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.


Annual Conference 2013 Information

published 3/4/2013


Annual Conference 2013 is quickly approaching! This year's theme is the first part of the SEND Model many in the conference have adopted. It is, "The Great Commission: Seeking Disciples." We are most appreciative to Rev. Jeff Spiller and his staff at Christ United Methodist Church in Mobile, AL, for hosting us again this year as well as the Revs. Robin and Jeff Wilson and their staff at Dauphin Way United Methodist Church for hosting the ordination and commissioning service. This year we welcome Bishop Lindsey Davis from the Kentucky Conference and Dr. David E. Cann of ITC/Gammon Theological Seminary. There are several changes to annual conference you will want to make note of.

First, note that annual conference is Sunday, June 2-Wednesday, June 5, 2013. Registration is now available by clicking here.

Tuesday afternoon of annual conference is designated as "mission day." Susan Hunt, Director of Mission & Advocacy, has been hard at work with her committee organizing this meaningful afternoon. Box lunches and t-shirts will be provided at no charge if you are clergy or a delegate. Non-delegate participants may participate and a fee will be charged for the lunch and shirt. You may register for a project here. Please come dressed in appropriate work clothes and wearing your mission day t-shirt to Tuesday's morning session. It will be a casual day to accommodate our work in the mission field.

This year we will welcome back the staff from Lifetouch Photography. They will photograph and organize the pictorial directory our conference produces on a quadrennial basis. You will have a chance to signup online prior to annual conference so that you know your time slot to be photographed. A complimentary copy will be sent to all active pastors who participated in the directory. Conference staff and leaders will also be in the directory as usual. Please wear appropriate, professional clothing for your photo. This directory is very helpful for face recognition in many areas of our conference from the cabinet to the local church.

We are excited to announce that this year's missional offering will go to the New Jersey Annual Conference for their Hurricane Sandy relief efforts. In October of 2012, Hurricane Sandy raced ashore as a category two storm but devastated millions due to the densely populated area. The Greater New Jersey Sandy Relief Fund has been established to raise funds to repair homes of the elderly and low income residents in communities, as well as to repair parsonages and church buildings. Churches have sustained damage and many that have been flooded do not have flood insurance. Millions of dollars will be needed to repair all that was damaged. Please prayerfully consider reciprocating the generosity our conference received after Hurricane Ivan.

In lieu of the traditional spouse's luncheon, clergy spouses will gather at Christ United Methodist Church to assemble UMCOR relief kits. It is a designated project on the mission day registration. Please be sure to register if you are a clergy spouse to have a head count of box lunches and t-shirts (cost is covered for you by the eight districts).

To accommodate as many people as possible, most sessions of annual conference will be held in the Christ Center gymnasium including opening worship, memorial service, sending forth service and all business sessions. Smaller groups meeting at Christ UMC will be assigned a room like last year. You may eat at your preferred restaurant for lunch and dinner off campus throughout annual conference and time has been built into the agenda to allow for this change. Traditional group lunches may be at Christ UMC and will handle their own catering. The laity banquet will be the only meal catered to Christ UMC.

The laity banquet will once again be in the Christ Center. Since Tuesday afternoon will be the mission day, you are encouraged to come as you are. The speaker and menu will be announced soon.

Please note the ordination and commissioning service on Monday, June 3, will start at 7:00pm. This is 30 minutes prior to years past. We encourage you to attend this celebratory service at Dauphin Way UMC.

In order to be good stewards of the conference budget, we will not have 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 and commissioning bulletin will be a printed version as usual.

Should you or your agency wish to submit an insert that normally would go in the tote bag, 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.

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. Tote bags will be available for you to pick up should you need one at annual conference but will not be mass distributed. Feel free to bring your own bag if you wish.

Alabama-West Florida boards and agencies have been given priority for the limited number of available display spots. The deadline for their response is March 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 will be collecting UMCOR relief supplies again this year. However, all churches are asked to bring the supplies instead of completed kits. Click here to see which supplies your church (by district) is to collect.

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 and Harry Denman Evangelism Award. Click here for more information.

Special rates for hotels in Mobile have been announced. Check out for updates.

We look forward to seeing you at Annual Conference in Mobile, AL, June 2-5, 2013!

Mary Catherine Phillips
Director of Communications


AWF Conference Secretary Named

published 3/1/2013

Bishop Paul L. Leeland, in conjunction with the AWF Cabinet, is pleased to appoint Dr. Neil Epler as the interim Conference Secretary for our Alabama-West Florida Conference effective March 1, 2013. Dr. Epler will be nominated for election at the upcoming 2013 Annual Conference (¶603.7).

Dr. Epler is currently appointed as Associate Minister of Congregational Care at Frazer Memorial United Methodist Church. He will now assume the responsibility of conference secretary for the annual conference, which he has also provided in the past.

Please join me in welcoming Dr. Epler to our Annual Conference leadership!

With Gratitude,
Bishop Paul L. Leeland


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