Submitted by Christine J. McNair
Photos courtesy of Oliver E. McNair
JACKSONVILLE, FL – The 129th Session of the South Florida Conference began on Tuesday, June 18, 2019. The conference meeting site was the Crown Plaza Hotel, Jacksonville, Florida, with Varick Memorial A.M.E. Zion the host church and Rev. Charles Tabb, the host pastor and Presiding Elder.
Bishop Seth O. Lartey, Presiding Prelate of the Alabama/Florida Episcopal Area, presented the South Florida Messenger and Meditation Preacher for the conference, Rev. C. Vincent Parker, Pastor of Pilgrim Rest A.M.E. Zion Church, Whistler, Alabama. This was Rev. Parker’s return, as he also served last year, bringing the Communion Message Tuesday morning and delivering the Education, Memorial, Missionary and the Saturday Christian Education Messages. This dynamic preacher created a revival centered on the theme, “The Freedom Church: Re-tooling Our People, Re-shaping our Future.” Rev. Parker spoke from John 6:30-35 for the communion message. The title of his meditation was, “Soul Food.” He compared our spiritual needs to the body’s nutritional needs.
During the Tuesday evening Welcome Program, Bishop Lartey and Presiding Elder Charles Tabb were made Honorary Jacksonville City Councilmen by The Honorable Samuel Newby, Councilman At-Large, Group 5.
Shas’ McKaufman, a rising 5th grader from Varick, was recognized by Bishop Lartey for making a perfect score on the Florida State Assessment test this past school year. After the welcome program, Bishop Lartey gave his Episcopal Address, “From Which We Have Come and Where God is Taking Us.” Bishop Lartey emphasized that everybody ought to know who Jesus is. For without Christ, you are traveling illegally. He reminded us that we are called the Freedom Church because we stand for social justice. Bishop Lartey called us to be resolved, refocused and recommitted to retool our people. Major points of emphasis were:
• Growth is taking place in the Alabama/Florida Episcopal District. Three hundred fifty-one (351) persons were added to the Episcopal area.
• The goal is to have 1000 persons to join us in prayer via the prayer line daily, (call 1-712-770-5140; code 252907#.)
• Lomax-Hannon College will be reopened and contain Vocational, Liberal Arts and Spirituality components.
• Monthly Meetings will be held with the Presiding Elders.
• Three Methodist Bishops, (AMEZ, AMEC, & CME) have come together for banks to commit to 350 million dollars available for loans to Church Construction in the Southeast
• $950,000 thousand dollars has been reinvested in our churches.
• Alabama/Florida has purchased a Conference Center which seats 3,000 persons.
• The investment in our students -two students have received their Master’s of Divinity Degrees.
• The Christian Education Department has created a relevant curriculum.
• Our Annual Conferences have been revamped to have evangelism and outreach so that our presence is known and felt in the hosting communities.
• Vision - To become a Kingdom Focused Church
Throughout the conference, Bishop Lartey reminded us that August of 2019 will mark 400 years since the first documented arrival of Africans to English America. It is important that we recognize and participate in the 400 Years of African American History Act by planning programs and activities across the Episcopal District that celebrate and highlight the influence of Africans and descendants in America since 1619. Bishop Lartey challenged the Conference to take the lead in Florida and make it known that America could not boast of being the most innovative nation on earth without the accomplishments of African Americans.
This conference followed the blueprint set by Bishop Lartey in 2018. Our plan to make an impact on the community began Wednesday morning as members of the conference met on the grounds of Varick Memorial A.M.E. Zion Church to begin our outreach project of community food distribution for 300 families. Varick Memorial partnered with Farm Share Food Recovery and Distribution Program, a non-profit organization in Jacksonville, FL. Members of the conference rotated shifts at various distribution stations, including the intake table, until all the food was distributed. There were dry foods, such as beans, rice, cereal, pasta and canned goods, bagged on site. Conference attendees assisted persons by carrying food to cars as well as to apartments for those who lived nearby. During the food distribution, those requesting prayer, were invited into the sanctuary. Following lunch at a local restaurant, conference business resumed at the Crown Plaza .
Ms. Denise N. Pedro, Conference Director of Christian Education, presided over the Wednesday evening session. Her report, via power point, apprised the conference of her work and travel during the year. Rev. Parker preached from Nehemiah 6:1-3, on the subject, “Stay Focused.” He encouraged us to keep focused to recognize the moments of mischief, don’t let committees compromise your commitment and to beware of business meetings as they sometimes allow the devil in. Rememger that prayer meetings kick him out.
The activities of Thursday morning brought us back to Varick Memorial. Members donated many of the bags from various conferences and stuffed them with personal hygiene items for men and women. These bags were given to the Trinity Rescue Mission, which provides food, clothing, shelter, emergency services and residential recovery programs to homeless men, women, and women with children.
Mrs. Jacquelyn Inez Williams-Lartey, Missionary Supervisor, led the Women’s Home and Overseas Missionary Society Convocation. District presidents presented a creative combined account of their work. A Global Luncheon replaced the annual prayer breakfast, as the Alabama/Florida Episcopal District participates in a fast from 6am to noon on Fridays. During this luncheon, Madison Tabb, a youth missionary, spoke from the subject, “Oh Missionary, What is the Matter with You?” Romans 8:35-39. #MissionMatters. Rev. Parker reminded us of “The Tragedy of Wasted Oil”, taken from John 20: 21-22. Just as wasted oil harms the environment and animals, a fixation on your history wastes oil. The oil of truth will set you free!
Rev. Parker brought the Saturday morning Christian Education meditation from 1 Samuel 16: 1,10-13, on the subject, “Overlooked by Many, but Seen By One.” He pointed out that God saw David on the level of his heart. God saw several things. He saw David’s patience (wait on the Lord), responsibility (trusted with the sheep), trustworthiness (trusted him with his people), humility (submission to God’s will.) Following communion, the children, youth and adults assembled for Church School and workshops. The Christian Education Department recognized high school and college graduates.
Bishop Lartey brought the message for the Saturday afternoon Closing Worship service from John 17: 13-26. His subject was “Just Do It Like Jesus”. Doing it like Jesus brings new levels of growth, deliverance, healing and reconciliation. Doing it like Jesus will produce a “Kingdom Focused” Episcopal Area. Bishop Lartey called on our visitors to greet the conference. Sister Sylvia Hooker, Episcopal Director of Women in Ministry, expressed her desire to get the AL-FL Women’s Ministry ball rolling. She brought with her Ms. Carolyn Ogletree. Both are members of Pine Grove #2 A.M.E. Zion Church in Tuskegee, Alabama. Also visiting were Rev. Lessie Simpson, Episcopal Director of Christian Education, of Mt. Zion A.M.E. Zion in Hayneville, AL and Ms. Viola A. Betton, Christian Education District Director of Young Adults, Butler Chapel A.M.E. Zion in the South Alabama Conference, Tuskegee, Alabama. St. James A.M.E. Zion Church of Kissimmee, FL, Rev. Harry Jones, Pastor, was presented with the Theyuka Thomas Church Growth Champion Award for bringing in 13 new members during the conference year. Bishop Lartey gave the Charge to Pastors, awarded appointments and declared the conference closed with members headed to their churches for Sunday services.