Friends and Colleagues,
On Thursday, February 25, 2021, extensive plans related to General and Jurisdictional Conferences were released by the Commission on General Conference and the Council of Bishops. Without a doubt there are varying opinions and perspectives about those news releases.
More than ever, last week’s flurry of events reminds me that we do not know what tomorrow holds….or next month or next year. An unprecedented global pandemic has changed our world forever. What I do know is that we are children of God called to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. We hear these words over and over, yet we expend significant energy on matters that are divisive and distract us from ministry.
General Conference is a necessary and valued part of our denomination as it is the only body who can set official policy and speak for the United Methodist Church. However, if we model our ministry around legislative matters, we will continue to be disappointed in one way or another. Let me remind you that we are still operating under the 2016 Book of Discipline. Portions of the Traditional Plan legislation were passed at the 2019 special session of General Conference in St. Louis, MO. Further answers to questions that you might find helpful are linked here.
We have a great opportunity to show this world what healing and unity look like. We will never agree on every matter, but our mission as United Methodists extends much further than legislative polity. Some of you are disappointed that legislation important to you will not be discussed until late 2022, at the earliest, while others are relieved that we have a respite opportunity to focus on mission and ministry. We all share a desire to seek healing and health as we begin to recover from this global pandemic.
The Alabama-West Florida Conference will lead the movement to spend our time, energy and resources on being the hands and feet of Christ. During the pandemic our staff worked on a revised set of priorities. We have not released that plan until now because the focus around General and Jurisdictional Conferences took precedent. However, I invite you to review this document. All of this work is grounded in several Biblical passages you will find in the plan.
Our conference and district staff, boards and committees are actively seeking ways to empower transformational ministry. This work started in May of 2020 as we made significant reductions to our conference budget. These changes were difficult, yet it began the adaptive work we needed to implement as a conference. We have continued to focus on ministry by:
-Partnering with the North AL Conference to seek ways rural communities in our conference may have access to the COVID-19 vaccine;
-Resourcing clergy monthly by providing a worship service to allow them to honor the Sabbath;
-Allowing the Bishop’s Coalition for Dismantling Racism to be a leading voice on how we listen and respond to critical social justice matters;
-Continuing to provide a disaster response ministry in areas of our conference that are still rebuilding after catastrophic storms.
This is a small sample of the ongoing ministry we are seeking to accomplish. As we proclaim, grow and adapt, I challenge you to prayerfully consider how you can shift your leadership to model a similar ministry. Whether you adopt this plan or a similar model, I urge you to spend your time focusing on what life-changing ministries your church can embrace. I continue to hear your powerful stories of how you are answering the call and am grateful to you.
My prayer for this conference is that we are revitalized with a new sense of energy, excitement and connectionalism. It’s an honor to be your bishop during this liminal time. I look forward to seeing what God can do in this conference, your local church and in your lives.
Bishop David W. Graves
Alabama-West Florida Conference