An Easter Season Word from the Bishop

published 4/25/2014
“Peace be with you.” These are the words the Resurrected Jesus speaks to the eleven disciples and their companions gathered in the locked upper room. They were “startled and terrified and thought that they were seeing a ghost” (Luke 24:37). In response to their fear Jesus asks, “Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have” (v.38, 39).

Perhaps this is the word we might reflect on individually, as a conference, and as The United Methodist Church. In the midst of glory and a view of the resurrected body in which we believe – not some spirit or energy, but the resurrected body – we can embrace the miraculous mystery and we can set aside our fear.

There are a number of streams running throughout the Church, some of which frighten us and others that ignite our passion and joy. During this Easter season, I wish we would remember that the Church has always had strong emotional issues that have swirled through the people of faith threatening to divide the Church: circumcision (Acts 15), divorce, slavery, race, and others. Each time the Church has experienced schism we have lost influence, momentum, and members. I have been thinking about the kind of legacy we will leave our children and future generations. When I was consecrated as a bishop, I took a vow “to guard the faith, order, liturgy, doctrine, and discipline of the Church.” I am prayerfully doing this. I also took a vow to “work for the unity of the Church.” And, I’m prayerfully doing this as well. I am committed to working through the difficult issues that attack the Church and live into Jesus’ prayer, “That they may be one” (John 17:11). Whose Church is this? And who is really in control? God is the only One who can provide the counsel to guide us through these moments. As we grow into the fruit of the spirit and are made into the image of Christ, I would like to believe we can disagree in love and transform the world in love. “Why do doubts arise in your hearts?” The powerful hope I personally see is the Presence of the One who has overcome the world. For this reason I have put my whole trust in Him, for God can create “things that are from the things that are not” (Rom. 4). After all, this is the Easter story.

During this Easter celebration of the Presence of God, I join the congregations of our Alabama-West Florida Conference in praising the signs of God’s compassion in our efforts to participate in Imagine No Malaria. This is a grass roots movement, not a movement from top down. Individuals and congregations began these efforts with the “Nothing But Nets” initiative. $10 per net was the goal and as individuals and congregations throughout our nation began to see the possibility of eliminating malaria, it has grown into a very focused campaign, “Imagine No Malaria.” Our conference has been invited into the grass roots movement by joining other annual conferences in offering $10 to save a life. This $10 aids education, health clinics, and nets to eliminate malaria. It is not difficult to find members of our congregations that can still remember when malaria was a serious threat in the United States in the 1940s and 1950s. We eliminated malaria here and we can do something mighty in our world by eliminating malaria elsewhere. Join me in our goal to save 100,000 lives.

There are many powerful examples, but today I am thinking of Mulder Memorial UMC, which gave every member a card with netting material tied to it and placed a crib with net over it in the sanctuary. They have already exceeded their goal of saving over 1,000 lives. St. Mark UMC, Mobile, did a number of projects and also exceeded their goal. Dothan First UMC held a pancake supper and their missions committee pledged an additional dollar for every dollar raised to save a life! Creola UMC Imagine No Malaria representative, Phebe Nichols said, “I got up and spoke and we got $300 right off the bat. I used the theme of 'Jesus Loves the Little children,' and said we’re all children of God, whether we are 1 or 100.”

During Easter season there are signs of power and resurrection offering hope to our future. He is Alive! Christ is risen! I give thanks to God for The United Methodist Church. “You are witnesses of these things. And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised” (Luke 24:48, 49). May we all be open to receiving the fruits of this promise.

Easter Blessings,
Bishop Paul L. Leeland


A Holy Week Message from Dr. Jeremy Pridgeon

published 4/14/2014

(Dr. Jeremy Pridgeon) - Throughout the world, the church shouted "Hosanna!" and waved palm branches commemorating the Triumphal Entry of Jesus into the Holy City of Jerusalem. I had the privilege today to preach at the St. Luke United Methodist Church in Pensacola, taking part in their observance of Palm Sunday at the beginning of this Holy Week. The congregation received 16 new members today, four of whom were baptized as they professed their faith in Christ. Pastors from across the district have shared with me the very strong attendance in their services this morning.

This week, crowds will make their way into sanctuaries across our district and conference to remember events that transpired nearly 2,000 years ago. I personally am preaching on Holy Monday and Maundy Thursday and I know all of you are busily preparing to lead worship several times in the upcoming days. My prayer is that God will be glorified through our efforts to make the message of Christ known in this season. 

