A Word from the Bishop: God is Good!

July 27, 2012

(Bishop Paul L. Leeland) - Coming home is always a great feeling. My appointment as the resident Bishop of The Alabama-West Florida Conference of The United Methodist Church felt like coming home. Janet and I certainly express our gratitude to Dr. Steve Furr, MD, and Dr. John Ed Mathison, who served on the Southeastern Jurisdictional Episcopal Committee and made the appointments for every Annual Conference within the jurisdiction. There were several surprises when this committee assigned three bishops to serve their home conference, but is certainly within their ability to do so when two-thirds of the jurisdictional committee agrees to make such a request to the entire jurisdiction. From my perspective, I was reminded once more that ordained clergy, including bishops, are certainly itinerant and are appointed at the discretion of the church to serve where the church believes they will best serve the needs of larger faith community. For my family, this meant we would be returning to Montgomery, AL., to continue the work we have been building upon for the last four years. God is good.

Each jurisdictional conference creates a natural framework for our work together. This has been a time of reflecting upon personal needs of our family, the momentum and ministry that has been building in Alabama-West Florida, and listening carefully to the voice of the Church as expressed by this committee after careful consultation with each bishop to be assigned with the jurisdiction. Once again, Janet and I believe God desires us to be in Alabama-West Florida, and that God indeed has a plan for the entire Church. With joyful obedience we have returned home. God is good.

What exactly have we been doing to create fruitful leaders, clergy and congregations? Why is it an exciting place to serve? What is God saying to us to do and what are we doing about it?
My quick response would be embraced by the following expressions of our work:

  • We are engaging in ministry with the poor at several levels, but most clearly seen in the work of our Circles of Transformation.
  • We have been creating new places for new people and revitalizing existing congregations; starting 10 new congregations and faith communities this year alone.
  • Creating and enhancing the work of our Academy for Congregational Excellence to strengthen fruitful leaders and healthier congregations.
  • Combating the diseases of poverty and addressing global health issues such as malaria. Our Annual Conference offering for this alone was $54,000.
  • We have consecrated 35 Spiritual Directors who are in the process of becoming intimately involved in our conference to create a deep base of spiritual power for clergy and laity.
  • A new Comprehensive Plan of Inclusiveness to attract new African American Leaders, start new churches of diversity and broaden our partnership with persons differing in age, gender and diversity.
  • More congregations have joined the ranks of church contributing 100% of their missional giving – the fulfillment of the covenant established by our sisters and brothers.
  • We continue to focus on the characteristics of Effectiveness and Fruitfulness – both for church leaders and for congregations.
  • Finally, we are moving rapidly toward the weekly sharing from each church on “GLORY SIGHTINGS” where they can share where they have seen the Presence of Christ in the past week, as well as sharing the vital statistics of their weekly ministry.

Wow. God is good.

As this quadrennium begins I have already set dates to meet with clergy who counsel me and guide my perceptions of this great conference. We are engaged in multiple conversations about providing practical steps for “Turn Around” pastors and “Turn Around Churches” – those who can step into an existing environment and help them fulfill all that God would have us do. I encourage each leader within our churches to go to the Vital Congregations web page for The United Methodist Church. There you can find any conference with the United States, any district, and look at the vital statistics for that church over the past five years. If you need help with this, simply call Rev. Neil McDavid, our Director of Connectional Ministries, who has been working closely with the larger church in strengthening Vital Congregations. I personally want to applaud our district superintendents for their covenant to reward fruitfulness when we see it both in our clergy and in our congregations. It is our hope the Alabama-West Florida Conference will produce the best clergy and lay leadership found anywhere within The United Methodist Church. God is good.

While Janet and I were eating supper just before receiving our appointment for the next four years, I asked her, “Janet, we might be assigned anywhere within the jurisdiction, but would you like to see happen?” Janet replied, “I’d like to be returned to the Alabama-West Florida Conference.” And so it was. And so it is. God is good!