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Monday - September 15, 2014
Take it from Bonhoeffer - there is no 'Christian' youth
 Dietrich Bonhoeffer with confirmands of Zion's  Church congregation in 1932. (Wikimedia Commons)

For a while, I thought it was like the Loch Ness monster or Sasquatch. People said it existed, but I’d never seen it, and nobody was able to tell me how I could. But finally, I found it, and it was as amazing as I’d imagined.

No, it wasn’t a rare novel or comic book worth millions. In fact, it had no monetary value at all. But to someone who has spent his adult life either doing or thinking about youth ministry (and who has also been a longtime reader and lover of Dietrich Bonhoeffer), it was mind-boggling. There, resting at the end of Volume 12 of the “Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works,” hidden in an appendix, was “Eight Theses on Youth Work.”

Nobody knows when Bonhoeffer wrote this short essay, but it was clearly a major part of his most consistent pastoral experience. It’s hard for many to believe, but Bonhoeffer spent his entire pastoral ministry, from 1925 to 1939, with either children or youth. All of it! And he wrote these theses toward the end of that period, after years of experience with young people, and writing other theological essays and books.

Bonhoeffer’s eight theses have a lot to teach Christians today, especially as we struggle to help young people hold on to their faith during the transition from adolescence to adulthood. At a time when many are concerned about the “rise of the nones” and young people “drifting away” from faith, Bonhoeffer has much wisdom to offer. And as is so often the case with Bonhoeffer, he speaks to us in surprising and unexpected ways.

To keep young people in the faith, for example, many today argue that youth should have a privileged place in our churches. Young people, so the argument goes, need a place that more directly forms their identity as “Christian youth,” a place that gives them an identity that will stick during and after their time at college.

Yet Bonhoeffer says we should do the opposite. In Thesis 4, he says we should not set aside a special place for the young if we really care about their faith formation:

Youth enjoys no special privilege in the church-community. It is to serve the church-community by hearing, learning, and practicing the word. God’s spirit in the church has nothing to do with youthful criticism of the church, the radical nature of God’s claim on human beings nothing to do with youthful radicalism, and the commandment for sanctification nothing to do with youthful impulse to better the world.

“Youth enjoys no special privilege in the church-community.”

Understand why I was amazed? These are strange words for us today. Ironically, the more anxious we have been about young people leaving the faith, the more we have tried to create a privileged space for them; and the more we have created such a privileged space, the more we have created avenues for them to depart from Christian commitment.

Sadly, youth ministers often think a major part of our job description is to claim a special privilege for the young. But such claims do more harm than good. We only fortify the generation gap, pushing young people off into youth ministry programs and away from the center of the congregation. We make the very nature and form of childhood no longer theological but fully cultural.

Because of “special privilege,” we segregate young people in their own special youth rooms and youth ministries. Youth are so “special” to the church that they become a major line item in the annual budget.

But all this specialness only pushes them further from the center of the church community. Making young people “special” divides them from their parents and other adults, for only those with special knowledge can teach them the faith, or even relate to them at all.

As a result, youth workers are caught in a vicious cycle. Once their pleas for “special privilege” have been heard, they often become ostracized and frustrated. They have sounded the alarm about a distinct generation gap that needs specialties and specialists to solve it. But then they find themselves and the youth far from the center of the church community’s life.

Perhaps, as Bonhoeffer suggests, the best way to advocate for youth and to do youth ministry is to tell the church community that their young ones have no privileged space. Instead, young people must be taken deep into the life of the community to find Stellvertretung (place sharing) with all the adults of the community.

With no more privilege than anyone else, the young should be invited into friendship at the center of the community. Together, we all bend our lives toward the unveiling of Jesus Christ in our midst.

Following Bonhoeffer’s Thesis 4 would require a profound paradigm shift. Under his vision of youth ministry, the paid youth worker’s job -- her ministry to and for the young of the church -- is to remind the church that there is no privileged space for its children; its children must be taken into its life. Her vocation is not to idealize the youthful spirit of the church’s young people but to call the church to look past that spirit and embrace young people in their full humanity.

To Bonhoeffer, it is theologically misguided to even put together “Christian” and “youth” as a privileged label, for Jesus is not the inventor of Christian children but of childhood universal (as Bonhoeffer asserted in a little-known lecture in Barcelona). Combining “Christian” and “youth” undercuts the importance of young people themselves.

When we put together “Christian” and “youth,” young people are no longer “Christians” -- disciples, and full participants in the church community through baptism. Rather, they become a distinct species called “Christian youth.” And when the “youthful” part of the label no longer fits, then neither might the “Christian.”

To label the young “Christian youth,” Bonhoeffer believes, is to make faith bound not in their humanity and the eschatological work of Christ, not in the wrestling of their being, but in this episodic time of “special privilege” created by culture. Faith becomes a fashion, a particular, distinct period during which you are loyal to something before moving on to something else.

Your “Christian-ness” is bound in your “youthfulness.” Once youthfulness fades with age or new lifestyle commitments, so too can “Christian.” “Christian” was an adjective you used to describe your high school days. As you outgrow the privileged space (especially the youth group), as you outgrow your youth, you outgrow “Christian.”

For years, youth ministry has been searching desperately for new ways to keep young people connected to the faith they had as “Christian youth.” Young adults seem to shake off “Christian” like a dog shakes off water after a bath. Maybe the reason that’s so easy to do is because we’ve fused “Christian” and “youth,” establishing a privileged space for “Christian youth” in our congregations.

Clearly, Bonhoeffer believes that we should continue to do youth ministry. But we should do it by undercutting youth ministry as a privileged space. We should do youth ministry as way of moving the young into the center of the church community.

Youth ministry seeks not to make young people “Christian youth” but to participate in the humanity of the young as they encounter the living Christ. Youth ministry is not about strategies to produce “Christian youth” that hold on to the fashion and stay loyal to the brand. Instead, it seeks to invite young people into the cruciform space of Stellvertretung (of place sharing) that is concretely lived out by the community of the church.

In the privileged space, young people are “Christian youth” for a time. But in the cruciform space, they are given a shared space, a space of persons sharing in persons. They are not “Christian youth” but persons bound to others in faith, hope and love.

In the shared space of church, young people encounter the living Christ, who meets them not with a call into a fashion but with an invitation to follow.

Courtesy of Faith & Leadership www.faithandleadership.com. Photo courtesy German Federal Archive via Wikimedia Commons. This essay is adapted from Andrew Root’s forthcoming book, “Bonhoeffer as Youth Worker” (Baker Academic), scheduled for publication Oct. 21. The opinions are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of the Florida Conference.

Tuesday - September 9, 2014
Texas nonprofit becomes hub for addressing the border crisis

Like everyone else in Laredo, Texas, last May, Michael Smith heard all the talk about what was happening in town. Every day, dozens of Central American mothers with children were showing up at the downtown bus station, left there by U.S. Border Patrol agents after being arrested and processed for immigration violations. They spoke no English and were languishing, exhausted and hungry in an overcrowded terminal, with nowhere to sleep, eat or shower.

Then in early June, the phone rang in Smith’s office at the Holding Institute Community Center, a United Methodist-affiliated adult-learning initiative, where he serves as executive director. It was a bus-station employee. He sounded desperate.

“There are a lot of people here,” Smith recalled the bus-station employee saying. “The fire department is saying they’re going to have to close us down because of occupancy. We don’t know what to do.”

Smith explained that Holding was a community education center, not an emergency shelter, but the caller persisted.

“You’ve got to help us,” the man said.

Smith agreed to think about it, but it was already too late.

More than 20 immigrants were walking up the street to the center, which normally provides classes in practical English, computer skills and literacy instruction.

Smith scrambled to retrieve a stash of Army cots from storage and then enlisted his 12-year-old son, Matthew, to teach the immigrants how to assemble them.

“We bought them food at McDonald’s, we had some fruit, and we bought water,” Smith said. “That’s what we fed them the first night. And then we really didn’t know what to do, because the next few days, more people started to show up.”

With this whirlwind of events, Holding Institute Community Center was catapulted to the front line of this year’s immigration crisis along the U.S. border with Mexico. Since Oct. 1, 2013, the Border Patrol has apprehended more than 125,000 families and unaccompanied children, many seeking asylum as they flee gang-related violence in Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador. Overwhelmed agents have released thousands of families at bus stations in Laredo and other cities with a “notice to appear” in court.

For Holding, the crisis forced an urgent dilemma. Should the nonprofit send the immigrants away and refocus on its primary mission -- teaching local residents the most basic and practical of skills? Or should it radically revamp its plans, at least for a while, to meet the humanitarian needs on its doorstep?

Focus vs. flexibility

For faith-based organizations, the tensions between focus and flexibility are very real, said Maria Eugenia Calderón-Porter, the director of the Program for International Nonprofit Excellence at Texas A&M International University in Laredo.

“Everybody is afraid of breaking the rule or not adhering to the mission, because their funding gets stopped,” Calderón-Porter said. “But what happens in a crisis? Because I said I’d only spend it on books, I can’t spend it on food for somebody who’s starving?”

Ideally, nonprofits should have protocols in place to let them relax their standard benchmarks and adjust priorities in a crisis, she said. But Holding had no such formal provisions on the books and had to make decisions quickly.

Holding also had its own reasons to be cautious. After earlier incarnations as a seminary, a boarding school, a high school and finally an adult-learning center, the 134-year-old institution had only just reopened months earlier after falling on hard times. From 2011 to 2013, the center had been closed -- the result of low attendance, declining financial support and an unsuccessful effort to offer private day care. Having already experienced the consequences of mission drift, Holding didn’t want to make the same mistake twice.

But in the face of the crisis, Holding’s leaders did not hesitate. Soon after those first arrivals walked up the street from the bus station, the center called a community meeting in a classroom with 30 desks. The crowd was standing-room-only; 70 representatives showed up from Laredo-area churches and nonprofits.

“We just started thinking, ‘What are we going to do?’” said the Rev. Paul Harris, the pastor of Laredo First United Methodist Church and a member of Holding’s board of directors.

Holding agreed to be the primary place for showers and donated goods, with other downtown churches and faith-based nonprofits providing hot meals, medical care and case management.

Over the next month, Holding transformed itself from Laredo’s newly reopened, bare-bones center for adult education to a hub for addressing the border crisis. Volunteers would find immigrants at the bus station and get them to Holding, where they would reunite with friends, eat sandwiches and borrow cellphones to call relatives.

For hours, the immigrants would sit under the trees on the Holding campus, staffers said. After more than a week of sitting on floors, shoulder to shoulder, inside a U.S. Customs and Border Protection facility, they didn’t want to be inside any more than they had to.

Manageable transformation

Once systems were in place, the transformation was manageable. Visitors seldom stayed overnight; Holding found its niche as a day center. Kids played in a courtyard. Mobile shower units, furnished by an association of Texas Baptist men’s groups, doubled the capacity for showers at Holding. By mid-July, folding tables in meeting rooms were piled high with donated clothing and toys.

To make the relief work happen, Holding relied partly on adrenaline from its tiny staff, which included Smith, who works a second job to make ends meet, a full-time groundskeeper, who earns only about $200 a month, and a handful of teachers, who are paid a $250 monthly stipend for about 36 hours of work. Even so, employees were routinely on-site from 6 a.m. to midnight during the height of the crisis in June and July.

Holding staffers couldn’t do it all, but outside support came pouring in. A team of roofers from First Baptist Church in Athens, Texas, donated time and materials to repair a badly leaking roof. The United Methodist Committee on Relief sent 6,000 hygiene kits for distribution.

The Southwest Texas Conference of the United Methodist Church sent relief supplies ranging from food to diapers.

Area faith groups and nonprofits came together to form the Laredo Humanitarian Relief Team, which now meets regularly to coordinate ongoing relief efforts.

Help came from all directions. One day in mid-July, during a lull in new arrivals, volunteers worked together in 95-degree heat to sort clothes and build a new playground.

They included people from the charity Save the Children, two Mennonites from Pennsylvania, a Methodist from Iowa, two locals from a Hispanic Baptist church and a team of four from a Mexican Methodist congregation across the border in Nuevo Laredo.

Holding’s agile response has made an impression on Laredo, giving the nonprofit new confidence.

“The fact that they’ve been able to assimilate and support this crisis to the extent that they have will show them in a different light to the community,” said Calderón-Porter, the nonprofit management expert at Texas A&M International. “By managing it as a temporary crisis, Holding has seen itself from a new perspective.”

Holding now knows it is an organization that can deliver human services along with classroom instruction.

Institution with a big heart

As all the support suggests, Holding’s rapid-response outreach has put it on the area’s cultural map as an institution with a big heart, a capacity for nimble action and a timely mission.

Holding needed the boost. Just last year, before it reopened, roofs leaked, broken windows went unrepaired and thieves ransacked the place, Smith said. Today, much work still needs to be done, but Holding stands to benefit from its newfound prominence on the radar of local and national groups.

Those groups include United Methodist Women, a national agency of the United Methodist Church and the owner of Holding’s property.

Though Holding has a local governing board and gets support from area groups and individuals, it depends also on yearly grants of $20,000 from UMW. Early this summer, UMW sent an additional $7,500 to help with migrant relief.

Holding’s work this summer is also attracting the attention of other denominational officials. In August, Hortense Tyrell, UMW’s executive secretary for national ministries, was preparing to travel to Laredo and meet with Holding’s board.

“We want to hear how we can be of further assistance to them as they respond to the immigration crisis,” Tyrell said. “Maybe we can further mobilize United Methodist Women to provide in-kind support … and see how they are progressing since they restarted their program.”

As a wild summer now winds down, Holding is still riding the wave of energy that comes from being at the center of a high-profile cause. But the crisis has been losing its urgency, with the number of new immigrants down sharply, from more than 100 a day in June and July to an anticipated 30 a week in late August.

Once the situation is resolved, Holding will have to address new issues and think through its future. If the nonprofit is now known for its rapid-response capacity, what happens after the crisis? Will it add relief work to its portfolio or return solely to its mission of community education? Will it again lose its footing and falter?

