(Dr. Jeremy Pridgeon) - What would a simple phone call to the members of your church do to ensure the "summer slide" doesn't become a "fall flop?" As I have traveled the district this summer, many of you have mentioned a much higher degree of absenteeism among the congregations you serve. I have thought about this and it may be a positive indicator that people are traveling a bit more, meaning that perhaps the economic conditions have leveled off or are improving. But it does create a challenge to ensure that those who have not been in the habit of coming to church over the past couple of months return to worship.
An idea I have used (and would offer) is a "Back to School, Back to Church" calling program. Using leaders of the church - Church Council and other committee members, as well as volunteers who have great skills on the phone - set aside two or three evenings to call the entire membership of your church. This is a great way to share with them about upcoming fall events, such as Bible studies, concerts, new worship services, etc.; to update the church records in the database by getting correct physical and email addresses, telephone numbers or learn if your membership is on Facebook, Twitter or other social media; to find out if they have any questions about the church, such as the children's ministry, youth ministry, senior adult ministry, missions, etc.; and to learn whether there is anything that the church may need to know about, such as a pastoral care situation in the family.
A five-minute phone call opens the door for the person to return to pre-summer attendance habits and lets them know they have been missed by their congregation. The information collected by the callers can be directed to the clergy or other staff for follow up, creating an additional opportunity to contact the member. One caveat: The entire membership must be contacted, including those who have attended every week during the summer, so as to ensure that the church understands that ALL members are receiving calls and you are not singling out a certain segment of the congregation. I made sure even Abigail and I were called each year.
An additional opportunity is to create an email e-letter that can be sent to members and prospective members sharing about the upcoming fall at your church. This allows for persons, in their own time, to learn about your church and perhaps visit in the near future.
If you have additional ideas that you would share with your brothers and sisters about how to combat the summer slide, please feel free to pass them along. We can collect our "best practices" to share across the district and ensure that as we wrap up a great summer 2012 we prepare for an even greater fall season.
(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!
(Rev. Neil McDavid) - One of the ten new places for new people highlighted at our recent annual conference was The Harbor, a new church plant in Dothan, AL. This new congregation is being planted in the area where Love In Action ministries is located. Love In Action ministries serves the homeless, the marginalized, the poor, those often on the edge of or outside the mainstream of society. Efforts have been made to transport people in this area to Dothan United Methodist Churches, but The Harbor is a church being planted right where these persons live, right in their zip code. Worship space is being rented in the Love In Action facility and this “church for all people,” this new body of Christ will be officially launched August 11 under the leadership of Rev. Dwight and Vicky Deal. The vision of The Harbor is to reach out to all in the name of Christ seeking to serve and love the poor and homeless both physically and spiritually. The ministry of The Harbor includes the building of a worshiping, serving, community of faith around the mission “changing the heart of Dothan through the heart of Jesus.”
The 3.0 Missional Internship program is currently in its fourth summer of work in Mobile's inner city communities. The interns are an incredible blessing to those they serve. For many interns themselves, it has been a truly life-changing experience. And for the churches and agencies involved, it has brought new life and helped reestablish and deepen relationships with the community. As a project of the Mobile District, 3.0 has been an opportunity to see our connectional system at its very best. Amanda Moore is one of this year's 3.0 interns and shares with us her experience this summer.
Name: Amanda Moore
Hometown/Church Affiliation: Foley United Methodist Church, Foley, AL
School Attending and Major: Auburn University, Social Work
What inspired you to apply to be a 3.0 missional intern?
My first summer, I knew that I wanted to spend my time focusing on others and serving the Lord. I heard about the internship from a friend who described her experience as life changing and challenging. She was right, but after my first summer, I fell in love with the community I had worked in and knew I had to come back.
What is the single most important thing you've learned during this experience?
During my first summer, the Lord opened my eyes to the filth of my own heart. That now serves as an essential reminder that I am not good and it is only through Christ in me that I am able to do good.
Has the program matched your expectations?
The program certainly exceeded my expectations. I expected to come in and work with kids but I learned so much about myself from being with them. I also didn't know I would build such lasting relationships with fellow interns. This summer I'm still constantly changing and growing with each day. The program never ceases to amaze me with its challenges, and as a result, I come out with more understanding and capability.
Where have you seen Christ in your internship?
There are 28 interns this year. I live with 15 of them. It can be easy to focus on other's shortcomings when you're living in such close quarters, yet I have seen Christ in our interactions. I can think of many times that I've seen Christ embodied in a fellow intern by the way they reached out to comfort or encourage another, or did something sacrificially for another.
