A Word from the Bishop: EF-4

published 5/21/2013

EF-4 is the designation used to describe a storm whose winds reach 200 miles an hour. Yesterday, May 20, 2013, such a storm devastated Oklahoma. This will be an epic disaster, a tornado that at one point was two miles wide, scorched twenty miles in length, and continued for at least 45 minutes.

What has happened is hard to put into words. It is truly an unspeakable, horrific, tragedy. We are once again thrust into a nightmare where the natural forces of nature remind us how vulnerable we really are. The pictures themselves are a shock to our senses, creating a surreal picture of life the day after EF-4.

The exact number of deaths and those who were injured by this storm will be determined by the officials. As of Monday evening, news services report 51 deaths, at least 20 of them children. Now it becomes urgent for trained personnel to get into these areas. Families looking for family, hoping against hope.

In this storm we can see our fears – it is possible to literally lose everything. Nothing is left. Still, we live in anticipation some will be rescued.

Now is the time:
To offer prayers
Offer supplies
Organize aid
Wait for the shock to wear off
Give thanks for those with special training for search, rescue, and recovery
Begin the clean-up of massive debris.

When we are in shock and grief it is difficult to hear the words of God’s Presence and Love. We must act out of Christian compassion first, remembering God is present with us no matter how horrific our circumstances. In time we pray others will see God’s compassion through our spontaneous response. A special account is available for immediate gifts. You may send to our conference office or directly to UMCOR.

Alabama-West Florida Conference
100 Interstate Park, Suite 106
Montgomery, AL 36109
(please label checks for UMCOR Oklahoma disaster)

Or, you may make a direct donation to UMCOR by using this link. 100% of your donation goes to those in need. 

Now, let the Church come forward with deep compassion to manifest the deep love of the God, the God who also suffered and died that we might have life. Our feeble efforts, joined with thousands of others, will emerge as the signs of hope and new life.

One young girl, speaking to MSNBC News Service, said, “I had to hold onto a wall to keep me safe.” Let us send Oklahoma “Walls of Love” through our support.

When we are in shock and grief we cannot find the words that need to be spoken; we have no voice; we cannot pray. This week, many families will gather in our churches, sharing relationships with those who live in Oklahoma. They will look to us as their minister to express the words they need to hear. With no words, no voice, and uncertainty, we allow the Church to pray in our place. Here is my prayer:

“O God, our help in ages past, our hope for years to come, our shelter from the stormy blast, and our eternal home!
Under the shadow of thy throne, still may we dwell secure; sufficient is thine arm alone, and our defense is sure.
Before the hills in order stood, or earth received her frame, from everlasting, thou art God, to endless years the same.
A thousand ages, in thy sight, are like an evening gone; short as the watch that ends the night, before the rising sun.
Time, like an ever rolling stream, bears all who breathe away; they fly forgotten, as a dream dies at the opening day.
O God, our help in ages past, our hope for years to come; be thou our guide while life shall last, and our eternal home.” UMH 117.


Bishop Paul L. Leeland
Alabama-West Florida Conference
The United Methodist Church 

Alabama Rural Ministry wins national honor

published 4/29/2013

By Maidstone Mulenga*

WASHINGTON (UMNS) — Alabama Rural Ministry, a volunteer ministry of the Alabama-West Florida Annual (regional) Conference of The United Methodist Church, was honored April 25 with 13 other groups as one of America's top volunteer organizations.

During the annual Make A Difference Day Awards luncheon at Carnegie Library in Washington, the members of Alabama Rural Ministry (ARM) were hailed for "putting their faith into action" for orchestrating the work of 72 volunteers in dozen of projects in Tuskegee, 28 miles away from its headquarters.

Make A Difference Day, created by USA Weekend, is a national day of helping others, and it is observed on the fourth Saturday of every October. The honorees each received a $10,000 donation from Newman's Own to continue their good work.

For its projects, the Opelika-based ministry rallied volunteers to make home repairs for the disabled, sanding walls for a historic church, cleaning a park, entertaining nursing home residents and helping launch a food bank. ARM was also saluted for getting 40 fraternity brothers from Auburn University's FIJI House to continue the home repairs for the disabled.

After accepting the honor, ARM founder and director Lisa Pierce said she was humbled and excited, noting that the group plans to share some of the funds with the Wesley Foundations at colleges and institutions in the conference.

