NATIONAL, CONFERENCE, AND DISTRICT NEWS

Our “Virtual Only” Annual Conference
Bishop Carter, the Cabinet, and the Annual Conference Planning Team announce that the regular session of Annual Conference 2020 will be a virtual-only event held on Saturday September 19.

We had hoped to be able to host a hybrid event at First Lakeland UMC, allowing for some to attend in person and some virtually. After careful discernment and review of the latest information about COVID-19, Conference leaders have determined that we cannot plan to safely gather a large group inside a sanctuary in September. We are learning alongside every other annual conference who are shifting to virtual only large events.

The virtual 2020 Annual Conference Session will utilize an online platform that will allow members to securely participate using an internet-connected device. A focused agenda is being finalized and will include voting on essential matters of business.

All lay and clergy members of the annual conference should plan to be present on the online platform in order to participate in the virtual annual conference session on September 19 from 9 a.m. to Noon. We are planning to virtually honor our retiring clergy and share in a virtual memorial service during that day.

The first order of business will be to amend our standing rules to authorize virtual voting. The method of remote communication will enable every member to speak and vote at the session and hear the proceedings of the session. The Annual Conference Planning Team will release a plan next week explaining how all lay and clergy members will be able to fully participate.

This plan will include ways to assist persons who may be uncomfortable with technology or lack access to adequate internet. Details and instructions for how to prepare are forthcoming. Additionally, we have determined that we cannot adequately and safely accomplish everything on Saturday September 19. To that end, Bishop Carter and Conference Leaders announce the following livestreamed events that will take place on Saturday, September 12:

  • The Board of Lay Ministry will host a virtual laity session from 10 a.m. to Noon on Saturday September 12. The laity session will conclude with a livestreamed service led by Bishop Carter to commission two new deaconesses.
  • Bishop Carter will lead an outside Service of Commissioning for the new probationary clergy members at 1 p.m. on Saturday September 12.
  • Bishop Carter will lead an outside Service of Ordination for the newly ordained elders and deacons at 3 p.m. on Saturday September 12.
  • Bishop Carter will lead an outside service of Installation of our two new District Superintendents at 4:30 p.m. on Saturday September 12.

All outside services will take place at the Warren Willis Camp in Fruitland Park on the shores of Lake Griffin, a place where many Florida United Methodists have received their call to ministry.

The services will be livestreamed and recorded so that everyone in the conference can participate. In person attendance at these outside services will be strictly limited to those being commissioned and ordained and their immediate families. All in person attendees will follow the mandated safety protocols related to social distancing, required face coverings, screening for symptoms, etc.

We want to thank all of you for your flexibility during this time. We are praying for each of you, your families, and your churches as we continue to navigate these uncertain waters.
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Health Care Inequality in Hillsborough County
The COVID-19 epidemic has shown a light on health inequality across the country. The COVID-19 virus has hit many communities especially hard, including residents in prisons and nursing homes, blue-collar workers, the elderly, and the indigent poor.

A recent report from the Florida Department of Health (DOH) in Hillsborough County highlights avoidable differences in health outcomes among residents of our county. The report identifies health vulnerabilities for low income residents, people of color, and other marginalized communities.

For example, one-third of adults living in households with annual incomes less than $25,000 have no health insurance at all. This compares with only 5% of adults in households with annual incomes greater than $50,000. Among infants, black and Hispanic babies are two to three times likely to die in the first year of life that white babies.

The new DOH report highlights contributing factors to poor health outcomes, including neighborhood location, transportation options, income and education levels, and health care access. The report identifies unfair, unjust, and avoidable difference in health care across the county. The report also highlights work that DOH is doing in Hillsborough County to address some of these issues. Government cannot solve these problems alone—community partners and individuals can all play a role in addressing these disparities.

The YouTube video at this link can provide more information.

COVID-19 and the Reopening of Schools in Florida
In this time leading up to a new school year there is heightened anxiety about a return to class. Normally this time of year is a joyful one for students, teachers, and parents as they look forward to a new academic year. This year, due to the ongoing challenges of the coronavirus pandemic, the joy of a new school year often feels overshadowed by fear and uncertainty as well as the reality that “going back to school” will be very different.

Bishop Carter recalls a pamphlet he read 20 years ago by The Upper Room entitled “Five Dreams I Have for My Child.” Those dreams were that a child will not be hungry, will be educated, will have shelter, will be safe and will know the stories of faith. In the challenging year ahead, these dreams are all the more powerful and needed in our community.

We invite members of our church to find a way to lift up, inspire, and come alongside the teachers, students, and administrators in your congregation and community this month. The Cabinet of the Florida Conference has a number of ideas for supporting educators in our area on their Facebook page, @FloridaUMC 

This is a particularly challenging time for people and families with direct involvement in academic life. Let us join with them in prayer as an expression of our love for them as our neighbor.
For the Elderly, Protection Comes at a Cost

Ann Harvey resides at an assisted living facility in Tampa. Like 
other residents there and at similar facilities throughout Florida, 
COVID-19 has forced her into quarantine since mid-March.

An order signed by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis prohibits outside 
visitors from entering these senior centers, and imposes other 
restrictive measures designed to protect the vulnerable elderly. 
 So, Ann, who is battling cancer, takes pleasure in other things—
like a trip to the nearby Moffitt Cancer Center for chemotherapy.

"It's good to get out," she said with a laugh. "But when I come back, I'm quarantined in my room for 48 hours." The protective measures are necessary because of the approximately 6,100 deaths in Florida related to COVID-19, more than 2,700 were residents or staff members at senior care facilities.

But for the elderly, that protection comes at a cost. Isolation, loneliness, and fear can be byproducts of months without outside contact.  

Rev. Gary Rideout, Senior Pastor at St. Andrews UMC in Brandon, is also the facilitator of the Florida Conference Beyond 50 Ministries. He says, "It is important that they stay secluded and quarantined, but from what I've seen they also are the ones who most need to go to church, but they can't. They need the most visits, but we can't visit them. When they're sick, we can't go to the hospital with them."

Although some churches that have reopened their sanctuaries for worship, many of them recommend that anyone 65 years or older stay home. For those elderly who are tech-savvy, logging on to streaming services offered by most churches is some comfort. But it's not the same, and seniors who can't use a computer or tablet for Zoom calls or worship services may feel abandoned.

There are other issues as well. "Some of these senior citizens may have dementia and not understand why no one will visit them," Rideout said.

Charlie Thrower, 92, is a founding member of Temple Terrace United Methodist Church. He moved into assisted living in late 2019, a couple of months before the pandemic struck with full force. He tries to stay positive during long days in his room, punctuated only by brief visits to the lobby to check his mail or pick up a newspaper. Meals are delivered to his room, and visitors from the outside aren't allowed.

"Other than that, I stay put, but I'm hanging in there," he said. "I really don't have any great complaints. Everybody here is doing the best they can under the circumstances. But it gets a little old after a while."

Charlie's days consist of a lot of television, especially reruns of "Everybody Loves Raymond." He reads the newspaper "cover to cover" and watches news updates. "I'll be glad when this over so I can get back to church," he said.

Ann Harvey also is a member at Temple Terrace UMC. She sings in the choir, has appeared in church dramas and plays, and has an ever-present smile. The facility where she stays is restrictive, but visitors can drop by as long as they stay on the sidewalk and away from close contact. Every so often, entertainers perform on the sidewalk as well.

"But you know what I miss?" she said. "There's no touching. People are missing being touched. They miss their families and friends coming by. We're missing human contact.

More information about lonely senior Methodists in senior care facilities is at this link.