Abound in Hope

Abound in Hope

A Report from the 2023 Florida UMC Annual Conference

by Marti Chumbler, Lay Leader

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Romans 15: 13 NRSV

The 2023 Florida United Methodist Annual Conference fully embraced and reflected the chosen theme “Abound in Hope.” Over the course of two and a half days, conference attendees experienced moments of solemnity but also of hilarity, reports of expected budget reductions but also a commitment to continued support of local churches and a ministry of service, sadness at the disaffiliation of churches and clergy but also a shared sense of renewal and revival among those of us remaining United Methodists. There were both shouts of joy and tears of healing.

Of particular significance for Trinity, two of our own were commissioned as provisional elders–Bryant Manning, who served as our interim associate here at Trinity over the past year, and Anna Brook Opalinski, our new associate. In total, 20 individuals received commissions as provisional elders and four as provisional deacons. Eleven were licensed as local pastors. Three were ordained as deacons and nine as elders. Following the moving licensing, commissioning, and ordination service, which included a stirring message from Bishop Tom Berlin, the crowd celebrated the new clergy with the hugs, cheers, and some joyful tears.
Despite Bishop Berlin’s suggestion, and to the disappointment of some of us in the crowd, the Conference’s treasurer did not present his financial and budget report via interpretive dance (although there was some suggestion that next year’s report could include choreography). Nonetheless, Mr. Smelser’s report was informative and, while recognizing the challenges associated with disaffiliations, reflected the same sense of renewal as was present throughout all of the reports. The budget approved for the coming year reflects a recognition that disaffiliations will have a financial impact. However, remaining churches will not be asked to increase their apportionments and the Conference will continue its focus on service and mission.

Four resolutions were included in the Conference workbook, three of which will be forwarded for consideration at the 2024 United Methodist General Conference. However, only one required a vote of conference attendees. Titled “In Support of Creating a U.S. Regional Conference,” the resolution calls for a reorganization, with the five U.S. jurisdictions combined into a U.S. regional conference and the existing central conferences outside the U.S. reorganized as regional conferences
representing United Methodists in Africa, the Philippines, and Europe. This proposed reorganization is intended to recognize differences in cultural and political contexts and allow each region to tailor its ministry and mission while maintaining connectional ties with the worldwide United Methodist Church.

Two other resolutions that will be forwarded for consideration during the 2024 General Conference: 1) a resolution asking disaffiliating clergy and laity to abstain from voting on measures relating to the future of the United Methodist Church and 2) a resolution to remove discriminatory policies and language from the Book of Discipline. A final resolution calls upon the Florida Conference to fully affirm and protect LBGTQA+ persons and asks that the bishop not take disciplinary action against clergy based upon their sexual orientation or as a result of officiating at weddings of LGBTQA+ persons while changes to the Book of Discipline are being considered.

The Conference recognized Rev. Dr. Wayne Wiatt and 37 other retiring clergy for their many years of service. Local churches with milestone anniversaries were celebrated, with banners from the 200-year old churches festooning the meeting hall. Helen Fletcher and Janie Kalaf, wives of former Trinity pastors, were among those honored during a service of remembrance for clergy and clergy spouses who died during the past year.

The Conference heard many other reports, including reports on campus ministries, Warren Willis Camp, the status of Fresh Expressions, justice ministries, and the efforts of the Anti-Racism Task Force.

Enthusiastic singing, stirring messages from Bishop Berlin and other pastors, prayers, Bible study, even the blasting of tee shirts into the crowd and the Conference’s lay leader Alice Williams dancing up the aisles–all furthered the theme “Abound in Hope.” To quote Bishop Berlin, we left the Conference not just with hearts warmed, but with hearts afire.

Pictured from left: Rev. Bryant Manning, Stewart and Linda Fleming, Rev. Dr. Matthew M. Williams, Rev. Dr. Wayne Wiatt, Marti Chumbler, Dr. Nick Quinton, Rev. E. Wayne Curry. Not pictured: Steve and Diane Jacobs
Trinity UMC’s newly appointed Associate Pastor, Rev. Anna Brook Opalinski and Senior Pastor, Rev. Dr. Matthew M. Williams