“We hope to get more volunteers to help serve in the spirit of our Lord and Savior,” she said. Volunteering “was a great way to partner with communities in which we live and serve,” she added.

Pierce was accompanied by the Rev. Sheila Bates, Tuskegee University Wesley Foundation director, and Jennifer M. Chambliss, the ministry’s board chair.

Impacting lives

Bates noted that the work of ARM was a celebration of the connectionalism of The United Methodist Church, adding that “John Wesley set up the connectionalism as a pattern to get people together to impact God’s Kingdom.”

Chambliss said most of the ministry’s volunteers were young adults and students, a clear indication that “our youth value the importance of doing work for other people and having an impact on their lives.”

Earlier, actor and best-selling author Tony Danza saluted the volunteers, telling them they were an example of how to truly work for a better America.

“The honorees give me hope … they give me hope to keep believing that in spite of our many differences, we are all in this together,” said Danza, who was the keynote speaker.

Danza noted that his experience as a teacher in a Philadelphia public school had opened his eyes to the challenges that the country was facing in providing for a better future for all of its citizens.

He said the motto of America — which he said was missing from the lives the youth and some of the adults — is crucial for the work of the volunteers. “It is E pluribus unum, it’s Latin for ‘Out of many, one’ … we don’t talk about it any more.”

But Danza said that was the message he was getting from those who were being honored for their volunteer work and for being selfless in their efforts.

“We all do better when we all do better,” he said. “If we have the ability to help other Americans who are not as fortunate as us, we should give of ourselves.”

Building awareness of poverty

Pierce and Bates echoed Danza’s words, emphasizing the need for more of God’s people to give of themselves in service to those who may feel less blessed.

Pierce said the Make A Difference Day efforts are growing each year and have become a focal point of Poverty Awareness Week. This is the week when Pierce makes her home in a streetside shanty to dramatize the living conditions of impoverished rural residents. October’s campaign raised $31,000 to apply toward the 130 homes on the organization’s waiting list.

The work of Alabama Rural Ministry (GCFA Advance #721001) was featured in USA Weekend, a Sunday insert for about 800 newspapers around the country.

The other honorees for Make A Difference Day were:
• The Sundial Men’s Club, Sun City, Ariz.
• National Assistance League, Burbank, Calif.
• Wen Marcec, Geneva, Ill.
• Lions Club – District 22-W, Thurmont, Md.
• FIRST Robotics Competition, Teams 340 and 1511, Rochester, N.Y.
• C&S Wholesale Grocers, Keene, N.H.
• Nick Lowinger, Cranston, R.I.
• Shaquawana Wester, Cookeville, Tenn.
• Operation Lorax, Ellensburg, Wash.

City Award honorees were:
• Fremont, Calif.
• Albuquerque, N.M.
• Kettering, Ohio

The All-Star Award winner was Melbourne Central Catholic High, St. Joseph Catholic School, West Shore Junior/Senior High, Lake Washington Fellowship, Melbourne and Palm Bay, Fla.

* Mulenga is in charge of global and electronic affairs at the Baltimore-Washington Conference. He can be reached at or 410-309-3425.

News media contact: Joey Butler, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or


(From left) Tuskegee University Wesley Foundation
director the Rev. Sheila Bates and Alabama Rural
Ministry founder and director Lisa Pierce pose with
actor Tony Danza at the Make a Difference Day Awards
luncheon held at Carnegie Library in Washington, D.C.,
on April 25. A UMNS photo by Maidstone Mulenga.

Making a Difference: Reaching out to Local Schools

published 4/29/2013

(Susan Hunt) - Churches frequently ask me for ideas on how to reach out into their local community. I am becoming more and more convinced that one of the best ways our churches can reach out is through the local schools. Many public schools are seeing lower test scores, inadequate staffing, decreased funding, and overall decline. Parents work two and three jobs and cannot spend the time at the school during the day like my own mother did.

The quality of education for all children affects us all, and should concern us all. While it is an urban myth that US prison planners use third-grade reading scores to predict future inmate populations, studies do show that a student who cannot read on grade level by 3rd grade is much less likely to graduate by age 19. In turn, too many high school dropouts do end up in jail or juvenile detention.* **

Isn’t being salt and light to the world part of our calling as a Church? What better place to start than in the schools! It is a great way to show a loving presence to children – to show that someone cares for them and they are not forgotten.