Smith is confident Holding can parlay its crisis-driven support into long-term partnerships. The investments in shower repairs, for example, won’t be wasted, even if immigration from Central America doesn’t surge again, he said. With an ample supply of cots and showers, Holding could soon accommodate church mission groups who could stay and work at the facility for a week or longer.

‘Plenty of work to do’

“Mission groups want to serve where there’s a need,” Smith said. “We have plenty of work for them to do.”

Holding has also bolstered community support by putting this summer’s relief work into the context of the nonprofit’s institutional history.

In a very real sense, Smith said, the relief effort was a reclaiming of the nonprofit’s broader mission to serve women and children in need -- not just through education, but also by attending to unmet health, wellness and social needs.

As the crisis subsides, Holding definitely intends to continue working on its educational mission. They’ve dropped formal, academic English as a Second Language classes in favor of more flexible, job-oriented language instruction.

Under this approach, adult students can join a class even if they have missed the first session or two and then immediately apply what they are learning when they look for work the next day. More courses could be added soon, Smith said, including basics in the legal rights of immigrants.

Time will tell whether relief work joins adult education as a permanent part of Holding’s mission. But for now at least, the momentum is in Holding’s favor. Its new supporters believe that the institution has recovered its mission this year, not strayed from it.

“There’s an interesting lesson for me in this,” said Judy Kading, a United Methodist who came to Laredo from Greenfield, Iowa, to volunteer. “This space was, at a point in time, dedicated to service and dedicated to God, and people dropped the ball. They couldn’t handle it. The place closed. But God didn’t forget the pact.

“It’s like God said, ‘Well, there’s the Holding Institute! It’s still got a mission, and here it is!’ And human beings just have to go along with those purposes.”

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

 

 

 

Friday - September 5, 2014
Trend toward older clergy continues in 2014

For the past ten years, the Lewis Center in partnership with the General Board of Pension and Health Benefits has reported annually on Clergy Age Trends in the United Methodist Church. The Lewis Center prepares these reports so that church leaders can see the most important trends in clergy numbers and ages in such a way that they understand these trends, can easily share them with others, and act upon the findings.

The report covers elders, deacons, and local pastors. Elders are ordained to a ministry of Word, Sacrament, Order and Service. They itinerate and receive an appointment annually by the bishop. Deacons are ordained to a ministry of Word and Service to both the community and a congregation. Deacons are not required to itinerate, nor guaranteed an appointment. A local pastor is licensed and appointed to perform the duties of a pastor in a particular setting. They are not required to itinerate, nor guaranteed an appointment.

This five-minute video provides an overview of the changes in clergy age trends.


Download this video free from Vimeo.

Fewer and Older Elders; More Local Pastors

Elders and local pastors are appointed as pastors of congregations. The number of active elders continues to decline as the number of local pastors grows. Since 1990, there are 6,123 fewer elders and 3,459 more local pastors. In 1990, there were over five elders for each local pastor; today there are two elders for each local pastor. In 2014, there are 15,384 elders and 7,395 local pastors.

Elders between ages 55 and 72 comprise 55 percent of all active elders, the highest percentage in history. This group reached 50 percent for the first time ever in 2010. This age cohort represented only 30 percent of active elders as recently as 2000. Previously their percentage of the total was even lower. 

The median age of elders increased to 56 in 2014, the highest in history. The median age was 50 in 2000, and 45 in 1973. The average age remains at 53, an historic high, though unchanged for five years. The mode age (the single age most represented) remains at 61, also a high. 

The percentage of elders aged 35 to 54 continues to shrink, from 65 percent of all active elders in 2000 to 39 percent in 2014.

Modest Growth among Young Clergy

The number of young elders hit an historic low in 2005 and has increased by almost 100 (or about 12 percent) since then. The number of young local pastors and deacons, while much lower than elders, has increased at a higher rate since 2005. Today, under-35s make up about 6 percent of elders, 9 percent of deacons, and 8 percent of local pastors.

The gender makeup of young elders is becoming more balanced. Thirty-nine percent of under-35 elders are female. Over three-quarters of young deacons are women. The gender makeup is almost the opposite for local pastors, three-quarters of whom are men.  

For many years the highest concentrations of young clergy elders have been in the Southeastern and South Central Jurisdictions. That trend continues in 2014, but the North Central Jurisdiction made the greatest gains in young elders in the past year.

Much more information is available in the complete Clergy Age Trends report, which is available for download free of charge. The full report includes detailed data for every annual conference.

Read or download the full Clergy Age Trends report at churchleadership.com/clergyage. View a five-minute video of the report on YouTube.

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

 
 
Wednesday - August 27, 2014
Porching, friendship and ministry

A few years ago, when Jane and the girls and I were away all summer on sabbatical, members of our church decided to build us a porch. They knew I loved porch sitting, and since our house did not have a porch, they thought it was a great idea to give us one. We agreed.

Since then, our porch has become the major gathering place for any social occasion at our house, none more so than the churchwide Easter potluck, with kids and adults everywhere, food, laughter, a slamming screen door (“You kids make up your minds -- either in or out!”), and lots of conversation and stories among everyone lazily rocking back and forth in the rocking chairs and swing.

We all love the porch.

From time to time, I’ll get a phone call from someone saying, “Are you going to be on your porch this evening?” To which I’ll reply, “Yeah, I’ll be there. Probably be out about 7.”

Sure enough, around 7 the caller will come walking up and join me on the porch. We’ll visit, catch up on news, likely I’ll tell a story or two, and eventually the visitor will get to whatever it is that’s bothering him or her. We’re not in a hurry; it is porching, after all.

What I’ve learned is that conversation on the porch is important ministry. If the caller comes to my study at the church for an appointment, it is called “counseling.” But if someone drops by my porch and we sit in the rocking chairs, it is just two friends having a conversation. We’re visiting.

Both counseling and visiting are significant ministries, but they are different. Part of the difference is need -- sometimes the formality of the church building is more appropriate. But sometimes the difference has to do with different visions of the church and the role of the pastor.

The standard and dominant view is that the office of pastor has clearly defined boundaries and roles. For example, I was trained both in seminary and in college that the pastor should never make friends within the congregation. Having friends, in this view, is fraught with peril at every turn: the dangers of showing favoritism or having cliques within the church, the temptation to break confidences, the undermining of pastoral authority and so on.

I was taught that the pastor’s friendship is with God -- and the rest of the church is on their own. I was taught that relationships of mutuality are different from those of service as a pastor, and that ordination creates a holy distance between the pastor and the people.

Maybe so. But maybe not.

What if the church is understood to be a community of friends? And what if the pastor is one of those friends? What if the hierarchy of the church is not as pronounced and formal as we might think? Perhaps the church is more like the body of Christ, with the different members connected to one another in Christ, but with each member having certain spiritual gifts, pastoring being one of those gifts.

I realize that I’m talking about two versions of the role of the pastor and models of the church in church teaching: Reformed and Anabaptist. But my Baptist polity has long mixed those two contrasting perspectives.

In practice, a new pastor has to earn her or his pastoral credibility within the first year or so. A congregation wants to see whether the pastor visits and cares and shows up. Do you listen to the people, and are you accessible?

They’ll know whether you can lead worship and preach from the day they voted to call you. But will you be their pastor? That’s a question that is answered over time. Beneath the issues of how well you visit and do pastoral care is the question of spiritual gifts. Are you a member of the body of Christ with the gift of being a pastor or not? In that first year, the congregation is discerning your calling and gifts.

But what does all that have to do with friendship and porches? In John 15:12-17, Jesus calls the church a community of friends who love one another. To me, the primary responsibility of a pastor is the nurturing and growing of such a community of mutual love. And that includes the pastor. We’re in it, too. We’re not separate or distanced from this community of friends. We’re immersed in it; we participate in it. I believe we call it incarnation.

The pastor’s authority comes out of this mutual love and friendship, not in spite of it. Over time, the members of the congregation come to know the pastor as a friend -- a friend who prays for them, loves them, cares for them, shows up and works alongside them, and listens to them, while also being a friend who is immersed in God.

When Sunday morning rolls around, the 20 minutes of preaching comes out of this mutual friendship, of listening to the people and to God. My authority comes from being a friend who sometimes shares a strong word of challenge, and other times, a word of comfort in the midst of heartbreaking grief. They listen, not because I hold an office, but because we love one another and they recognize the gift and work of the Spirit in and through me. That’s why they come and visit on my porch.

Cultural critic and writer bell hooks says, “In the days of my girlhood, when everyone sat on their porches, usually on their swings, it was the way we all became acquainted with one another, the way we created community.”

She goes on: “A perfect porch is a place where the soul can rest.”

That sounds right to me. Sitting on my porch among friends, our souls can rest.

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

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

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Hotel Information
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Click Here for Annual Conference hotel list.

Pre-Conference Brochure
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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
Monday - September 15, 2014
Sewing ministries benefit girls
in Africa

It’s that time of year when families with schoolchildren everywhere scramble to keep them clothed and supplied so they can focus on learning.

Across the ocean, though, students – particularly girls – face hurdles that are relatively unknown in the U.S. And Florida Conference churches are reaching out to help. 

Missionary cuts up with young African children receiving new clothes
Cheri Roland of Hyde Park UMC, above, prepares to distribute clothes made by sewing ministry volunteers to children in South Africa. Below, children in South Africa check out a new look. Photos from Hyde Park UMC.
A young African boy holds a new dress up for a classmate

For example, volunteer sewing groups at Stewart Memorial UMC, Daytona Beach, and Hyde Park UMC, Tampa, stitch together and deliver clothing and personal hygiene items for girls in Africa.

At Stewart, the focus is on sewing “comfort kits,” including washable pads, for girls in Kenya. The effort helps reduce student absences attributed to menstruation.

“Many miss about four or five days (of school) a month, and then they get so far behind that they give up altogether,” said Jessie Childs, a member of Stewart who helps spearhead the effort. “These absences keep them from excelling.”

At Hyde Park, a sewing group began about four years ago, making dresses for girls in Africa after one of the group’s leaders saw a television news story about the needs there.

Volunteers from both churches say the ministry offers rewards both to those who fashion the gifts and those who receive the fashions.

The group from Stewart has joined forces with a local women’s group called The Links Inc., a national service organization for professional women of color.  Another Stewart member, Celestine Hinson, is active there. An Alachua County Girl Scout troop where Childs has a cousin involved has been sewing washable sanitary pads for distribution in rural Africa as well.

Childs and Hinson were part of a church group that visited Kenya in May. They took 100 drawstring bags with school supplies from the church and distributed them at the Runywene Primary School in Tharaka Nithi County, where they learned about the ongoing problems for girls. The group came back home and got to work.

“This is a project that has blossomed for us,” Hinson said.

Today, there are about 30 to 40 volunteers working on the effort, called “Kenya Girls Mission Project,” and the church gets calls and emails from others who would like to volunteer. There have been some instructional workshops held and more scheduled. 

Donations are welcome, as one of the materials used on the shield -- a waterproof fabric -- is very expensive.

“It can cost about $15 a yard, so we buy it on sale when we can,” Childs said. 

In Kenya, the group made contact with one of that country’s governors, Samuel Mbae, and his wife, Lucy Ngeri Mbae. Her personal initiative has been to eliminate obstacles that keep girls from excelling.

The governor has since visited the Daytona Beach area to see his sister, who is the wife of Stewart’s pastor, Rev. Dr. Silas M’Mworia. 

Mrs. Lucy Mbae talks to students in Kenya
Lucy Ngeri Mbae of Kenya, above, talks to students during a mission visit from church volunteers. Below, she stands with girls who received "comfort kits" from Stewart Memorial UMC's sewing ministry. Photos from Jessie Childs.
Lucy Mbae poses with girls in Kenay who received comfort kits from Florida

The mission project recently produced 100 kits for delivery to the girls. Individuals with ties to Kenya deliver the kits, while the church pays the baggage fees. Shipping costs are high, Childs said, and the arrangement provides security that the kits will reach the girls as intended. Another 100 kits are scheduled for delivery in December.

The benefits to the church, where volunteers meet for training and sewing, are great, said Hinson.

“It’s all about people coming together to help someone else in another country. It helps us understand how blessed we are,” she said.  “Even if you can’t sew, you can pass the word on or donate money.”

Childs also spoke of a community-wide service fair slated for late September at Stewart and the surrounding neighborhood.

“We’ll be getting to know people from other churches, sharing skills and bringing the community together,” she said.  “Our goal is to help these girls overcome obstacles.”

Volunteers in Hyde Park’s “Little Dresses for Mission” effort also have sewn personal care kits but currently focus on dresses for girls in Africa and other developing countries, said Darryl Painter, one of the ministry’s leaders. Sometimes they also make shorts for boys.

About a dozen women meet at the church twice a month to sew or collect materials to take home.

Some sewing machines and fabric were donated to the church, so often they stay at the church and, as Painter puts it, “sew with joy.”

The church strives to avoid costly postage and actively seeks out mission groups -- from a nearby Baptist church, for example – to take the dresses with them.

“We get the dresses there however we can,” Painter said.

So far, the group has sent 2,000 dresses abroad and has plans to continue, with one problem, she said.

“Nobody sews anymore, so it’s a problem finding younger women to help. But it is a lot of fun for those of us who get together on this.”

Cheri and Doug Roland, Hyde Park members who have served as Volunteers in Mission in South Africa, distributed many of the dresses in the past.

In thanking the church seamstresses, Cheri wrote: “The little girls in the photos were THRILLED with the dresses in their bright colors and unusual designs. They have never had a new dress, have never had a dress of their very own, nor ever worn any piece of clothing that was not a hand-me-down.

“And now they are going to be hugged by the love of God through the gifts from Hyde Park, you who sewed the dresses.”

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


 

Saturday - September 13, 2014
Annual Conference 2014 available on DVD

LAKELAND -- Plenary, worship and laity sessions from Florida's Annual Conference 2014 are available.

To order, click here.

