Bishop Names Sims to AWF Cabinet

published 4/9/2013

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

Currently serving as the senior pastor of Eufaula First United Methodist Church of Eufaula, Alabama, Sims was ordained as an elder in the AWF Conference in 1996. Sims’ previous appointments in the conference include senior pastor at Whitfield Memorial United Methodist Church of Montgomery, pastor at Grace United Methodist Church of Auburn, pastor at Livingston United Methodist Church and associate at Fairhope United Methodist Church.

“We are pleased to announce Robbins to our conference cabinet. He has effectively served his previous appointments across the conference and will be a valuable asset to our cabinet and the Montgomery-Opelika District,” Leeland stated.

Sims is a graduate of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and Troy University and also studied at Candler School of Theology at Emory University. He and his wife, Nell, have been married for 36 years and have two children, Will and Anna.

Rev. Ron Ball, current Montgomery-Opelika District Superintendent, announced his retirement effective July 1, 2013. “Ron has done a wonderful job in the Montgomery-Opelika District and throughout the AWF conference. I know you will join me in thanking him and praising God for his many years of service and ministry to us. We joyfully anticipate his continued service to our conference as he assumes the position as Director of the Academy for Congregational Excellence,” said Leeland.

For more information about the AWF Conference, visit


Appointive Cabinet Holds Scheduled March Session

published 3/25/2013

(Dr. Jeremy Pridgeon) - The Appointive Cabinet of the Alabama-West Florida Conference met in regular session last week in Montgomery. Bishop Leeland and the district superintendents reviewed several aspects of the ministry of the annual conference and our local congregations through the course of the meeting.

Dr. Herb Sadler, Director of the Academy for Congregational Excellence (ACE), provided an update to the Cabinet. 2012 marked the first full year of ACE, as it seeks to fulfill a vision of Effective Leaders, Fruitful Churches. Among the initiatives discussed were developing leadership skills through a monthly program on "Becoming a More Effective Leader." This course has 39 participants and is meeting at Frazer UMC on the third Thursday of January - November in 2013. Three classes on Excellence in Preaching are being held in the conference in Montgomery, Dothan and Pensacola. Self-Care for clergy has also been an area of focus, where participants commit to working with a personal trainer, improving personal nutrition, spending time in centering prayer, and taking part in a covenant group.

Pastors and key laity representing all eight districts have been trained in Dr. John Maxwell's biblically based leadership development program called EQUIP, with plans for a prayer walk from Atlanta to Montgomery. Additionally, an effort to encourage congregations to focus on becoming missional communities is being developed through quarterly intensive training events, with the next training scheduled for the Catapult Conference at Christ UMC, Mobile on April 29-May 1, 2013. And the Academy for Ministries with Children continues to provide a two-year paraprofessional certification program for local church workers, under the direction of Reverend Leigh Meekins.

The Cabinet affirmed Dr. Sadler and his leadership of ACE and celebrates the ways we are developing Effective Leaders and Fruitful Churches.

The remainder of the session focused primarily on preparatory work related to the upcoming appointment making session that will be held in April. The Cabinet reviewed the Board of Ministry policy with regard to the transfer of clergy from other annual conferences. Such clergy must serve two years in the bounds of the conference, complete psychological and background checks, sign a release of their supervisory files, and receive joint recommendation of the Cabinet and Board of Ordained Ministry to become a member of the Alabama-West Florida Conference. The consultation process for Staff (Pastor) Parish Relations Committees was reviewed as well, giving attention to the profiles of local congregations providing the Cabinet an accurate representation of the church for use during the appointment making session. Additionally, there was conversation regarding the expectations for district superintendents to be available, accessible, and visible, connected to the pastors and laity through teaching and preaching in congregations, relating to clergy and churches, mentoring and coaching leaders in the district, and casting a vision of ministry for the district.

As we move into our 2013 appointment season, the cabinet finds this to be a perfect time to point out that we, as United Methodists, are a “sent” people. The long and careful process of becoming ordained affirms that as ordained or licensed clergy we join our sisters and brothers who are also ordained or licensed to go where we are sent. This is our unique way of affirming a desire to live in God to serve the world, rather than to live in the world to serve God. We expect all who are licensed or ordained will live into this covenant. The very act of seeking ordination or licensing is an expression of our desire to be obedient to the church. This Wesleyan tradition of becoming a “sent”people allows us to remove our personal preferences, desires and interests, to serving where the church needs us.

Therefore, the district superintendents affirmed our cabinet policy to recognize those who are sent and appointed by the Bishop as the clergy of our annual conference. When local churches invite persons to serve on their church staff, we simply recognize them as lay employees and will not license them as clergy since they were not appointed by the Bishop. The cabinet affirms that when lay employees seek to become candidates and are licensed or ordained, they make themselves available at that time to become a sent clergy and are then available to be appointed where the church needs them.

