their bodies from advertisements, that men ought not to learn what manliness is from superhuman athletes, that children ought not to be subjected to inappropriate material and so forth.

The problem with such advice is not that it’s untrue; it’s indubitably true. The problem, rather, is that such advice fails to address the deeper work that images do.

A recent study, for example, found that there is no distinct area in the brain that corresponds to “aesthetics” or “art” or “images.” The primary area of the brain activated by the arts is, rather, the same area that lights up when we’re determining what’s useful for survival (what kind of food to seek, what mate to select, what’s painful and what’s not and so forth).

Such a finding is profoundly important, because it suggests that our response to images is in part a response to things we’ve learned to think we need to survive. We do not necessarily need a new shirt to survive, but precisely because images activate our sense of survival, we learn to associate them with needs as deep as survival. Therein lies both their promise and their peril. Where the need for survival is real, images lead us to life. And where the need for survival is false, images fool us and tempt us wrongly to believe that our life depends on our connection to them.

Though neuroscientific studies of the effect of images have not been around until very recently, Christians have always known that images are as powerful as our need to survive. Indeed, Paul uses the same word for image -- eikon -- to speak both of Christ as the saving image of God (2 Corinthians 4:4; Romans 8:29) and of the idols that lead us astray (Romans 1:23). Images can tell us the truth about God and thereby connect us to the only source of life, Paul implies, and they can lie to us and lead us down the path of destruction and death. Of course, not all images do this in an obvious or immediate sense, but life-death is nevertheless the range of their power.

The difficulty with images, then, is that their connection to our survival is both life-giving and deadly dangerous. How do we learn when it’s one and when it’s the other?

We learn a tradition of reflection that can catechize our imaginations. Philosophers of art such as Ernst Gombrich, as well as novelists who ponder it deeply, like Chaim Potok, tell us that there’s no such thing as images without tradition. What they mean by this, in part, is that even our seeing -- what we see and how we see -- is learned. The rich history of Christian reflection on images cannot be learned in one day. But for leaders who must reckon with the contemporary age of the image, there are at least three things they must notice as they begin to think hard about the place of images in their life and work.

First, contrary to our contemporary sense that images are inert, Christian reflection on their power has repeatedly discerned that images are in fact more powerful than we are. They are often our masters, and not we theirs. Living in a world of images is not so much like living among things we can choose to make our own; it is, rather, more like living in a world with things that can make us their own.

Second, images can be idols, the kind that bind us to themselves and shape our lives accordingly. Swastikas and the like immediately come to mind.

But there are other, more subtle ways images seduce us and make us theirs. Take the sort of thing we see on Facebook, for example, where we can witness virtually countless posts of happy moments, milestone celebrations and intact relationships. For such things we should give thanks, of course.

But where are the pictures of those moments when we act like idiots to our spouses or kids, shoot an air ball for the potential game winner, royally embarrass ourselves at work, enter a cancer ward, go to AA, receive devastating news or otherwise genuinely hurt from the pain of life?

By themselves, the merry pictures combine to tell a story about human happiness that is not only false but also enticing and ensnaring. We begin to think life ought to look the way it does on Facebook. But if the Christian story is true, the story of happy moments as the full story of human life is a lie. The collage of images of only one sort finally lies to us about what kind of creatures we are and where we can put our hope.

Finally, images can create the space for growth in discipleship. It would be hard to condense aesthetics into a one-line answer to “What’s good art for?” But for Christians, the answer would necessarily relate to growth in our lives as Christians. (Art for art’s sake is as meaningless a slogan as it is unrelated to Christian existence.) For Christians, images grow us in at least two indispensable and powerful ways.

Images have the power to tell us the truth when we’d rather not know it. It was essential, to take a well-known example, that images of the Nazi treatment of the Jews be shown in the face of unbelief and denial. With technological innovation, the manipulation of photographic images has made things more complex, of course, but the capacity of these images to tell the truth has not been weakened. More difficult to discern, perhaps, but not weakened.

