Florida Conference shares new-church wealth


By Woody Woodrick
Advocate Editor

A Florida college student’s desire to help with Hurricane Katrina recovery has led to a boon for new churches in Mississippi.

The Florida Conference’s New Church Development Committee recently gave its counterpart in the Mississippi Conference a gift of $90,000 to use toward planting new churches.

“My son was a junior at (the University of) South Florida and wanted to work in hurricane relief during spring break, and we worked in Moss Point,” explained the Rev. Dr. Mont Duncan, executive director of New Church Development for the Florida Conference. “Three months ago, I began to think that God has blessed us with recourses way beyond the apportionment dollar. To be faithful, we need to share with someone somewhere.

“I got to thinking about Moss Point and figured things might be tight in Mississippi. I wanted to do something within our jurisdiction and with a group that has a heart for planting new churches. I went to our committee in September, and they said go for it. I wanted to give a substantial gift. I suggested $90,000.”

Duncan visited Mississippi last month to present the first of three $30,000 checks that will be given to the Mississippi Conference over three years.

The Rev. Dr. Embra Jackson, administrative assistant to the bishop, said the timing of the gift was providential. “This gift is a godsend,” he said. “It means so much to us. When Mont called, we had just finished a Cabinet meeting with Bishop (Hope Morgan) Ward where we had discussed starting additional new churches in our annual conference beyond the three per year that the annual conference set as a minimum goal last year. Mont called that same evening, and when he told me the news, I nearly shouted in his ears. I was overwhelmed by Florida Annual Conference’s gift.”

Ward thanked Florida for the gift. “We celebrate the wonderful gift from the Florida Conference and give thanks for their partnership in the expanding mission of the Mississippi Conference,” she said. “The Florida Conference has demonstrated in this remarkable way their commitment to new church development beyond the bounds of their conference. May we be inspired by this gift in every local congregation to reach out into the world Christ came to save.”

The only restriction on the fund is that they must be used for new churches, not repairing or rebuilding existing churches, Duncan said.

Jackson and Duncan met through their work within the Southeastern Jurisdiction. “This gift will be used by the New Church Development Commission to help supplement the amount of funding needed to start new churches in our annual conference,” Jackson said. “Rather than relying on apportioned dollars to help start a very limited number of new churches, these funds will, hopefully, be leveraged with existing new church development funds to help us start additional churches. We should be able to assist the annual conference in increasing the number of new church starts significantly.”

The gift has also had an impact on the Florida Conference. Duncan said shortly after making the decision to provide the funds to Mississippi, records of an old account used for new church development were found. Duncan said he called the Florida United Methodist Foundation and discovered the account contained $50,000.

Florida has been active in planting new churches. Duncan said experts recommend the number of annual new starts should match 3 percent of current churches in order to impact the culture. That means the Florida Conference starts 21 or 22 churches per year. Florida’s plans for 2007-08 call for starting 22 new congregations: seven predominantly Anglo and 15 ethnic, including seven Hispanic, six Haitian, one Chinese and one Brazilian.