WEEKLY NOTES June 16, 2022
Last week I attended Annual Conference in Lakeland, FL along with both Rev. Kandace Brooks and Rev. Latricia Scriven. At Saint Paul's we have two retired clergy that are part of our congregation: Rev. David Gill and Rev. Anne Godbold. They attended as well, along with David's wife, Susan Gill. Our lay delegates were Debbie Eggebraaten and Connie Zeigler, and we also had two youth delegates that attended as district delegates: Kaden Rokitowski and Parker Keaton. Dora Thomas also attended. I encourage you to engage these folks in conversations about what stood out to them most about this gathering.
Most of you have probably heard by now that the 16 candidates that were to be commissioned as provisional elders and provisional deacons were denied that status. At the opening of Annual Conference the clergy gather together for Clergy Session, and vote to approve those who are slated to be licensed as local pastors, commissioned as provisional elders and deacons, and ordained as elders and deacons in full connection.
This is usually a rubber-stamp vote on the extensive work that the Board of Ordained Ministry has already done in examining the candidates. However, this year the commissioning group contained two known members of the LGBTQIA+ community. In order to be approved at the clergy session, these individuals needed a 75% vote of "yes." They received a vote of 72.5%. It has been the custom of the Florida Conference to vote on each group as a whole, rather than as individuals, and the group voted to maintain that tradition prior to the vote. Therefore all 16 candidates were denied commissioning.
I found this heartbreaking because I believe strongly that God can and does call and equip all sorts of people for ministry. I am not so naive to think that we all feel the same about this. I do not disparage those who voted their consciences and voted against the candidates. Wrestling with our theology is part of what we do through holy conferencing. However, it was frustrating that many of those who voted against them had already announced their plans to exit the denomination and align with the new Global Methodist Church. This felt spiteful to me, and unethical.
Despite the discouraging events surrounding this decision (and if you wish to hear more details I would be happy to talk with you or point you to more resources), I was incredibly encouraged by the Conference as a whole. 72.5% is not a small margin of support and indicates to me that we are becoming a more inclusive church. We passed a resolution against gun violence. We heard from our missionaries in Latin America. We collected funds to help rural churches with technology needs. The youth delegates united together to speak words of justice. Our co-lay leaders, Alice Williams and Derrick Scott II, told incredible stories of hope. We elected Florida's first Episcopal Nominee that is a person of color. Our work on anti-racism continues strong. There was so much to celebrate. There IS so much to celebrate. God is doing great things through the Florida Conference of the United Methodist Church! I am glad to be a part of it, and I am glad you are a part of it as well.
Grace and peace,
Rev. Becky Rokitowski