Photo Courtesy of Laurie Haller
Stressed-out in Tampa? No way! What’s there not to like about this fun-loving city of sun, warmth, water, and Busch Gardens? In two weeks thousands of United Methodists will descend upon the Tampa Convention Center for our 2012 General Conference. While the vast majority of our time will be spent inside in meetings, I haven’t heard a peep from anyone who isn’t thrilled about being in Tampa.
Yet just two months ago Sterling BestPlaces, a research firm specializing in livability rankings, released its report of the 50 most stressful cities (including suburbs) in which to live in the United States. Guess which city is the most stressed-out in the country? Tampa. In fact, 5 of the 10 most stressful cities are in Florida.
The Sterling team used the following criteria to determine the stress levels of our cites: divorce rate, commute time, unemployment, violent crime, property crime, suicides, alcohol consumption, mental health, sleep troubles, and the annual number of cloudy days. Consider these distressing stats for Tampa.
- Divorce rate: 12.3 percent
- Commute time in minutes: 28.3
- Unemployment: 11.2 percent
- Violent crime per 100,000 population: 500
- Property crime per 100,000 population: 3,387.2
- Suicides per 100,000 population: 15.5
Tampa isn’t as “sunny” as we thought, as Sterling researchers report that Florida residents are more likely to report feelings of stress, depression, and emotional problems, in addition to the high unemployment and crime rates. Tampa is in the 97th percentile for suicides.
How will General Conference contribute to the stress level of the city of Tampa? This is my fourth General Conference, and I sense that the anxiety in our denomination is at a record high. The good news is that we are finally facing the reality of our decline. We are determined to make whatever changes are necessary to restore our vitality and health so that we can make disciples and transform our world. Discerning exactly what those changes should be is the present locus of our stress. So much is at stake: massive restructuring, the proposal to eliminate guaranteed appointments, the possibility of a non-residential bishop, the challenge of becoming a global church. How will the Holy Spirit guide us through this maze of options?
Will we make a positive difference in Tampa or use the city for our own purposes...? Will we be a witness to God’s love or mere amusement for the locals? Will our grace and gratitude bless the city, or will the diversion of our demanding presence create more stress for Tampa?
In the midst of our own stress, how are we going to act and, perhaps more important, how are we going to be in the midst of this most stressed-out city in America? While visiting Glasgow, Scotland, last summer I discovered that a few square blocks of the downtown were blocked off to traffic, with big signs that said around, I soon realized that something was amiss. The street signs said, “Arch Street,” “Broad Street,” “I-676”, and “JFK Boulevard.” I wondered, “Where have I seen those signs before?” Then I noticed police cars, fire trucks, ambulances, and taxis that were definitely not Scottish. The street banners said, “Philadelphia Museum of Art.”