The dates for the last Sunday in the current appointment, moving day, and the first Sunday in a new appointment for pastors that will be moving was set. Those dates are as follows:
Last Sunday in Current Appointment: June 23
Moving Day: June 25
First Sunday in New Appointment: July 7.
Further information pertaining to the moves will be shared with pastors and congregations in the upcoming weeks.

Please be in prayer for the Cabinet, the clergy and the congregations of the Alabama-West Florida Conference in this season of discernment as we prepare for the appointment making session next month. And as we journey toward Holy Week, may we all sense the passion of our Lord Jesus Christ, remember his death, and celebrate with joy, the Resurrection that gives us certain hope that God is with us! Thank you for your leadership and for your work in the Kingdom!



Academy Of Congregational Excellence Names New Director

published 3/22/2013

(Bishop Paul L. Leeland) - The Board of Directors for the Academy of Congregational Excellence (ACE) of the Alabama-West Florida Conference of The United Methodist Church has named Rev. Ron Ball, District Superintendent of the Montgomery-Opelika District, as the new Director of ACE effective July 1, 2013.

The Academy is the fruition of the conference CORE Team that provides oversight of all conference ministries and shared a clear vision for the development of an academy that would support fruitful leadership and healthier, vital congregations. Dr. Herb Sadler, who served as Senior Minister of Gulf Breeze United Methodist Church (1975-2003, 2008-2010) and District Superintendent of the Dothan District (2003-2008), agreed to serve as the first director of this academy. Dr. Sadler guided the initial birth and development of the academy by creating a Board of Directors, creating financial support, development of its initial curriculum, and identification of its mission and name, The Academy of Congregational Excellence.

Following the announcement of Dr. Sadler’s desire to retire and relinquish oversight of the Academy, the Board of Directors affirmed the tremendous work of Dr. Sadler. Next, the Board of Directors confirmed Rev. Ron Ball as the Director of the Academy. Rev. Ball has served as senior minister of Enterprise: Heritage (1984-1995); Woodlawn UMC (1995-2007); and District Superintendent (2007 to present). A new district superintendent for the Montgomery-Opelika District will be named at a later date. 

Rev. Ball and Dr. Sadler share a Wesleyan understanding of vital piety and vital knowledge which will contribute to the educational, spiritual, and practical curriculum of the Academy for laity and clergy throughout the annual conference.

Our annual conference continues to express gratitude for the following persons who serve The Board of Directors for the Academy of Congregational Excellence: Lawson Bryan, Larry Bryars, Rob Couch, Bill Hill, Darryl Lapointe, Neil McDavid, Hays McKay, Conrad Pierce, Patrick Quinn, Lane Rees, William Sadler, Sara Shaver, Paulette Thompson and Shirley Woodie.



An Invitation from Bishop Paul L. Leeland

published 3/18/2013


Our deep love for the Church makes it difficult to hear statistics that continue to come from very reliable sources. For the first time since colonial days, according to the Pew Research Center, Protestants account for less than 50 percent of the population. Further, one of every three young adult Americans does not affiliate with any religion. Of course, you have probably recognized this waning influence of the Church within your own community, or even within your own extended family.

Two things encourage me: First, I have confidence in the gospel of Jesus Christ. God’s redemptive mission will be fulfilled. Second, movements continue to emerge to give hope and a vision of what tomorrow may look like for the Church. I want to invite you to be a part of this conversation. On April 29-May 1, CATAPULT Conference will be held at Christ UMC in Mobile, Alabama. The goal of this missional leadership conference is “to launch leaders into kingdom mission,” by inspiring and equipping you to reach beyond the walls of the church to serve and build relationships.

Once again, CATAPULT offers a great lineup of Community Session speakers who will inspire you to find where God is at work within your community. Those speakers include the Reverend Rudy Rasmus (St. John Downtown UMC, Houston, TX), the Reverend Becca Stevens (Magdalene House and Thistle Farms, Nashville, TN), Rob Wegner (Granger United Methodist Community Church, Granger, IN), Lance Ford (Forge America), and Hugh Halter (Missio).

The emphasis at CATAPULT is action. Because of the high number of registrations in past years, CATAPULT has been able to give back a part of our registration fees in the form of missional grants, which have helped to launch more than 10 ministries within the bounds of the Alabama-West Florida Conference over the last three years. I believe that God will use CATAPULT 2013 to plant even more seeds for movement within our annual conference.