Friday - September 12, 2014
Back to Church Sunday
set for Sept. 21

If you ask them, they will come.

That’s the premise behind National Back to Church Sunday, a movement that touts the importance of extending a personal invitation to worship to neighbors and acquaintances. 

Springhead UMC members wave motorists in for a free carwash
Volunteers wave motorists in for a free carwash at Springhead UMC, part of the church's Back to Church outreach. From left, Anisa Castrejon, 13; Sandra Elmore, wife of Pastor Patrick Elmore; and Chasity Rademacher, 17, as Elmo. Photos by Susan Green.
Volunteer gets ready for first Back to Church worship service at Springhead UMC
A volunteer checks technology in the Springhead UMC sanctuary in preparation for the church's first Back to Church worship service.

On Sept. 21, thousands of churches of various denominations are expected to deliver that message nationwide. Back to Church Sunday, now in its sixth year, anticipates outreach to about 3.3 million people who don't belong to or attend a church for whatever reason.

Outside the U.S., about 1,300 churches also are expected to participate.

"This whole initiative is powered by personal invitation," said Jamie Stahler, director of partnerships and marketing for Outreach Inc., which supports the movement.

"The strongest evangelical tool is Christian people. We are excited to see this growing and to see people getting invited to church."

In Florida, Rev. Patrick Elmore saw promise in the idea. He signed up on the Back to Church website almost immediately after he became pastor of Springhead UMC, Plant City, in July. In fact, members of the little country church that is celebrating 75 years this fall are devoting a full month to the effort.

“We’re doing a little bit each Sunday,” Elmore said, noting that special events and video presentations for the surrounding community are on tap, and volunteers are working on posters and fliers that will go up in nearby stores and gathering spots. The church kicked off the month Sept. 6 with a free carwash for people who stopped by the church and a special appearance by Elmo, the Sesame Street character.

“We’re building momentum, so when the 21st arrives, it will be the culmination,” Elmore said. He also has asked a local radio station that broadcasts in Spanish and English to promote the special day.

“That’s our audience,” said the pastor, a veteran of 43 years of ministry. “That’s who I want to reach.”

The church officially claims 70 members, but average Sunday turnout is typically about 35, Elmore said. Some worshipers come from as far as Brandon, Bartow and Lakeland.

“They’re not agricultural but professionals and paraprofessionals … who like the smaller church atmosphere,” Elmore said. “There are young people in these (attending) families, but they go elsewhere because the church has been so steeped in traditionalism that it doesn’t appeal.”

Deanna Lemelin, a longtime Springhead member, remembered when the church youth ministry was large enough to support outings geared toward young people. The mother of 12-year-old Bailey, she is hoping Back to Church will help resurrect that ministry.

“At one time, it was a very lively group,” Lemelin said, citing fond memories of fall festivals and other events. Now the church struggles to generate volunteers to stage such events.

About 25 miles away, another small rural church, Asbury UMC, Bartow, will participate in Back to Church for the third time.

Pastor Carol Sue Hutchinson is a believer in the concept, which has led to two families joining the church family. 

Matthew Rawls scrubs a hubcap in a free community carwash at Springhead UMC
"It's trying to rebuild, which is a good thing." Matthew Rawls of Springhead UMC scrubs a hubcap in a free community carwash to promote Back to Church Sunday. His father, Richard, who joined the church in 1951, also volunteered.

"I think people respond to an invitation," Hutchinson said. "They are looking for a place that is warm and inviting."

She plans to preach her usual service. She doesn't want to oversell the church, just make first-time visitors and returning worshipers welcome.

"That's so people can know what to expect (each week) rather than something special," she said. "We use it like a rally day."

Asbury registered on the national website to get some exposure, but the congregation can’t afford to buy the pre-designed promotional items. Instead, volunteers will craft their own invitations – about 50 – that will go to children of church families who have been absent during the summer months and others who signed up for Bible school but didn't list a church affiliation.

Larger churches also see value in the movement. Grace Community UMC, Lithia, a church of 350 to 400 worshipers close to a large suburban community, is participating this year for the first time.

Worship leader John Herbet belonged to a church in Ohio that celebrated the event, and he brought it to the attention of the Grace congregation. Instead of a back-to-school event, they put their energies into Back to Church Sunday.

"We were looking for something to give us a good push in September, when people are coming back from vacations and children are headed to school," Herbet said. "It's more of an outreach to the whole family."

Advertisements in local newspapers and fliers are spreading the word, but Herbet expects the personal invitations from church members to be most effective.

"We don't mean for people to ask people who go to another church but to ask those that are unchurched and people who have been out of circulation awhile," he said. "We're really trying to reach people and share a real living Jesus in today's world."

The day’s traditional and contemporary services will be tailored to the theme with performances by adult and children's choirs. Refreshments will be served between services, when attendees can browse among display tables for information about Grace ministries. Hot dogs will be served for lunch.

The first Back to Church Sunday in 2009 was inspired by statistics from Thom Rainer's book, "The Unchurched Next Door," which suggested that only 2 percent of Christians invite people they know to church. Rainer is chief executive officer of Nashville-based, nonprofit LifeWay Christian Resources, whose research division is an event partner.

The movement enrolled about 600 churches in its first year. Participation has increased steadily, fueled in part by social media.

Churches are encouraged to create their own Facebook pages. They can purchase toolkits and promotional materials, but a listing on the national website is free.

Florida Conference pastors interviewed said personal contact is still the key to success.

"We've got to start talking to people," Herbet said. "They may not be comfortable talking about the salvation message, but we're trying to create an invitational culture here. Ultimately, that one question could change a person's life for eternity."

Elmore said he knows the Back to Church idea is not a silver bullet. Plans for Springhead include hosting a continuous stream of community activities, and not just on Sundays.

“What this is doing is creating an awareness that this church is alive and well,” the pastor said. “Once you get them (newcomers) in the door, then you have a chance to evangelize.”

-- Kathy Steele is a freelance writer based in Tampa. Susan Green is the managing editor of Florida Conference Connection.
 
 

Tuesday - September 9, 2014
Fully-fledged Hispanic Academy poised for growth

MIAMI – When Vicente Martinez Cardenas first heard about the Florida Conference Hispanic Academy, his motivation to participate was simple:

“Only to learn about the Bible and the warmth of God,” he said. 

Annual Conference crowd blesses lay missioners from Hispanic Academy
The first Hispanic Academy graduates receive blessings as they are commissioned for lay missioner service at Annual Conference 2014. Photo by Steve Wilkinson.

A little more than two years later, he’s been commissioned as a lay missioner through the denomination’s General Board of Global Ministries and is now contemplating ways to use his newfound knowledge and skills to make disciples and minister to the community around his church, Coral Way UMC.

After considering the people living in the area, Martinez Cardenas and other academy graduates have decided to focus on two ministries: assisting immigrants, documented and otherwise, and reaching out to elderly people who live alone.

Martinez Cardenas was one of 23 Hispanic Academy graduates who were recognized as lay missioners at the Annual Conference meeting in June.

Rev. Dr. Craig Nelson, South East District superintendent who also serves on the denomination’s National Plan for Hispanic and Latino Ministry Committee, said the idea for the academy grew out of concern that the church wasn’t adequately reaching out to the growing population of Spanish-speaking people in the U.S.

According to Florida Conference Knowledge & Information Services data, Hispanics make up about 24 percent of the state’s population but only 3 percent of the United Methodist laity membership in the conference.

The South East District counts about 13 percent of its membership as Hispanic, the highest share of the nine Florida Conference districts. However, Nelson pointed out, the Miami area’s population is about 60 percent Hispanic or Latino.

“If we don’t enter into ministry with them, The United Methodist Church itself is in trouble,” Nelson said. “This is one of our attempts.”

The Hispanic Academy concept attracted $25,000 a year in funding for four years through the National Plan, Nelson said. The money helps pay for a part-time academy director, Rev. Pedro Jimenez, as well as guest speakers and travel and meeting expenses. 

Chart compares Hispanic population figures to Florida UMC membership

Data indicate the percentage of Hispanic United Methodists in the South East District, home to the Hispanic Academy, trails behind the state's Hispanic population but is greater than in the Florida Conference as a whole. Note: A small percentage of other ethnicities is not reflected in this chart. From Florida Conference Knowledge & Information Services. 

Florida Bishop Ken Carter, who serves as the vice chairperson for the National Plan, said involvement in that ministry is of “critical importance, for both the denomination and our annual conference.”

“We are blessed with extraordinary Hispanic leaders in Florida,” he said, “and the resources of the denomination can help us in our mission to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.”

Academy classes have been held mostly at Coral Way, which has classrooms and meeting space for a large number of people, said Rev. Gustavo Betancourt, who also has been active in the academy. About 300 people have completed or are in some stage of academy training.

Recently, the program expanded to train leaders in the Sebring area in the neighboring South West District. Nelson said plans include trying to identify training sites in Tampa, Orlando and Jacksonville, where facilitators are available and there’s a significant Hispanic population.

Participants in the Hispanic Academy can become certified lay missioners through the General Board of Global Ministries if they complete three modules.

Two are prescribed by the church and relate to Bible knowledge, theology, ethics and ministry skills. For the remaining module, participants can choose an academic or continuing education topic.

“One of the craziest classes that’s been taught is Greek,” Nelson recalled. “A pastor’s wife from Cuba taught it.”

He said the class started with four teenagers and quickly doubled its participation.

“It actually attracted young people, and who knew it would be a Greek class that would do that?”

Classes typically meet once or twice a week, and it’s not unusual for a participant to take two years to complete the required courses.

After that, they are encouraged to come up with ministry ideas that will address needs in the community and build the church.  

Hispanic Heritage Month will be celebrated Sept. 15 through Oct. 15. For resources from the General Board of Discipleship, click here.

Participants are encouraged to think beyond the goals of teaching Sunday school or other traditional church ministries.

“It’s been viewed as a church planting method,” Nelson said. “If we’re going to start new churches among Hispanics, there isn’t a lot of funding for it.”

The Hispanic Academy provides the basic skills needed for lay members to operate home churches or small-group worship, he said.

Until now, academy classes have been conducted in Spanish. In September, the academy will incorporate classes taught in English at First UMC, Miami. Nelson said that effort will reach out to second- and third-generation descendants of Spanish-speaking immigrants who have adopted English as their primary language.

He hopes classes can soon be offered in Creole as well, to address the growing number of Haitian immigrants in the area.

Martinez Cardenas said he recommends the academy to any United Methodist interested in strengthening his or her faith and finding ways “to go outside the walls and bring the warmth of Jesus to the world.”

Studying the Bible through the academy program is more in-depth than personal readings and Sunday school, he said.

“This is not a regular Bible class,” he said. “We are talking here about a profound and deep knowledge … and how to be open to others and to other religions.”

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

 

Monday - September 8, 2014
It's all in your mindset

Tom Gerrity confronted the challenges of growing older at an earlier age than most. He was 55 when he received the diagnosis of early Alzheimer's disease.

"It shortened his career, took his driving away, sort of the things that we take for granted," said Peggy Bargmann, a registered nurse who is director of the Brain Fitness Club at First UMC, Winter Park. The program, started in 2007 after an appeal by Gerrity’s wife, Nancy, promotes brain-healthy activities to aid Alzheimer's patients and others diagnosed with early memory loss.

  • First UMC, Winter Park, is seeking to share its award-winning Brain Fitness Club ministry with other churches. Contact BrainFitness@cfl.rr.com.

  • First UMC, Homosassa, will host "Coping with Dementia," a free, one-day conference for caregivers, on Tuesday, Sept. 16. The church is located at 8831 W. Bradshaw Blvd., Homosassa. Click here for information, email administration@sgseniors.com or call Karen Kline, (352) 628-4083.

The club has had such positive results that last year it received the ICAA (International Council on Active Aging) Innovators Achievement Award, which honors creativity and excellence in the active-aging industry.

It is Gerrity's legacy, a gift to those who, despite their illness, want to remain active and enjoy life for as long as possible.

The program is also one of several ways Florida Conference churches minister to people facing dementia and their families and caregivers. Some, like New Covenant UMC, The Villages, take music and activities to residential facilities for the memory-impaired to help stimulate their minds. Others, like First UMC, Homosassa, welcome people with dementia to activity-filled sessions on the church campus, which also provide respite for the caregivers.

The Brain Fitness Club was born after Bargmann and the Gerritys met at a caregivers' support seminar and shared concerns about the lack of programs for people in the early stages of memory loss. A community needs assessment confirmed their views.

When Nancy Gerrity spoke up at a church meeting about needing a home for the Brain Fitness Club, the congregation stepped forward.

"It was serendipitous and everything fell into place," Bargmann said.

Now Bargmann is trying to spin off the Brain Fitness Club to other churches and organizations. A grant from the Winter Park Health Foundation is funding development of a manual and "how-to" model as a guide for future clubs.

Dr. Janet Whiteside works with a Brain Fitness Club member
Dr. Janet Whiteside, center, works with a Brain Fitness Club participant at First UMC, Winter Park. 2009 file photo by Tita Parham.

First UMC, the club meets two days a week for four hours a day. One group of 16 people meets on Mondays and Thursdays; a similar group meets on Tuesdays and Fridays. There are three 14-week semesters each year with a waiting list of about a dozen people who want to sign up.

Membership fees cover the club's costs. Discounts can be approved on a sliding scale based on income. Scholarships also are available.

Club applicants are referred by physicians and must have a diagnosis of memory impairment, such as Alzheimer's, dementia, mild cognitive impairment or Parkinson's disease. They also must be in a treatment plan. It isn't for the "worried well" who sometimes forget where they put the car keys, Bargmann said.

"They have to know they have a memory impairment," she said. "Our program is about people being able to talk with other people. You have to want to be in the program. It has to be Dad's choice."

Members might be asked to read a book upside down or create a collage of words and pictures that describes their lives. They might chat with friends, play a game of ping pong, take classes in tai chi and chair yoga or stroll around the gymnasium as a pedometer clicks off their steps.
 
