Jackie Robinson and Evangelism

published 7/12/2013

(Rev. Frederick Outlaw) - A couple of months ago, with the beginning of major league baseball, I had some free time and decided to go to the movies. As I was driving to the theater a ministerial colleague called and we began a conversation. My friend asked, "What are you into?” My reply was, "I am going to the movies." He responded, “Are you going to see 42?" I said, “No, I prefer an earlier film, The Soul of the Game.” Further, I explained how this depiction captured Jackie Robinson’s entrance into the Negro Baseball League after his discharge from the Army for taking a stand against some discriminatory practices. At that time, Jackie Robinson played for the Kansas City (MO) Monarchs, of which Mobile native Satchel Paige was the star pitcher. The conversation continued about Jackie Robinson, the integration of the major leagues and eventually the United Methodist Church.

I arrived at the theater, bought a ticket to see another film. While sitting in the dark watching trailers for upcoming movies, the plight of Jackie Robinson got me to thinking on a definition of evangelism from a Huffington Post blog, “Evangelism is crucial for the church not just because Christians have something to share but because the church needs those whose presence has always been intended but who have not found their way to where they have always belonged. Evangelism is more about taking down our road blocks, barriers, and prejudices that keep people out than it is persuading people to come in. It is part of the nature of Christianity to always draw the circle wider. But expanding the circle can be uncomfortable and conflictual.”

The film 42 celebrates Jackie Robinson’s courageous crossing of major league baseball’s color line. The film The Soul of the Game chronicles the anticipation of the best players in the Negro Baseball League waiting for the call to cross the color line. Jackie Robinson was not the best African American baseball player in 1946. He was a rising talent in development. But, he was willing to help Branch Rickey take down road blocks, barriers and prejudices which were keeping a specific group of players out. Branch Rickey’s and Jackie Robinson’s mission was to draw the circle wider. Both men recognized the consequences of their actions would make people uncomfortable and lead to conflict. Yet they covenanted together to be “evangels” for major league baseball in the United States of America.

Almost some 60 years later, we as the United Methodist Church find ourselves renewing our commitment, vision and mission to evangelistically make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. We are discerning the adaptive challenge for our specific congregations within the Alabama-West Florida Conference. The more and more I resource, or coach, local congregations, the road blocks, barriers and prejudices in each area, though different, become clearly apparent. We must be courageous and embrace whatever the crisis is in our local congregation. To follow Jesus, we are going to go through some crisis events, crisis moments. We must embrace the crisis in our local congregations. We can get through it. God is there, if we embrace the crisis. The road blocks, barriers, and prejudices–problems–we face today cannot be solved by the exact thinking and behavior which led to them in the first place.

The story of Branch Rickey and Jackie Robinson can be seen as analogous to evangelism in the 21st century. They were willing and obedient to take the risk to avoid the decline and appeal of major league baseball. Consequently, for Methodism to avoid our spiritual cliff, we must go and do what God has commanded us to do, "Be my disciples." Thus, by being disciples of Jesus Christ we become transforming agents of God to the world.

“…Blessed are you when men revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so men persecuted the prophets before you…”- Matthew 5:11-12 RSV

As a member of the team at our Conference Resource Center, I look forward to assisting local congregations discern the way forward in bringing down the road blocks, barriers, and prejudices in order to become a vital effective evangelistic congregation. Somebody is knocking at our doors. It sounds like Jesus Christ. We must let Him come in.

Your consideration in this matter will be greatly appreciated.

In the love of Christ!


Mission Day at Annual Conference: How Was Your Church Inspired?

published 6/25/2013

(Susan Hunt) - I have received great feedback from the Mission Day experience during Annual Conference. Many delegates, both clergy and lay, have told me that their chosen project was very meaningful and enjoyable. That is music to my ears! We had a great team of people doing their best to make it a good day, so your positive reports mean that all the hard work paid off. As best we can count, there ended up being approximately 600 delegates participating in the 20 different projects.

