Seminar on Racial and Economic Justice Educates Conference on Past and Present Issues

published 2/1/2019
The AWF Board of Church and Society held a Seminar on Racial and Economic Justice to bring awareness to current and past injustices. The seminar welcomed Gabrielle Daniel, a Racial Justice Fellow with Equal Justice Initiative (EJI); Evan Milligan, an EJI Law Fellow; and Rev. John Brooks, Director of Multicultural Ministries in the AWF Conference.
Daniels and Milligan shared a presentation focusing on the historical legacy of racial and economic injustice in our nation and state and encouraged and empowered attendees to use their voice and work towards trust, equity, and justice within our communities today. Rev. Brooks spoke about actions that the UMC and the AWF conference are doing to begin to work toward justice in these areas.

Sixty-five people were in attendance the event at Frazer Memorial UMC on Monday, January 28, 2019, and over 200 people watched by live stream. An additional 400 people have viewed the seminar online. Click here to access the recording of the seminar
“We were overwhelmed by the interest in this seminar,” said Rev. Ashley Davis, AWF Director of Connectional Ministries. “Although this can be a difficult topic to address, our conference is committed to keeping racial and economic injustice at the forefront of our conversations. One of our conference priorities is to be adaptive leaders through uncharted times, focusing on Kingdom work. Many people might think this only applies to our denominational discussions but racial issues have always been challenging, especially in our conference. Our conference leadership team looks forward to exploring even more ways to ensure many voices are at the table.”
The conversation served as a starting point for additional conversations to happen in the future. The next event related to this topic will be the upcoming “At the Table” at Monroeville UMC on March 23rd from 10am-2pm or at Aldersgate UMC on April 6th from 10am-2pm.

Think about it ... social media exposes whatever is in your heart

published 1/31/2019
(Bishop David Graves for The Montgomery Advertiser) - My seminary professor of preaching was Dr. Fred Craddock who said, “The longest journey any of us will ever make is from the head to the heart.” Think about that for a moment.

Often what we communicate comes more from our head and from emotions that leave the heart far behind. It is no secret we live in a world dominated by social media. Social media has many good qualities and I’ve seen first-hand positive action come from it. There are countless stories of inspiration, families and friends that are reunited after many years, upcoming events that are well worth our time, and precious pictures that warm our hearts.

Yet, we’ve also witnessed the dark side of social media that tears people down, hurts them, and leaves a trail of woundedness. People of all ages feel they are never worthy enough comparing themselves to people they’ve never met. We see the division it creates in politics, personal relationships, and even in our churches. Think about it.

Recently, a friend told me a story about his daughter’s employment with a major airline. When she attended her orientation, the new employees were told that if they have a Facebook account, Twitter, Instagram, or any other social media account, they recommended deactivating those accounts. They did not require them to do so, they simply highly suggested it. The airline explained that they would monitor their social media accounts and should they post anything not in line with the integrity or policies of the employer, they could be terminated. The airline emphasized that if they are employing and paying them, they would be required to live up to their principles. Think about that for a moment. I can’t find fault with the airline for taking this clear, yet powerful stance. I have seen many posts from people that leave me speechless and leave me to wonder if they remember who they represent whether it be their fellow family members, an employer, a volunteer group, church, etc.

It causes me to wonder: if we held our pastors and lay leaders to this same standard, what would be the outcome? For we not only represent ourselves, but the church. Most importantly we represent God. More times than I would like to recall, we have had to tell pastors to remove posts on social media. Do we not realize that when we post on social media, we are inviting the whole world into our lives? Even adults don’t seem to understand that there is no removing your online history. We do so without taking time to journey from our head to our heart. Think about it!

We have become a society addicted to our mobile devices and often do not take the time to build relationships with people we encounter. Hear me when I say I have been as guilty as everyone else. I am preaching to myself and allowing you to journey with me for a moment. I gave up all forms of social media several months ago. I am not asking you to take that drastic leap, but I am asking when you share on social media to simply think for a moment and take the time to journey from your head to your heart. Don’t we all want to share our best self? Don’t we want to represent good and not harm? Take the journey from your head to your heart. It is good to remember that what we put in our heart will present itself through what we think, say or post on social media.

Will you think about it?

Florida churches raise over $1.5 million for Michael relief

published 1/24/2019

(Florida Conference UMC) - Inspired by a matching funds challenge of $500,000 from First UMC Ormond Beach, Florida Conference churches raised over $1 million for Hurricane Michael relief for the Alabama West Florida Conference. A total of $1,533,096 was donated to their recovery.

Bishop David Graves of the Alabama West Florida Conference said the money will ease suffering so many continue to endure after the hurricane.

“I extend my deepest gratitude to each person who made financial donations on our behalf,” he said. “Please know how much I appreciate each of you. You have shown what it is to be not only be United Methodists, but also the hands and feet of Christ.”

