2023 Annual Conference: In Review

June 15, 2023

Clergy and lay members and their guests attended the Opening Worship Service of the 2023 Alabama-West Florida Annual Conference session in the Mitchell Center on the campus of the University of South Alabama in Mobile, AL, on Sunday evening, June 11. This year’s theme was, “When They Prayed” from Acts 4:31 with each day having a specific focus of how Biblical characters prayed. 

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 and Rev. Dana Brady wrote these special services. The altar scapes were thoughtfully created by Rev. Michele Statkewicz and Rev. Gloria Wilson. 

Nineteen clergy and clergy spouses who passed since the 2022 AWF Annual Conference session were remembered during the Service of Remembrance and Holy Communion. Rev. David Garvin led those in attendance in the Call to Worship and Clara Esther offered the Prayer for Illumination. Rev. Christina Shaver delivered a beautiful and personal sermon based on John 20:11-18 and Hebrews 12:1-3. The AWF Commission on Archives and History hosted surviving family members at a special luncheon at the conclusion of the service.

Ten clergy were recognized upon their retirement by Rev. Amy Persons during Monday's order of the day. Together, these ten clergy have 240 years of service in our conference! 

The Service of Commissioning and Ordination was held Monday evening in the sanctuary of Dauphin Way United Methodist Church. The congregation represented family members and special friends of those being commissioned and ordained. Prior to the start of the service, the chancel choir of Dauphin Way UMC presented worshipful music led by Reagan Lord and accompanied by Colleen K. Hicks. The service included the commissioning of one provisional deacon and two provisional elders and the ordination of two deacons in full connection and three elders in full connection. President J. Cameron West, President of Huntingdon College, delivered the sermon title, "Ordinand to the Invisible" based on John 1:1-14. Those present gave $1,690 to go towards the Ministerial Education Fund. 

Those local pastors receiving their license for the first time were introduced and recognized by Rev. Ralph Wooten and greeted by Bishop Graves and Rev. Ashley Davis during Monday afternoon's business session. Bishop Graves spoke several words of gratitude to this group and offered a blessing upon them.

Election of General and Jurisdictional Conference Delegates: As a result of vacancies on the AWF delegation due to local church disaffiliations and resignations, the conference voted on delegates to serve as the 2024 General and Jurisdictional Conference. The following were elected at yesterday and today's session. Balloting is now complete.  
Clergy Elections:
Rev. Emily Kincaid, General Conference Delegate
Dr. Geoffrey Lentz, General Conference Delegate
Dr. Cory Smith, General Conference Delegate
Rev. Richard Williams, Jurisdictional Delegate
Dr. Darren McClellan, Jurisdictional Delegate
Rev. Sheila Bates, Jurisdictional Delegate
Rev. Ashley Davis, Jurisdictional Delegate
Dr. David Saliba, Alternate Delegate 
Dr. Jeremy Pridgeon,  Alternate Delegate 

Laity Elections:
Celeste Eubanks, General Conference Delegate
Clara Ester, General Conference Delegate
Pat Luna, Jurisdictional Delegate
Dr. David Bowen, Jurisdictional Delegate
Mary Catherine Phillips, Jurisdictional Delegate
Lindsey Middleton, Jurisdictional Delegate
Gene Lammers, Alternate Delegate
Ryan Deaton, Alternate Delegate
To see previously elected delegates from 2019 and the full list, click here

Rev. Kathy Knight presented several standing rules changes; one was approved. The committee recommended the payment of the expenses of the second alternate delegate to General and Jurisdictional Conferences on ground that if the annual conference is requiring them to attend these conferences as a representative of the Annual Conferences, then the Annual Conference should pay their expenses. The change is to Rule 13A. It was approved by the annual Conference.

All resolutions and petitions published in the 2023 Book of Reports were passed. The essence of these petitions is to give the annual conference a greater role in the process of licensing, commissioning, and ordaining clergy with regard to the requirements and standards. Another approved was related to Episcopal tenure. 

Coalition for Disrupting and Dismantling Racism: Rev. Jackie Slaughter presented on behalf of this committee. The Coalition strives to facilitate both the clergy and laity of our conference in their efforts to become more interculturally competent increasing the skills needed in navigating cultural differences. Rev. Slaughter emphasized the importance of relationships in this work and invited the conference to participate in a collective book study around the book Baracoon

Task Force on the Future Structure of the AWFUMC: Dr. Jeremy Pridgeon gave this report and stated that this team has worked for the past year to make recommendations on several business-related matters of the conference. The only necessary voting item of the report was the number of districts. Currently there are eight districts in the Alabama-West Florida Conference. The recommendation by the task force was to reduce that number to four; this resolution was approved and will be effective January 1, 2024. 