I saw firsthand the positive effect a church can have in a local school when I was working in Oklahoma a few years ago. My church went into partnership with a lower-income public elementary school. Volunteers were mentors and tutors, and classroom and test monitors. Other volunteers helped improve the school building itself with painting, light construction/repair work, landscaping, and more. Church members donated school supplies and equipment and some uniforms. Our volunteers went before the school board to request they address a leaky roof that had been neglected and was creating safety concerns. They found a small grant to purchase a special science experiment. Volunteers provided homeroom parties with treats on special holidays. We invited the teachers to attend a worship service at our church early in the school year in which they were prayed for. The list can go on and on.

Our volunteers didn’t hold religious services, or compel any of the children to attend church. The church was careful not to violate any of the issues related to the separation of church and state. But the volunteers were not shy about who they represented. It was clear they shared their love with the students and faculty and loved unconditionally just as Jesus did.

The volunteers were fondly known as the “church people” by the students. When the volunteers would arrive to help tutor, monitor a test, or bring cupcakes for a homeroom party, the children were always excited and happy to see the smiling and loving faces of these special “church people”. What a positive image they had of our volunteers, who were quick with a hug and a smile or an encouraging word, which in turn gave them such a positive image of Jesus Christ and the Church.

And the prayers – oh, the prayers. Each child and adult in that school was prayed for by name every day by a member of our church. The die-cut figurine with the first name of the child I was praying for still remains in my Bible, even these many years later. This may have been the most impactful part of the ministry.

In the three years our church partnered with that school, it became one of the most improved schools in the state. It showed an incredible turnaround with test scores, attendance, and many other markers. In fact, because of the great improvement in the school, it received special recognition and each teacher was awarded a substantial gift card from the state to purchase supplies for their classroom.

So instead of being frustrated at how so many of our public schools are struggling, let’s do something about it together and share the love of Jesus at the same time. Find a way for your church to partner with a local school. Ask your neighboring churches to join you. Your methods may not be all the same as my church in Oklahoma used; needs and opportunities to serve vary from school to school. A good place to start when developing new partnerships is for the church to simply ask, “How can we serve you?” I’m sure the school’s number one need is prayer!

*An Urban Myth That Should be Truth

**Study: Third Grade Reading Predicts Later High School Graduation

Pennington Named by Bishop to AWF Cabinet

published 4/18/2013

(Montgomery, AL) - Bishop Paul L. Leeland announces that Dr. Doug Pennington has been appointed as the District Superintendent of the Mobile District of the Alabama-West Florida (AWF) Conference, effective July 1, 2013.

Currently serving as the senior pastor of Lynn Haven United Methodist Church of Lynn Haven, Florida, Pennington was ordained as an elder in the AWF Conference in 1984. Pennington’s previous appointments in the conference include pastor at Grand Bay FUMC, conference evangelist, and pastor at St. Paul UMC Midway. He was also a reserve delegate to the 2012 General and Jurisdictional Conferences.

“We are excited to announce Doug to our conference cabinet. He has been a fruitful and effective leader on the local church and conference levels and will be an outstanding addition to our cabinet and the Mobile District,” Leeland stated.

Pennington is a graduate of Middle Tennessee State University and Asbury Theological Seminary and also did post-graduate studies at the University of Florida and Carolina University of Theology. He and his wife, Sandy, have been married for 36 years and have two children, Lindsay and Nate. They are the proud grandparents to three grandchildren with one on the way.

Rev. Tonya Elmore, current Mobile District Superintendent, has faithfully served six years on the cabinet. “Tonya has been such a blessing and a devoted leader to the Mobile District and the conference cabinet. I know you will join me in thanking her for her dedication. We celebrate her ministry and acknowledge her desire to be appointed to a congregation within our conference,” said Leeland. Rev. Elmore’s appointment will be announced at a later date.

For more information about the AWF Conference, visit


A Word from Bishop Leeland: Guaranteed Appointments?

published 4/9/2013

(Bishop Paul L. Leeland) - In preparation for making appointments of clergy to serve our 640 plus congregations, I received an invitation from a student at Huntingdon College asking me to participate in his research paper by responding to some questions he had regarding “guaranteed appointments” within The United Methodist Church. This student is taking a class on United Methodist Doctrine and Church Polity, and during this specific time of the year, he became interested in the conversation taking shape throughout our denomination regarding “guaranteed appointments.” 

