As the November 3rd election approaches, I am reminded of my grandfather and uncle who served as political officials in Knoxville, Tennessee, where I grew up. My uncle served as County Trustee and County Mayor. Grandfather Graves served 32 years on the school board. In several of the county and school buildings, you find their names as they held these offices when the buildings were constructed.
During the early years of my grandfather’s tenure, he served with fellow school board member, Archie Campbell. Mr. Campbell was a songwriter, singer, comedian, and personality extraordinaire who appeared on several television shows. Archie Campbell was a United Methodist and member at Bulls Gap UMC in Bulls Gap, Tennessee. My dad shared with me recently how Archie Campbell would call their house to talk school board business and politics with my grandfather who loved God, family, the Methodist church, business and politics.
In this moment, I do not wish to talk politics, but I do want to encourage everyone to vote. It is most important that each of us exercise this right that we should not take for granted. This is not only true in a presidential election, but every time there is a local or state election. When Nancy and I moved to Montgomery, one of the first things we did was register to vote here in the state we now call home for this season of our lives.
John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist movement, offered advice to early Methodists about voting. He encouraged them to: 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.
What sound advice for the times we are living in right now.
During these days leading up to and following the November 3rd election, I would encourage each of us to be in prayer for our nation and all who are running for office. Please vote! Do all you can to ensure that every eligible U.S. citizen has accessibility to vote in person or by mail-in ballot.
Let’s continue to be mindful of Mr. Wesley’s advice to take care of our spirits following the election. There is a lot of emotion and opinion surrounding this election so our witness to others following the election is most important.
I appreciate the opportunity and privilege to serve as your bishop.
David W. Graves
Alabama-West Florida Conference
The 2020 Alabama-West Florida Annual Conference, originally scheduled for June 7-10, was held today, September 26, via Zoom. Bishop David Graves, presiding over his fourth annual conference session since becoming the resident bishop, welcomed clergy and lay members to the online platform with a devotional. He noted that this was the 52nd year the Alabama-West Florida Conference has met. He also commented that, "we tried everything we knew to do to hold an in-person annual conference." He told of the unrest throughout this world and referenced a note his grandmother gave him saying, "Action begins in your mind." He told of the various challenges the conference has faced in the past few years between Hurricane Michael, COVID-19, and now Hurricane Sally. He emphasized that after Hurricane Sally, the greatest thing we need is work teams. The conference is now doing hurricane disaster recovery from Mobile, AL, to Port St. Joe, FL, which is the entire coast of the Alabama-West Florida Conference.
To uphold tradition, Rev. Brad Bradford of Shalimar UMC organized a virtual rendition of "And Are We Yet Alive" to open the session. Rev. Ashley Davis, conference secretary, directed the opening business and organization of the conference before presenting the conference nominations report. She gave thanks to Duane Keck, who passed since the committee met, for his work on the Episcopacy and Congregational Development Committees. Those seats will be filled at the next meeting. Adjustments were explained due to the postponement of general conference. The report was approved.
A creative connectional ministries video was presented highlighting the many ways the conference reaches clergy and lay people through ministry, especially during the pandemic. Click here to see video.
Beverly Maddox, lay leader, updated the conference on the work of the laity. Her focus was on change through growth. She mentioned that we have all commented at some point, "We will be so happy when this goes back to normal." She referenced the Book of Reports for updates on the various lay ministries in our conference citing that much work was done prior to COVID but the work continues in creative ways at the moment. Lay persons have stepped up to help clergy continue ministry during COVID whether it be online or outdoor wotship. "Living things grow and growing things change," she said.
A special moment at this year's conference was the commissioning of Deaconess Annette Winston. Bishop Graves commissioned Deaconess Winston while practicing social distancing. Deaconess Celeste Eubanks was also present to celebrate this moment with Ms. Winston.
Twelve clergy were recognized upon their retirement in Dr. Jim Sanders' AWF Board of Ordained Ministry report.
The retirees are:
Eleven persons to be commissioned and ordained were also honored in Dr. Jim Sanders' report. The Service of Commissioning will be held tomorrow afternoon at 4:00pm in the sanctuary of First United Methodist Church in Montgomery. This service is by invitation only to ensure safety precautions but all are welcome to participate via live stream through this link. The ordination of four elders will take place in their current appointment settings. Those to be commissioned and ordained are:
Deacon: Kevin Lazarus
Elders: Nathan Adkison, Jack Allen, Brian Dovey, Jennifer Gregory, Lucas Tribble, and Tom Skeen
Deacon: James W. Bradford
Elders: Rhett Butler, Bradley Chamblee, and Tara Chamblee
Thirty clergy and clergy spouses who passed since the 2019 AWF Annual Conference session will be remembered during the 2021 Service of Remembrance and Holy Communion. Click here to see the names of those we will memorialize next year.
