(Susan Hunt) As we drove through northern Georgia and Tennessee to get to Kentucky, the trees were breathtaking. The fall colors were at their peak. That seemed like a good sign of things to come for our journey as we headed to the Red Bird Missionary Conference in southeast Kentucky. Sixteen of us from the Alabama-West Florida Conference spent all or some of 2 ½ days in late October with the good people of the Red Bird Conference – praying, conferencing, learning, and building relationships. We left encouraged and enthused about the possibilities of the partnership that our two conferences are forming.
The Red Bird Missionary conference consists of 22 churches/outreach centers, plus the Red Bird Mission and Henderson Settlement. Our partnership will be focused on the churches/outreach centers. Many of our AWFC churches have sent teams to the Red Bird Mission and Henderson Settlement over the years, and will continue to do so. However, many of our people are only aware of those two agencies and not enough know much about the churches. That is about to change!
Those 22 churches and outreach centers are ably led by 14 clergy – 5 elders and 9 local pastors. Most of the churches are doing very well in their communities and urgently want to reach out even more to the people who live near them. Many of them are in very rural settings where poverty is crushing, drug use is epidemic, and jobs are becoming more and more scarce. In that environment, these churches want to offer hope and encouragement and are trying to be the Church in a very unchurched world. Our partnership will enable us to explore ways to come alongside their churches so they can do just that.
Because healthy relationships are about receiving and giving, we look forward to things that those of us from Alabama and Florida will learn from our friends in Kentucky. They have so much to offer us, and we have already received so much! In fact, Rev. Dr. Jason Thrower, a participant in this October trip, shared that when his church, Graceville UMC, burned down several years ago, they received hymnals from the Red Bird churches!
Rev. Andy Gartman of Tabernacle UMC in Dothan, also a trip participant, said, “One of the things that excites me about this partnership is the potential it has to show the connectional nature of the UMC at its best. A partnership between AWF and Red Bird that is built on genuine reciprocity, where everyone involved both gives something and receives something, has the chance to be a unique witness to the transforming power of God and to the connection.”
Rather than planning a series of steps for AWFC churches to follow in order to participate in this partnership, we have developed a framework that can guide churches and districts as their relationships develop. We start by looking at all our assets, and build on those. Here are just a few of the ideas that we considered during our joint meeting in October: pulpit swaps, fall festivals, Vacation Bible Schools, leadership training, sharing choirs (even a dulcimer choir!), camps for children, healing services, economic development, and so much more.
AWFC districts have already begun conversations with their partner churches in the RBMC, sharing prayer concerns and joys, church news and events, and more. If your church would like to join us, please contact me at 334-356-8014 or firstname.lastname@example.org.