(Bishop Graves for The Montgomery Advertiser) - This will be the theme of the Alabama-West Florida Conference when we gather in Montgomery on June 4-7, for our annual gathering. Frazer Memorial United Methodist Church will host approximately 1,000 members with equal representation of clergy and lay persons. You add hundreds of guests and Frazer UMC will be overflowing for this four-day event.
The United Methodist Church is a world-wide Church consisting of 12.4 million members. The General Church is divided into jurisdictional regions and each jurisdiction is divided into annual conferences. As one of the 71 active bishops in the world, I have the wonderful privilege of being assigned to the Alabama-West Florida Conference, which consists of Central and South Alabama and the panhandle of Florida. There are over 600 churches representing 139,000 people while each Sunday 62,000+ people attend worship services. The Alabama-West Florida Conference has numerous mission outreaches in our two states, as well as around the world.
We United Methodists, like all families, have our differences. Sometimes we disagree, fuss and fight, yet we are a connectional family that has far reaching influences here and around the world. We are churches of all sizes, theological perspectives, and ways of doing ministry. Our largest church averages over 3,000 in worship attendance, several average over 1,000, with the smallest weekly worship in a church being two. Out of the 600+ churches, 450 of them average less than 50 in weekly worship. For every church in the conference, the clergy person is a member of the conference and for every appointed clergy person, the local church will send a lay member to represent the voting membership to the conference, which begins on June 4 with an opening worship service.
Worship will be a key focus of our four days together. Each morning, we will begin in worship led by the clergy and laity of the conference. We will also gather for worship to remember those clergy and clergy spouses who died since the last annual conference in what we call a Memorial Service. This is a moving time as we give thanks and remember the Saints who have gone before us.
Another one of the highlights will be the Service of Commissioning and Ordination of clergy on Monday evening, June 5th. As a newly elected Bishop in the United Methodist Church, this will be my first time to preside over the annual conference and to ordain eight men and women into ministry. I have attended many annual conference sessions, but I have to admit I am a little anxious about leading my first conference and am humbled to have the honor of ordaining persons into ministry. In one of our business sessions, I will present local pastors’ licenses to those who will be serving their first appointment in a local church. In the United Methodist Church, we have orders of clergy representing elders, deacons, commissionees, and those licensed to lead local congregations. The differing clergy orders can be confusing to non-Methodists as well as our congregations. Yet, at the end of the day, they are all clergy.
We will do a lot of required conference business between our times of worship.
Mission offerings will be collected for local conference missions and the Ministerial Education Fund. Mission kits from local congregations will be gathered in a large tractor trailer and sent to a United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) warehouse in preparation for natural disasters. The conference will vote on a proposed budget of over $11 million. Clergy will retire and be honored for their years of service. A Laity Banquet will be held on Tuesday evening with guest speaker, Patricia Barnes (Sister Schubert). Many meals will be shared with friendships renewed and new ones formed.
Our theme for Annual Conference is Imagine: By faith it can happen. The theme is founded on Ephesians 3:20, “Glory to God, who is able to do far beyond all that we could ask or imagine by his power at work within us.” (CEB version). My hope and prayer is that as we gather we will call upon the power and presence of the Holy Spirit to guide our work and inspire us all to return to our local churches to win people to Christ, see the unseen, transform lives and change this corner of the world.
When United Methodist come together, one can only imagine!
Bishop David W. Graves serves as the Resident Bishop of the Alabama-West Florida Conference of the United Methodist Church. The conference is comprised of eight districts, over 600 pastors and churches with a membership total of approximately 140,000 persons.