2017 Annual Conference: In Review

June 08, 2017

The 2017 Alabama-West Florida Annual Conference was held June 4-7 in Montgomery, AL, with the theme, "Imagine: By Faith It Can Happen." Bishop David Graves, presiding over his first 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 2017 Alabama-West Florida Annual Conference session, which was held Sunday evening, June 4, in the sanctuary of Frazer Memorial UMC in Montgomery, AL. The service began with an uplifting reading of the Pentecost Story in six languages (English, Spanish, Korean, Russian, Shona and Hebrew) from lay and clergy representing various areas 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, "For the Glory of the Lord," "To Whom, Then, Will You Liken God" and "Whenever I Hear His Name." The Scripture lesson was read by Jenn Lusher, AWF Director of Leadership Strategies. Bishop David Graves was introduced by Alexis Tibbetts, Chair of the Episcopacy Committee. She expressed a heartfelt welcome to Bishop Graves and his wife, Nancy, and articulated how sincere and genuine Bishop Graves has been since the first day of his assignment. Rev. Robin Wilson, Senior Pastor of Dauphin Way UMC, preached the sermon based on Ephesians 3:7-21 entitled, "More Than We Imagine." She recalled the past memories of attending annual conference as a child and youth delegate and the impressions those years made on her. She said, "I saw and I knew the power and presence of our God. At the age of 17, I felt called into ordained ministry and wanted to show the world what you as a church had witnessed so faithfully to me." She passionately challenged the congregation to truly imagine what God can do in this place and reminded them of the first pentecost and how the earnest followers had no idea what to expect of their God. Some might have imagined Jesus would come quickly, or a mighty deliverance, but they never imagined what God was about to do, and we are no different. "We have such set expectations of what God should do, that we have lost the creativity to imagine what God can do." 

The Alabama-West Florida Local Mission Agencies were the beneficiaries of the 2017 missional offering. Churches from within the conference collected money and presented their offerings at opening worship. The agencies benefitting from this collection are The Ark, Dumas Wesley Community Center, Mary Ellen’s Hearth, Milk and Honey Outreach Ministries, United Methodist Inner City Mission in Mobile, and Pensacola United Methodist Community Ministries. A total of $46,022 was collected for this offering. Over $2,700 was collected at the Service of Commissioning & Ordination for the Ministerial Education Fund. Thank you for your generosity!

New to the 2017 Annual Conference was the addition of morning worship services on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. 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 clergy and clergy spouses who passed since the 2016 AWF Annual Conference session were remembered during the Service of Remembrance and Holy CommunionBishop David Graves offered the opening prayer and Rev. Ralph Sigler, Founder and Leader Pastor of Harvest Church UMC, delivered the inspiring and uplifting sermon entitled, "Things Above" based on Colossians 3:1-4 and Ephesians 3:20-21. He mentioned that, "We need to honor them, they don't need us to honor them." Sigler explained that we often look to others for validation but Jesus is the One to affirm us. He felt that if our loved ones could talk back to us after their death they would say, "I'm fine. Don't worry about me." Sigler continued with, "I don't believe that anyone who has gotten to Heaven would want to come back." He disputed the common opinion that Heaven is a boring place. A capacity crowd remembered those who gave many years of service to the conference. Each individual name was read aloud by Rev. Olivia Poole of Mt. Zion UMC. A candle was lit for each person we remembered. Robert McMichael and Jarvis Wilson provided comforting music through their rendition of, "His Eye is on the Sparrow." Jerrod Dorminey, Worship Leader at Frazer UMC, shared remembrance music as communion was served. Surviving family members were hosted at a special luncheon by the AWF Commission on Archives and History. To see photos from this service, click here.

Twenty-one clergy were recognized upon their retirement by Rev. Kathy Knight. Together, they have 617 years of service in our conference. Bishop Graves gave a heartfelt prayer honoring this group in a new season of life. Rev. Libba Stinson spoke on behalf of the retiring class. Back by popular demand was the "passing of the torch." Stinson presented a stole to Rev. Woods Lisenby, who was ordained as an elder in full connection Monday evening, signifying new leadership in the 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 one provisional deacon and five provisional elders and the ordination of two deacons in full connection and six elders in full connection. Bishop David Graves preached a sermon entitled, “Be All That God Called You to Be," based on Matthew 28:18-20. He asked those being commissioned and ordained to remember where they came from and challenged them to be all God called them to be by doing several things. He explained to first, stay in love with Jesus–ministry is best accomplished when you do it as a team and said, "Surround yourself with people who are better than you." Next, learn to be a great communicator and listening is crucial to that. Discipline yourself so that no one else has to do so. Don't just work hard when you need to, work smart. Graves stated, "Success is having the right person in the right place at the right time. When you need help, ask for it." Change is a must. Finally, handle success like you handle failure citing you can't control what happens but you can control how you handle it. 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. Claire Bowen and Dr. Victor Dingus led two teaching sessions. We welcomed President Cam West from Huntingdon Colleges and Lane Estes from Birmingham-Southern College, as well as Blake Horne, director of the United Methodist Children's Home. Patricia Barnes (Sister Schubert) gave the Mary Ellen Bullard Leadership Address at this year's laity banquet. 