The purpose of the day was not just to participate in an outreach project for one afternoon. While it was wonderful that the delegates spent that time in service, the bigger goal was for all churches to be inspired to take what they learned back home with them. That might mean a church initiating their first mission project or adding a new element to a current ministry, or anything in between.

Many churches in our conference already have outreach and mission as part of their DNA and therefore the day was nothing new. However, other congregations have no organized mission and outreach program, or have only a few projects they do. For those churches Mission Day was a good opportunity to gain new ideas and insights on how they can be salt and light in their own communities.

One church was inspired from the day’s experience to organize their own day of service in their community this coming fall. They will be holding a potato drop of their own, and are investigating other new ways to reach out to their community.

Was your church inspired? What new things did you learn that you will now incorporate in your own community? What new partnerships of ministry will your church form? Please share in the comments section about what difference the “mission day” experience has or will make in your own church and community.


{Photo by Luke Lucas}

Pastors/Volunteers Install New Fountain at Wesley Gardens Retirement Community

published 6/20/2013

(Sherri Easdon, UMCH) - Residents at Wesley Gardens in Montgomery will soon hear the relaxing sound of cascading water from a new courtyard fountain, thanks to the efforts of area pastors, and volunteers and donors.

Among those getting their hands dirty at the installation on May 2 were Frazer UMC Adult Education Minister Charles Wise, Joel Epler (son of Frazer associate pastor Dr. Neil Epler), Rev. Stan Mullins, a resident of Wesley Gardens and the community’s Chaplain, along with the community’s maintenance supervisor Chris Polk and his friend Joe Riley. Larry Summerlin, contractor for the recently constructed Life Enrichment Center at Wesley Gardens, donated his time and the use the heavy equipment to lift the fountain into place, saving Wesley Gardens plenty of money and man hours.

Rev. Stan Mullins spearheaded the effort to raise money for the fountain project at Wesley Gardens, an assisted living retirement community, which is part of Methodist Homes of Alabama and Northwest Florida.

“I looked out at the courtyard and said to myself, this place needs a fountain,” said Rev. Mullins. “We want to build a community and get people more interested in what’s going on.” He then contacted his daughter, an attorney, who composed a letter that went out to 75 of Rev. Mullins’ former church members and friends. In 3 weeks they held $1,600 toward the purchase of the fountain.

“The fountain will make residents want to go outside, stand close to it, watch it, walk around it,” said Rev. Mullins. It’s good for mental health and disposition.”

Randy Allen, Wesley Gardens’ administrator, said that the test run on the fountain showed that it is working great. “With just a few final touches, the fountain and pool should be fully operational in another week or so,” Mr. Allen said. “Once the fountain is running, we will plan a courtyard reception to thank the pastors, donors and volunteers who helped make the fountain a reality.”


2013 Annual Conference: In Brief

published 6/6/2013

The 2013 Alabama–West Florida Annual Conference was held June 2-5 in Mobile, AL, with the theme, “The Great Commission: Seeking Disciples.” Bishop Paul L. Leeland, presiding over his fifth annual conference session since becoming the resident bishop, welcomed clergy and lay members to Christ UMC in Mobile. 

Prior to this year’s conference, Bishop Leeland urged the churches of the conference to receive a special offering for Hurricane Sandy Relief. The people of the AWF Conference responded by contributing over $46,000. The offering collected at the ordination and commissioning service for the Ministerial Education Fund collected close to $2,500. A special offering for the Oklahoma tornado survivors was collected on Wednesday. Over $6,500 was generously donated. 

The 2013 Annual Conference session was opened on Sunday evening with hundreds from throughout the conference gathering for worship. Bishop Lindsey Davis of the Louisville area preached the sermon based on Matthew 28: 18-20 and entitled, "Our Primary Task." He encouraged our conference to, "Make sure everyone in your congregation knows what you are about--it's making disciples. In this day of bombarding messages, you just have to be basic. We're here to make disciples." He continued saying, "Everything else that distracts us from our primary task; we need to quit doing. The United Methodist Church cannot afford vision slippage. We must have clarity so that we all carry this message in our DNA." Combined choirs from Christ UMC provided inspiring music for the service including moving renditions of, "No Other Name" and "10,000 Reasons." The Toulminville-Warren Street UMC choir was a special addition to this year's opening worship and was shown appreciation from the congregation with a standing ovation. 