The lure and importance of photographic/videographic reporting has always been to show the truth. We may not have needed images to learn that human beings will behead other human beings -- the guillotine was very busy in its day -- but the very fact that they can confront us in our living rooms is a forceful reminder of the human predicament and the need for Christian hope.

Images can also directly show us the work of love incarnate. The images of Maggy Barankitse and her work in Burundi in the wake of the slaughter of the Hutu/Tutsi civil war help us actually see what love looks like in the world we live in. It is one thing to read Maggy’s words, “Love made me an inventor.” It is quite another to see how love actually works. It is one thing to hear that war orphans who swim in a pool are swimming in water that cleanses their souls. It is quite another to see a cleansed soul playing in the water with joy. Images usher us into an imaginative space that gives visual shape to the truths we so desperately need to know.

Visual art engages the human being in a way that works against the common separations of modern life -- between thinking and living, between work and home, between public and private.

The eminent man of letters George Steiner once wrote, “Great works of art pass through us like storm-winds, flinging open the doors of perception, pressing upon the architecture of our beliefs with their transforming powers” (“Tolstoy or Dostoevsky,” p. 3). Among other things, Steiner meant that images can transform the way we are in the world. The Eastern Orthodox Church, of course, believes that this transformational power can be known through icons. But even those who would not share this belief can understand the truth of Steiner’s remark.

Images in the sense of true art participate in the transformational power of God’s hallowing of creation. Even if such participation seems distant -- powerfully reminding us, say, of our desperate need for transformation rather than its completion -- the images themselves usher us into a place where our vulnerability to their power works for our good, and we begin to heal.

Courtesy of Faith & Leadership www.faithandleadership.com. Photo courtesy Bigstock. The opinions are those of the author's and do not necessarily reflect the position or policy of the Florida Confernce.

Events
Thursday - November 27, 2014
UM Center Closed - Thanksgiving

Conference office closed for Thanksgiving  and Day after.

Monday - December 1, 2014
Gulf Central SPRC Training - Palm Harbor

Gulf Central District SPRC (Staff Parish Relations Committee) Training Event will provide you with the effective tools needed in your many responsibilities. DS John Powers will facilitate the training.

Pastors, Lay Leaders, SPRC Chairpersons and Committee Members (current and 2015 members) are strongly encouraged to attend this important training event.
Monday, December 1, 2014  6:30pm - 8:30pm
Palm Harbor UMC
1551 Belcher Rd
Palm Harbor FL 34683

Please register your plan to participate to help us plan appropriate set-up, and handouts.

 

Tuesday - December 2, 2014
Gulf Central District SPRC Training - Bradenton

Gulf Central District SPRC (Staff Parish Relations Committee) Training Event will provide you with the effective tools needed in your many responsibilities. DS John Powers will facilitate the training.

Pastors, Lay Leaders, SPRC Chairpersons and Committee Members (current and 2015 members) are strongly encouraged to attend this important training event.
Tuesday, December 2, 2014  6:30pm - 8:30pm
Trinity UMC
3200 Manatee Ave W
Bradenton, FL 34205
Please register your plan to participate to help us plan appropriate set-up, and handouts.

Tuesday - December 2, 2014
SW District Clergy Team Meeting and Spouse Gathering

Clergy Team Meeting &
Clergy Spouse Gathering
Cleveland UMC

December 2, 2014

Gathering at 9:00am with refreshments.

All full-time clergy are expected to attend. Part-time clergy are encouraged to attend if possible.
All requests for absence from this clergy meeting must be done in writing to
the District Superintendent by November 21st.
 
Tuesday - December 2, 2014
SW District SPRC Training - Venice

South West District SPRC (Staff Parish Relations Committee) Training Event will provide you with information needed in your many responsibilities.  District Superintendent Rini Hernandez will facilitate the training.

