The 2018 Alabama-West Florida Annual Conference was held June 3-6 in Montgomery, AL, with the theme, "Imagine A Church That's the Hope of the World." Bishop David Graves, presiding over his second annual conference session since becoming the resident bishop, welcomed clergy and lay members to Frazer Memorial UMC in Montgomery.
A capacity crowd attended the Opening Worship Service of the 2018 Alabama-West Florida Annual Conference session, which was held Sunday evening, June 3. The service began with a Call to Worship led by Beverly Maddox, Lay Leader of the conference. A mass choir from around the conference, and led by Wayne Sigler of Frazer, provided inspiring music for the service including moving renditions of, "Love Devine, All Loves Excelling" and "Behold Our God." Bishop David Graves thanked Frazer for being outstanding hosts and expressed his appreciation to the mass choir, which set a conference record of having over 250 participants. Bishop Graves invited his wife, Nancy, to introduce Delphine Swanson, wife of Bishop James Swanson, Episcopal leader of the Mississippi Episcopal Area. Nancy presented a small token of appreciation to Mrs. Swanson. Bishop Swanson preached his sermon based on Revelation 21:1-5 entitled, "The Sea is No More." He passionately mentioned, "We don't realize that we, too, are living in a time of exile," referring to the Book of Revelation. He continued, "We no longer enjoy favored nation status as we used to. There was a time, preachers, when your church was full and when you were the only show in town at 11:00." He noted that it wasn't only the worship but the fellowship that brought people to church. Swanson said there isn't a book in the Bible that speaks to us today like the Book of Revelation and that preachers and laity need to have hope today more than ever. "If we put our eyes on Jesus, we won't worry about everything else going on," said Swanson. "There will come a day and an hour and a second where that which threatens you will be no more. That is only a temporary situation you are in, you are Sons and Daughters of Almighty God." The scripture lesson was read by Erica Gage of Capitol Heights UMC. Ephesians 3:20-21 was the sending forth and was read in four languages by Rev. Ashley Davis (Woodland UMC), English; Martha Rovira (Coordinator of AWF Hispanic/Latino Ministries), Spanish; Sean Hong (Prattville Korean UMC), Korean; and Rev. Geoffrey Kagoro (Capitol Heights UMC), Shona.
Communities of Transformation, an innovative initiative that partners low-income families with community volunteers, is the beneficiary of the 2018 missional offering. This ministry was launched from the AWF Conference in 2011. Churches from within the conference collected money and presented their offerings at opening worship. Over $56,000 was collected for this offering. Over $1,700 was collected at the Service of Commissioning & Ordination for the Ministerial Education Fund. Thank you for your generosity!
For the second year, each day of conference began with morning worship services. These worship services, under the direction of Rev. Jay Cooper of Bay Minette UMC, incorporated people from around the conference. A special emphasis was made to involve people representing the various stages of ministry, which included seminary students, local pastors, deacons, elders, laity, clergy spouses and conference staff.
Thirty-one clergy and clergy spouses who passed since the 2017 AWF Annual Conference session were remembered during the Service of Remembrance and Holy Communion. Bishop David Graves offered the opening prayer and Rev. June Jernigan, Assistant to the Bishop and Director of Ministerial Services, delivered the inspiring and uplifting sermon entitled, "Thankful for God's Call." It was based on 1 Samuel 3:1-18, which was read by Rev. Richard Williams of Aldersgate UMC. This year's sermon was particularly special as Rev. Jernigan reached out to all families remembering a loved one prior to this service. She asked them to tell her more about their deceased loved one's ministry call story, which came in different ways. Whether it was a call at a young age or later in life, their call was significant in many ways. She journeyed through several personal call stories telling how these saints came to know Jesus and know their life was to be in ministry. She also honored the clergy spouses who "led the parsonage life." She also stated, "To the families, thank you for being here and reminding us all of something today: the importance to the call of God. It keeps women and men in ministry and binds us together as leaders of the church." Each individual name was read aloud by Rev. Olivia Poole of Mt. Zion UMC, AWF Commission on Archives and History Chair. The acolytes lighted a candle for each person we remembered at the service. Rev. Emily Kincaid, deacon and serving Orange Beach UMC, prepared the communion elements. Jarvis Wilson and Keith Wilson provided comforting music through their rendition of, "I'll See You Again." The AWF Commission on Archives and History hosted surviving family members at a special luncheon. To see photos from this service, click here.
Eighteen clergy were recognized upon their retirement by Rev. Kathy Knight of Milton FUMC during Monday's order of the day. Rev. Joe Reams spoke on behalf of the retiring class. Back by popular demand was the "passing of the torch." Rev. Sung Kuk Hong, who was ordained an elder in full connection Monday evening, spoke on behalf of the newly ordained class, signifying new leadership in the conference. Together, the following clergy have 487 years of service in our conference.
The Service of Commissioning and Ordination was held Monday evening in the sanctuary of First United Methodist Church in Montgomery. The congregation represented family members and special friends of those being commissioned and ordained. Prior to the start of the service, the cathedral choir of Montgomery FUMC presented worshipful music led by Dr. James Seay. The service included the commissioning of two provisional deacons and one provisional elder and the ordination of one deacon in full connection and four elders in full connection. Bishop David Graves preached a sermon entitled, “Let Them Know You Love Them," based on John 15:9-17. He challenged the ordinands and commissionees to not forget that it's more about Jesus than the church. He stated, "You can know everything in the world, you can have everything in the world but if you don't have love, you have nothing." He told the example of a difficult couple in a church from a previous appointment that commanded a lot of attention from the church staff. Graves told him about a one-page paper that was due each week in seminary years ago that was time consuming to type and expensive to pay a typist. The man approached him in the church parking lot, Graves thinking it was about to become confrontational, and presented to him a brand new word processor and printer. It was a tremendous gift, especially at that time. He further said that from that time on, it changed the relationship. Eventually the man became a local pastor in the UMC. The man told Bishop Graves, "the people of this church and you, as a pastor and youth director, loved us in spite of us. You taught us what the love of Christ is all about." Graves finished by saying, "Love always finds a way." A special offering was collected for the Ministerial Education Fund. To see photos from this service, click here.