One deacon in full connection and seven elders in full connection were ordained and two provisional deacons and five provisional elders were commissioned on the evening of June 3 at Dauphin Way UMC. One associate member was also presented. Prior to the start of the service, the chancel choir, brass quintet and men's ensemble of Dauphin Way UMC presented worshipful music led by John Ricketts.

Thirty-five clergy and clergy spouses who died in the past year were remembered during a Service of Commemoration and Holy Communion.  Rev. Debora Bishop of Spanish Fort UMC offered the inspiring sermon based on I Peter 5: 1-3 entitled, "Celebrating Examples to the Flock." She featured each person who had passed in a special way by telling of their past achievements. A capacity crowd remembered those that have given many years of service to the conference. Surviving family members were hosted at a special luncheon by the AWF Commission on Archives and History. 
Twenty-two clergy retiring this conference year were honored on Monday, June 3. Together, they represent over 600 years of combined service to the United Methodist Church. Rev. Ron Ball spoke on behalf of the retiring class.

During his Episcopal address, Bishop Leeland acknowledged the clergy of our conference by having them stand and mentioned the sacrifices and stress often not seen by others. He expressed a moment of gratitude for starting eleven new churches within our conference and informed the congregation that the conference was starting a full-time, African American church in the coming year. As part of his address he invited Brandy Cole, wife of Rev. Dunford Cole, to lead the conference in a Service of Repentance and Reconciliation for Native Americans. 

Over 500 people were the hands and hearts of Christ in the City of Mobile as a part of 2013 Mission Day. A total of over 1,500 combined volunteer hours were spent on 20 projects. This effort was led by Susan Hunt, AWF Director of Mission & Advocacy. Close to 1,500 UMCOR relief kits were assembled as part of this day and will be sent to the warehouse for immediate use.  

The Conference was honored and blessed by the outstanding leadership of several guest speakers. Dr. David Cann, the Cornelius & Dorothye Henderson Chair/E. Stanley Jones Professor of Evangelism at Interdenominational Theological Center led two Bible Study sessions. Bishop Lindsey Davis of the Kentucky Conference preached the opening worship service as well as the Ordination & Commissioning Service. Our conference was honored to welcome back home Dawn Wiggins Hare, General Secretary of the General Commission on the Status and Role of Women, who gave an informative church structure presentation at the laity session. 
Several awards were given to recognize outstanding leadership and service in the conference. President Cam West of Huntingdon College received the Francis Asbury Award and Norma Taylor Mitchell received the Alice Lee Award. There were four recipients of the Denman Evangelism Award: The clergy winner was Rev. Jeremy Mount of Perdido Bay UMC. Lay recipients were Mark Jackson of Mulder Memorial UMC, Robert Powell of Dothan First United Methodist Church and Brooke Herndon of Chickasaw UMC (youth winner). The Bishop's Award of Excellence in scouting was presented to Julie Grace of Gulf Breeze UMC for her leadership. Tripp Gulledge, son of Rev. Rob Gulledge, spoke to the laity about his involvement in scouting. He became an Eagle Scout at age 16 and has not allowed the fact the he is blind to stand in the way of his achievements.
Spiritual directors from around the conference led prayers at the beginning of all sessions and a compelling addition again to this year's conference was the showing of eight district videos that informed the conference about how each district seeks disciples. To see the video archive, click here
Dr. Steve Furr and Dr. Larry Bryars presented the proposed constitutional amendments from the 2012 General Conference. All were approved by the voting body of the annual conference.
A total of four petitions and two resolutions were presented to the annual conference. Three petitions were not passed, one was approved and two resolutions were approved. The petition approved allows a task force to "craft the guidelines by which persons (who wish to make known their desire and willingness to serve as a clergy delegate to the General and/or Jurisdictional Conferences) are provided the opportunity to share information about themselves through the conference website." If adopted at the 2014 annual conference, it would be in time for the 2015 election cycle in our conference. One resolution passed, "calls upon the Alabama delegation to the United States Congress and the Florida delegation to the United States Congress to join in a Congressional effort to pass Federal immigration laws that provide for compassion, respect, and justice for immigrant children, workers, and their families." The other resolution passed calls upon the Alabama Legislature to, "pass appropriate legislation to curb the activities of predatory lenders."

