A friendship forged in crisis, rooted in faith

published 11/2/2020
(Kara Witherow for the AWFUMC) - Amid the storms of life, it’s important to have friends to help you weather the worst of times.

With a partnership forged in crisis, Rev. Chris Ackerman and Amelia Fletcher are that kind of friend for one another.
It was in the aftermath of 2018’s Hurricane Michael that Rev. Ackerman and Fletcher became acquainted. Fletcher, serving as Disaster Recovery Director for the Alabama-West Florida Conference, was the person Rev. Ackerman would call with questions and for advice about storm recovery.

“She quickly became somebody I could call on at any time and ask for help,” said Rev. Ackerman, who was serving as a campus pastor at Lynn Haven United Methodist Church in Panama City, Fla. and helping with his community’s recovery efforts. “She always had great advice, and I don’t think there has ever been a time where she hasn’t answered my phone call. She’s always been available and ready to support me.”

After serving 16 years as Disaster Recovery Director, Fletcher retired and handed the reins to Rev. Ackerman. She’s now serving as Director of Servant Ministries at her home church, Gulf Shores United Methodist Church, and the two have continued their partnership and friendship.

A shared love of Christ, a passion for disaster response, and similar personalities made the friendship flourish, Fletcher said.

“I think our passion for what we want to get done has paved the way for a lot,” she said. “To find someone passionate about something in this world is pretty special, and to be able to carry that through some really difficult times and decisions is special.”

Since Hurricane Sally struck the Gulf Coast on Sept. 16, the two have worked together to help as many people as possible rebuild and recover. While their roles have reversed, the partnership, respect, and mutual admiration endures.

“I appreciate his leadership,” said Fletcher of her protégé, who she said is like one of her children. “I think he has a heart for the ministry, and to me that’s worth more than just about anything.”

While near Gulf Shores one evening after the storm, Rev. Ackerman called Fletcher to check in. “I’m 20 minutes away. Do you need a hug?” he asked.

At the end of a long, exhausting day, the two friends sat together, hugged, talked, and were able to take a break from the stress of storm recovery.

“In that season, things move quickly, and that’s what made the hug nice,” Rev. Ackerman said. “It was a break from the intense, nonstop, day-to-day that we had been experiencing. Every time I see her we run at each other and hug. She and I are like family now.”

The Aftermath of Hurricane Zeta

published 10/29/2020
There is no dispute 2020 has been an unprecedented year. Hurricanes have been no exception. After still reeling from Hurricane Sally just weeks ago, Hurricane Zeta packed a powerful punch in the Alabama-West Florida Conference. The category two storm made landfall in Louisiana on October 28, 2020, yet shifted to the northeast and raced through Alabama and Northwest Florida. 

The following is a damage report from the Mobile area. 

Chatom UMC-tree damage
Citronelle UMC-tree damage at parsonage; damage to roof at church and limbs/trees down. The town is being called, "destroyed."
Coden UMC-flooding in sanctuary
Crawford UMC-damage to awning and cross 
Dauphin Island UMC-flooding
Ebenezer UMC-tree damage
Mt Vernon UMC- tree on fence; cemetery road blocked; two members with large oak trees down; parsonage has trees down and sections of shingles missing
Pine Grove-tree damage
Satsuma UMC-parsonage has extensive limbs down; two members with trees on their house 
Tanner Williams UMC-roof damage
Wilmer UMC - trees and limb damage

The AWF Disaster Response team, under the leadership of Rev. Chris Ackerman, will continue to communicate the greatest needs for both Hurricanes Laura and Zeta. Clergy should contact their district disaster response coordinator if your church or clergy home has damage that is not on this list. 

"It is unbelievable to think that we are faced with yet more storm damage," stated Bishop Graves. "However, we certainly have experience and an outstanding team that will respond to Hurricane Zeta in impactful ways just as we have to prior natural disasters. Whether you are in conference or in another part of the country, we need your help. Please prayerfully consider sending a work team or monetary donation. We need our connection more than ever and will collectively work to show communities that the United Methodist Church is an integral part of their livelihood." 

Work teams are still greatly needed along the coast. Please register your team through this form. As always, monetary donations are needed and greatly appreciated as we recover and rebuild. Click here to donate.

An Election Day Call to Prayer from Bishop Graves

published 10/26/2020

October 26, 2020

Today, October 26, 2020, Bishop Debra Wallace-Padgett (North Alabama Conference Resident Bishop) and I released a call to prayer for the upcoming election on November 3. As you know, she and I share Episcopal duties for the state of Alabama. Therefore, it was crafted with an emphasis on one state. Click here to read statement

Because the bounds of our conference encompass two states, I am also releasing the below statement to include the states of Alabama and Florida. It is critical that my words are inclusive to all pastors, congregations and residents of both states.