I shared this morning that one of my struggles has always been how a crowd could turn on Jesus so quickly. There are certainly explanations for this, such as Jesus' refusal to declare the tax unlawful and his base of support being angered with his response to the point they realized he was not going to establish a political kingdom. But one idea put forth by Dr. James Fleming that I resonate with is the possibility of their being two crowds: a Sunday crowd shouting "Hosanna" and a different Friday crowd shouting "Crucify Him!" This approach leaves us with a simple question: What do we do with Jesus? The truth of the matter is, there are still two crowds today, one shouting "hosanna" and another yelling "crucify." Every generation has to answer for themselves on what they will do with Jesus.

Before we declare ourselves to always be in the "Hosanna" crowd however, we too must remember that even Jesus' closest companions - his disciples - denied him and deserted him as his death on the cross drew near. We all have had moments where we lived in ways that made us look much more like the Friday crowd than we would care to admit. But as Bishop Will Willimon notes in his book Why Jesus?, our sin is not the end of the story. This is God's story and God is faithful; his steadfast love endures forever.

As we walk with Christ this week - as long as we can before we, like Peter and the others bail, or like Judas, we betray him - I pray we would sense Christ's passion for us and the world anew in a deep and meaningful way. Let us remember that God's steadfast love endures forever. And when we find ourselves at the foot of the cross on a Friday afternoon, when the skies are dark, and it seems that death has had the final say in this story, may we have the faith to keep watch and pray. Not to give it away, but God's steadfast love endures forever - and not even death will be able to stop it.


Open Doors, Inc. Announces First Distribution

published 4/10/2014

Celeste Eubanks, chair of the Open Doors, Inc. board of directors, has announced the first distribution of funds in support of community ministries in the Mobile District of the United Methodist Church. On February 18, 2014, the board approved recommendations by the Distribution Committee for allocating $20,000 in funds generated by the Open Doors Resale and Thrift Store in 2013.

“This distribution of funds is very important to the store volunteers,” stated Sarah Doyle, chair of the store committee. “We have been working very hard since December 2012 to meet this objective. The only reason we have the store is to help fund community ministries of interest to Methodists.”

Community ministries supported by the first distribution are:
Babies First Program of the United Methodist Children’s Home
Dumas Wesley Community Center
Community Outreach, West Wilmer United Methodist Church
Metro Jail Ministry of the Mobile Area Interfaith Conference
United Methodist Inner City Mission
Wesley Foundation, University of South Alabama

In addition to the distribution of funds to these organizations, the Open Doors board created a trust fund that will provide perpetual support for Methodist supported community ministries.

The board is considering a second distribution in the summer 2014, dependent on available funds by that time. In addition to current recipients, it is anticipated that other organizations and churches providing community ministries will have an opportunity to apply and be considered for an allocation.

Open Doors, Inc. was founded in 2012 as a strategy for generating support for Methodist community ministries and other programs of interest to Methodists in the Mobile District. The “Methodists on Mission” theme provides a focus for living the Gospel and teachings of the church.

The Open Doors Resale and Thrift Store began with a Christmas Shop at St. Mark United Methodist in December 2012, followed by monthly sales at Pleasant Valley United Methodist for April, May, June and July 2013 before moving to its full-time location at 4125 Government Boulevard in August.

Rev. Charles Fail is credited with founding the store under the banner of Open Doors, Inc. He retired from full-time duty as a pastor in January and now serves as the store director with responsibility for building and maintaining support in the Methodist community.

“We are just getting started,” continued Sarah Doyle. “The store has had remarkable support by Methodists and is well received by the community in general with a continuous flow of donations and shoppers. Our store volunteers have been a tremendous part of the store’s success. We need more volunteers to help us reach full potential with donations, merchandizing and sales.”

Information about Open Doors, Inc. is available at Information about the store is available by request at or by calling 251.661-5661.

 Celeste Eubanks (left) and Sarah Doyle (right)
 present Tonny Algood, executive director United
 Methodist Inner City Mission, with a check.


Bishop Names Eckert to AWF Cabinet

published 3/30/2014

(Montgomery, AL) – Bishop Paul L. Leeland announces that Dr. Chris Eckert has been appointed as the District Superintendent of the Demopolis District of the Alabama-West Florida Conference, effective July 1, 2014.
Currently serving as the senior pastor of Ozark First United Methodist Church, Eckert was ordained as an elder in the AWF Conference in 1991. His previous appointments in the conference include the Pike Circuit, associate at Dothan FUMC, Denton Road UMC, Hartford FUMC, and Greenville FUMC.
“We are excited to have Chris as a fruitful and faithful addition to our appointive cabinet and the Demopolis District. He has proven his leadership abilities in his previous appointments and we look forward to him joining our leadership team in ministry,” Leeland said.
Dr. Eckert received his undergraduate degree from Huntingdon College, attended seminary at Candler School of Theology at Emory University and received his doctorate of ministry from International Theological Seminary. He is married to the former Keri Prather and has one child, Hayes.
Rev. Sara Shaver, who was previously announced as the new Demopolis District Superintendent, is now appointed as District Superintendent to the Dothan District. Rev. Dan Morris, current Dothan District Superintendent, will receive a new appointment into the local church. Rev. John Brooks will serve as the new Montgomery-Prattville District Superintendent and Dr. Larry Bryars will serve as the new Marianna-Panama City District Superintendent.
All other clergy who will be assigned a new appointment will receive calls starting Monday afternoon, March 31, 2014. For more information about the AWF Conference, visit

