Alabama-West Florida to hold annual conference sessions in fall of 2020

published 5/27/2020

Bishop David Graves, in collaboration with conference leadership and the annual conference planning team, is announcing that the 2020 AWF Annual Conference session will be held in two parts in the fall of 2020. Both sessions will be held at Frazer Memorial UMC in Montgomery, AL.
The clergy session will be held on Sunday, September 13, 2020, and the half-day annual conference session will be held on Saturday, September 26, 2020. A non-voting live stream option will be available to those who are unable to attend on the 26th. All guests and families are asked to watch via live stream this year to reduce the number of persons in the building.
The previously announced virtual session, planned for June 28-29, will not be held.
“The two virtues I have learned during the COVID-19 pandemic when trying to plan calendar events are flexibility and patience,” stated Bishop David Graves. “Even with this new announcement there are uncertainties around details. I am grateful for the abundance of grace you all have extended and will continue to give us as we navigate this historic time. The one certainty around annual conference is that the length will be greatly reduced, and some agenda items will be scheduled for next year. I am grateful to Frazer Memorial UMC for their flexibility and willingness to walk alongside the conference as we determine the best solution for 2020 Annual Conference.”
A revised working agenda will be published in June. In addition to this, a communications piece will be sent to all clergy and lay members regarding details and the postponement of agenda items and activities.

AWF Office of Communications Receives Four UMAC Awards

published 5/27/2020
For the first time ever, the United Methodist Association of Communicators held their annual awards gala in a virtual format on the evening of Thursday, May 21, 2020. Each year, UMAC recognizes excellence in communication through an awards program, the United Methodist Association of Communicators Awards Contest. The contest recognizes excellence in print publications, digital publications, writing, internet communications, video production, audio, photography, visual design, publicity/advertising and media presentations.
The Alabama-West Florida Conference Office of Communications was honored with four awards.
Class Seven, Photography
Category A, Photojournalism, Annual Conference/Local Church Division
1st Place
Luke Lucas
Joy in the Chaos (shown above)
Alabama-West Florida Conference
Class Eight, Visual Design
Category B, Print and Electronic Design, Annual Conference/Local Church Division
3rd place
Mary Catherine Phillips, Karla Merritt and Luke Lucas
Email Template Upgrade
Alabama-West Florida Conference
Class Eight, Visual Design
Category E, Branding/Logo Design, Annual Conference/Local Church Division
3rd place
Mary Catherine Phillips and Karla Merritt
This We Proclaim
Alabama-West Florida Conference
Class Nine, Publicity & Advertising
Hurricane Michael Remembrance
1st Place Mary Catherine Phillips and Luke Lucas
Alabama-West Florida Conference
“I am grateful that our office of communications was honored for the outstanding work they do each and every day,” stated Bishop David Graves. “They ensure that the written and visual messages we must communicate are handled in the most professional and effective way. Join me in honoring this team on these accomplishments.”
Todd Rossnagel, Director of Communications for the Louisiana Conference, is the recipient of the 2020 Communicator of the Year Award. This award is given annually to a person who has made recent striking achievements in communication with broad impact, often breaking new ground for the church.
UMAC is a voluntary, professional organization designed to provide recognition, fellowship and vocational enrichment for professional and volunteer communicators of the church; plan, participate in and support training and continuing education events; develop standards and seek to enhance the professional quality of the work by United Methodist communicators; and assist in keeping members informed about developments in the communications industry and in promoting dialogue and discussion on technology and communication advocacy issues.

General and Jurisdictional Conference Revised Dates Announced

published 5/26/2020

Commission sets dates for postponed General Conference; will explore new uses of technology 

Nashville, Tenn.: The Commission on the General Conference has announced new 2021 dates for General Conference following the postponement of the event due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The quadrennial legislative event will take place on August 29 - September 7, 2021, at the Minneapolis Convention Center in Minneapolis, Minn. 

"We're grateful that we were able to secure new dates while keeping the site of General Conference in Minneapolis. Nearly seven years of pre-planning and preparations by the host team have gone into this event," said Kim Simpson, chair of the Commission on the General Conference.

The Commission decided to focus on 2021 as it was not feasible to schedule any earlier with so much uncertainty over international travel and the spread of COVID-19. Business manager Sara Hotchkiss was authorized by the Commission in March to pursue negotiations for new dates with the venue and area hotels after the Convention Center canceled May events due to concerns over coronavirus.

Hotchkiss said that it was surprising to find an available time block long enough to accommodate General Conference needs with so much competition for event space and lodging with other events shifting their dates as well.