Tell me a little bit about your favorite interaction with the community thus far?
My team visits a nursing home once a week. This can be a challenging time because many of the residents don't remember us, aren't completely aware of their surroundings, or are unresponsive. Nevertheless it's the best feeling to receive a genuine smile or to see the comfort given by just giving their hand a squeeze. It's almost as awesome as when you get a huge squeeze with a giant smile from one of our camp kids.
What has been the most eye-opening experience about 3.0?
At our kids camp, we noticed that a couple of our girls needed a new pair of shoes and some swimsuits. After a church member heard, her granddaughter quickly provided us with bags of her old clothes to go along with what we'd already bought them. We drove to their house thinking we were making a quick drop off. Instead, all of us ended up out of the car meeting the parents and some of their other kids. The mom and dad said that their girls talk about us and their time at camp. They kept thanking us for what we were doing with them. Their one-story, maybe three-bedroom house currently holds 12+ people. The father, who is the only one with a job, walks to work. It's moments like these that you feel disgusted with yourself and society for the way that you live. But it's also in these moments that you find purpose and strength to work for something better.
Tell me about your experiences with the Mobile United Methodist Churches?
I serve at the Whistler United Methodist Church. It's a very small church with a rich history. Its congregation is a loving family that quickly engulfs you into that family. They are striving to serve their neighbors and absolutely love 3.0's part in that, as well as us interns. They have been so supportive to the team and our camp this year.
How do you think you will apply what you've learned in your future ministry?
Through experiences with my team, I've learned the importance of communication and teamwork. Through being a returnee, I've strengthened my ability to lead. Through the book we're reading this summer, The Forgotten Ways Handbook, I've gained a lot of insight on focus and application. I've gained a lot of confidence for the ministry I want to do in my neighborhood alongside my friends in the Fall. I hope to be able to bring ideas and vision, as well as be a team player.
What would you tell someone interested in applying for the program next year?
Pray about it, and if the Lord calls you, GO! If you allow Him to, the Lord will change your heart and use you for the work of the His kingdom. It will be tough and you will be challenged, but you will learn and grow and be drawn closer to the Lord as he shows you His ways.
If you had to sum up your experience in one word, what would it be?
Oh goodness, that's ridiculously hard. The internship has so many different aspects to it. It's challenging but fun, you serve but are also poured into by others, and you learn and grow a ton. So in that case, “growth.” You leave changed because the Lord has been working on you. There are so many experiences and different kinds of people you interact with that affect what you know and why you do the things you do. You also are an instigator of growth. You impact those you come into contact with and the community you worked in.
A community garden is planted with area children.
Mrs. Betty West has been named as Conference Secretary for our Alabama-West Florida Conference effective December 1, 2012. Mrs. West is currently the Executive Assistant to the Director of Ministerial Services and will remain in that position while adding this responsibility to her duties.
Mrs. West and Dr. Shirley Woodie are currently in conversation regarding the transfer of responsibility beginning in December.
Betty has been an executive assistant for over 35 years. She has worked with top executives in the real estate, insurance, and accounting fields. She has experience in all aspects of supporting her executive in normal daily activities in addition to keeping their calendars, making travel arrangements; organizing large award dinners; organizing family outings for the firms, and handling all aspects of the office when her executive is out of the office on business.
To Betty, her position has always been a “career” rather than a “job.” She has taken whatever steps necessary to stay on top of the latest trends in office support. She has been a member of the International Association of Administrative Professionals (IAAP) and has served three terms as president of her local IAAP chapter. She has served as the treasurer for the Alabama Division of IAAP and was elected Secretary of the Year in 2002-2003.
Betty and her husband, Robert, live in Prattville. When in town they attend Prattville First United Methodist Church, but most of their weekends are spent in Birmingham helping Betty’s 95-year-old father. They attend church there with her father at Pleasant Grove United Methodist Church, where she was an active member while growing up.
In The United Methodist Church, Betty has been a Sunday School teacher for children and adults, co-taught an adult class with her husband, was Sunday School Superintendent, served on the PPR Committee, was an active member of The United Methodist Women, Secretary of the Official Board at Pleasant Grove UMC while attending college, and has been asked to speak on how prayer has impacted her life. In the youth group as a teenager she was very active in her MYF and Sub-District while holding many leadership roles in addition to representing Pleasant Grove UMC at Camp Sumatanga on several occasions.
Please join me in welcoming Mrs. West to our Annual Conference leadership!
Bishop Paul L. Leeland