After two years of virtual conference, clergy and lay members and their guests attended the Opening Worship Service of the 2022 Alabama-West Florida Annual Conference session in the Dunn-Oliver Acadome on the campus of Alabama State University on Sunday evening, June 12. To begin the service, Bishop David Graves, presiding over his sixth annual conference as resident bishop of the Alabama-West Florida Conference, provided opening remarks and a prayer. The conference welcomed back Bishop Lawson Bryan, who was elected a bishop out of the AWF Conference in 2016. He served as bishop in the South Georgia Conference of the UMC until his retirement in 2021. He preached a sermon titled, "In This Season" based on Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 and our conference theme.
Each day of conference began with morning worship services. These worship services incorporated people from around the conference. A special emphasis was made to use worship elements that complemented each day's theme. Celeste Eubanks organized the worship committee. Dr. Sam Parkes of Mary Ester UMC wrote the moving liturgies and prayers for all services. Rev. Dana Brady and Rev. Jake Brady of St. Luke UMC (Pensacola) designed and implemented the creative altar that was changed each day to reflect the daily focus.
A highlight of this year's conference was the "Be A Sower Grant" testimonies from local churches from within the conference. In May of 2021, Bishop Graves called all clergy together to a family meeting. As part of his address, he offered every church with a representative present a check for $231 to either fund an existing or new ministry. We heard from five clergy representing their United Methodist Churches about how they used this grant money.
Thirty-eight clergy and clergy spouses who passed since the 2021 AWF Annual Conference session were remembered today during the Service of Remembrance and Holy Communion. Bishop David Graves offered the opening prayer and Rev. Allison Posell delivered the inspiring and uplifting sermon entitled, "Present Before." It was based on Genesis 1:1-3; Romans 8:38 & 39. Each individual name was read aloud by Dr. Mike Pearson & Rev. Jean Tippit, AWF district superintendents. Dr. Debora Bishop and Dr. Jeff Wilson, also district superintendents, lighted a candle for each person we remembered today. Communion was served during the special service. The AWF Commission on Archives and History hosted surviving family members at a special luncheon at the conclusion of the service.
Two lamentation services were held to address harm done in previous years. The first was the service of Lamentation of Harm to Boy Scouts. The committee presented a brief history of scouting before Suzanne Krejcar, AWF Treasurer, presented that the Alabama-West Florida Conference will contribute $390,180 towards the $30 million settlement. The Lamentation of the History of Racism in our conference was the other service. The work of the dismantling racism committee in our conference was highlighted and a detailed and informative racial history in the conference was featured. The history and goals of the AWF Coalition for Disrupting and Dismantling Racism were reviewed. Click here to read.
Twenty-three clergy were recognized upon their retirement by Rev. Amy Persons of Pt. Washington UMC during Monday's order of the day. Together, these twenty-three clergy have 653.5 years of service in our conference! Click here to read more about the retiring class. Those in attendance from the retiring classes of 2020 and 2021 were also recognized due to COVID Zoom conferences.
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 and accompanied by Dr. Josh Coble. The service included the commissioning of three provisional elders and the ordination of one deacon in full connection and four elders in full connection. Bishop Debra Wallace-Padgett, resident bishop of the Holston and North Alabama Conferences, preached a sermon entitled, “The Right Season to Make Disciples," based on Matthew 28:16-20.
Each day had a specific focus and missional giving recipient.
Sunday: In this season of learning. Offering went to cohorts and Ministerial Education Fund.
Monday: In this season of reflection. Offering went to restoration in the Boy Scouts of America settlement and the Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) in our conference: Tuskegee University Wesley Foundation and Alabama State University Wesley Foundation.
Tuesday: In this season of hope. Offering went to towards AWF New Church Starts.
Wednesday: In this season of courage. Offering went to towards clergy health.
Click here for the online giving link.
Several awards were given to recognize outstanding leadership and service in the conference. This year's awards ceremony was hosted by Mr. John McWilliams, a lay person from Montgomery FUMC. The Alice Lee Award was proudly presented to Rev. June Jernigan by the AWF COSROW at Tuesday morning's breakfast and also during the awards ceremony. There were two winners of the Harry Denman Evangelism Award. The clergy winner is Rev. Terry Tatum of Lynn Haven UMC. The lay recipient is Ashley Whiting of The Way UMC (Pace, FL). The One Church Matters Award was given to Satsuma UMC by the AWF Town and Country Commission. Dr. Deloris Alexander was presented the Francis Asbury Award by the AWF Board of Higher Education and Campus Ministry for her work with the Tuskegee University Wesley Foundation. Rev. Kristen Curtis Wright of Ashland Place UMC and Jenn Knox were presented with the Jane Walker Scholarship Award. Complete award winner bios may be found here.
Rev. Kathy Knight of Kingswood UMC presented one standing rules change. It was approved with one friendly amendment changing UMW to UWF to reflect their updated name. Click here to see the approved standing rule. An additional amendment was proposed to change the current United Methodist Women acronym (UMW) references to United Women in Faith (UWF) in all standing rules. It was approved.
Rev. Christina Shaver of St. Paul UMC presented this year's resolutions and explained that her committee's work is based on United Methodist polity. All resolutions were withdrawn either before or during the conference. Dr. Matt O'Reilly of Hope Hull UMC presented a motion that was referred to the Board of Pensions and Health Benefits. The Board of Pensions will report back at the next annual conference.
The names of four proposed trustees were placed on the floor on Monday by Rev. Ashley Davis on behalf of the nominations committee. Four additional nominees were brought to the floor in Monday's session. Rev. Emily Kincaid, Betty Stone, William Hopper and Jo Ann Roberts. were elected to the trustees. The body then voted to approve the full nominations report.