Every club activity is meant to be fun.

"We want them socializing and comfortable to be there," Bargmann said. "Everything we do needs to have an element of fun or a way it transitions to fun. We stress a lot of creative thinking. But there is no such thing as cheating. You can call a friend, look it up."

While there are no cures for Alzheimer’s and related diseases, a growing number of research studies show mental stimulation, exercise and socialization help slow the aging process and potentially delay the progression of Alzheimer's and dementia.

"People are seeking help earlier than when they used to," Bargmann says. "And people are seeing that you can do something to make your brain healthier."

Volunteers from New Covenant UMC work with residents at an assisted living facility
Volunteers from New Covenant UMC use clay sculpting to help stimulate brain activity for residents of a facility for people with dementia. Photo from New Covenant's Clare Bridge ministry.

The Brain Fitness Club is supported by the University of Central Florida (UCF) and Rollins College.

One day a week, UCF graduate students provide 30-minute one-on-one cognitive therapy for each club member under the supervision of Janet Whiteside, a UCF clinical instructor with the school's Communication Disorders Clinic. Last fall, UCF's College of Nursing also became a partner.

Students from Rollins College spend time with club members at group classes. One recent session was on photography.

"It was intergenerational. Our group was learning with 20-somethings," Bargmann said.

Until his death last year, Gerrity was the club's "piano man," playing from a familiar song list he learned over the years.

People who work with seniors say music and song often trigger memories and stimulate brain activity. At New Covenant UMC in The Villages, volunteers in the “Joy!” ministry use inspirational stories, humor, beloved hymns and well-known songs to re-establish connections to daily life.

"They do a lot with music," said Marilyn Anell, director of pastoral care. "It's very stimulating to the mind. We sing songs that they grew up with, secular as well as spiritual. The memory remembers words of a song longer than it can remember words for speaking."

Volunteers with the church's Alzheimer's @Clare Bridge ministry visit the Clare Bridge assisted living residence once a month for worship services. They also do sing-a-longs or tell familiar Bible stories.

On occasion a karaoke group sings and encourages people to dance. "They will respond to the music and get up and dance," Anell said.

Sometimes it’s a brand-new activity that creates a spark. Karen Kline, parish nurse for First UMC, Homosassa, remembered a man in the church’s Memory Lane Respite ministry that became a winner at checkers.

"His wife was amazed because he didn't play checkers (before)," Kline said. "He felt he had accomplished something and was happy."

Being with other people and playing games can make a difference, Kline said. Such activities are part of the church’s respite service for caregivers of Alzheimer’s patients. Offered once a week, it includes two hours of games, large Lego-style building blocks, puzzles, music and even simple tasks like folding washcloths.

First UMC, Homosassa, is also hosting a one-day caregivers’ conference called “Coping with Dementia” from 10 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 16. For information, click here. For free registration, call Debbie Selsavage at (352) 563-0235 or email administration@sgseniors.com.

To arrange respite care for the conference, call Kline at (352) 628-4083.

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

Saturday - September 6, 2014
Catch up with United Methodist Men

Large group of UMM men on Capitol steps


The General Commission on United Methodist Men recently released the following "by the numbers" report for 2014.
 
For more information on the organization, click here.







10
annual conferences engaged in Disciple Bible Outreach Ministries in five states**
 
12 people inducted into the John Wesley Society.*
 
16 annual conferences maintained or increased the number of chartered organizations.*

20
annual conferences maintained or increased the number of EMS members (Every Man Shares in Evangelism, Mission and Spiritual Life).*
 

28 Scout leaders participated in a summer leadership workshop at the Philmont Training Center.*
 
36 women honored with Susanna Wesley Awards of Excellence.*
 
38 men serve as men’s ministry specialists.**
 
58 people receive Life Membership Awards.*
 
56 newly chartered units of UM Men.*
 
135 nations from which people visited the GCUMM website.*
 
155 remote prayer lines operated for the Upper Room Living Prayer Center.*
 
261 men and women serve as scouting ministry specialists.**
 
578 legacy builders.*
 
2,911 life members of UM Men.**
 
10,000 Backpacking New Testaments presented to Scouts at the Philmont Scout Ranch, the Northern Tier Base Camps, and the Florida Sea Base.*
 
10,000 copies of the Scout edition of Strength for Service to God and Community printed for Scouts at the Latimer High Adventure Reservation.*
 
$16,340 given by UM Men to the Upper Room Living Prayer Line.*
 
19,200 GCUMM.org website users.*
 
23,972 UM youngsters earned PRAY (Programs of Religious Activities with Youth) Awards, tops among all denominations.*
 
25,419 visits to the GCUMM.org website (72% new visitors).*
 
30,000 copies of Strength for Service to God and Community distributed, including free copies to first responders in disaster areas.**
 
76,004 page views on GCUMM website.*
 
$85,310 given to support the Meals for Millions fund of the Society of St. Andrew.*
 
198,370 prayers received by the Upper Room Living Prayer Center.*
 
212,593 United Methodist Cub Scouts, highest of all denominations.***
 
365,565 United Methodists involved in Cub Scouts, Boy Scouts and Venturing, second highest of all denominations.***
 
485,000 copies of Strength for Service to God and Country distributed, primarily to members of the armed services.**

*Total in the first eight months of 2014
**Accumulative total
***Totals for 2013
 

Friday - September 5, 2014
Foundation names interim president

LAKELAND — The Florida United Methodist Foundation board has named Scott Davidson interim president.  He will serve in that capacity while the board searches for a permanent president. 

“Davidson has more than 22 years of experience and leadership in business and civil engineering, combined with a lifelong commitment to the mission and ministry of The United Methodist Church,” said Rev. Dennis Vlassis, chairman of the foundation’s board.

“He will be an instrumental part of the team as the board and staff carry on the work of the foundation during this time of transition.” 

Scott Davidson
Scott Davidson

Davidson serves on the Florida Conference Board of Pension and Health Benefits, as treasurer of the East Central District and as a board member of the Florida United Methodist Children’s Home. He is also chairman of ZOE Ministries, which works with more than 22,000 children and youth in Africa and Central America orphaned by HIV/AIDS, and vice chairman of Agua Viva Serves, a nonprofit water-well ministry based in Costa Rica. 

From 2003 to 2005, Davidson was director of operations and ministries at First UMC, Winter Park, and in 2006 he served as interim president and chief executive officer of the Children’s Home. Most recently, he supervised the final design and construction of Madison Youth Ranch, the new north campus of the Children’s Home.

Davidson earned graduate and undergraduate degrees in civil engineering from Georgia Tech and a master’s degree in business administration from Rollins College in Winter Park. 

He is a former principal and vice president of Ardaman and Associates, a 350-person  consulting firm specializing in geotechnical engineering.

Davidson also worked as a Peace Corps volunteer, serving as executive engineer in the public works department in Belize.

He is married to Ann Eppinger-Davidson.  The family attends St. Luke’s UMC, Orlando.
 

Thursday - September 4, 2014
SCREAM sounds alarm about campus assaults

GAINESVILLE – The statistics tell the bleakest part of the story.

One in five college women will be the victim of a completed or attempted rape during college. And 90 percent of rapes on college campuses are perpetrated by serial rapists. 

SCREAM Theater performers dramatize a date rape scene at UF Auditorium
SCREAM Theater performers take the stage at the University of Florida auditorium to dramatize a fictional sexual assault case typical of college campuses. Photos from Gator Wesley Foundation.

It is a narrative that founders of SCREAM Theater want to change by creating opportunities for conversation about the realities and myths of interpersonal violence.

"This is a community issue," said Brady Root, prevention education coordinator at the Office of Violence Prevention and Victim Assistance at Rutgers University.

"(People) should all want to stand up and say it's not OK. It makes survivors more confident to come forward to say this has happened."

Last week, six students from Rutgers stepped on a University of Florida (UF) auditorium stage to play out a fictional sexual assault fueled by alcohol and perpetrated by an older male student against a female freshman.

The performance was sponsored by the Gator Wesley Foundation, a United Methodist ministry serving UF and Santa Fe College in Gainesville. Rev. David Fuquay, director of Higher Education and Campus Ministries for the Florida Conference, said the event was a creative way to address a widespread problem on college campuses, and he hopes other campus ministries will take note.

In the 30-minute skit, Ryan pushed Jess to drink more alcohol than she wanted and came on as if he were a sweet, endearing guy. He had been stalking Jess for days, waiting to get her alone and drunk. Ignoring Jess' pleas to stop, Ryan raped her.

She was a ready victim for Ryan, who boasted about seeking out young women like Jess, a newly arrived college student in her freshman year.

"A lot of this is about the undetected rapist finding the people they think are most vulnerable and even grooming them into making this possible," Root said.

She oversees SCREAM (Students Challenging Realities and Educating Against Myths) Theater, an interactive, improvisational program that seeks to create community-wide conversations about interpersonal violence. Founded in 1991, the program annually stages about 80 performances that reach approximately 10,000 people at colleges, high schools, churches and other organizations nationwide.

"We believe if people aren't talking about this, nothing will change," Root said. "There is a really high possibility in our lives that we are going to know someone affected by (rape), either as a survivor or a perpetrator. You never know what sort of position you will be put in." 

SCREAM troupe from Rutgers pose with gator statue at UF
Members of SCREAM Theater from Rutgers University tour the University of Florida campus during their visit to draw awareness to the frequency of sexual assault among college students.

About 75 people watched the SCREAM performance at UF. Admission was free and open to the public. The event's cosponsors were the Campus Multi-Faith Cooperative, Multi-Cultural and Diversity Affairs, Dean of Students Office/Student Conduct and Conflict Resolution and Gator Well/STRIVE. The Alachua County Victim Services and Rape Crisis Center had a display table outside the auditorium.

SCREAM Theater skits focus on sexual assault, domestic and dating violence, stalking, sexual harassment and bullying. While most sexual assaults are against women, one in 33 men also will be victims at some point, usually before reaching college age, Root said.

Gator Wesley members saw the Rutgers' group perform during a United Methodist training seminar in New York and booked the UF event for the start of the fall semester, a time when studies show freshmen and sophomore students are at greatest risk for sexual assault.

"We thought it would be great for University of Florida," said Rev. Narcie Jeter, the foundation's director, who also invited church youth leaders and high school students.

"It gave me a lot of information and completely opened my eyes to what happens," said Jon Soule, 16, already a freshman at UF.

"There are a lot of victims that need help and counseling, even if they don't say they do. There are a lot of perpetrators out there who will do anything to get what they want."

Root said studies show 42 percent of survivors never tell a single person about their sexual assaults.

"That's really the piece of it that is the most disheartening," she said. "We really need to be a country where people can feel OK to talk about it if they want to."

The skit also raised ethical and moral issues about the lack of bystander intervention and the acceptance by both men and women of profane, objectifying language directed at women. 

One young woman who walked in on the depicted rape left the room without helping because she thought it wasn't any of her business. A friend couldn't accept that Jess didn't want to immediately seek medical help and file a police report.

At the end of the skit, audience members explored alternative behaviors by asking questions of the actors, who stayed in character.

"I don't think it should be up to the victim to keep it from happening," said Valerie Mejia, a 17-year-old high school student. "It's very eye-opening to what can happen."

Her friend, Sara Smith, 16, is a certified self-defense instructor who knows assault survivors.

"They don't talk about this in high school often enough," she said.

Root said high school discussions on sexual assaults, if they happen at all, are usually about 10 minutes in a health class.

However, college officials across the country are facing increasing pressure to meet federal Title IX requirements, which more often have targeted equal treatment for college female athletes. But the law also covers sexual assaults and harassment.

In 2011, the Civil Rights division of the U.S. Department of Education put schools on notice to take steps to fully investigate and respond to complaints. Currently more than 70 colleges and universities are under federal investigation, including Florida State University.

"We see more colleges around the country having to step up and take a stand and not sweep it under the rug," Root said. "They can't just take the easy way out and let someone write an essay saying, 'I'm sorry.’”

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

Wednesday - September 3, 2014
Young Adult mission
leaves launch pad

“This is a big day long dreamed for.” – Clarke Campbell-Evans 

Rev. Clarke Campbell-Evans discusses the blblical meaning of mission with the Florida Conference's inaugural Young Adult Missional Movement participants. Photo by Susan Green.

LAKELAND – This week, a dozen young adults ages 18 to 30 will be deployed to three different mission fields in the state, where they will live and work together in a Florida Conference pilot project called the Young Adult Missional Movement (YAMM).

Most of the group – which will number 14 by January – gathered Thursday for an orientation session at the Florida United Methodist Center, where they got to know one another and received tips for getting along in settings ripe for cultural clash as well as spiritual growth.

“Do we want to pray?” asked Rachael Sumner, Florida Conference associate lay leader for Reaching Next Generations and a member of the YAMM design team, as orientation began.

“I think we want to pray a lot,” responded Heidi Aspinwall, who is spearheading the movement for the conference.

The young people will be assigned to teams that will live and work in mission together until July 2015. With conference, district and local church support, housing has been arranged in three different parts of the state: Jacksonville, St. Petersburg and Orlando. Move-in started Sunday.

Each team will receive mission tasks according to the needs of the assigned area. Some may be working in education programs for immigrants who don’t speak English well, while others may focus on improving the economic outlook for an impoverished neighborhood.

YAMM is one of several initiatives in the Florida Conference aimed at engaging young adults in the church and facilitating their passion for mission work. The movement has been designated to receive half of the funds collected from the bishop’s offering this year.

It’s an effort dear to the heart of Rev. Clarke Campbell-Evans, director of Missional Engagement for the Florida Conference and a veteran of mission work in and out of the U.S. He told the YAMM participants his initiation to mission service came when he reported for an assignment 24 years ago.

“I remember the flutter in my stomach and … [being] a little bit scared about whether I would be able to do what I said I was going to do,” Campbell-Evans said. “That experience changed my life.” 

Orlando team uses technology
Orlando YAMM team members use technology to plan their mission together. To keep up with all the YAMM teams, click here. Photo from Heidi Aspinwall.