Pastors, Lay Leaders, SPRC Chairpersons and Committee Members (current and 2015 members) are strongly encouraged to attend this important training event.

Please register to help us plan appropriate set-up and handouts.

Thursday - December 4, 2014
Appointive Cabinet in Lakeland
Friday - December 5, 2014
Christmas Open House

The Florida Annual UM Conference, UM Connectional Federal Credit Union and the Florida UM Foundation invite you to our 2nd Annual Christmas Open House on Friday December 5, 2014 from 1:30 p.m. – 4:30 p.m. at the Florida UM Conference Center in Lakeland.

Church members and Clergy are invited to “drop-in” and join us as we celebrate the birth of our Savior, to give our Conference family and Lakeland staff the opportunity to meet you and to give thanks for the joy of our shared ministries!
 

Sunday - December 7, 2014
SW District Clergy Christmas & Appreciation Dinner

RSVP NOW

PLEASE LET US KNOW IF YOU WILL OR WILL NOT BE ATTENDING

 
The South West District is hosting its Annual Clergy Christmas and Appreciation Dinner on Sunday, December 7, 2014. We will start gathering at 5:30 pm with dinner being served at 6:00 pm.

 
All appointed clergy and spouses serving a local church are invited to attend (though clergy and spouses will need to register separately). This is a wonderful opportunity to relax and enjoy the company of your fellow pastors. We will be gathering at the Kingsway Country Club in Lake Suzy. Kingsway Country Club hosted our event last year and we are excited about celebrating the holiday there again this year!
 
When you RSVP for this event, you will be asked to select one of the following dinner choices:
  • Roast Strip Loin (USDA Choice Grade Beef Strip Loin roasted with fresh herbs and spices, sliced and laced with Madeira wine demi glace)
  • Chicken Caprese (Boneless Chicken Breast sauteed, topped with blistered tomatoes, garlic, basil and fresh mozzarella, laced with balsamic glaze)
  • Poached Salmon (Fresh Salmon poached with white wine and lemon, topped with wilted arugula and lemon beurre blanc)

If you need to cancel your reservation, you must contact Sandy at 941-371-6511 or by email at flumc-sw@flumc.org by November 26th; otherwise, there will be a $40 charge per plate to you.

CONTACT SANDY AT THE DISTRICT OFFICE WITH ANY QUESTIONS.

Monday - December 8, 2014
SW District SPRC Training - Sebring

South West District SPRC (Staff Parish Relations Committee) Training Event will provide you with information needed in your many responsibilities.  District Superintendent Rini Hernandez will facilitate the training.

Pastors, Lay Leaders, SPRC Chairpersons and Committee Members (current and 2015 members) are strongly encouraged to attend this important training event.

Please register to help us plan appropriate set-up and handouts.

Districts
Atlantic Central
9015 Americana Road Ste. 4
Vero Beach, FL 32966-6668
phone: (772) 299-0255
flumc-ac@flumc.org
East Central
PO Box 4232
Enterprise, FL 32725
phone: (386) 259-5756
flumc-ec@flumc.org
Gulf Central
1498 Rosery Rd East
Largo, FL 33770-1656
phone: (727) 585-1207
flumc-gc@flumc.org
North Central
1135 E Fort King St
Ocala, FL 34471
phone: (352) 789-6981
flumc-nc@flumc.org
North East
1415 LaSalle Street
Jacksonville, FL 32207-3113
phone: (904) 396-3026
flumc-ne@flumc.org
North West
P.O. Box 13766
Tallahassee, FL 32317-3766
phone: (850) 386-2154
flumc-nw@flumc.org
South Central
202 W Reynolds St.
Plant City, FL 33563
phone: (813) 719-7270
flumc-sc@flumc.org
South East
536 Coral Way
Coral Gables, Fl 33134
phone: (305) 445-9136
flumc-se@flumc.org
South West
2049-B N. Honore Avenue
Sarasota, FL 34235
phone: (941) 371-6511
flumc-sw@flumc.org