Advent Greetings from the Bishop

published 12/16/2013

Dear Alabama-West Florida family,

Matthew 2:1-2
"After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, 'Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.'"

Matthew 2:9-12
"After they had heard the king, they went on their way and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route."

The Advent Season creates an awareness of "waiting" for many things - the gathering of close friends and family; worship services; the sharing of joy and love through carefully selected gifts; and the Second Coming of Christ. For those who continue our everyday habits with little thought to how God is about to intervene in our world, we might reflect on the days of Noah.  

Advent is not simply a time to prepare for the celebration of Christ's birth, it is also a reminder that we await the long anticipated return of Christ fulfilling our daily prayer that God's Kingdom will come just as it is in heaven. Perhaps it would indeed reflect the very presence of this Kingdom if we were to act just as if we were already in the Presence of God!

My son, Paul, has been sharing some thoughts with me during the Advent season that he sent to his own congregation. During this exchange he related a news article regarding a "mysterious blast of light." I believe his insights, which follow, are worth sharing.

Last week, while reading the news, I came across an article about a mysterious blast of light in the sky that can be seen near the constellation Leo. The website,, wrote an article on the light, whose headline read, “Brightest Explosion In the Universe Ever Seen Defies Astronomy Theories.”  

How appropriate for this bright light to appear in the sky at this time of year. Not unlike some 2000 years ago when the Magi saw something very similar. When the Magi saw the star, they set out from their country to travel from the east to worship the King of the Jews. Their journey took them to Bethlehem, where they met and worshiped Jesus, the Christ Child.  

This being the first week of Advent, my thoughts continue to revolve around the journey of the Magi to celebrate the birth of Jesus. Their journey involved preparation. How did the Magi prepare their hearts and minds for the arrival of the Christ Child? How do I do the same?

My hope for this Advent season is that I prepare in a way to see the glory and power of Christ in a new light. A light that may only be described as the “Brightest In the Universe.”

My thanks to Paul and all who remind me that the power of Christ is indeed the "Brightest in the Universe!"

Merry Christmas. May God's Kingdom come just as it is in heaven.

Advent Blessings,
Paul L. Leeland
Resident Bishop, Alabama-West Florida Conference 


Foundation Dream Realized: $10,000 Scholarships to Full-Time Students

published 12/4/2013

(Stegall Seminary Scholarship Endowment Foundation) - In September 2013, Dr. Karl K. Stegall dared to write of a bold vision. He said in the Foundation’s quarterly brochure, “With your great encouragement and generosity, I am now dreaming of the day, in the not too distant future, when we might be able to provide a minimum of $10,000 as a cash scholarship for each full-time student, sharply decreasing what they have to borrow.” As donors read those words, God was already making a way for that spoken dream to become a reality.

On December 3, 2013 the Board of Directors of the Stegall Seminary Scholarship Endowment Foundation announced that his dream has been realized. Effective January 1, 2014, all full-time seminary students living on campus (or commuting on a weekly basis) will now receive a minimum of $10,000 per year from the Foundation. Full-time students currently receive an annual scholarship minimum of $6,000.

“This marks a milestone in the progress of the Foundation,” said Stegall. In its earliest years, the Foundation awarded $100 per month or $1,200 per year to students. The announcement of reaching the $10,000 annual level is a watershed moment in the history of the Foundation. One such student who wishes to thank Foundation donors is Duke Divinity School student Ashley Douglas.

“Three years ago, when I was accepted into Duke Divinity School, I had no idea how I would financially support my educational needs to follow God’s call,” she said. “I followed in faith and prayed without ceasing and God has answered those prayers through the Stegall Foundation. Thank you, donors, for supporting students just like me.”

“Seminary is a challenging time in many ways,” said Dr. Nathan Attwood, a Foundation scholarship alumnus now serving in the Alabama-West Florida Conference. “Young families and young marriages are stretched by tremendous demands and financial constraints. The idealism of new ministers encounters the reality of the joys and stresses of congregational leadership. The Stegall Foundation does more than make the financial pressures manageable, as incredibly important as that is. The scholarship allows new clergy families to know that they are not alone and that a community cares and will carry them through.”

“What a leap of faith the donors and board have taken,” said Stegall. “These gifts enable us to do more for the kingdom of God than has been possible up to this point. Past, present, and future seminary students, and their families, from across the bounds of our Alabama-West Florida Conference join me in expressing our deepest thanks to the countless souls who have prayerfully prepared us to reach this milestone.”
Please join us in our mission of preparing the future of the Church. This is an exciting time for the Stegall Foundation and we want you to be a part of it. Tax-deductible donations can be made securely online . To find out more about the Foundation, please read our newest Winter 2013-2014 brochure. Thank you for your continued prayers and support.

{Dr. Karl K. Stegall}

Prepare for upcoming clergy retirement plan changes

published 11/25/2013

Changes to the clergy retirement plan are fast approaching. Have you taken the actions necessary to prepare? 