Though the young emissaries are signed up to do worthy, life-changing community good, there’s a bigger mission at stake.

“Really, the heart of what this time is about is who you are … and how you’re going to grow in your faith and your understanding of the world,” Campbell-Evans said.

Dr. Harold Lewis, director of Justice & Multicultural Ministries for the conference, said the young adults will likely encounter racial and cultural challenges inside the living quarters and in the surrounding community. It is wise to consider the “historically included and excluded” groups of people in daily interactions, Lewis said.

“We have to struggle through the storms of getting along,” he told the group.

Nicole Cornwell, who was accepted to the mission program from Florida State University’s Wesley Foundation, said she hopes to experience “the truest spirit of community.”

“YAMM appealed because it seemed like an adventurous way of figuring out the next step in my life,” she said.

Sarah Howell, who has been an intern and student leader at Central Florida Wesley Foundation and recently graduated with a degree in social work, said she hopes the experience will help her grow in her passion for Christ and social justice.

“During this year of service, I hope to be challenged to grow and discover more about God, myself and my relationship with God, as well as to learn more about where my passions and talents lie for my future career.”

Samantha Aupperlee of West Palm Beach grew up in The United Methodist Church and would like to become a full-time missionary abroad.

“I’ve always wanted to do missions, and when I learned of this opportunity, I knew God was calling me to this,” she said.

Meet the YAMMers:

Jacksonville House

Amelia Pierre Kyler Coleman Danesha Burrows  
Amelia Pierre, 22,
of Florida City
 Kyler Coleman, 18,
of Atlanta
Danesha Burrows, 25,
of Miami/The Bahamas

 
Lauren Ballatoni, 23,
of Tallahassee
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

______________________


 Orlando House
 

Ruth Berlus Pedro Bonilla Samantha Aupperlee Sarah Howell Shakeria Mitchell   Owain Campton

Ruth Berlus, 20,
 of Homestead

Pedro Bonilla, 19, of Miami
 
Samantha Aupperlee, 25, of West Palm Beach
 
Sarah Howell, 22, of Orlando  Shakeria Mitchell, 20, of Jacksonville Owain Campton, 19, of Belfast, Northern Ireland

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 _______________

St. Petersburg House

Keri LaBrant Christian Culbert Genise Austin Holiday Nicole Cornwell
 Keri LaBrant, 30, of Largo
 
 

Christian Culbert, 23,
of Vero Beach


 

 Genise Austin Holiday, 26, of Hampton, Va.
 
 Nicole Cornwell, 22,
 of Melbourne

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

Blogs
Tuesday - October 14, 2014
Debunking the myth of the social media expert

If you’re anything like us here at FLUMC, you’ve probably felt discouraged by a big drop in your church’s organic reach on Facebook.

It’s no secret that Facebook is moving closer to a pay-only model. And reality has hit home now that they’re asking everyone, including nonprofits and churches like us, to pay money to interact with the communities we’ve rallied together online.

This new challenge makes it clear that there is no such thing as a social media expert who can predict every curveball that the social media game has to throw at us. After all, Facebook is a public playground, and we are only permitted to play by their rules.

Over at churchjuice, Jerod explains how even someone with his level of experience can be derailed by sudden game changes like this, and what he learned from his mistakes. Read more!

Tuesday - October 7, 2014
Timing is everything

You’ve put together some great content that’s fresh and original and you’re ready to share it with your fans and followers.

But wait one second! What time is it right now?

Have you considered if this is the absolute best time to post? Sharing content when your church members aren’t even online won’t do you much good. By the time they login your content will be buried under a pile of newer content.

The obvious solution is to only post when most of your followers are online. But how are you supposed to know when that is?

There are some excellent tools available to help you figure that out. They’ve done a great job explaining exactly how this is done over at RazorSocial. Read more!

Tuesday - September 30, 2014
Make a human connection with your followers

An active follower is a great thing to have on your team. Having people interact with your page in any shape or form is a sign that you're doing something awesome with your social media account. But that doesn’t mean you can’t take it a step further.

Social media isn’t just about getting information to people. It’s a way to connect with people authentically—to let them know that your church is made up of people just like them. It’s a conversation!

So start talking back. Once someone becomes active on your site, engage with them however possible. Look at the content they share with you, whether it be in the comments or on their public accounts.

If you’re interested in learning more about how you can make a strong connection with an active follower, our friends at Church Marketing Sucks put together some great tips for inspiring your Twitter fans. With a little tweaking, most of these tips can apply to other social media platforms as well. Click here to check out their post!

Tuesday - September 23, 2014
How to revive your church's Twitter

Has your church not been as successful on Twitter as you’d hoped? Maybe you’ve seen another church getting a lot of headway recently, and you just can’t seem to figure out what they’re doing right and what you’re doing wrong.

There’s no reason to be hard on yourself. Twitter is an odd egg, and you aren’t the first church to have problems cracking it.

Recently, our friends at churchjuice put together a list of 5 common pitfalls that church’s get stuck in when starting up a page. These include:

  1. Not completing your profile
  2. An inconsistent personality or voice
  3. Automated content that wasn’t written for Twitter
  4. A lack of variety in your tweets
  5. Not sharing or talking with others

If you feel you’re guilty of any of these read more at churchjuice.com.

Tuesday - September 16, 2014
Using technology for the ministry of the Gospel

Pastor Greg Laurie is a notable pastor (Harvest Christian Fellowship, Riverside, California) and evangelist with Harvest Crusades that has held large-scale outreaches since 1990. He was interviewed by Brendan Stark (Web Director at Harvest) in a keynote address at the CITRT (Church IT Roundtable) Regional event back in March 2014. Pastor Greg Laurie shared his value as a pastor for using technology, the Internet, and social media, and how they must be used for the ministry of the Gospel.

Click here to listen to the podcast and access other great resources by Social Media Church.

Tuesday - September 9, 2014
Getting started on Pinterest, Tumblr and Foursquare

By Evan LePage

 

The following is an excerpt from A Guide to Getting Started on Social Networks by HootSuite University. The guide teaches businesses how to leverage nine popular social networks to better connect with customers and prospects. Part 3 of this series covers Pinterest, Tumblr and Foursquare.

Download The Guide

With a growing number of social networks, it can be difficult to determine where businesses should put their attention and resources. As as each social network is different, they each require their own content and engagement strategies for their unique audiences.

Unique audiences definitely applies to Pinterest, Tumblr and Foursquare, three social networks that fall outside of the social media strategies of most businesses today. Each of these three networks serves an engaged audience with particular tastes. Though they don’t have as many users as Facebook or LinkedIn, their users are extremely engaged and passionate – meaning tons of opportunities for your brand.

Pinterest

Pinterest has over 70 million users. With over 2.5 billion monthly page views, it has become one of today’s top social networks. Pinterest allows individuals to organize images and videos into personalized visual collections, known as Pinboards. Users can then create pinboards from design inspirations and their favorite products, and browse through public pins and follow boards created by other users.

When using Pinterest, consider the following:

  • Because the average Pinterest user spends over 15 minutes on the the site per visit, Pinterest can provide significant value to businesses looking for a simple tool that engages customers effectively.
  • Pinterest is perfect for contests as the network encourages user-generated content. For example, with photo-pinning contests, businesses can get their followers to pin photos showcasing creative uses their products.

Use Case

Airbnb, an online vacation rental website, recently launched a contest where they gave a free trip to one of their Pinterest followers. To enter the contest, followers were encouraged to pin images of all the destinations they wanted to travel. By tagging Airbnb in each pin, followers were entered into the content, and by sharing their pinned images on other social networks, they increased their chances of winning. Not only did Airbnb see an increase in followers on Pinterest, their contest was shared across other networks like Twitter and Facebook.

Tumblr

Tumblr is a publishing platform that is home to 160 million blogs. With its easy to use blogging platform, Tumblr exemplifies the power of social sharing, and provides businesses with a powerful publishing platform.

Tumblr allows businesses to share as well as follow other blogs. Brands are able to take advantage of the user-friendly platform and tell their story through text, photos, links, and videos.

When using Tumblr, consider the following:

  • Tumblr is a free platform that is easy to use, providing a place where businesses can easily host their company blog or website.
  • Businesses can make their Tumblr page their brand’s content hub where sales and marketing share photos of new products, infographics or other types of promotional content.

Use Case

The news website, Mashable, uses the Tumblr platform for their company blog, where they share behind-the-scenes company culture, helping to build their online community and following.

Foursquare

Foursquare is a mobile geolocation app that allows people to “check in” to different types of venues, such as restaurants, retail businesses and other popular locations. Once a user arrives at a destination they can use their Foursquare app on their mobile phone and ‘check in’. Popular with young professionals, Foursquare helps to create connections between individuals, their friends, and the places they like to go.

For businesses, Foursquare offers a unique opportunity for businesses to localize marketing efforts and deepen customer connections. With over 1.6 million businesses using Foursquare’s merchant platform, businesses can create or claim a listing on Foursquare, allowing them to gain recognition and connect with their customer base.

When using Foursquare, consider the following:

  • Foursquare is an effective tool for listening to the tips and feedback that customers are leaving for the businesses they check into.
  • Businesses can support sales and marketing initiatives by sharing or featuring certain products.
  • Businesses can also create ‘specials’ for that will pop up for nearby Foursquare users acting as an incentive to visit one shop over another.

Use Case

Luxury hotels like the Wynn Las Vegas use Foursquare as a tool to help their hotels improve their overall service. Recently they had a promotion on Foursquare that encouraged guests to ‘check in’ to the hotel’s profile on Foursquare. Once checked in, guests were invited to enjoy a complimentary glass of champagne.

To learn more about today’s top social networks, and discover what you need to know for your business to get started and excel with social media, download the Guide to Getting Started on Social Networks today.

Courtesy www.hootsuite.com.

 

Tuesday - September 2, 2014
17 reasons to rethink your Facebook strategy

By Olsy Sorokina | Courtesy Hootsuite

 

Have you been slacking off when it comes to updating your brand’s Facebook Strategy? Have you been working with the same strategy since before the introduction of Timelines? You’re not alone.

Facebook is constantly adding and optimizing new features to keep up with the fickle desires of its audiences and keep its spot as a leader in the world of social media. Some of these additions, such as the introduction of the cover photo, are obvious from the start. Other changes take a while to register, and can work against your brand’s social media presence without you realizing it. In order to avoid this, and to make sure your social media strategy is up to date, here are several Facebook features introduced over the past 3 years that you need to understand to keep your Facebook strategy fresh.

1. Profiles are personal, and Pages are professional
Keeping a Facebook profile for your business is not only outdated, it violates Facebook’s Terms of Services. There are countless advantages to a Page for your business; it makes building a relationship with a fan or a customer effortless, as they are only required to ‘Like’ a page to start receiving updates from your brand. Pages also get the perk of Facebook Insights, a free analytics feature that track the results of your Page on the network.

2. Facebook now has verified accounts
Following the example of Twitter and Google+, Facebook now allows you to sport the prestigious blue checkmark that verifies your brand’s account. It’s recommended that your brand’s Page goes through the verification process, which often only involves putting a link to the official website in the description, and making sure the “About” section is completed. Verified accounts are more likely to appear in the Suggested Content field on the users’ News Feeds, which is helpful for your Facebook strategy as it means your Page is more likely to be seen by potential fans.

3. Over 50% of Facebook users are mobile
Facebook boasts over one billion users and more than half of these use the mobile platform. Facebook Mobile app has a permanent spot on top of the free app charts for both iTunes Store and Google Play. Make sure to optimize your updates for mobile, and make sure all your shared external links lead to mobile-friendly pages—so you don’t scare off half of your potential audience!

4. Users do judge the Page by its cover
There is no excuse for disregarding your Facebook Page’s cover photo in 2014. Introduced in 2011 along with Facebook’s Timeline, a cover photo is a great way for customers to get to know your brand: you can use it to encourage link visits, advertise an upcoming event, or simply get new visitors to ‘Like’ your page. Some tips to keep in mind: make it colourful, center- or right-align your cover photos for better mobile optimization, and try to keep it light on the text.

5. Younger users have larger audiences
Despite all the talk about teenagers abandoning Facebook for greener social media pastures, recent research confirms that users in the 18-29 age group still make up a large part of the social media audience. They also generally have bigger circles: the median number of Facebook friends for this age group is 300, the largest among other groups. If you want to expand your audience, find out what the kids are up to these days—they are a tough crowd to crack, but once you reach them, they will be your biggest fans.

6. ‘Passion pages’ are a gold mine for referral traffic
Facebook users often express their interests through Page Likes, instead of explicitly including their passions in profile descriptions. Enter passion pages: Facebook Pages that include the words “I Love” or “I Like” in their names. Create one for something your customers are bound to love—for example, if your brand specializes in outdoor gear and you’re based out of British Columbia, “I Love BC Outdoors” could be a great passion page for you. How does it benefit your brand? If you include a link to your brand’s page or website, this is a great way to refer potential customers and create new fans.

7. People use Facebook for the lulz
Multiple studies released around Facebook’s tenth anniversary agreed on this as the most common reason to use the social network: users log in to get some laughs. Sure, people share facts about their lives, but those also get more ‘Likes’ if the update happens to be funny. Don’t be afraid to incorporate a little humour into your Facebook strategy: make your updates informative and entertaining (like this post, for example).

8. Content related to current events is more visible
Facebook is one of the leading tools for sharing news, and it has developed a lot of features to take advantage of this fact: (mostly) spoiler-free ‘Trending’ sidebar, suggested content, and related links. The latter is especially useful for social media managers: if you share content related to the news of the day, it is likely to get more audience engagement. Don’t be afraid to connect your content to the big news of the day, and then share it with your Facebook fans.

9. #Hashtagged posts reach bigger audiences
So you’re a pro at using hashtags in tweets, but feel weird about doing the same for Facebook updates? Facebook has officially introduced clickable hashtags last June to make it easier to track discussions online, so if you haven’t done so already—join the trending conversations.