Sanders also reviewed the six characteristics of of future leaders the board has identified as a group. He also recognized new full- and part-time local pastors, those who have completed course of study, and those in extension ministry around our conference.
Several awards were given to recognize outstanding leadership and service in the conference. This year's awards ceremony was hosted by Mr. John McWilliams, a lay person from Montgomery FUMC. Bagdad UMC (Pensacola, FL) is the recipient of the Local Church Heritage Award. The One Church Matters Award was given to Center Ridge UMC by the AWF Town and Country Commission. Rev. Audrey Rodgers received the Francis Asbury Award for her work with the Tuskegee University Wesley Foundation. There were three winners of the Harry Denman Evangelism Award. The clergy winner is Rev. Victoria Scofield of Cypress UMC. The youth recipient is Anna Claire Kinsey of Providence UMC (Spanish Fort, AL) and the lay recipient is Kimberley Rhames of Mt. Zion UMC (Smiths Station, AL). Complete award recipient profiles may be found here. To see today's video, click here.
The Board of Pension and Health proposed a 2021 pre-82 past service rate of $804 for retiring clergy and $563 for surviving spouses. The conference is discontinuing lay health insurance coverage beginning January 1, 2021. Conference staff will be offered coverage from a fully insured HDHP/PSA health insurance plan. These items were approved. Click here for report.
The conference established a $6,981,913 million budget for mission and ministry for 2021. The 2021 budget is the lowest in 20 years, 27% lower than 2020, and 35% less than 2019. The significant difference is due to staff and support reductions. The general church budget has been reduced by 16.28%. The jurisdictional budget remains unchanged due to the delays in the general and jurisdictional conferences. The recommended district superintendent salary for 2020 is $104,349, a 15% decrease from the previous year. All director lay and clergy salaries were reduced by the same percentage. The unqualified audit report will appear in the 2020 Journal. In 2019, 370 churches paid 100% of their apportionments. Thank you for your faithful giving! Click here for full report, which was approved by the voting body and presented by George Mingledorff, CFA Chair.
Ms. Suzanne Krejcar, AWF Treasurer, reported that membership stands at 126,636. Attendance at worship is about 44.5% of professing membership. Confirmation and black membership showed areas of slight increase over the past year. The report was approved.
Rev. June Jernigan, AWF Director of Ministerial Services and Assistant to the Bishop, presented the report of the cabinet; it was approved. She offered a prayer for these congregations undergoing change. The report will be published in the 2020 Journal.
Bishop David Graves took intentional time to diligently thank those who were an integral part of annual conference and expressed what a collective effort it takes to make a virtual event like this happen. He specifically thanked Frazer UMC for hosting two clergy sessions and the conference session. He again reminded churches to please send disaster response teams to the gulf coast. More information can be found at www.awfumc.org/sally.
The clergy appointments, which were made ad interim in June, may be found online here.
The 2021 session of the AWF Annual Conference will be held June 6-9, 2021, at Frazer Memorial United Methodist Church in Montgomery, AL. Montgomery First United Methodist Church will host the Service of Commissioning & Ordination. The hope is to have an in-person conference but if needed, a virtual session will be held.
As previously announced, Annual Conference 2020 will be held virtually through Zoom webinar. The half-day annual conference session will be held on Saturday, September 26, 2020 at 1:00pm. A non-voting live stream option will be available for guests. Click here for live stream. No persons will be permitted on site except essential conference staff.
A working agenda for the 1/2 day annual conference is available by clicking here.
It is imperative that each clergy and lay member carefully review the 2020 Book of Reports, which contains the proposed agenda, procedural guidelines, and report of our boards and committees, as well as items to be acted on during the 2020 annual conference. Click here to access the Book of Reports.
There are several reports that will be presented at annual conference on September 26th. Members of the annual conference will vote on these items. Please review these prior to our time together.
Nominations report, presented by Rev. Ashley Davis
Board of pension and health benefits report, presented by Tara Sanders
Equitable Compensation report, presented by Rev. Michael Cobb
Council on Finance and Administration and the Proposed 2021 budget, presented by George Mingledorff.
Report of the Cabinet, presented by Rev. June Jernigan
Should you have a question about any of the reports, please complete this brief form and the appropriate person will respond to you. These submitted questions will be given priority in the limited online time we have together.
If you have not registered, please do so soon. Registration will be through Zoom. Only those participating in an official capacity (clergy, board of ordained ministry, voting lay members) need to register. Only lay members elected at charge conference and entered into the dashboard for their church will be approved. If you know there has been a change to your lay member since charge conference or that you are to attend for your church as an alternate lay member, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org. Click here to register for the 1/2 day session for clergy and lay members. Please note that registration will close one hour before the event. You will not be able to obtain a link to participate once registration has closed. We will be present on the Zoom webinar one hour before the session to work through any technical issues that may arise as participants log on. A technical helpline will be live one hour prior to the beginning of each session. Should you have problems logging on, call 850-708-1614.