Several awards were given to recognize outstanding leadership and service in the conference. Dr. Jimmy Jeffcoat of Huntingdon College received the Francis Asbury Award and Daphne Johnston of Montgomery FUMC received the Alice Lee Award. There were three winners of the Harry Denman Evangelism Award. The clergy winner is Rev. Andres Doimeadios of Casa De Dios Gateway Of Heaven. The Lay recipients is Malcolm Smith of Canton Bend UMC and the youth recipient is Brett Herndon from Chickasaw UMC. Caroline Barrett of Marion UMC was presented a scholarship on behalf of the United Methodist Federal Credit Union. The inaugural recipient of the One Matters Award is Parker UMC. Helen Meigs Edwards of Church Street UMC was honored with the third annual Susanna Wesley Leadership Award at the Laity Banquet. 

New this year for conference was the availability of translating devices for Hispanic clergy and lay during business sessions. Erika Glawson, AWF Assistant to Ministerial Services, provided translation services, as did Demetria Weekly of Birmingham, AL. This service was a result of a spring meeting with Hispanic leaders and conference staff where it was indicated this would allow our Spanish-speaking brothers and sisters to be more engaged at conference. Listening devices were also provided for those who are hearing impaired. 

Each business session began with triumphant song, prayer and celebratory moments from our eight districts. Glory sighting videos were shown highlighting the work our local churches accomplish in their respective communities. Click here for video links

As a result of a motion from the floor of the 2014 Annual Conference, a task force was formed to explore the number of districts in the Alabama-West Florida Conference. Dr. Robbins Sims presented an update on behalf of the group affirming the number of districts is appropriate for our conference. The team was given a list of recommendations to consider in order to be more effective in their work. Dr. Sims reported that the cabinet is living into those recommendations, with one being longevity in appointments, when possible. Creating relationships within the districts was another priority. Bishop Graves was able to help facilitate this with the town hall meetings. The cabinet is also utilizing technology to reduce conference travel expenses. 

Two resolutions were presented to the annual conference voting body. A Resolution Concerning the Welfare of Unaccompanied Migrant Children in the Alabama-West Florida Conference was amended to include the state of Florida and approved. A Resolution Concerning Adequate, Long-term Funding for Alabama Medicaid was also approved with an amendment to include the state of Florida. Church and Society had previously accepted an amendment changing the Governor's name from Robert Bentley to Kay Ivey. Revised copies of the amended resolutions will be posted on the conference Website in the coming days. 

Five amendments from General Conference 2016 were brought before all annual conferences in the denomination under the guidance of Dr. David Saliba, AWF Conference Secretary. Click here to read the proposed amendments. The amendments could be discussed but could not be amended. Per the instructions from the general church, results of these votes will not be reported by annual conference. The collective results will be announced at a later date.  

Bishop Graves reminded the voting members of the special called session of General Conference. The current delegation, which was elected two years ago, was recognized and will continue to represent the Alabama-West Florida Conference at the special called session in Missouri in February of 2019. Dr. Larry Bryars will move to first clergy delegate and Rev. June Jernigan will move from first alternate to a general conference delegate.

The conference established a $11,084,468 million budget for mission and ministry for 2018, a 1.21 increase from 2017. The recommended district superintendent salary for 2018 is $120,475. The minimum salary for 2018 will be $37,200. We welcomed 224 health screening participants as a part of the health and wellness initiative. 

Mr. Frank Dunnewind reported that membership stands at 137,618 down 1% from the previous year. Worship attendance stands at 61,273 down 2%. Asian, Native American and Multiracial attendance all showed areas of increase over the past year. Other areas that also showed increases were baptisms, constituents, and children and youth in christian formation. In 2016, 404 churches paid 100% of their apportionments, which is the highest in the past few years. There was a 1.58% increase in missional giving over 2015, which was at it highest level since 2001. Thank you!  

Presiding over his first AWF Annual Conference, Bishop David Graves delivered his Episcopal address to the body of the conference. Before he preached, he took intentional time to diligently thank those who were an integral part of annual conference. Graves conveyed to the conference how valued this team is to him and how blessed we are to have this leadership. His powerful sermon was entitled, "Too Hard" based on Exodus 14:10-13. Graves walked through various scenarios that seemed impossible but through imagining faith, they occurred. He spoke of racial and gender barriers that have divided our church and made a public apology to people of color and women who have been victims of discrimination. An emotional standing ovation was given after these statements. He explained that his recent trip to the Council of Bishops meeting felt at times, too hard. He said, "Can you begin to imagine, and do you believe by faith it can happen? Then start acting like it!!" He spoke of Nehemiah 9:19; Psalm 68:20; Psalm 42:8; and Psalm 68:20 as a help in times that feel too difficult. He ended by saying, "Let's get moving, the best is yet to come!" A video of his address will be posted online in the coming days. 

4,944 UMCOR kits were collected over the course of the annual conference, which is the most in recent history. The Baypines District collected the most with 1,720 kits with Montgomery-Prattville District next with 1,641. Montgomery FUMCMt. Zion UMC (Prattville), and Aldersgate UMC sent youth group workers who managed the collection truck. Thank you for your donations and to the youth who received these supplies!  

The 2017-2018 clergy appointments may be found online here.

The 2018 session of the AWF Annual Conference will be held June 3-6, 2018, at Frazer Memorial United Methodist Church in Montgomery, AL. Montgomery First United Methodist Church will host the Ordination Service. We express our sincere appreciation to the these staffs for their outstanding hospitality. 

downloadable pdf recap that can be used in your upcoming church bulletins can be found here. Full coverage of the 2017 AWF Annual Conference may be found here. To see photos taken by Luke Lucas, click here.