The 2021 Alabama-West Florida Annual Conference was virtually held June 6-9 with the theme, "Come to the Table." Bishop David Graves, presiding over his fifth annual conference session since becoming the resident bishop, welcomed clergy and lay members during the Service of Ordination.
The Service of Ordination was held in the sanctuary of Frazer Memorial United Methodist Church. The limited congregation represented invited family members and special friends of those being ordained. Dr. James Seay, director of music at Montgomery FUMC, and Dr. Josh Coble, organist and assistant director of music, led the cathedral choir of Montgomery FUMC. They opened the service with inspiring and uplifting music. A musical highlight of the service was the oboe accompaniment by Derrick Muraya during, "The Lord is My Shepherd from Requiem." The service included the ordination of two deacons in full connection, eight elders in full connection and the recognition of orders for one. Bishop Mike Watson, retired bishop and member of the Alabama-West Florida Conference, preached a spirited sermon entitled, “We Have This Ministry," based on 2 Corinthians 4:1-6 and 5:18-20. He expressed his gratitude to the conference and remembered some special events that took place in his life over the years. He proclaimed, "It is marvelous because the Lord God almighty has called you and will be with you in ways you cannot even yet fathom." He lamented about wishing that every United Methodist could see a service of ordination because, "Every Christian is a minister" and, "All of us are called." A special offering was collected for the Ministerial Education Fund.
This year's missional offering was a collective effort of four conference ministries. Acts 1:8 reads, “you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” Following the movement of the Spirit and seeking to be Christ’s witnesses to our community, nation, and throughout the world, these four missional endeavors were chosen: Blue Lake Camp, Communities of Transformation, AWF Disaster Response Ministry and Teaming with Tanzania. If you have not yet given, you may do so here.
For the fourth year at annual conference, each day began with morning worship. Bishop David Graves made this addition so that the conference session would start with a sense of Holy time and carry that worship-filled spirit throughout the day. Rev. Michael Precht of Dauphin Way UMC organized and directed worship for 2021. He encouraged all participants to set their own table in order to enhance the worship experience.
Sixty-nine clergy and clergy spouses who passed since the 2019 AWF Annual Conference session were remembered during the Service of Remembrance. Rev. Jean Tippit, Baypines District Superintendent, offered the opening prayer and Rev. Misty Barrett of Headland UMC delivered the inspiring and uplifting sermon entitled, "The Well-lit Path." She proclaimed, "We've gathered here and online to praise God and give witness to our faith as we celebrate these sixty-nine clergy and clergy spouses who have passed away over the past two years." She also said, "I can personally tell you that in this group of men and women, many of them touched my life personally. They were on my district committee of ordination, they were there on the board of ministry when I became a deacon and an elder. Several of them were my pastors. One of the sweetest ladies I've ever known taught me how to drive." Barrett continued, "The most important thing I can say about every single one of them, many years ago each one of them asked Jesus Christ into their hearts as eternal savior and lord.....this is the highest achievement they accomplished." The message was based on Revelation 14:13. Bishop David Graves led the conference in a baptismal remembrance. Each individual name was read aloud by Dr. Jeff Wilson and Dr. Deborah Bishop. Rev. Jean Tippit and Dr. Mike Pearson lit a candle for each person we remembered today. Bishop Graves took a few moments to also remember the late Wayne Sigler, music director at Frazer Memorial UMC for twelve years. Wayne was a significant part of AWF annual conferences over the years. We give thanks for his service. Ms. Jere Thomas, vocalist, and Mrs. Colleen Hicks, organist, of Dauphin Way UMC presented a moving musical rendition of The Lord's Prayer. Mr. Jarvis Wilson and Rev. Steve Badskey of Aldersgate UMC (Montgomery) led the music for this service.
Twenty-two clergy were recognized upon their retirement during Monday's order of the day. Together, these clergy have over 653 years of service in our conference.
The Service of Commissioning was held in the sanctuary of Frazer Memorial UMC. The limited congregation represented invited family members and special friends of those being commissioned. Prior to the start of the service, the cathedral choir of Montgomery FUMC presented worshipful music led by Dr. James Seay and Dr. Josh Coble. The service included the commissioning of two provisional deacons and six provisional elders. Bishop David Graves preached a sermon titled, "Time to Step Up," based on John 12: 20-26, Ecclesiastes 3:1 and 2 Corinthians 6:1-11. He remembered the times spent with the commissionees at seminaries, the Holy Land and even a ride to a basketball game. Graves continued, "Being commissioned is not only a call to your life but a chance to step up." He outlined several suggestions for their ministry: 1) Always stay in love with Jesus; 2) Ministry is best accomplished when doing it as a team; 3) Surround yourself with people who are better than you are; 4) Learn to be a great communicator; 5) Don't just work hard but work smart; 6) Change is a must; 7) Handle success like you handle failure. A special offering was collected for the Ministerial Education Fund.