 {Dr. Chris Eckert}

Annual Conference 2014 Information

published 3/18/2014

Annual Conference 2014 is quickly approaching! This year's theme is the second part of the SEND Model many in the conference have adopted. It is, "The Great Commission: Engaging Disciples." We are most appreciative to Dr. Tim Thompson and his staff at Frazer Memorial UMC in Montgomery, AL, for hosting us again this year as well as Dr. Lawson Bryan and his staff at Montgomery FUMC for hosting the ordination service. This year we welcome Dr. Elaine Heath from Perkins School of Theology and President J. Cameron West of Huntingdon College. Please note several changes to annual conference. 

First, note that annual conference is Sunday, June 1-Wednesday, June 4, 2014. Registration is now available by clicking here. You only need to register if you are making a purchase or reservation (meal reservations, journal/clergy directory purchase or nursery reservations). Attendance is expected of all clergy and lay members. 

This year's missional offering is Imagine No Malaria, aligning our conference with our ongoing initiative to save 100,000 lives. Imagine No Malaria is an effort of The United Methodist Church to eliminate malaria deaths in Africa by 2015. Achieving this goal will require a comprehensive approach to fighting this disease, on a larger scale than all previous efforts. We will joyfully collect the final portion of this offering at opening worship on Sunday, June 1. In order to track our conference progress, please submit your first portion the week after Easter. 

Meals will again be served at Frazer Memorial UMC for Monday and Tuesday lunch as well as the Laity Banquet Tuesday evening. Please make a reservation by clicking here if you plan to eat meals on campus or attend the banquet. Traditional group lunches may also choose to have their gatherings on campus and will handle their own catering. 

Please note the ordination and commissioning services will be two separate services this year. The ordination service on Monday, June 2, will start at 7:00pm. The commissioning service will be held at Frazer Memorial UMC on Tuesday, June 3, at 1:30pm.

In order to be good stewards of the conference budget, we will again forego printed worship bulletins for several services. Instead, a downloadable "Guide to Annual Conference" pdf will be provided several weeks before annual conference. In it will be an agenda, worship bulletins, pages that were previously bag inserts and other relevant notes. You may wish to utilize it on your computer, tablet or phone, or print a hard copy on your own to bring with you. Printed worship bulletins will be provided to family members at the memorial service as a keepsake. The traditional ordination services bulletin will be a printed version as usual.

Should you or your agency wish to submit a digital "insert," it must be laid out and submitted no later than April 15. It will go in the "Guide to Annual Conference" behind the agenda and worship bulletins that will be electronically distributed to all clergy and delegates. All inserts must be one page, 8.5 x 11 submitted as a pdf to No late submissions will be accepted. All submissions must be affiliated with the United Methodist Church. 

Your Brochure of Reports will be sent to your district office and either distributed at a gathering or picked up by each pastor. Please look for instructions from your district office. 

Alabama-West Florida boards and agencies have been given priority for the limited number of available display spots. The deadline for their response is April 15. Other pertinent inquiries may go to to be placed on a waiting list. Should there be openings, she will contact you in order of request. Requests must be affiliated with the United Methodist Church.

We are again anticipating a great response to the request for UMCOR relief kits and supplies. Because we are placing such a high emphasis on Imagine No Malaria and saving lives through that initiative, we are not assigning districts a specific kit. We are still encouraging local churches and groups to continue to assemble these kits or collect supplies to make up kits. A truck from Coleman American will accept donations like always in the parking lot at Frazer Memorial UMC. We appreciate any group that is willing to continue this ministry and will gladly accept these donations at annual conference. Click here for more

As a reminder, we encourage you to prayerfully consider nominating someone for one of our conference awards: The Alice Lee Award, Jane Walker Scholarship Award, Francis Asbury Award, Harry Denman Evangelism Award and the Local Church Heritage Award. Click here for more information.

Blocked rooms, some with special rates for hotels in Montgomery, have been posted. Check out for updates.

We look forward to seeing you at annual conference in Montgomery, AL, June 1-4, 2014!

Mary Catherine Phillips
Director of Communications


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