The conference was honored by the outstanding leadership of several guests. Bishop James Swanson of the Mississippi Episcopal Area preached the opening worship service. Julia Kuhn Wallace led the Tuesday teaching session and small group discernment time. We welcomed President Linda Flaherty-Goldsmith from Birmingham-Southern College and President Cam West from Huntingdon College, as well as Blake Horne, director of the United Methodist Children’s Home and Christopher Tomlin from the Methodist Homes for the Aging. Mrs. Nancy Graves gave the Mary Ellen Bullard Leadership Address at this year’s laity banquet and Mrs. Casey Graves Johnson spoke at the spouse’s luncheon. Jarvis Wilson and Keith Wilson, talented musicians from the Atlanta area, blessed our worship time together.
Several awards were given to recognize outstanding leadership and service in the conference. Milton FUMC was the recipient of the Local Church Heritage Award. Red Hill UMC and Guy’s Chapel UMC were the co-winners of the One Matters Award award given by the AWF Town and Country Commission. The Francis Asbury Award was given to Rev. Lisa Pierce of Alabama Rural Ministry. There were two winners of the Harry Denman Evangelism Award. The clergy winner is Dr. Matt Mobley of Mulder Memorial UMC. The Lay recipient is Merrily York, a staff member of Gulf Breeze UMC, and clergy spouse to Rev. Shawn York. This year's recipient of the Alice Lee Award is Dr. Shirley Woodie of Ozark FUMC. The Scouting Cross and Flame Award was given to Roger Mixson and Charles Phillips. Headland UMC was the recipient of the Bishop's Scouting Award. The recipient of the Susannah Wesley Award was Dr. Shirley Woodie of Ozark FUMC. Atkins Webb of Marion UMC was presented a $1,000 scholarship on behalf of the United Methodist Federal Credit Union. Rev. Yollande Yambo, African Regional Representative from the General Board of Global Ministries, presented the Alabama-West Florida Conference with the US Disaster Response Award. The conference received this award for our work through the advance helping areas in the world that have suffered after natural disasters.
For the second year at conference translating devices were available for Hispanic clergy and lay during business sessions. Cinthia Denisse Leon Garcia provided translation services allowing our Spanish-speaking brothers and sisters to be more engaged at conference. Listening devices were also provided for those who are hearing impaired.
Several resolutions were presented to the annual conference voting body at Tuesday's session. A Resolution Calling for the Renaming of the Third Monday in January by the State of Alabama was approved. A Resolution Concerning the Equality of Women was approved. Many in the conference signed this petition and stood with Rev. Meghan Kelley and Rev. Olivia Poole, authors of the resolution. A Resolution Concerning Predatory Lending in Alabama was approved. A Resolution Supporting Youth Involved in Youth Led Movements was approved. No amendments were approved, therefore the resolutions stand. All four approved resolutions may be found here.
At last year's annual conference, the voting members voted on five amendments from General Conference 2016. After amendment one was not passed, it was discovered that the language was inaccurate and a revote was required. Click here to read the corrected proposed amendment. The amendments could be discussed but could not be amended. There were two speeches in favor and no speeches against before voting took place. The collective results will be announced at a later date.
The conference established a $10,673,705 million budget for mission and ministry for 2019, a 3.17% decrease from 2018. The 2019 budget is the lowest in 20 years. The recommended district superintendent salary for 2019 is $120,475, or no increase from the previous year. An amendment was approved to move $500,000 in the claimants fund from within the current budget amount.
Mr. Mickey Wilson reported that membership stands at 133,696 and worship attendance stands at 58,923. Native American, Multiracial, Black, Pacific Islander and Hispanic/Latino attendance all showed areas of increase over the past year. Direct giving to United Methodist causes increased 27% or $1.48 million in 2016 to $1.83 in 2017. In 2017, 404 churches paid 100% of their apportionments, which is the highest in the past few years. There was a .12% increase in missional giving over 2016, which was at it highest level in 20 years. Churches who paid 100% of their 2017 apportionments were given a "100" button to wear on their name tags.
Presiding over his second AWF Annual Conference, Bishop David Graves took intentional time to diligently thank those who were an integral part of annual conference and stated that he would post his Episcopal Address online at a later date due to time. Dr. David Saliba of Perdido Bay UMC was honored for his service as the outgoing Annual Conference Secretary.
Hundreds of UMCOR kits and countless supplies from each district were collected over the course of the annual conference. The Pensacola District had the biggest percentage of their churches participating in the collection. Montgomery First UMC and The Mobile district UMW provided the largest number of completed kits. Millbrook FUMC, Capitol Heights UMC and Cain’s Chapel UMC sent youth group workers who managed the collection truck. Thank you for your donations and to the youth who received these supplies!
The 2018-2019 clergy appointments may be found online here.
The 2019 session of the AWF Annual Conference will be held June 2-5, 2019, at Frazer Memorial United Methodist Church in Montgomery, AL. Montgomery First United Methodist Church will host the Service of Commissioning & Ordination. We express our sincere appreciation to both of these staffs for hosting us this past year.
A downloadable pdf recap that can be used in your upcoming church bulletins can be found here. Full coverage of the 2018 AWF Annual Conference may be found here. To see photos taken by Luke Lucas, click here.