If you are unfamiliar with Zoom, please consult this brief instructional sheet.
We look forward to our virtual time together.
Hurricane Sally has moved out of the Alabama-West Florida Conference. Below is the latest disaster response information.
Assessment & Needs
Flooding and roof damage are significant issues in the southern parts of our conference. Cleaning buckets are still needed. Because of the need from Hurricane Laura, warehouses are low on inventory but requests are being made from multiple resources. The first delivery of 800 buckets was made to Orange Beach, AL, today. More will be delivered tomorrow to Pensacola FUMC. If your church has the capability to make more or has them on hand, please reach out to your district disaster response coordinator (ddrc).
Roof repair items are also in need due to local inventory being low. Tarps, nails and furring strips are all needed. Please consider collecting these in your district or community. If you are collecting, please deploy these by noon on Monday so that they can be used immediately in the areas with damage.
Gas and generators are also in high demand. If you have access to these items, please contact your ddrc.
Click here for a list of collection locations around the Alabama-West Florida Conference.
As with any storm, monetary donations are the quickest way you and your church can make a positive impact. Click here to donate.
Please do not send any clothing items of any sort to any location.
Teams are already scheduled from the Great Plains Conference, the Mississippi Conference, the North Georgia Conference and the South Georgia Conference. South Georgia is also sending a shower trailer. We are so grateful for our United Methodist Connection.
More teams are needed immediately to help mitigate potential mold from flooding and are invited to come into our conference. If you can arrange to send a team, only the team leader needs to be UMCOR trained and badged. Other volunteers may work under their leadership. Please contact email@example.com for more information on location and lodging.
COVID procedures will be in place at volunteer housing sites and multiple locations have been identified to space out volunteers. Site coordinators will be in place to direct teams to specific cleanup areas.
Please note that sections of I-10 and Highway 85 around Crestview, FL, are closed. Travel will be interrupted. Please consult mapping apps before making travel plans. Most areas have curfews to ensure safety of residents and volunteers.
If you have damage to your church or personal property, please keep receipts for expenses related to Hurricane Sally (hotels, food, supplies, services, etc). There is potential FEMA reimbursement available. You may take photos with your camera phone for records. The FEMA number for this disaster is 3546.
AWF Connectional Response
Several churches in the AWF Conference are housing outside response groups. Thank you to the following churches who are opening their doors to meet needs:
Christ UMC: hosting Civil Air Patrol; responsible for aerial coverage of damage;
Gadsden Street UMC: hosting state troopers;
Rosinton UMC: hosting Team Rubicon.
As we have learned, information can quickly change after a disaster. Please do not self deploy or collect items that are not needed. We will continue to send updates as we have new information so that we can best respond to those in need.
Your prayers are most appreciated and will sustain many in the coming days. Thank you for being the hands and feet of Christ, yet again. It is in times like these that we see the best of the United Methodist connection.
Photo courtesy of Rev. Christina Shaver
As Hurricane Sally moves through our conference, we continue to assess the damage and communicate with our disaster recovery leadership team and clergy.
-We give thanks that we have not heard of any injuries or deaths related to the storm in our AWF connection.
-It appears many of our churches were spared significant damage. There are several cases of roof damage; water entry; and downed trees/fences on church property and at clergy homes.
-We are compiling a comprehensive list of assessments as they are available. If your church or parsonage has damage, please be sure to report it to your district disaster response coordinator (ddrc). Those contacts may be found here.
-We give thanks to the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) for assisting our conference with a $10,000 solidarity grant.
-Rev. Chris Ackerman, AWF disaster response director, has ordered a delivery of 800 cleaning buckets to be delivered to the Loxley area tomorrow. Another 800 buckets will be sent to Pensacola.
-There will likely be several volunteer centers setup in our conference so that we can assist as many communities as possible. Those will be announced when logistics are arranged.
-Emergency Response Teams (ERTs) will be needed in the coming days. Each team needs one UMCOR trained and badged leader. Other volunteers may work under the leadership of the trained leader. Orange Beach UMC is preparing to receive these teams soon.
-Curfews will be in place in most communities with extensive damage. Please do not self deploy. We will announce when communities are ready to receive teams, which will be soon.
-Monetary donations are always welcome and needed. All donations will stay within our conference and will be used to directly assist families in need. Click here to donate.
-Please pray for the communities in our conference who are facing difficult days ahead. Our conference is home to resilient disciples who will lean on one another during these trying times. May God's peace fill our hearts and guide our actions in the days to come.