When our Alabama-West Florida Conference Cabinet met several weeks ago, I shared St. Paul’s letter to the Philippians as a reminder of the joy and the journey that we have shared together over the last eight years. Following the wonderful reception and “Sending Forth” by the AWF Conference on our behalf Sunday, I want to offer my appreciation and thanksgiving to you all.
Philippians 1:3-11 was also the passage that I shared with our conference when I was elected, consecrated, and appointed to the Montgomery Area of The United Methodist Church. My deepest desire, reflected in this passage, was that we might be engaged in a “partnership in the Gospel” from the very first day.
Gratitude is a word of deep appreciation which is derived from the Greek word meaning “Grace.” It speaks of the profound thankfulness that is itself a gift from God. The congregations, clergy, and laity of this great conference have indeed offered a willingness to enter into a partnership in order to advance the Gospel of God reconciling all things, both in heaven and on earth, through Jesus Christ. This is the ministry that has given me great comfort and joy–to be engaged with you in a ministry of reconciliation through the love of Jesus Christ.
After eight years of being both a recipient and partner with you, the message of St. Paul in his letter to the Philippians has even great significance for me. Reflecting on some of the key passages in this letter, I have greater appreciation for you:
My wife, Janet, and I express our most profound gratitude for the many cards, calls, texts, emails, letters, gifts, and beautiful reception, reminding us of our work from the “first day until now” all for the glory of God.
I also commend Bishop David Graves and his wife, Nancy, to your care knowing that the gracious hospitality and gratitude extended to us will be the natural offering of your work with them as well. Bishop Graves is an individual of deep faith, sensitivity, and trust, affirmed by his election in our Southeastern Jurisdictional Conference. He will inherit a great conference and you will inherit a wise and passionate Bishop.
As Janet and I travel to another wonderful conference to continue our work, being obedient to the authority of the Church, as God leads us, we enter into this time of change and transition with the affirmation of St. Paul, “Now I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that what has happened has really served to advance the gospel” (Philippians 1:12), and as a result we can “speak the word of God more courageously and fearlessly” (Philippians 1:14).
With Gratitude for you,
Paul L. Leeland