“The hospitality industry has been devastated by COVID-19 with staffing levels significantly reduced, so negotiating amid the pandemic was a much slower process. I am grateful for our partnerships in the industry we have built over the years that assisted us in getting our foot in the door early enough to find any dates in 2021,” said Hotchkiss. “Another challenge was to secure agreements for the number of hotel rooms and room types that we needed. Again, many of our partners faced furloughs and reduced staff hours.”

In making the announcement, the Commission expressed regret that they were not able to accommodate a request from a group of young delegates regarding the reported dates of the postponed General Conference.  The group asked the Commission to not schedule meeting dates that would conflict with the start of the academic year in the U.S. They cited concerns that the timing would disproportionately affect young leaders and hinder their participation, as well as that of educators who might not be able to take off work at that time.

The leadership of the Commission met with the group and invited them to address the full Commission, which includes young adult members, at their May 16 meeting to hear the requests directly and consider their concerns. 

“Including young adults in the General Conference is always an important consideration. We affirm that their voices need to be heard,” said Simpson. “Unfortunately, this request did not come to the Commission until late in the process. By that time, the available dates were secured and any attempt to change the dates would endanger the carrying forward of the deposits to the newly agreed upon dates. This is at least a half-million dollars. To move the event now would require either finding a new meeting location and host annual conference(s) or pushing the event to 2022, both of which would involve cancelling contracts and significant penalties.” 

Simpson said the impact would go beyond finances. “To meet in 2021, if at all possible, is very important in the life of the church. Many things hinge on the dates for General Conference. Pushing it to 2022 affects budgets, jurisdictional conferences, central conferences, the election of bishops, bishops’ retirement dates, terms of office of general agency boards and elected denominational leadership, and more. After listening carefully and discussing it thoroughly, we felt we had to proceed with the dates we’ve secured.” 

Hotchkiss said “Our partners in the hospitality industry moved mountains in good faith with us to help us find dates for a postponed General Conference. There could be significant repercussions, not just financially, but also affecting those who would even be willing to assist us into the future if we do not honor our agreements and all the work that has gone into this.”

However, the Commission did take steps to address a second request contained in a letter from the young adult group to consider alternative methods of accommodating full participation, including utilizing technology to enable virtual voting. 

In response to this request, the Commission voted to gather a group of creative thinkers, including young delegates, to explore the implications of options for accommodating full participation at General Conference, including, but not limited to, the possibility of utilizing technology and online voting at the General Conference. The recommendations of this group will be presented to the Commission for consideration.
“We know this would not be a simple task,” said Simpson. “We must consider the integrity of the voting and credentialing processes, legal ramifications, and the global nature of our church.”

The coronavirus pandemic is not the first health crisis to affect the timing of a General Conference. According to historical documents, the start date of the 1800 General Conference was moved up from October 20 to May 6 because of the prevalence of yellow fever during the fall – which is how the General Conference came to be held in May

The topic of General Conference dates was also discussed at a meeting of the Joint Commission on Unification of the Methodist Episcopal Church and the Methodist Episcopal Church South in 1920. Bishop Richard Cooke said, “The General Conference has full power to do many things. But it is lacking in divine omniscience, and cannot predict the possibility of an epidemic … Now, if there should arise any time in the providence of God such an epidemic as would render the meeting of the General Conference impracticable, the Commission would have the right … to fix such other time as might be necessary.”

UMC Bishops announce dates for postponed 2020 Jurisdictional Conferences

WASHINGTON, D.C.  — The Council of Bishops (COB) has announced new dates for the 2020 Jurisdictional Conferences in the United States which have been postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Jurisdictional Conferences in the United States will be held November 10-12, 2021. The days prior to and after can be used at the discretion of each Jurisdictional Conference.

In the call letter to Jurisdictional Conferences secretaries and heads of delegations, COB President Bishop Cynthia Fierro Harvey noted that the dates chosen by the bishops intentionally followed the postponed 2020 General Conference, which will now take place August 29-September 7, 2021, at the Minneapolis Convention Center in Minneapolis, Minn. 

The bishops have the authority to set dates for the Jurisdictional Conferences as per Division Two - Section II - Article IV of The Constitution of The United Methodist Church (¶26 of The Book of Discipline, 2016).
As per ¶30 of The Book of Discipline, Central Conferences outside the United States will be held within a year following the postponed 2020 General Conference that will now be held in 2021.

"The Council of Bishops encourages the entire United Methodist Church to continue deep, unceasing prayer for the Holy Spirit to guide us through these unprecedented times of challenges brought by the COVID-19 pandemic. God, who has been with us on this journey, will see us through and bring us together in praise and worship," the letter stated. 