Below you will find today's statement for the Alabama-West Florida Conference. 

Dear Friends,

I strongly believe that prayer makes a difference. Indeed, sincere and fervent prayer is an action that positively impacts our lives and the world in which we live. 

As the 2020 U.S. Election Day quickly approaches, I call United Methodists in the states of Alabama and Florida to two weeks of daily prayer for state and national leaders, beginning October 27 and concluding November 10. I also encourage the practice of praying daily throughout the year for the U.S. President, Vice President, Alabama Governor, National and State Representatives, Senators and other elected officials.   

I ask you to join me in praying for the following:

  • those persons who are on the ballot during this election season as they finish their campaigning and await the election results;
  • those persons who are elected to lead our nation and state;
  • the transitions for any leaders who will be entering and exiting public office;
  • the discourse about the elections to be civil and respectful in the halls of government, schools, work and churches;
  • the embodiment of the rules for voting of our founder, John Wesley.*

The prayers of thousands of United Methodists in the states of Alabama and Florida positively affects those for whom we pray. It also changes us. Thank you for considering participating in this Call to Prayer.

Bishop David Graves                                                               
Resident Bishop                                                                       
Alabama West-Florida Conference                                              
*I met those of our society who had votes in the ensuing election, and advised them,
1. To vote, without fee or reward, for the person they judged most worth.
2. To speak no evil of the person they voted against.
3. To take care their spirits were not sharpened against those that voted on the other side.  (John Wesley’s Journal entry on October 6, 1774)

Hurricane Sally Update, October 20

published 10/20/2020
Hurricane Sally made landfall on September 16, 2020, which was 16 years to the day that Hurricane Ivan damaged the same area. To date there has been close to 60,000 individuals who have registered for FEMA assistance. Almost $30 million in FEMA grants have been issued to affected residents. We have transitioned out of what we call our relief phase (food, water, shelter, electricity, and immediate access needs), and into our recovery phase (continued debris removal and home repair). We continue to have a need for volunteers who can do mucking and gutting, tree work, and debris removal. The Covid virus, as well as the multiple disasters throughout our country, have made it difficult for us to enlist the number of volunteers needed for recovery. We have taken several steps to ensure that we can help provide adequate social distancing and PPE standards for our volunteer teams. We ask that you would consider making multiple trips to the Hurricane Sally affected area from your home church.
We are also hoping to be able to share in the near future about potential grants that we have applied for through the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR). In the meantime, we are creating a program for churches to partner with families. If you are interested in providing either financial assistance or volunteer labor towards a family in need, we would love to hear from you! As we begin our case management process we will be identifying families who are interested in this recovery adoption process. For more details on this please email
Thank you for the many ways you continue to respond through our connection. We welcome your prayers as we help to those who need it most. 
With Gratitude,
Rev. Chris Ackerman
AWF Disaster Response Director

An Invitation from Bishop Graves

published 10/13/2020

One of my biggest struggles of the COVID era is the lack of in-person fellowship and time together. As clergy women and men, many of us crave that personal interaction to build relationships with one another. Although we cannot yet safely meet in person, we can spend time together on October 22 for our Bishop’s Time Apart. I would like to personally invite you to this online event
I would hasten to say the clergy in the Alabama-West Florida Conference have been through more traumatic events than most other conferences. Between the anticipation of general conference that did not occur; multiple natural disasters; racial tensions; political divides; and of course navigating the many ways COVID has affected our local churches and congregations, each of you has had to bear the burden of your own stress and the weight of these life-changing situations. These historic events add many layers of conflict around decisions. 
With October being clergy appreciation month, I want to offer this time apart on October 22 from 10-12pm. This will be shorter than our normal day apart due to the schedule demands you all face. Our time together will be led by Dr. John Paul Lederach. Dr. Lederach has experience with international conciliation work in war-torn settings such as Nicaragua and Somalia. He has also written over 22 books on peacebuilding including the book, “Reconcile: Conflict Transformation for Ordinary Christians.” He currently is a Senior Fellow with Humanity United, a Foundation that works with peace and conflict resolution. The organization also seeks to end present day slavery and child trafficking. He will share with us about his experience in international conflict situations, give us the scriptural basis for such work, and leave us with practical tools for working through conflict in our setting. Our time apart will also include breakout sessions to connect with peers.
I hope you will join me for this online gathering. Please register by clicking here. CEUs (.2) are available for this event at the conclusion of the session. 
I am grateful for each of you and have you in my daily prayers. 
With gratitude,
Bishop David Graves

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