The Conference Board of Pension and Health Benefits was presented by Rev. Allison Posell, chair. She gave thanks to those on the committee. Significant changes were proposed for active and retired clergy health plans. Click here to read the comprehensive proposal. The Pre-82 past service rate for 2023 was approved by the conference at $837 for retired clergy and $585 for retiring spouses, reflecting a 2% increase. Reports four and six (the funding plan) were approved. Three proposed changes to the benefits plan were presented. Details may be found here. The members approved the active health plan (high deductible plan plus a HSA). Next for a vote was the post-retirement medical plan sunset; it was approved. The final vote from this report was the Pre-65 discontinuation; it was approved. All reports from this committee may be found in the Book of Reports starting on page 115.
Dr. Olivia Poole of St. Luke UMC (Enterprise), chair of the AWF Trustees, presented four local church disaffiliations. Bishop Graves first responded by stating that based on Judicial Council ruling number 897 the body is allowed to vote on each disaffiliation. Then, he will take all of the work and has 30 days to rule on this decision of law posed yesterday by Ralph Peterson, lay member from Gulf Breeze UMC. Each local church voted upon has met the requirements based on paragraph 2553. Votes could only be a simple yes/no vote and could not be amended. They were presented in order of when the trustees received the request. Pentecost UMC, Mt. Hilliard UMC, Simpson Chapel UMC and Frazer Memorial UMC were all approved for disaffiliation. Vernon UMC, Poplar Head UMC, Canoe UMC, Holly Grove UMC, Owens Chapel UMC, Warrington UMC and New Bethel UMC are all pending disaffiliations and the trustees are seeking outside legal counsel.
Rev. June Jernigan, AWF assistant to the bishop, presented the report of the cabinet. She reviewed change in charge lines by district and church closures. The approved report may be found here.
Equitable Compensation: Rev. Michael W. Cobb of Moundville, Stewart and China Grove UMCs presented the equitable compensation report. The conference approved the minimum salary at $40,500 for all full-time clergy for 2023, a $1,500 or 3.8% increase from 2022.
The conference established a $7,255,663 million budget for mission and ministry for 2023. The 2023 budget is .55% lower ($40,000) than the previous years. In 2021, 369 churches paid 100% of their apportionments and receipts were 5.69% higher than 2020. Thank you for your faithful giving! The General Conference postponement has caused a delay in the budget and the jurisdictional budget remains unchanged. Annual conference funds decreased by .94%. The recommended district superintendent salary for 2023 is $127,000. The unqualified report will appear in the 2022 journal. This report was approved by the voting body and presented by George Mingledorff, CFA chair and lay person from Aldersgate UMC.
Suzanne Krejcar reported that membership stands at 117,611. Professions of faith are up 20%. There are 166 professions of faith apart from confirmation. In-person attendance at worship was 35,188 while online attendance grew, as expected, to 43,824. is approximately 44% of professing membership.
The Great 50 Days: Dr. Nathan Attwood of Marianna FUMC, Dr Jay Cooper of FUMC Montgomery and Dr. Geoffrey Lentz of Port St. Joe FUMC presented on behalf of the Great 50 Days. Fifty churches accepted the challenge between Easter and Pentecost. Dr. Cooper reported that 29 churches made 791 new disciples of Jesus Christ. Six of those churches received 50 or more. Under the leadership of Rev. Amy Persons, Pt. Washington UMC welcomed 33 new members. Rev. Christina Shaver welcomed 30 new members at St. Paul UMC and the numbers go on. Dr. Lentz invited all in attendance to participate in the 2023 50 Day Challenge and those interested will gather in February of 2023 at Blue Lake Camp. To learn more click here.
Episcopal Address: Presiding over his sixth annual conference, Bishop David Graves expressed his heartfelt thanks to those who were instrumental in the 2022 Annual Conference planning and delivered his Episcopal address. He centered his message around Jeremiah 20:7-18. One of Graves' most important statements was, "Let me inform you today that no one can change the United Methodist Articles of Religion containing our Doctrinal Standards. This has been in the Book of Discipline since 1808 and originally contained in the 1784 Sunday Service of Methodists. Wesley ensured in our constitution that this could never be changed, the trust clause and clergy process." He also expressed his desire to be a part of a church that has every theological perspective, different races and different socioeconomic statuses. Bishop Graves also announced that he had a personal reckoning after asking people to lead and not leave. He realized that he was not honoring that statement. "I want to do ministry. God called me to win people to Christ and disciple them. God spoke very clearly to me. I am not retiring as a bishop in the UMC this coming year or in 2024. I can serve until 2028 and God is calling me to serve until then, six more years," he stated. He concluded with Jeremiah 29:11. Members of the conference gave Bishop Graves a standing ovation to express their gratitude for his words and leadership.
Huntingdon College hosted a capacity crowd in Ligon Chapel for the Celebrate UMC event. The event was a joyful reminder that the United Methodist Church is at work in powerful ways throughout the world. Rev. Tom Berlin, lead clergy delegate from the Virginia Conference, was the guest speaker. A recording of the event will be available at a later date. Our sincere appreciation is extended to President West and the staff of Huntingdon College for welcoming many to their campus.
Appointments for the 2022-203 year may be visiting www.awfumc.org/apt2022.
The 2023 session of the AWF Annual Conference will be held June 11-14, 2023, in Mobile, AL. Dauphin Way UMC will host the Service of Commissioning & Ordination. Venue details will be announced at a later date.
Full coverage of the 2022 Annual Conference may be found here.