10. Explicitly shared app content is more visible on News Feeds
It’s a great idea to link all your social accounts, but make sure you don’t get complacent with your posting habits. Your audience is more engaged with explicitly shared content (i.e. third-party app content intentionally cross-posted to Facebook)—and Facebook modifies the News Feed to include more explicitly shared third-party app posts. This means that if you manage your brand’s Twitter and Facebook accounts, instead of automatically having all your Tweets copy to Facebook updates, you should manually select which ones you share. This also prevents you from the pitfall of overwhelming your fans with too much content.

11. A picture’s worth a hundred text updates—photos increase engagement and reach
One of the modifications for Facebook’s News Feed includes fewer “text-based updates” from Pages. This means that your posts are more likely to reach a wider audience if you illustrate them with photos. If your brand is design-savvy, you can include original visual content to accompany your updates, to follow Kraft Dinner’s example.

12. Instagram + Facebook = Social Media Success
If your brand also has an Instagram account (and it really should!), you can take advantage of the modifications by including photos from your brand’s Instagram in Facebook updates. Now that the popular image-sharing app lives under the Facebook umbrella, it should be a seamless inclusion into your Facebook strategy. Instagram is a great visual tool to engage your audience on their smartphones—as we’ve just mentioned in #3, half of your fans are probably using the mobile Facebook app already, so the switch between the two is very likely.

13. Video posts can reach a larger audience—if users find them interesting
Facebook recently made changes to its News Feed to reflect users’ video-watching habits: those who watch more videos will see more video material on their feed, which means frequently watched videos will have a significantly larger reach. If we haven’t stressed video use for audience engagement enough, this is yet another reason to do it—especially on Facebook.

14. Slingshot is Facebook’s newest video app
Since videos are a great way to engage your social media audience, why not try Facebook’s answer to Snapchat, a newly introduced instant video app Slingshot? It works similarly to the popular ephemeral video apps, but has a bonus reciprocal feature: the users can’t see your video until they share something in return. Slingshot has the potential for a great two-way conversation between you and your brand’s fans.

15. Like Ads help promote your Page
A ‘Like Ad’ is Facebook’s non-invasive way to promote Pages on users’ News Feeds. It functions the same way as tagging one’s friends in photos or updates: similar to this, a Like Ad shows up in the News Feed of the person whose friends liked a page or a post. There are a few ways to build your Facebook audience using Like Ads, with some requiring an investment of as little as $20 or less to boost posts to hundreds of users.

16. Storytelling ads result in more page visits
A recent study sponsored by the social media giant discovered that Facebook users are more likely to visit the page if the advertisement tells a story. Storytelling means ‘sequencing’ the ad, which entails a series of separate ads that tell the story of the brand, explain the product, and only then invite the user to visit the page. We have always encouraged making storytelling a part of your social media strategy, and the latest research provides more support for our call.

17. Hiring? Facebook is full of educated job seekers
Research shows that graduates in search of their first post-college jobs are incredibly active on Facebook. Graduates are almost twice as active on Facebook after they walk across the stage as they were during their studies, and they discuss their job hunts and interviews extensively. Consider dipping into this large pool of educated young minds if your company is hiring, or wants to find out what happens in young graduates’ lives.

More at www.hootsuite.com.

 

Sunday - August 31, 2014
Mission Accomplished!

Paul writes in First Corinthians 12: 4-6, "There are different kinds of gifts, but the same spirit. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working but the same God works all of them in all men."

God has blessed each of us with a gift to share with others, and perhaps you are looking for an opportunity to share your gift and serve God. If so, Henderson Settlement offers a number of ways to volunteer. They are always looking for more work teams throughout the year, especially during winter, spring, and fall months.

You might be asking yourself what the Henderson Settlement is.  It is part of the Red Bird Missionary Conference, located in a beautiful valley in Frakes, KY.  A valley where a stream runs thru and cattle graze.  A valley where you can lookout, be still, and hear God’s voice.

I recently took a merry band of 22 missioners, from 12 to 65 years of age, to this place. Several had never been on a mission trip before.  We accomplished many things while there, from painting, to pressure washing, to putting epoxy on the floor, to putting a library and thrift store in order, to putting in new flooring, and to screening a porch. 

Besides the manual labor, we also had the opportunity to listen and be in communion with God.  We saw God in so many faces and places. Have you ever taken the time to look at the dew drops on a leaf or spider web?  Have you ever held a hand of a stranger and felt a warmth beyond explaining?  Have you ever looked deep in a friend’s eyes and seen tears of love and understanding?  Well, we did.

Mission Accomplished!

To request information about the volunteer opportunities at Henderson Settlement, e-mail Jerry Lambdin or DeJuana York at workcamp@hsumc.org.

Greg Harford, UMVIM FL Conference coordinator

 

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.”

 

Tuesday - August 26, 2014
How to respond to a not-so-nice comment or online review

By Andrew Pressault | Courtesy Hootsuite

 

Your online reputation can make or break your business, as the internet is often the first and last place potential customers go to find out more about you. Even the most reputable organizations deal with bad online reviews, posts on social networks, as well as blogs and other online forums. The one thing you can learn from these organizations is that it’s not so much the complaint or poor review that defines your reputation, but rather the way it’s handled. Here are 6 things you should do when confronted with a scathing comment.

Step 1: Stop. Breathe.

When someone attacks your small business— the thing you pour endless hours of blood, sweat, and tears into— it feels personal. It’s not. Take some time to think it about the situation. It’s impossible to be pragmatic or genuinely apologetic when you’re emotionally charged. But if you give yourself some time to mull it over, you’ll be able to see the situation with more clarity.

Example of Online Reviews Gone Bad with Amy's Baking Company Bakery Boutique & Bistro
Perhaps the finest example of someone reacting to criticism in the worst way possible.

Step 2: Look into it.

Some online reviews or complaints aren’t valid. Some of them are. You’ll never figure out where you stand unless you investigate. And knowing what really happened will help dictate your course of action. Did your customer have a bad experience with the product or staff? Who was in the wrong? Find out anything and everything you can about the situation before making any decisions.

Step 3: Is the complaint legit? Apologize. Is it bogus? Apologize anyway.

Apologize directly and publicly to those affected, whether it’s in a Tweet or a reply comment on the site where you found the bad review. Let them know what you’ve done about it (you have done something about it, right?). In the event the complaint isn’t a valid one, tell your side of the story and see what you can do to resolve the situation. Sincerity goes a long way here. You may not be able to correct something for one particular customer, but reaching out publicly shows you care and that you’re being proactive.

An example of a good apology to online reviews from Delta Airlines
An example of a good apology from Delta Airlines

One thing to keep in mind about online reviews and complaints: whether they’re legitimate or otherwise makes little difference to the masses. It’s all about perception. A quick apology will do more for you than a denial of wrong-doing.

Step 4: If possible, continue the conversation privately.  

At this point, you should have acknowledged the complaint and made any necessary corrections. Someone might attempt to further engage you publically. Ask them to take the conversation to email or a direct/private message. For example “We’d like to know more about what happened, would you mind sending us a quick email? We’re looking forward to resolving this issue for you.” You’ve just made yourself look good while resolving a situation quickly. Social media engagement is important to your social presence, but not when it’s back and forth, he-said-she-said banter with a single online entity.

Step 5: Look for patterns.

If you’re seeing a string of bad online reviews coming in from all over the place, there’s a good chance there’s something wrong on your end. You need to put the brakes on, stat. Though it seems like bad news at first, it’s great opportunity to identify a fundamental problem with your business and stop the trainwreck before it happens.

Step 6: Avoid the non-apology apology.

You’ve seen these a hundred times before. “Our company has been supplying our product to our customers for 100 years. We’re sorry that your experience did not match your expectations.” See what they did there? Reinforce their leading market position while telling the customer they were wrong for expecting more in a roundabout way. There was no real apology and the lack of sincerity was as transparent as a freshly-cleaned window.

Every business is different. Every customer is different. And every reason for a bad review is different. These 6 steps combined with a bit of common sense, courtesy, and a genuine desire to help your customers can turn a conflict into a positive experience for everyone involved, and look good while doing it.

More at www.hootsuite.com.

 

Classifieds
Monday - September 15, 2014
After School Coordinator

Trinity Christian School is seeking a qualified after school program coordinator.  Candidates must posses the 40 hour child care training certification, be a self-starter, energetic, and have excellent supervisory as well as communication skills with students and adults.  This is a part-time position from 12 noon to 6:00 p.m. Monday - Friday.  Salary negotiable.  

Please email your resume to dennisredstone@bellsouth.net or fax to 954-941-3240.

Monday - September 15, 2014
Looking For Cokesbury Everywhere Fun Fair DVD

Does your church have the 2013 Cokesbury "Everywhere Fun Fair" VBS kit?  Our South Africa mission team is trying to bring key elements from this VBS with them on their next trip.  If you have the DVD that goes with the curriculum, we would love to borrow it! Please e-mail us if you are able to lend it out!

Monday - September 15, 2014
Media Specialist

Part-time church position needed: Media Specialist

Beymer Methodist Church is seeking part-time media specialist (approx. 10 hrs/week) to work FOH for our Sunday worship services, and to help with videos and website.  Must be creative and proficient with sound, lighting, video, and web.  Pay commensurate with experience and training.  Students are encouraged to apply.

Please send cover letter and  resume to office@beymer.org 

Beymer Memorial United Methodist Church
Winter Haven, Florida
863-294-5436
Monday - September 15, 2014
Part-time Contempoary Music Leader, St. Augustine, FL

Grace UMC in historic downtown St. Augustine is looking for a part-time contemporary music leader for one service on Sunday mornings. We are a growing congregation next door to Flagler College with many opportunities for ministry. Experience leading worship music and a love for Christ are a must! See our website, www.gracestaugustine.org, for a job description and application.

Monday - September 15, 2014
Piano

Hobart M. Cable/Chicago

Cabinet Grand piano
Monday - September 15, 2014
Preschool Pinnacle Curriculum Guide

Preschool 2005 Pinnacle Curriculum Guide 

2, 3, and 4 year old guides and manuals.
Friday - September 12, 2014
Drum set needed

 Grace Haitian UMC is in need of drum set. If there is a church in the Miami or Broward area that is willing to donate one to us, please feel free to contact Pastor Berteau at (954) 496-5459.

Thursday - September 11, 2014
80 RSV Bibles

80 RSV Bibles available.

They have College Heights United Methodist Church imprinted on the front cover.

Thursday - September 11, 2014
Attendance pad covers

Item Description:

  • 35 black attendance pad covers
  • Inside plastic pocket
  • Dimensions: 8 3/4" X 6 1/2"

 

Conversations
Monday - September 15, 2014
Social experiment videos that will change the way you think

If YouTube turned us all into voyeurs, constantly consuming media that's being shoved our direction, it also turned us into potential subjects, forever ready to be part of someone else's video. A few different "social scientists" have put that to use by staging social experiments and filming the results. Some of them are hard to watch and a lot of them are easy to excuse, but all of them make for interesting viewing. After all, it's easy to speculate about what you'd do in any given situation—but it's hard to argue with some of the sobering data compiled below.

1. Would You Help a Victim of Domestic Abuse?

This couple staged a violent argument along a wooded jogging trail to see how passers-by would respond.

 

 

2. Would You Notice Your Own Family If They Were Homeless?

Here's an intriguing premise. Subjects' friends and family members dressed as if they were homeless and placed themselves along the subjects' morning commute. Would you notice your own family if they were homeless?

 

 

3. Would You Stop a Man From Taking Advantage of an Intoxicated Woman?

This one is particularly interesting because of how the responses differ depending on people's perceptions of the woman.

 

 

4. Would You React Differently to a Black Man Breaking Into a Car Than a White Man?

Please be warned, the local police use some very salty language when questioning one of these two men about just what he's up to.

 

 

5. Would You Help a Homeless Person Who Fell?

This one is remarkably, sadly simple. A homeless man falls over. A well-dressed man falls over. Who are people more likely to help?

 

 

6. Is What Unites Us Stronger Than What Divides Us?

Not every experiment has an unhappy ending. This one is actually pretty affirming. As you probably know, the situation between India and Pakistan is a tense one, so Coca-Cola set out to see just how strong that division was. As it turns out, the gap between the two nations is nothing an innovative communications portal and an ice cold Coke can't bridge.

 

 

7. Bonus: A Reverse Experiment

To end everything on an up-note, this man had a friend pose as a homeless person asking for cash at a gas station. Anyone who gave him a little extra cash ended up getting their entire tank of gas paid for.

 

 

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

 

 

Monday - September 15, 2014
Take it from Bonhoeffer - there is no 'Christian youth'
 Dietrich Bonhoeffer with confirmands of Zion's  Church congregation in 1932. (Wikimedia Commons)

For a while, I thought it was like the Loch Ness monster or Sasquatch. People said it existed, but I’d never seen it, and nobody was able to tell me how I could. But finally, I found it, and it was as amazing as I’d imagined.

No, it wasn’t a rare novel or comic book worth millions. In fact, it had no monetary value at all. But to someone who has spent his adult life either doing or thinking about youth ministry (and who has also been a longtime reader and lover of Dietrich Bonhoeffer), it was mind-boggling. There, resting at the end of Volume 12 of the “Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works,” hidden in an appendix, was “Eight Theses on Youth Work.”

Nobody knows when Bonhoeffer wrote this short essay, but it was clearly a major part of his most consistent pastoral experience. It’s hard for many to believe, but Bonhoeffer spent his entire pastoral ministry, from 1925 to 1939, with either children or youth. All of it! And he wrote these theses toward the end of that period, after years of experience with young people, and writing other theological essays and books.

Bonhoeffer’s eight theses have a lot to teach Christians today, especially as we struggle to help young people hold on to their faith during the transition from adolescence to adulthood. At a time when many are concerned about the “rise of the nones” and young people “drifting away” from faith, Bonhoeffer has much wisdom to offer. And as is so often the case with Bonhoeffer, he speaks to us in surprising and unexpected ways.