Click here to read the letter sent to the Heads of Delegations, Jurisdictional Conference Secretaries, Secretary of the General Conference and the Chairperson of the Commission on the General Conference.

Graves Issues Update on Worship in the Alabama-West Florida Conference

published 5/21/2020

Bishop David Graves, in conjunction with the Alabama-West Florida cabinet, encourages churches to continue to hold online, outdoor and drive-in worship services through June 30, 2020.
“Thus far, we have not seen the necessary 14-day steady decline in the number of COVID-19 cases in many areas of our conference,” stated Bishop Graves. “The health and safety of anyone potentially coming into our United Methodist church buildings is of utmost importance and remains a priority to conference leadership. We all have a deep longing to return to our church campuses and to find a sense of normalcy, but we are simply not able to recommend in-person worship at this time. Remember that churches are not closed, only buildings. The leaders in our local churches have shown how to continue ministry during a pandemic by hosting online, drive-in and outdoor worship services; feeding thousands of people through food delivery programs and reaching out to neighbors in creative and meaningful ways.”
While the decision to reinstate in-person worship rests with the pastor and church leadership, the Alabama-West Florida Conference continues to recommend the following:

  1. Establish a COVID-19 task force leadership team within your local church to discuss a restart plan;
  2. Develop a written plan for your local church that can be communicated to your members to establish trust before reopening;
  3. Review the restart guidelines, released on May 12, 2020, on the conference Website to understand the necessary steps a church must take to reopen its doors;
  4. Assess your cleaning and personal protection supply inventory and discuss with your leadership team how to best acquire needed supplies to ensure the health and safety of your congregation when in-person worship does begin. Click here for supply order form

“It is critical that churches understand their responsibility during this pandemic and the unique risks associated with in-person worship,” Graves continued. “While it is ultimately up to each local church to determine their best plan of action, we have an opportunity to lead by example in how to move forward with an abundance of caution.”
Visit for up-to-date information.

Photo provided by Orange Beach UMC

Federal Alliance for Safe Homes (FLASH) partners with Alabama-West Florida Conference to Provide Housing for Families Impacted by Hurricane Michael

published 5/19/2020
The Federal Alliance for Safe Homes (FLASH), in partnership with the Alabama-West Florida Conference of the United Methodist Church (AWFUMC), has been awarded $645,000 in funding from the Florida Disaster Fund to rebuild six (6) Hurricane Michael-damaged homes in Bay and Gulf Counties. The six homes will be provided to families with unmet economic needs due to gaps in public and private insurance or other types of support. Currently, the six families are without the resources necessary to overcome the challenges that began when Hurricane Michael damaged their homes. AWFUMC is an active United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) partner and has assisted over 300 families. The project team continues daily work in the long-term recovery of Hurricane-Michael affected communities. Currently, the FLASH Strong Homes program supports the existing AWFUMC initiative by providing donated and discounted building materials, consulting, and engineering expertise. The support is ensuring that the new homes not only meet the Florida building code but provide the highest degree of safety and performance.
“The Alabama-West Florida Conference is honored to partner with FLASH through this grant to assist those still in need along the Gulf Coast,” stated Bishop Graves. “We are deeply committed to the long-term recovery process and will continue to responsibly use resources to make a direct impact on families needing housing assistance.”
“Everyone deserves a home that is safe and secure from disasters. That is the inspiration behind the Strong Homes Initiative,” said FLASH President and CEO Leslie Chapman-Henderson. “Through this award and the partnership with AWFUMC, we will continue our commitment to the long-term recovery of Hurricane Michael survivors and Florida’s most vulnerable populations.”
This funding was part of a $2.79 million grant from Volunteer Florida related to Hurricane Michael recovery efforts. The recipients were chosen through a competitive application process.
For more information on this grant and Volunteer Florida, visit
The nonprofit Federal Alliance for Safe Homes (FLASH) is the country’s leading consumer advocate for strengthening homes and safeguarding families from natural and manmade disasters. The FLASH partnership includes more than 100 innovative and diverse organizations that share a vision of making America a more disaster-resilient nation including FEMA, Florida Division of Emergency Management, Huber Engineered Woods, International Code Council, ISO - Verisk Analytics, Lowe’s, National Weather Service, Portland Cement Association, Simpson Strong-Tie, State Farm, and USAA. In 2008, FLASH, and Disney opened the interactive weather experience StormStruck: A Tale of Two Homes, in Lake Buena Vista, FL. Learn more about FLASH and access free consumer resources by visiting, calling toll-free (877) 221- SAFE (7233), following @federalalliance on Twitter, and

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