(Dr. Jeremy Pridgeon) - Bishop Leeland and members of the Cabinet recently held their first meeting of 2014. There is much to celebrate in the life of the Alabama-West Florida Conference because the Spirit is moving among our congregations and we are developing devoted followers of Jesus Christ across our area. We give thanks for the leadership of clergy and laity who bear witness to the love of God, who inspire others, and who serve with gladness in our communities. The collective effort across the connection reminds us of the tremendous impact we have as United Methodists, underscoring a fundamental belief that we can do far more together than we ever can on our own.
Over the next few months, we will have an opportunity to demonstrate this once more as we take part in the "Imagine No Malaria" campaign. As we join in this General Church initiative, here in our conference, our goal is to save 100,000 lives from malaria through the acquisition of the protective nets used to shield families from the mosquitoes that transmit the disease. Each district is developing ways to encourage congregations to take part in this effort, which will culminate at our 2014 session of Annual Conference in Montgomery. Please encourage your churches to take part over the upcoming weeks. Small groups, Lenten covenant groups, children's ministries, youth ministries, United Methodist Women, United Methodist Men, Sunday School classes, among others can easily participate in saving the life of someone on the African continent. You can find additional resources for use in your church by clicking here.
We continue to promote two studies that we believe have the capacity to lead our churches into greater fruitfulness: The Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations by Bishop Robert Schnase and The Wesleyan Way by Bishop Scott Jones. These studies were featured at recent district conferences and are outstanding resources for helping us to live into greater fulfillment of our mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ. We have the opportunity to hear Bishop Schnase during the Bishop's Day Apart on March 3, 2014, at St. James United Methodist Church in Montgomery. Both clergy and laity are highly encouraged to attend. You can register for the Day Apart here.
During the month of January, two very important administrative matters require attention in our churches. The Year End Report, Table I, II, and III data needs to be submitted to the Conference Office immediately if your congregation has not done so. This data is compiled from across the conference and sent to the General Church, gathered with the information reported from all other annual conferences. Additionally, the preference forms for pastors and Staff-Parish Relations Committees need to be submitted as well as part of the consultation process for the 2014-15 pastoral appointments. Each district superintendent will be reviewing the information submitted for their district. Where a change in appointment is requested, the superintendents will schedule a consultation with the pastor and the Staff-Parish Relations Committee during the upcoming weeks. This is a time of discernment and reflection for our pastors and Staff-Parish Relations Committees, so please pray for one another in this season.
As always, we paused to remember the pastoral care concerns from our clergy families during this session. The sharing of this information is a reminder that there are many personal needs pressing in our clergy even as they seek to serve their congregations and communities. We have brothers and sisters who need healing, who are in grief, who have loved ones facing difficult circumstances and we would do well to offer encouragement and prayers for our colleagues.
We give thanks for a good 2013 and are excited at what God will do through the "people called Methodists" in the Alabama-West Florida Conference in 2014. We affirm a greater sense of connection, the development of clergy and lay leaders in congregational, district, and conference leadership. We are committed to establishing new communities of faith to reach those who are not part of the fellowship of the church. We resolve to fulfilling our role as the "chief missional strategists" for our districts and are grateful for the partnership we have with clergy, laity, and congregations in making this possible throughout our conference. We give thanks to God for the abundant blessings we share and for the privilege of serving together. May we continue to be about the work of Christ in the world in the year ahead!