“First United is honored to be on mission together with you in helping our neighbors in the Panhandle discover hope,” Pastor Scott Smith of FUMC Ormond Beach said. “When we come together and unite in a common effort, great things happen for the Kingdom.”

Conference Staff off to busy start in 2019

published 1/22/2019
(Kari C. Barlow for AWFUMC) - The Alabama-West Florida Conference staff is ushering in the new year with a renewed focus on its 2018-2020 priorities.  

Those four areas—growing discipleship, cultivating exceptional talent, training and teaching and being adaptive leaders through uncharted times—are considered to be pivotal in the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead in the next two years.

“We really wanted to start the year off right,” said Rev. Ashley Davis, director of connectional ministries for the conference.  

During the first week of January, Davis, along with Bishop David Graves, Rev. John Russell of St. John UMC in Mobile, Rev Richard Williams of Aldersgate UMC and Dr. Sam Parkes of Mary Esther UMC, attended the 2019 National Festival of Young Preachers in Atlanta. The annual event allows young preachers from across the country to attend master classes on preaching, to connect with mentors from colleges and seminaries and to network with other young people answering the call to full-time ministry.

Graves and Russell preached at the festival’s opening worship service, and the AWFUMC—a partner in the event—set up a booth to welcome and recruit potential clergy members.  

“It’s a very ecumenical gathering—there were United Methodists, Lutherans, Presbyterians, Catholics,” Davis said. “It includes young preachers from age 14 to 35. If we’re going to encourage people, they have to start somewhere!” 

All of the young preachers who attend have an opportunity to practice preaching—and be evaluated—during the event. Parkes, who holds a doctorate in homiletics, served as one of those evaluators tasked with providing constructive feedback. Russell, who leads a diverse congregation, and Parkes also taught a class on preaching in a multicultural setting. 

“I was inspired by the level of preaching,” Davis said. “A lot of the sermons had me on my feet! … And there was a lot of willingness to call out injustice.”

One of her favorite moments came at the end of the festival with a “Gospel Slam” featuring traditional preaching and much more.

“It was great,” Davis said. “There were songs. There were poems. There were all sorts of ways people were sharing the gospel!”

The festival is an excellent way to create a “brave space” with a lot of camaraderie for young people who are considering becoming preachers, she added.

“It’s invaluable—especially because of the communities they are forming,” Davis said. “If you’re a 14-year-old or 15-year-old who wants to be a preacher, chances are you’re pretty different … and to be with other young people who are experiencing a call, there’s a lot of encouragement in that.”

The festival has even motivated Davis to explore holding a similar regional festival for young preachers across the Alabama-West Florida conference. 

A few days after returning from Atlanta, Davis accompanied members of the conference staff and Huntingdon College to Lakeland, Florida, to meet with Florida Conference staff and the leadership of First UMC Lakeland. Their purpose was to learn about the programs that have helped the FLUMC and First UMC Lakeland create a vibrant culture of the call. 

Davis said she was especially impressed with Rev. David McEntire, the senior pastor, and his staff’s commitment to First UMC Lakeland’s strong internship program and efforts to make the vocation of ministry accessible to young people.

 “It’s very intentional,” she said. “Young people really get to experience all aspects of ministry.”

Although a quick trip, connecting with First UMC Lakeland inspired many ideas, Davis added.

“It was a really good time of crossing conference boundaries,” she said. “It was connectional!”

The conference plans to hold a meeting of 10 selected churches on March 2 to officially share what it learned in Lakeland. 

“The hope is to do a deep dive with this group and spread it to others,” Davis said. “And one of the hopes is that we can make it possible for more small- and medium-sized churches to have internships.”

Photo courtesy of Rev. Sam Parkes

2019 Annual Conference Pre-conference Briefing Dates Announced

published 1/18/2019
The Alabama-West Florida Conference will hold seven pre-annual conference briefings for clergy and lay members to annual conference. These meetings will be under the direction of Rev. Ashley Davis, AWF Director of Connectional Ministries and Conference Secretary. Rev. Davis will review the highlights of the agenda, discuss 2020 General Conference delegate voting procedures and answer any questions related to annual conference. Each briefing will last no more than 90 minutes. If you are a clergy or lay member to annual conference, please plan to attend. If a reserve delegate is attending for you, please make sure they are aware of this briefing. You may attend any briefing that works with your schedule.

March 31: Demopolis District: Demopolis FUMC, 4:00pm
April 28: Montgomery-Opelika and Montgomery Prattville Districts: Frazer Memorial UMC, 3:00pm
April 7: Marianna-PC District: Panama City FUMC, 3:00pm 
April 7: Dothan District: Ozark FUMC, 6:00
May 5: Pensacola District: Navarre UMC, 3:00pm
May 19: Mobile District: Saraland UMC, 3:00pm
May 19: Baypines District: Bay Minette FUMC, 6:00pm 

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