Dr. Lawson Bryan reported on the Apportionment Task Force that met to determine the fairness of the current formula (75% is financial strength and 25% is membership). They studied the other conferences within the Southeastern Jurisdiction as a comparison.The recommendation is to continue use of the formula as a fair calculation. Dr. Wesley Wachob reported on the task force that met to determine the salaries of district superintendents. They took the average top 25 clergy salaries (excluding district superintendents and conference staff) and made that the salary of the district superintendent, which is $113, 637. The old formula took the top three salaries in each district. Dr. Robbins Sims reported a 4.28% increase in conference apportionments.

The conference established an $11.109 million budget for mission and ministry for 2014, level with 2013. 

Membership stands at 145,049, down 1 % from the previous year. Worship attendance stands at 65,781, up 1%. Church school attendance stands at 26,830, down 5%. Covenant discipleship groups stand at 8,553, down 8%. Two areas that showed increases were Participants in Christian Formation Groups and Number of Persons Baptized; 70,042, 7% increase and 2,154, 9% increase, respectively.

The clergy appointments for 2013-2014 may be found online here

The 2014 session of the AWF Annual Conference will be held June 1-4, 2014, at Frazer Memorial UMC. Montgomery First United Methodist Church will host the Ordination Service. We express our sincere appreciation to the Christ United Methodist Church Leadership Team and Rev. Jeff Spiller for their hospitality during this year's annual conference.

A downloadable pdf recap that can be used in your upcoming church bulletins can be found here. Full coverage of the 2013 AWF Annual Conference may be found at To see photos taken by Luke Lucas, click here.   



QuadW Foundation awards an additional $718,000

published 5/30/2013

The Mobile District is pleased to announce the QuadW Foundation’s continued and expanded support of local mission work in our area as well as providing for the expansion of the QuadW Missional Internship program. Specifically, the grant funds:

- Staff support and stipends for up to 28 college-aged interns each summer for the next five years. These interns serve God in Mobile’s inner city communities, live in Christian community, and are trained as missional leaders.
- Expansion of the QuadW Missional Internship to Kansas City, Kansas in 2013. This represents the first expansion of the internship outside of Mobile. Funding is for up to twelve interns.
- Support for a cooperative effort between the General Board of Global Missions and the Mobile District to pilot new approaches in Young Adult Missions programs. As part of this effort, the district requested and received three GBGM missionaries– Deborah Strausbaugh, and Ash and Stephanie Norton. The pilot program incorporates the components of the existing internship for college students.
- Salary for Rev. Don Woolley to serve as Director of QuadW. He is charged with expanding the QuadW Missional Internship to additional cities, while coordinating local mission work in the Mobile District and overseeing the work of local GBGM Young Adult Missionaries.

The money is specifically granted to “Open Doors – United Methodists on Mission” – a 501c3 recently established under the oversight of the Mobile District’s Board of Mission and Church Extension. The mission of Open Doors is to “fully engage United Methodists in expressing God’s love by sharing the good news of Jesus Christ through holistic ministries that transform our communities.” Our district is excited about the creative ministries fostered by Open Doors both in support of existing agencies and to launch new initiatives.

Finally, we are very grateful that the QuadW Foundation granted our request to rename the internship in honor of Willie Tichenor, who died of osteosarcoma on March 15, 2006 at age 19. The QuadW Foundation itself was established to carry on Willie’s desire to make positive changes in the world around him, and the question “What Would Willie Want?” guides the Foundation’s work. We encourage you to see to learn more about Willie, QuadW, and the incredible efforts they support. We deeply appreciate the opportunity to partner with them in this God-honoring, Kingdom expanding work! 

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