I thought you might be interested in his questions, and in my responses. Here are his questions:
“The specific questions I would like to hear from you about are:
• Do you agree or disagree with the Judicial Council’s decision that guaranteed appointments are protected by our constitution?
• Do you think morally we should have guaranteed appointments in the United Methodist Church?
• Do you think having the assurance of a guaranteed appointment helps or hurts the morale of an Elder/the conference?
• Do you think if guaranteed appointments were removed that would help or hurt the morale of an Elder/the conference?”

Now this is a promising student.

The following insights were offered from my perspective as the Bishop of our Alabama-West Florida Conference of The United Methodist Church.

First, no appointment is “guaranteed.” This is a popular term used by clergy to identify the right of every ordained clergy member in good standing to be appointed if they meet the authority and responsibilities of an ordained elder within our United Methodist denomination.

The Book of Discipline 2012, which identifies our doctrine and polity, outlines these particular responsibilities in ¶334. It says, “Every effective elder in full connection who is in good standing shall be continued under appointment by the bishop…” Please note it says “who are in good standing.” What constitutes good standing? For one thing, there are no complaints or charges against the clergy person regarding their conduct or performance of pastoral responsibilities.

The professional responsibilities “that elders are expected to fulfill and that represent a fundamental part of their accountability and a primary basis of their continued eligibility for annual appointment shall include:
a) Continuing availability for appointment.
b) Annual participation in a process of evaluation with committees on pastor-parish relations or comparable authority as well as annual participation in a process of evaluation with the district superintendent or comparable authority.
c) Evidence of continuing effectiveness reflected in annual evaluations by the pastor-parish relations committee and by the district superintendent or comparable authorities.
d) Growth in professional competence and effectiveness through continuing education and formation. The Board of Ordained Ministry may set the minimum standards and specific guidelines for continuing education and formation for conference members;
e) Willingness to assume supervisory and mentoring responsibilities within the connection.”

Further, the same paragraph (No.4) says, “If an elder fails to demonstrate vocational competence or effectiveness as defined by the annual conference through the Board of Ordained Ministry and cabinet, then the bishop may begin the administrative location process as outlined in ¶360.”

This simply means when clergy are unable or unwilling to fulfill their responsibilities steps may be taken to change their “status” or to dismiss them from their responsibilities. Yes, there is process to do this.

In this sense there are no “guaranteed appointments.” One must meet the expected responsibilities in order to be recognized in “good standing.”

Now for his specific questions:

First, I do agree with the Judicial Council decision that appointments are protected by our Constitution and Church polity. These appointments are protected as long as the clergy are in good standing. When they are no longer in good standing, appropriate steps may be taken to change their relationship to the Church.

Second, this is not a “morale” issue. This is an issue of responsible accountability. The willingness to accept the appointment offered; the willingness to be supervised; the willingness to give evidence of fruitfulness; the demonstration of personal, spiritual, and professional growth; and the willingness to be mentored within the connection. Only when these behavioral responsibilities are met are clergy considered to be in good standing.

The third and last question, makes the assumption that clergy are “guaranteed” an appointment regardless of their personal or professional conduct. If this were the case, it would certainly hurt the morale of the Church. Yet, this is not the case. There are no guaranteed appointments without responsibility and personal fruitfulness.

In a sense, appointments may be expected and received as long as clergy fulfill these responsibilities. Only then are they considered to be in good standing.

One additional thought would be that from my perspective the primary issue around appointments is not whether we are demonstrating responsible ministry. The larger issue is whether we can find a quicker and more humane way of helping people to exit ministry who are unable or unwilling to perform their responsibilities. If we could affirm the work of those who are responsible, effective, and fruitful we would be serving the Church in a greater capacity. If we could, at the same time, help those who are not truly suited for fruitful ministry to leave in a manner that helped focus their attention in areas where they might be more productive and satisfied, we would also be benefiting the Church. This is always the creative tension in our appointment process – to identify those who are fruitful and affirm them, while identifying those who find it difficult to be fruitful and aid them in refocusing their energies into other areas.

Personally, for me, itinerancy is not about moving or appointments, it is a unique promise I have embraced through ordination to get my personal interests and desires out of the way, while saying to the Church, “I am willing to be appointed wherever the Church needs me," even in Alabama or West Florida. Itinerancy is not about moving; it is about obedience to the Church. This best captures my ordination; to make myself available wherever the Church feels I can best serve.

To God be the Glory.


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