Task Force on Church Planting and Revitalization: Dr. Geoffrey Lentz presented this report referencing the Book of Revelation, "Behold, I hold all things new." He recognized his team that was instrumental in this work. One recommendation from the team was to open the general roll for those who wish to keep their membership with the UMC if their church disaffiliated. Their largest proposal was for the establishment of cultivators to begin new churches and faith communities. These leaders will help stage and supplement church planters in order to have successful church starts and cultivate new life in our existing churches that are in need of revival. The last resolution was proposed by Dr. Lentz. "A Resolution on AWF New Thing Challenge" was approved.

The Conference Board of Pension and Health Benefits report was presented by Rev. Allison Posell, chair. The comprehensive funding plan was before the annual conference and it was approved. The Pre-82 past service rate for 2024 was approved by the conference at $854 for retired clergy and $597 for retiring spouses, reflecting a 2% increase. The Board unanimously agreed on February 21, 2023, that it would not be in the best interest of the future interest of the Alabama-West Florida Conference of the United Methodist Church to designate Board of Pension reserve funds to lower the costs for disaffiliating churches. This was approved via the consent agenda. The Board has approved that the following clarifying line be added to the Summary Plan Description and to the Book of Reports: Retiring and Retired Clergy members must maintain membership in the United Methodist Church to receive Post Retirement Medical benefits. Those that no longer have membership in the United Methodist Church will be removed from this plan on July 1, 2023. Following July 1, 2023, any new withdrawals will be removed at the end of the month of withdrawal. This was report 3 and was approved by a vote of 258-88. Reports 4, 6, and 21 were approved from the consent agenda. 

Dr. Olivia Poole, chair, presented the Trustees report. She reported that the Episcopal residence in Montgomery sold and the proceeds were placed in a parsonage reserve for use to fund a housing allowance for the resident Bishop. The conference office mortgage was paid off with Trustees reserves and the Episcopal office suite was listed for lease with the plan of the Episcopal staff moving into the main conference building in order to generate additional revenue. She updated the conference on the recent work of the trustees in terms of disaffiliations. She reviewed four items on this policy that were noteworthy: 1) Eligibility Statement in accordance with the limited right to exit under 2553, 2) 40 Days of Prayer and Fasting, 3) Church Council Reconsideration and 4) Good Faith and Fair Process Notarized Form. "Because some of my colleagues had a lack of clarity on several items, we gathered together to talk through these items," Poole said. As a result, changes were made to the policy. The changes are published in this document. Dr. Poole named seven churches involved in litigation relating to disaffiliations. Dr. Nathan Attwood made a motion from the floor for the trustees to adopt a policy and process for churches to re-affiliate with the United Methodist Church. It was approved. 

Suzanne Jones, AWF treasurer, presented the equitable compensation report. The conference approved the minimum salary at $40,500 for all full-time clergy for 2024, the same that was approved in 2023. Before the conclusion of the conference, Rev. Ryan Martin made a motion that the minimum salary be reconsidered due to lack of in-person meetings and communication. That motion was approved. Rev. Dan Morris made the recommendation of a 5% increase $42,525. That motion was also approved. 

The conference established a $5,954,621 million budget for mission and ministry for 2024. The 2024 budget is 17.93% lower ($40,000) than the previous year. In 2022, 389 churches paid 100% of their apportionments and receipts were 3% higher than 2021. 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 18%. The recommended district superintendent salary for 2023 is $127,508. The unqualified report will appear in the 2023 journal. This report was approved by the voting body and presented by George Mingledorff, CFA chair. 

The clergy appointments may be found by visiting www.awfumc.org/apt2023.

We are most grateful for the gifts of Rev. Darrin Isaac and Jarvis Wilson. Together they provided powerful and spirit-filled music throughout the conference. We look forward to them being on our team again next year. 

After Patric Newton's Blue Lake Camp Report, the bishop challenged the conference to help reduce the debt from the camp. $59,525 was raised over the past two days and thanks to a AWF CFA match commitment, the total is $119,050. Thanks be to God! 

This year's special offering went to new church starts and United Methodist places of worship. Rev. Jean Tippit, who was recently announced the director of this team in addition to her role as district superintendent, introduced the offering and updated the conference on several new communities of faith. 

The 2024 session of the AWF Annual Conference will be held June 16-19, 2024, in Montgomery, AL. Venue details will be announced at a later date. 

Click here to see photos from conference by Luke LucasArchived services may be found here

Full coverage of the 2023 Annual Conference may be found here