Nancy and I are overjoyed to be reassigned to the Alabama-West Florida Conference. As your bishop, I am deeply honored that I am able to continue partnering with our clergy and laity on many ministry endeavors. In the past six years we have met so many wonderful people in this conference and witnessed life-changing ministry in our local churches.
While jurisdictional conferences were meeting last week, The Commission on General Conference announced that the next General Conference will be held April 23-May 3, 2024, in Charlotte, NC. I am grateful to the commission for arranging these logistics. It is helpful as we move forward to know this date. As a reminder, General Conference is the only body of United Methodists who can vote to either uphold or change the Book of Discipline. Having not met in eight years, there will be ample legislation before this body. In between general conferences lots of narratives circulate whether it is persuasive letters, aspirational resolutions, straw polls, etc. None of these things can change our discipline or how the United Methodist Church is governed. This two-week general conference in 2024 is the only time changes may be made.
If you attended any of the town hall meetings in August, you heard me explain the history of our jurisdictions. If you did not attend those, it is important to know that they were formed in 1939 as a response to the merger of the Methodist Episcopal Church and the Methodist Episcopal Church South; then called the Methodist Church. The southeast wanted to establish jurisdictions because 1) they did not want a northern bishop and 2) they did not want a black bishop. Jurisdictional conferences were created to elect and assign bishops with regional accountability.
While at the Southeastern Jurisdictional Conference (SEJ), the delegates elected three bishops. I would like to extend a warm welcome to Bishop Tom Berlin, Bishop Connie Shelton and Bishop Robin Dease. These gifted leaders will have a positive impact on their conferences, the jurisdiction and the denomination. I am proud to welcome them into the SEJ College of Bishops.
Most importantly, we are launching a year of prayer. It will guide and direct all we do in the Alabama-West Florida Conference in the coming year. Yesterday we announced this time of spiritual understanding. Each liturgical season the conference will publish a communications piece that shows the date, scripture passage, prayer prompt, prayer description and in some cases musical selection to accompany the prayer. This will begin on the first Sunday of Advent. Our annual conference theme in 2023 will be based on Acts 4:31, “When they prayed.” You can read more about it here.
I am grateful for how you have made Nancy and me feel at home the past six years. Your calls, letters and notes sustain us when it feels hard. But we know this work is not too hard. Because Jesus is at the center of our work. I humbly ask for your prayers in the coming months as we continue in ministry together. In turn, I’ll be praying for you and your church.
Bishop David Graves
Alabama-West Florida Conference