To keep young people in the faith, for example, many today argue that youth should have a privileged place in our churches. Young people, so the argument goes, need a place that more directly forms their identity as “Christian youth,” a place that gives them an identity that will stick during and after their time at college.

Yet Bonhoeffer says we should do the opposite. In Thesis 4, he says we should not set aside a special place for the young if we really care about their faith formation:

Youth enjoys no special privilege in the church-community. It is to serve the church-community by hearing, learning, and practicing the word. God’s spirit in the church has nothing to do with youthful criticism of the church, the radical nature of God’s claim on human beings nothing to do with youthful radicalism, and the commandment for sanctification nothing to do with youthful impulse to better the world.

“Youth enjoys no special privilege in the church-community.”

Understand why I was amazed? These are strange words for us today. Ironically, the more anxious we have been about young people leaving the faith, the more we have tried to create a privileged space for them; and the more we have created such a privileged space, the more we have created avenues for them to depart from Christian commitment.

Sadly, youth ministers often think a major part of our job description is to claim a special privilege for the young. But such claims do more harm than good. We only fortify the generation gap, pushing young people off into youth ministry programs and away from the center of the congregation. We make the very nature and form of childhood no longer theological but fully cultural.

Because of “special privilege,” we segregate young people in their own special youth rooms and youth ministries. Youth are so “special” to the church that they become a major line item in the annual budget.

But all this specialness only pushes them further from the center of the church community. Making young people “special” divides them from their parents and other adults, for only those with special knowledge can teach them the faith, or even relate to them at all.

As a result, youth workers are caught in a vicious cycle. Once their pleas for “special privilege” have been heard, they often become ostracized and frustrated. They have sounded the alarm about a distinct generation gap that needs specialties and specialists to solve it. But then they find themselves and the youth far from the center of the church community’s life.

Perhaps, as Bonhoeffer suggests, the best way to advocate for youth and to do youth ministry is to tell the church community that their young ones have no privileged space. Instead, young people must be taken deep into the life of the community to find Stellvertretung (place sharing) with all the adults of the community.

With no more privilege than anyone else, the young should be invited into friendship at the center of the community. Together, we all bend our lives toward the unveiling of Jesus Christ in our midst.

Following Bonhoeffer’s Thesis 4 would require a profound paradigm shift. Under his vision of youth ministry, the paid youth worker’s job -- her ministry to and for the young of the church -- is to remind the church that there is no privileged space for its children; its children must be taken into its life. Her vocation is not to idealize the youthful spirit of the church’s young people but to call the church to look past that spirit and embrace young people in their full humanity.

To Bonhoeffer, it is theologically misguided to even put together “Christian” and “youth” as a privileged label, for Jesus is not the inventor of Christian children but of childhood universal (as Bonhoeffer asserted in a little-known lecture in Barcelona). Combining “Christian” and “youth” undercuts the importance of young people themselves.

When we put together “Christian” and “youth,” young people are no longer “Christians” -- disciples, and full participants in the church community through baptism. Rather, they become a distinct species called “Christian youth.” And when the “youthful” part of the label no longer fits, then neither might the “Christian.”

To label the young “Christian youth,” Bonhoeffer believes, is to make faith bound not in their humanity and the eschatological work of Christ, not in the wrestling of their being, but in this episodic time of “special privilege” created by culture. Faith becomes a fashion, a particular, distinct period during which you are loyal to something before moving on to something else.

Your “Christian-ness” is bound in your “youthfulness.” Once youthfulness fades with age or new lifestyle commitments, so too can “Christian.” “Christian” was an adjective you used to describe your high school days. As you outgrow the privileged space (especially the youth group), as you outgrow your youth, you outgrow “Christian.”

For years, youth ministry has been searching desperately for new ways to keep young people connected to the faith they had as “Christian youth.” Young adults seem to shake off “Christian” like a dog shakes off water after a bath. Maybe the reason that’s so easy to do is because we’ve fused “Christian” and “youth,” establishing a privileged space for “Christian youth” in our congregations.

Clearly, Bonhoeffer believes that we should continue to do youth ministry. But we should do it by undercutting youth ministry as a privileged space. We should do youth ministry as way of moving the young into the center of the church community.

Youth ministry seeks not to make young people “Christian youth” but to participate in the humanity of the young as they encounter the living Christ. Youth ministry is not about strategies to produce “Christian youth” that hold on to the fashion and stay loyal to the brand. Instead, it seeks to invite young people into the cruciform space of Stellvertretung (of place sharing) that is concretely lived out by the community of the church.

In the privileged space, young people are “Christian youth” for a time. But in the cruciform space, they are given a shared space, a space of persons sharing in persons. They are not “Christian youth” but persons bound to others in faith, hope and love.

In the shared space of church, young people encounter the living Christ, who meets them not with a call into a fashion but with an invitation to follow.

Courtesy of Faith & Leadership www.faithandleadership.com. Photo courtesy German Federal Archive via Wikimedia Commons. This essay is adapted from Andrew Root’s forthcoming book, “Bonhoeffer as Youth Worker” (Baker Academic), scheduled for publication Oct. 21. The opinions are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of the Florida Conference.

Tuesday - September 9, 2014
Texas nonprofit becomes hub for addressing the border crisis

Like everyone else in Laredo, Texas, last May, Michael Smith heard all the talk about what was happening in town. Every day, dozens of Central American mothers with children were showing up at the downtown bus station, left there by U.S. Border Patrol agents after being arrested and processed for immigration violations. They spoke no English and were languishing, exhausted and hungry in an overcrowded terminal, with nowhere to sleep, eat or shower.

Then in early June, the phone rang in Smith’s office at the Holding Institute Community Center, a United Methodist-affiliated adult-learning initiative, where he serves as executive director. It was a bus-station employee. He sounded desperate.

“There are a lot of people here,” Smith recalled the bus-station employee saying. “The fire department is saying they’re going to have to close us down because of occupancy. We don’t know what to do.”

Smith explained that Holding was a community education center, not an emergency shelter, but the caller persisted.

“You’ve got to help us,” the man said.

Smith agreed to think about it, but it was already too late.

More than 20 immigrants were walking up the street to the center, which normally provides classes in practical English, computer skills and literacy instruction.

Smith scrambled to retrieve a stash of Army cots from storage and then enlisted his 12-year-old son, Matthew, to teach the immigrants how to assemble them.

“We bought them food at McDonald’s, we had some fruit, and we bought water,” Smith said. “That’s what we fed them the first night. And then we really didn’t know what to do, because the next few days, more people started to show up.”

With this whirlwind of events, Holding Institute Community Center was catapulted to the front line of this year’s immigration crisis along the U.S. border with Mexico. Since Oct. 1, 2013, the Border Patrol has apprehended more than 125,000 families and unaccompanied children, many seeking asylum as they flee gang-related violence in Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador. Overwhelmed agents have released thousands of families at bus stations in Laredo and other cities with a “notice to appear” in court.

For Holding, the crisis forced an urgent dilemma. Should the nonprofit send the immigrants away and refocus on its primary mission -- teaching local residents the most basic and practical of skills? Or should it radically revamp its plans, at least for a while, to meet the humanitarian needs on its doorstep?

Focus vs. flexibility

For faith-based organizations, the tensions between focus and flexibility are very real, said Maria Eugenia Calderón-Porter, the director of the Program for International Nonprofit Excellence at Texas A&M International University in Laredo.

“Everybody is afraid of breaking the rule or not adhering to the mission, because their funding gets stopped,” Calderón-Porter said. “But what happens in a crisis? Because I said I’d only spend it on books, I can’t spend it on food for somebody who’s starving?”

Ideally, nonprofits should have protocols in place to let them relax their standard benchmarks and adjust priorities in a crisis, she said. But Holding had no such formal provisions on the books and had to make decisions quickly.

Holding also had its own reasons to be cautious. After earlier incarnations as a seminary, a boarding school, a high school and finally an adult-learning center, the 134-year-old institution had only just reopened months earlier after falling on hard times. From 2011 to 2013, the center had been closed -- the result of low attendance, declining financial support and an unsuccessful effort to offer private day care. Having already experienced the consequences of mission drift, Holding didn’t want to make the same mistake twice.

But in the face of the crisis, Holding’s leaders did not hesitate. Soon after those first arrivals walked up the street from the bus station, the center called a community meeting in a classroom with 30 desks. The crowd was standing-room-only; 70 representatives showed up from Laredo-area churches and nonprofits.

“We just started thinking, ‘What are we going to do?’” said the Rev. Paul Harris, the pastor of Laredo First United Methodist Church and a member of Holding’s board of directors.

Holding agreed to be the primary place for showers and donated goods, with other downtown churches and faith-based nonprofits providing hot meals, medical care and case management.

Over the next month, Holding transformed itself from Laredo’s newly reopened, bare-bones center for adult education to a hub for addressing the border crisis. Volunteers would find immigrants at the bus station and get them to Holding, where they would reunite with friends, eat sandwiches and borrow cellphones to call relatives.

For hours, the immigrants would sit under the trees on the Holding campus, staffers said. After more than a week of sitting on floors, shoulder to shoulder, inside a U.S. Customs and Border Protection facility, they didn’t want to be inside any more than they had to.

Manageable transformation

Once systems were in place, the transformation was manageable. Visitors seldom stayed overnight; Holding found its niche as a day center. Kids played in a courtyard. Mobile shower units, furnished by an association of Texas Baptist men’s groups, doubled the capacity for showers at Holding. By mid-July, folding tables in meeting rooms were piled high with donated clothing and toys.

To make the relief work happen, Holding relied partly on adrenaline from its tiny staff, which included Smith, who works a second job to make ends meet, a full-time groundskeeper, who earns only about $200 a month, and a handful of teachers, who are paid a $250 monthly stipend for about 36 hours of work. Even so, employees were routinely on-site from 6 a.m. to midnight during the height of the crisis in June and July.

Holding staffers couldn’t do it all, but outside support came pouring in. A team of roofers from First Baptist Church in Athens, Texas, donated time and materials to repair a badly leaking roof. The United Methodist Committee on Relief sent 6,000 hygiene kits for distribution.

The Southwest Texas Conference of the United Methodist Church sent relief supplies ranging from food to diapers.

Area faith groups and nonprofits came together to form the Laredo Humanitarian Relief Team, which now meets regularly to coordinate ongoing relief efforts.

Help came from all directions. One day in mid-July, during a lull in new arrivals, volunteers worked together in 95-degree heat to sort clothes and build a new playground.

They included people from the charity Save the Children, two Mennonites from Pennsylvania, a Methodist from Iowa, two locals from a Hispanic Baptist church and a team of four from a Mexican Methodist congregation across the border in Nuevo Laredo.

Holding’s agile response has made an impression on Laredo, giving the nonprofit new confidence.

“The fact that they’ve been able to assimilate and support this crisis to the extent that they have will show them in a different light to the community,” said Calderón-Porter, the nonprofit management expert at Texas A&M International. “By managing it as a temporary crisis, Holding has seen itself from a new perspective.”

Holding now knows it is an organization that can deliver human services along with classroom instruction.

Institution with a big heart

As all the support suggests, Holding’s rapid-response outreach has put it on the area’s cultural map as an institution with a big heart, a capacity for nimble action and a timely mission.

Holding needed the boost. Just last year, before it reopened, roofs leaked, broken windows went unrepaired and thieves ransacked the place, Smith said. Today, much work still needs to be done, but Holding stands to benefit from its newfound prominence on the radar of local and national groups.

Those groups include United Methodist Women, a national agency of the United Methodist Church and the owner of Holding’s property.

Though Holding has a local governing board and gets support from area groups and individuals, it depends also on yearly grants of $20,000 from UMW. Early this summer, UMW sent an additional $7,500 to help with migrant relief.

Holding’s work this summer is also attracting the attention of other denominational officials. In August, Hortense Tyrell, UMW’s executive secretary for national ministries, was preparing to travel to Laredo and meet with Holding’s board.

“We want to hear how we can be of further assistance to them as they respond to the immigration crisis,” Tyrell said. “Maybe we can further mobilize United Methodist Women to provide in-kind support … and see how they are progressing since they restarted their program.”

As a wild summer now winds down, Holding is still riding the wave of energy that comes from being at the center of a high-profile cause. But the crisis has been losing its urgency, with the number of new immigrants down sharply, from more than 100 a day in June and July to an anticipated 30 a week in late August.

Once the situation is resolved, Holding will have to address new issues and think through its future. If the nonprofit is now known for its rapid-response capacity, what happens after the crisis? Will it add relief work to its portfolio or return solely to its mission of community education? Will it again lose its footing and falter?

Smith is confident Holding can parlay its crisis-driven support into long-term partnerships. The investments in shower repairs, for example, won’t be wasted, even if immigration from Central America doesn’t surge again, he said. With an ample supply of cots and showers, Holding could soon accommodate church mission groups who could stay and work at the facility for a week or longer.

‘Plenty of work to do’

“Mission groups want to serve where there’s a need,” Smith said. “We have plenty of work for them to do.”

Holding has also bolstered community support by putting this summer’s relief work into the context of the nonprofit’s institutional history.

In a very real sense, Smith said, the relief effort was a reclaiming of the nonprofit’s broader mission to serve women and children in need -- not just through education, but also by attending to unmet health, wellness and social needs.

As the crisis subsides, Holding definitely intends to continue working on its educational mission. They’ve dropped formal, academic English as a Second Language classes in favor of more flexible, job-oriented language instruction.

Under this approach, adult students can join a class even if they have missed the first session or two and then immediately apply what they are learning when they look for work the next day. More courses could be added soon, Smith said, including basics in the legal rights of immigrants.

Time will tell whether relief work joins adult education as a permanent part of Holding’s mission. But for now at least, the momentum is in Holding’s favor. Its new supporters believe that the institution has recovered its mission this year, not strayed from it.