Several awards were given to recognize outstanding leadership and service in the conference. Cain's Chapel UMC (Deatsville, AL) is the recipient of the Local Church Heritage Award. The One Church Matters Award was given to Bayou la Batre UMC (Irvington, AL) by the AWF Town and Country Commission. Rev. David Goolsby received the Francis Asbury Award for his work with the Auburn University Wesley Foundation. There were two winners of the Harry Denman Evangelism Award. The clergy winner is Rev. Pam Barnhardt of Monroeville UMC. The lay recipient is Jim Hammond of Bellview UMC (Pensacola, FL). Complete award winner bios may be found here.
The AWF Committee on Episcopacy took a brief moment to honor and welcome back Bishop and Nancy Graves to the Alabama-West Florida Conference. A video was shown of memories of the past five year. Click here to see video.
Several standing rules changes were approved. Click here to see the changes proposed and approved.
The Conference Board of Pension and Health Benefits Pre-82 past service rate was approved by the conference at $821 for retired clergy and $574 for retiring spouses, reflecting a 2% increase. The Commission on Equitable Compensation minimum salary presented and approved was $39,000. That is an increase of 2.6% ($1,000) for clergy or 2.1% ($1,175) for churches.
The Conference Trustees presented several items that required a vote. After explaining the disaffiliation agreement approved by the AWF Annual Conference in 2019, a motion titled "Transfer of Dexter Avenue Property" was presented. It was approved by the voting body. The "policy for single signature authority" was also before the voting body. Click here for the text of the motion. After multiple questions and answers, a motion was made to vote. That was approved and a vote was taken on the original motion. It was approved by a vote count of 391-70. Mr. Roy Roane, lay member at Gulf Breeze UMC, brought a motion for a Bishop's Decision of Law. Bishop Graves ruled that the action referenced in the motion was constitutional. Click here to read the motion and the previously approved AWF disaffiliation agreement.
The conference established a $7,295,663 million budget for mission and ministry for 2022. The 2022 budget is 4.49% higher than the previous year but the 2021 budget was the lowest in 20 years. The recommended district superintendent salary for 2022 is $104,349, unchanged from 2021. The unqualified audit report will appear in the 2021 Journal. In 2020, 352 churches paid 100% of their apportionments. Thank you for your faithful giving!
Membership stands at 120,863. Attendance at worship is approximately 44% of professing membership. Ethnic ministries showed an increase in attendance.
The report of the cabinet reviewed changes in charge lines by district and church closures. A resolution regarding the Demopolis and Mobile district lines was also presented in addition to church closures due to disaffiliation where the process is complete (payments received and cabinet work finished). The approved report may be found here.
Bishop David Graves expressed his heartfelt thanks to those who were instrumental in the 2021 Annual Conference planning and delivered his Episcopal address. He centered his message around Wesley's historic question, "How is it with your soul?" and based the address on Matthew 13:8. He emphasized that we are called to be the church now more than maybe any other time in our lives. After showing the below visual, he explained that Jesus uses this image of the seed to talk about spirituality." If we want to be honest, many problems in our church are spiritual problems," he said. He told of his personal struggles over the past year and realizing that it was not well with his soul. At 4:20am on May 8, 2021, he heard God speak to him by saying, "It's not about you, David, it's about all these people that have put their trust in you. You need to remember your calling." He continued to ask clergy of the Alabama-West Florida Conference to step up. "I am here to help everyone get to where you need to be, but in the meantime, we need to be the church," he proclaimed. "I am a United Methodist pastor, I am a United Methodist Bishop," he continued. Graves expressed that he wants his legacy to be remembered as winning people to Jesus. While he hasn't always agreed with everything in the United Methodist church, Graves' churches have always paid their apportionments. "If you do what God calls you to do, God will bless you beyond measure. I am challenging you to step up and step forward," he implored. He told of the $86,000 of Southeastern Jurisdiction apportionments that were returned to the AWF Conference and through the collaboration of the conference staff, the money went back to the local churches in the form of a "Be a Sower" grant. To those clergy who attended the clergy family meeting in late May, they received a grant to start a ministry out of their church. "When there is something to talk about, we will do all of that in due time, but I will be about winning people to Christ," he said. A recording of this message will be available online next week.
The 2022 session of the AWF Annual Conference will be held June 12-14, 2022, at Frazer Memorial United Methodist Church in Montgomery, AL. Montgomery First United Methodist Church will host the Service of Commissioning & Ordination. This later date will accommodate our bishop serving two annual conferences.
Click here to see photos from Sunday and Monday by Luke Lucas. Click here to see the video archive. Morning worship services and Episcopal address videos will be uploaded the week of June 14.