The General Conference 2012 plan changes – which go into effect on Jan. 1, 2014 – will affect clergy in different ways. If you are in the Clergy Retirement Security Program (CRSP), you may need to start or increase your United Methodist Personal Investment Plan (UMPIP) contributions to ensure you earn matching contributions to the CRSP Defined Contribution plan. You may need to increase your UMPIP contributions even more to make up for CRSP Defined Benefit reductions. If you will no longer receive CRSP contributions, you may need to reevaluate your retirement plan and increase your personal contributions. And if you’re near retirement or are retired, you may even have a decision to make about whether to begin Ministerial Pension Plan (MPP) benefits by Dec. 1 so you can annuitize more than 65% of your account balance. 

Now is the time to prepare for these changes. Make sure you: 

1. Understand what benefits will be available to you as of Jan. 1, 2014, and what personal contributions, if any, you must make to earn those benefits. 

2. Know the deadlines for making decisions about your benefits. (For instance, applications for benefit must be received by Nov. 27 to annuitize more than 65% of your MPP account.)

3. Adjust your retirement plan to account for the changes. You may need to increase your UMPIP contributions, reduce your living expenses, or both, to compensate for the changes. 

The General Board offers planning assistance through its projection tools—the Retirement Readiness Tool or the Retirement Benefits Projection in Benefits Access (—and personal financial consulting at no charge from Ernst & Young Financial Planning Services.*  

Learn more at

* Updates to the Benefits Access projection tools will not be complete until year end for less than full-time clergy who will no longer be covered under CRSP. Consult with a financial planner at Ernst & Young Financial Planning Services to help plan for the changes.

Council of Bishops Takes Action Following Same-Gender Ceremony

published 11/15/2013

(Lake Junaluska, N.C/UMNS) Following the action of a retired bishop to conduct a same-gender ceremony in violation of church law, the United Methodist Council of Bishops took a series of actions to address the issue during their annual meeting this week in Lake Junaluska, N.C.

The Council requested that Bishop Rosemarie Wenner, president of the Council, and Bishop Debra Wallace-Padgett of the North Alabama Conference file a complaint regarding Bishop Melvin Talbert’s action, for “undermining the ministry of a colleague and conducting a ceremony to celebrate the marriage of a same gender couple.”

“When there are violations of the Book of Discipline, a response is required,” the bishops said in a statement.

The Council also voted to initiate a task force to lead conversations about human sexuality, race and gender in a global perspective. The goal of this effort is to come to a shared theological understanding amid diverse opinions in the church about these issues.

These actions followed days of prayerful discernment and conversation about the action it would take after retired Bishop Melvin Talbert conducted a ceremony on Oct. 26 celebrating the marriage of a same-gender couple in Center Point, Ala. – a chargeable offense for United Methodist clergy.

Church law says that, “Ceremonies that celebrate homosexual unions shall not be conducted by our ministers and shall not be conducted in our churches.”

Both the presiding bishop of the North Alabama area where the ceremony took place, Bishop Debra Wallace-Padgett, and the Executive Committee of the Council had requested that Bishop Talbert not perform the ceremony.

Under church law, the College of Bishops – which is constituted of the bishops in a jurisdictional or central conference – has authority and accountability for processing complaints against a bishop who serves (or served) in that area, which would be the Western Jurisdiction in this instance.

Earlier this week in the President’s Address, Bishop Wenner acknowledged there is diversity of opinion about many issues in the church. “We have to lead together although we are not one minded. We do not need to hide that we are diverse,” she said. In the address, she also noted, “Serious conflicts have to be brought to the tables where leaders are present,” an acknowledgment that supports the plan for further discussion of the issue through a task force.

In a statement, the Council said that when followers of Christ and people of conscience hold conflicting views, honest and respectful conversation and prayer are needed throughout the church. The Council expressed pastoral care and concern for all people. (Read the full statement online.)


Bishop Leeland Encourages Offering for Philippines Relief

published 11/14/2013

Bishop Leeland Encourages Offering for Philippines Relief

In the Philippines, home to more than 210,000 United Methodists, countless numbers of people are suffering from the devastating results of Typhoon Haiyan, described as one of the most powerful hurricanes in history. Typhoon Haiyan caused extensive damage, destroying about 41,000 homes, displacing at least 670,000 people, and affecting a total of 11.3 million people. Thousands are feared dead. Without assistance, many more lives are in jeopardy.

United Methodists are already there, working to provide assistance through the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR).

Bishop Paul Leeland is encouraging every church in the Alabama-West Florida Conference to take a special offering this weekend for UMCOR relief efforts. Please send these offerings to the Fiscal Office, 4719 Woodmere Boulevard, Montgomery, AL 36106. Please designate “Advance #982450” on the check. Bishops from the Philippines area were at the Council of Bishops meeting at Lake Junaluska earlier in the week before returning home. They communicated the dire need for help in their areas.

To download a bulletin insert from UMCOR, click here.

Individuals can also donate online by clicking here.

Please continue to be in prayer for all those impacted by this storm.

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