I hope that you choose to be a part of CATAPULT. You can register and find more information at

With Gratitude,

Paul L. Leeland


2012 Multicultural Conference: "Creating a Church for All People"

published 3/8/2013

(Susan Hunt and Rev. Frederick Outlaw) - On November 29 - December 1, 2012, the Southeastern Jurisdiction (SEJ) convened a Multicultural Conference (MCC) at Lake Junaluska, North Carolina. A delegation of some fifteen persons, including Bishop Paul Leeland and the appointive cabinet, represented the Alabama-West Florida Conference at this gathering of United Methodists. As stated in the summary document to the MCC Steering Committee, “…The 2012 Multicultural Conference provided thought-provoking cultural competency training for clergy and laity, enhancing their ability to serve as leaders within diverse churches and changing communities…Through a mixture of plenary sessions, workshops, powerful and inspiring worship services and motivating speakers, the participants were empowered to embrace principles learned at the conference and put them into action in their local church and communities thereby 'Creating a Church for All People.'”

We have formed a small group of those who attended the conference to discern what the way forward is for the Alabama-West Florida Conference as it relates to multicultural understanding and diversity. Three points and/or questions emerged from that reflection:
1. We need fresh eyes to examine our conference’s context and history.
2. How do we bring together persons from various diverse and divergent communities to enter into genuine and authentic dialogue? How do we get them to the table?
3. How do we encourage inclusiveness and diversity within the AWF?

In order to continue as well as begin this conversation within our annual conference, Celeste Eubanks, a layperson from St. John UMC- Mobile, AL, has put into words her reflections from the 2012 SEJ Multicultural Conference. We ask your prayerful and deliberate reading of those reflections, which you can find below.

If you have any other thoughts, ideas, or suggestions on our way forward, we invite you to join us as we continue this dialogue. Please send your comments as well as interests to Susan Hunt, , and Frederick G. Outlaw, or comment below. We await your responses to the earlier points/questions and the article below written by Celeste Eubanks. Your consideration in this matter will be greatly appreciated. Thank you.

Below is an article from Celeste Eubanks from St. John UMC/Grace Place in Mobile, AL, expressing her thoughts on the conference 

What an experience! A great conference held at one of the most beautiful retreat centers in the US. The Southeast Jurisdiction Multicultural Conference was one of the best, most informative conferences I have been to. I left Mobile not knowing what to expect, but nothing could have prepared me for the experience I had. Every aspect of the conference reinforced the common theme of diversity. Besides the obvious diversity among those in attendance, there was also diversity in the music presented at the conference as well as the types of worship services.

Each attendee was assigned to a table which, sticking with the theme of the conference, had a very diverse group of individuals assigned to it. The groups became like little families. At my table (in my “family”) there were “Baby Boomers” and “Gen X’ers”, males and females, and racially there were Caucasians and African-Americans. The groups worshipped together at all of the services, studied together during the Kaleidoscope Bible Studies, and engaged in very interesting discussions during the Table Group Dialogues as each person brought a different perspective to the conversation.

The concept of “Mutual Invitation” was introduced to everyone on day one and was used throughout the remainder of the conference. “Mutual Invitation” is a skill that allows (and encourages) all individuals in a small group to share their thoughts during group discussions. Once a group member has shared their thoughts, they invite another group member to share their thoughts on the same topic. If at that time the individual being invited to speak wishes not to share their thoughts, they simply say “I pass for now” and they will be invited to share at a later time. If they wish not to share anything at all on the subject matter, they say “pass,” and those in the group know that they wish not to speak on the subject at all.

“Mutual Invitation” was a great take-away for many who attended the conference, as it was seen as something that could be implemented in their own churches during small group discussions and/or bible studies. It could also be effectively used during meetings. This tool promotes a positive environment as it makes all group members feel as though they are an active participant.

Since leaving the conference, there are many things that I have been processing. Primarily, I have been thinking of how I can implement all that I learned. How can I best benefit my church, my district, and even my conference with what I have learned? I cannot sit back and do nothing. Rev. Frederick Outlaw said it best during the opening session when he shared the following quote by Edmund Burke (as quoted by Martin Luther King, Jr.): “All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good [people] to do nothing.”

I am committed to making a difference. I want to aid in making The United Methodist Church a more diverse body of individuals…a church for all people that truly has “open hearts, open minds, open doors.” Likewise, I want to insure that the communication among diverse groups is effective. We must reach all individuals at their need. If that means we need to bring in bi-lingual individuals to help translate for our brothers and sister who may not speak our native language, then that is what we must do. If it means making accommodations for those with a physical, social, or psychological handicap, we must do what we have to do. To be an effectively diverse body, we must make all people feel welcome.


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