“There’s an interesting lesson for me in this,” said Judy Kading, a United Methodist who came to Laredo from Greenfield, Iowa, to volunteer. “This space was, at a point in time, dedicated to service and dedicated to God, and people dropped the ball. They couldn’t handle it. The place closed. But God didn’t forget the pact.

“It’s like God said, ‘Well, there’s the Holding Institute! It’s still got a mission, and here it is!’ And human beings just have to go along with those purposes.”

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

 

 

 

Monday - September 8, 2014
14 Mother Teresa quotes about how to change the world

For much of her life, Mother Teresa served the impoverished communities of Calcutta, caring for the sick, while also sharing the love of Christ.

Today, Sept. 5, on the 17th anniversary of her death, we look back on 14 of her most inspirational quotes about love, prayer and the small acts of kindness that can change the world forever.

On Reliance on God
Give yourself fully to God. He will use you to accomplish great things on the condition that you believe much more in His love than in your own weakness.

On Caring for Those in Your Life
Spread love everywhere you go; first of all in your house. Give love to your children, to your wife or husband, to a next door neighbor. Let no one ever come to you without leaving better and happier. – sourced in Worldwide Laws of Life by John Templeton

On Caring about the Little Things
Little things are indeed little, but to be faithful in little things is a great thing.

On the Need for Love
The hunger for love is much more difficult to remove than the hunger for bread. – Interview in TIME magazine

On When to Begin
Yesterday is gone. Tomorrow has not yet come. We have only today. Let us begin.

On the Reward of Service
I try to give to the poor people for love what the rich could get for money. No. I wouldn't touch a leper for a thousand pounds; yet I willingly cure him for the love of God. - Mother Teresa of Calcutta, A Gift For God: Prayers and Meditations

On the Ordinary
Do ordinary things with extraordinary love.

On Working Together
What I can do, you cannot. What you can do, I cannot. But together we can do something beautiful for God.

On Not Seeking Large Numbers
I do not agree with a big way of doing things. What matters is the individual. If we wait till we get numbers, then we will be lost in the numbers and we will never be able to show that love and respect for the person. - Mother Teresa's Reaching Out In Love - Stories told by Mother Teresa

On Loneliness
The most terrible poverty is loneliness and the feeling of being unloved.

On Prayer
Prayer is not asking. Prayer is putting oneself in the hands of God, at His disposition, and listening to His voice in the depth of our hearts.

On Listening to God’s Voice
Before you speak, it is necessary for you to listen, for God speaks in the silence of the heart.

On Praying Together
Let us love one another as God loves each one of us. And where does this love begin? In our own home. How does it begin? By praying together.

On Holiness
Holiness is not the luxury of the few; it is a simple duty, for you and for me.

Courtesy Relevant Magazine www.relevantmagazine.com. Photo courtesy Bigstock.com.
Friday - September 5, 2014
Nine social justice books to read this fall

When we think of social justice, we typically think of action, and action is certainly vital, but we also need study and reflection to help us understand the complexity that surrounds any given issue.

Here are nine new and upcoming books that span a wide range of social justice issues and will be worth reading this fall.

The Locust Effect: Why the End of Poverty Requires the End of Violence

by Gary A. Haugen and Victor Boutros (Oxford University Press)

Although we have made great strides in the battle against global poverty over the last three decades, Western generosity alone will not eliminate poverty. This important book looks at various forms of violence—for instance, rape, slavery, land theft—and how they contribute to the cycle of poverty. The authors make a convincing case that efforts to work for a world beyond poverty must include the messy work of resisting violence.

Overrated: Are We More in Love with the Idea of Changing the World Than Actually Changing the World?

by Eugene Cho (David C. Cook)

Never afraid to ask a pointed question, Eugene Cho calls us not just to love and talk about justice, but to be actively engaged in seeking justice. It is not just others who need to be healed and transformed, but we ourselves as well, and Cho maintains that we start to find our own transformation in working for change among others.

Just Mercy

by Bryan Stevenson (Speigel and Grau)

This is a legal narrative that has been praised by the master of this genre, John Grisham, but this story is not fiction, but rather Stevenson’s memoir of a life in law, defending “the poor, the wrongly condemned, and women and children trapped in the farthest reaches of our criminal justice system.” Just Mercy, however, is more than simply Stevenson’s story; it offers a profound argument for compassion in the American legal system.

The Third Plate: Field Notes on the Future of Food

by Dan Barber (The Penguin Press)
This new work by Dan Barber is likely the most important book on food to be published this year. Barber argues that the food produced by neither conventional agriculture (the first plate) nor local and organic agriculture (the second plate), is a sustainable way to farm and eat. Rather, he argues for the third plate, “an integrated system of vegetable, grain and livestock production that is ... dictated by what we choose to cook for dinner.”

Red, Brown, Yellow, Black, White—Who's More Precious In God's Sight?: A call for Diversity in Christian Missions

by Leroy Barber (Jericho Books)

Rooted in over 20 years of urban ministry, Leroy Barber’s newest book makes the pointed observation that people of color almost never serve in the mission field. Red, Brown, Yellow, Black, White explores the implications of this observation, and argues persuasively that a diversification of both church and mission field is sorely needed.

Oriented to Faith: Transforming the Conflict over Gay Relationships

by Tim Otto (Cascade Books)

Tim Otto, a pastor and celibate gay man, makes a compelling case for a third way between the culture wars that have deeply divided the church on how it understands members of LGBT community. Writing out of his own deep well of personal experience, Otto describes the way forward as marked out by the virtues of humility, compassion and above all, patient conversation. Oriented to Faith is an important and timely book, as many denominations have already split or are on the verge of fragmenting over questions of sexuality.

Too Heavy a Yoke: Black Women and the Burden of Strength

by Chanequa Walker-Barnes (Cascade Books)
“Ten years ago I came to a startling realization:” begins Walker-Barnes, “I was a StrongBlackWoman, and being one was not working for me.” Over the remainder of the book, she dismantles the myth of the StrongBlackWoman, and emphasizes the role churches should play in unraveling the mythology.

The Paradox of Generosity: Giving We Receive, Grasping We Lose

by Christian Smith and Hilary Davidson (Oxford University Press)

Drawing up deep sociological research, Smith and Davidson explore the effects of generosity in 21st century America. Their conclusion? “More generous people are happier, suffer fewer illnesses and injuries, live with a greater sense of purpose, and experience less depression.” Sounds an awful lot like the way of Jesus.

Planted: A Story of Creation, Calling, and Community

by Leah Kostamo (Cascade Books)

Planted is Leah Kostamo’s well-crafted memoir of the journey that she and her husband made to starting A Rocha, the first Christian environmental center in Canada. “Maybe a major contribution this book can make to the Christian community these days,” writes Eugene Peterson, “is to challenge the widespread reluctance, a procrastination to embrace creation care—right now.”

Courtesy of Relevant Magazine www.relevantmagazine.com. The opinions are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position or policy of the Florida Conference.
Friday - September 5, 2014
Trend toward older clergy continues in 2014

For the past ten years, the Lewis Center in partnership with the General Board of Pension and Health Benefits has reported annually on Clergy Age Trends in the United Methodist Church. The Lewis Center prepares these reports so that church leaders can see the most important trends in clergy numbers and ages in such a way that they understand these trends, can easily share them with others, and act upon the findings.

The report covers elders, deacons, and local pastors. Elders are ordained to a ministry of Word, Sacrament, Order and Service. They itinerate and receive an appointment annually by the bishop. Deacons are ordained to a ministry of Word and Service to both the community and a congregation. Deacons are not required to itinerate, nor guaranteed an appointment. A local pastor is licensed and appointed to perform the duties of a pastor in a particular setting. They are not required to itinerate, nor guaranteed an appointment.

This five-minute video provides an overview of the changes in clergy age trends.


Download this video free from Vimeo.

Fewer and Older Elders; More Local Pastors

Elders and local pastors are appointed as pastors of congregations. The number of active elders continues to decline as the number of local pastors grows. Since 1990, there are 6,123 fewer elders and 3,459 more local pastors. In 1990, there were over five elders for each local pastor; today there are two elders for each local pastor. In 2014, there are 15,384 elders and 7,395 local pastors.

Elders between ages 55 and 72 comprise 55 percent of all active elders, the highest percentage in history. This group reached 50 percent for the first time ever in 2010. This age cohort represented only 30 percent of active elders as recently as 2000. Previously their percentage of the total was even lower. 

The median age of elders increased to 56 in 2014, the highest in history. The median age was 50 in 2000, and 45 in 1973. The average age remains at 53, an historic high, though unchanged for five years. The mode age (the single age most represented) remains at 61, also a high. 

The percentage of elders aged 35 to 54 continues to shrink, from 65 percent of all active elders in 2000 to 39 percent in 2014.

Modest Growth among Young Clergy

The number of young elders hit an historic low in 2005 and has increased by almost 100 (or about 12 percent) since then. The number of young local pastors and deacons, while much lower than elders, has increased at a higher rate since 2005. Today, under-35s make up about 6 percent of elders, 9 percent of deacons, and 8 percent of local pastors.

The gender makeup of young elders is becoming more balanced. Thirty-nine percent of under-35 elders are female. Over three-quarters of young deacons are women. The gender makeup is almost the opposite for local pastors, three-quarters of whom are men.  

For many years the highest concentrations of young clergy elders have been in the Southeastern and South Central Jurisdictions. That trend continues in 2014, but the North Central Jurisdiction made the greatest gains in young elders in the past year.

Much more information is available in the complete Clergy Age Trends report, which is available for download free of charge. The full report includes detailed data for every annual conference.

Read or download the full Clergy Age Trends report at churchleadership.com/clergyage. View a five-minute video of the report on YouTube.

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

 
 
Events
Wednesday - September 17, 2014
Gulf Central Local Church Administrative Staff Training & Appreciation - South

 

Who should attend:
All local church Administrative Staff, Church Secretaries,
Administrative Assistants, Business Managers, Financial Managers
  Some of the topics on the agenda are Charge Conference forms & Missional Vital Signs, Year End Statistics; Conference website,  and more.
 At the following 3 locations from 10:00am until approximately 2:00pm (a lunch will be provided):
September 15, 2014 St Paul, Largo
September 16, 2014 Palm Harbor
September 17, 2014 Trinity, Bradenton
The training is free but we need you to register so we know how much lunch to order! Please register by clicking here   
Thursday - September 18, 2014
East Central dCOM Meeting

 District Committee on Ministry Meeting

Candidates contact Elizabeth Flynn for appointment.

ecdregistrar@tomokaumc.org 

Thursday - September 18, 2014
SW District Congregational Vitality Committee Meeting

The South West District Congregational Vitality Committee will be meeting.

Thursday - September 18, 2014
SW District Imagine No Malaria Information & Training

South West District Imagine No Malaria Information & Training
How can you imagine a world with no malaria if you already believe you live in one?

This event is open to everyone!


www.imagineflorida.org

Sunday - September 21, 2014
No More Throw Away Kids Mentor Training - Branches UMC - Sunday, September 21, 2014

No More Throw Away Kids Mentor Training

This training will prepare you to be a “faith friend” (mentor) to a child, ages 9 – 18, currently incarcerated in the Florida Juvenile Justice System. This comprehensive training is based on two national mentoring models and will focus on the particular needs of juvenile offenders as well as gender specific issues. 

Upon completion of the training, you will be connected with a youth in the system based on interviews and evaluations. The goal is to provide the best possible match for both the mentor and your mentee. You are asked to have at least four contacts a month and at least one of those should be a face-to-face meeting. Other contacts can include phone calls, letters, cards, attendance at events, etc. Each facility has multiple opportunities during the week and weekends for you to connect with your mentee. You will receive ongoing support throughout the process.

Currently, 58% of youth will re-offend within the first three months of release. Mentoring is proven to help reduce those numbers and greatly increase the chance of a youth succeeding. Thank you for your willingness to bring hope to these hurting and lost children.

You must be 21 years old and a background clearance is required.  There is no cost for the training or background clearance; however, REGISTRATION IS REQUIRED for planning purposes.

The Jail and Prison Ministry Task Force of the Florida Conference sponsor this event. Training and background clearance are provided by JFJ Ministries, a community ministry of Van Dyke UMC.

For more information, please contact Pam Garrison, Florida Conference Prison Ministry Staff Liaison, at (800) 282-8011 Ext. 148 or pgarrison@flumc.org or Cheryl Jackson, JFJ Ministries, at (813) 766-4146 or cheryl@jfjministries.org.

 

 

Monday - September 22, 2014
SW District Leadership Council (DLC)

The South West District Leadership Council will be meeting.

Tuesday - September 23, 2014
Residents in Ministry 2nd year leadership retreat

A leadership retreat at Church of the Resurrection for 2nd year Residents in Ministry.

Tuesday - September 23, 2014
SW District Church Administrative Staff Training & Appreciation - First UMC-Sebring

The South West District Staff will be meeting at First UMC-Sebring on Tuesday, September 23rd to provide administrative training. You are encouraged to contact the District Office with specific topics you would like covered.

Lunch will be provided at the event.

Time: 9:30am - 3:00pm
(Gathering for coffee and snacks starting at 9:00am)

Wednesday - September 24, 2014
AC Clergy Meeting

Atlantic Central District will hold a Clergy Meeting on September 24th, 9:00am to 3:00pm at Lakewood Park UMC. All clergy are required to attend. (Please note, this is a change of date from August 26th)

We will have a worship time from 9:30 – 10:00, then welcome the new pastors to our District. Jen Stiles-Williams, co-senior pastor at St. Luke’s UMC in Orlando, will be with us to share a vision/planning process that can help all of us in reaching our communities for Christ. District Superintendent, Gary Spencer would like for you to bring one person who is process oriented or a strategic thinker, lay or staff. This person should be someone who can help or helps you in your planning and visions for ministry. Jen presented this to a group at the Cabinet and Gary thought it was a very practical and purposeful way to go about ministry.
 
Please Register your attendance  including your lay person.so we can plan for lunch and call Gary if you cannot attend. We will have lunch together.
 
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