A Call for Prayer from Bishop Graves on The Pensacola Naval Air Station Shooting

published 12/6/2019
We invite you to receive these words from Bishop David Graves about the act of violence at the Naval Air Station in Pensacola, FL, this morning.

"Our thoughts and prayers extend to all those affected by the shooting that took place Friday morning at the Pensacola Naval Air Station. Our own, Rev. Chris Terrell, serves as a base chaplain and has been very involved in ministering to those on the base. Please join me in praying for this situation. I encourage you to lift this up in prayer during your worship services this weekend. I appreciate our Pensacola District Superintendent, Dr. Tim Trent, and clergy in the area who are ministering to those affected. As we move toward Christmas, may our community and world experience the Prince of Peace that is found in the Christ Child."

Bishop David Graves
Resident Bishop
Alabama-West Florida Conference

Next Steps ready for January relaunch

published 12/3/2019
(Kara Witherow for the AWFUMC) - A couple of years ago, children in Calhoun County, Florida’s foster care system had to travel nearly 30 miles to have supervised visitation with their parents.

Today, children and their parents can play together on nearby Blountstown United Methodist Church’s playground or meet in one of the church’s classroom’s.

Two years ago, the Blountstown UMC congregation, through its participation in the Alabama-West Florida Conference’s Next Steps process, decided to dream about its future, assess its current reality, and become a better version of itself.

As they worked through the Next Steps process, they discovered their community’s need for a safe, welcoming, neutral environment for supervised visitations.

“The church developed a mentality that we needed to open our building to the community rather than trying to safeguard and protect it,” said Rev. Nicholas Hughes, pastor of Blountstown UMC. “It’s a resource God has given us to minister. These are people who don’t go to our church, and it’s meeting a need.”

This January, the Conference will relaunch Next Steps, a collaborative and creative learning process to help congregations identify next steps in their mission and ministry.

“This is not just a program to help a church make a decision about what to do next. Next Steps is a process for how a church can take the next steps in its ongoing mission to its community,” said Rev. Bill Kierce, Alabama-West Florida’s Director of Congregational Vitality. “What Next Steps provides a church is the gift of a process. If they learn it, it will serve them from now on in making critical, strategic decisions on how to be engaged in their community.”

For Blountstown UMC, Next Steps was a useful process that helped them explore their past, answer some “difficult but necessary questions,” investigate their community, and, ultimately, ask, “who is our neighbor and how can we minister to them?”

Through the process, which included prayer walks through the surrounding neighborhood and conversations with community leaders, the congregation became more aware of the community’s needs and how they could help meet them.

“We can’t do everything, but we’ve learned that there are some things we can do and we ought to do,” Rev. Hughes said.

Ready for relaunch
Designed by ministry consultant Dr. Victor Dingus, Next Steps is based upon Dr. Lovett Weems’ model of church revitalization and transformation.

“Vic gave us a wonderful gift by starting Next Steps in our annual conference and then being gracious enough to hand it off to our conference leadership so we can multiply it,” Rev. Kierce said. “We took what he does and built on it and adapted it for our conference.”

As the conference prepares to relaunch the process and make it available to all congregations, 30 clergy have been trained as Practitioner Coach-Consultants (PCC).

“This isn’t anything new,” Rev. Kierce said. “We’re building on the success we’ve had, expanding it to be able to offer this opportunity to more churches.”
Each of the 30 coaches will only serve as a consultant to one church per year, he said.

“Our commitment is to make sure that every church that gets approved for a Next Steps consultation gets served thoroughly, adequately, and effectively.”

The Next Steps process is available to all churches, regardless of size. All that’s required, Rev. Kierce said, is a desire to learn the process and serve the community.

“Next Steps will really be for those churches that want to engage their community, who want to take the next step in their ministry.”

Reflect and engage
The required self-reflection and assessment are the most important pieces of the Next Steps process, along with the community assessment, said Dr. Doug Pennington, superintendent of the Marianna/Panama City District.

It’s important, he said, that a congregation have an honest and intentional look at whether or not they are engaged in their community. The Next Steps process requires such an assessment plus conversations with community leaders to learn of needs.

Dr. Pennington sees the fruit that Next Steps has produced at Blountstown UMC as they saw the needs in their community and began to help meet them.

“They have done this together and built a strong sense of unity, enthusiasm, and momentum in the congregation. The church has grown and reached new people and baptized folks,” he said. “I would love to see every church take whatever is the next step in helping touch their community for Christ.”

Not just another program
Next Steps is not just another program, another process for church health.

It is, at its core, an outreach-focused process and tool designed to help congregations become more engaged with their community.

“This is about doing what Jesus told us to do and giving purpose to the reason we breathe. As the body of Christ, we are here to serve our communities and the Kingdom,” Rev. Kierce said. “This isn’t an approach to helping churches survive. This is about re-engaging the purpose for which Jesus created us. I want to see churches rediscover and reengage the purpose for why they exist in their community.”

A lot of good was done and is still being done at Blountstown UMC and in the community as a result of Next Steps, said Rev. Nick Hughes.

Nothing, though, is better than the baptism they celebrated not long ago.

“Some remarkable things have resulted just by the seeds that were planted by Next Steps,” he said.

If you’re interested in taking the next step in your ministry and in your church’s engagement with your community, please contact either Rev. Bill Kierce or Sandy Gutting in the Office of Congregational Development or your District Superintendent.

Standing Rules Deadline Announced for 2020 Annual Conference

published 12/2/2019
Information to be publicized in preparation for the 2020 Annual Conference Session
Members and Friends of the Alabama-West Florida Conference of the United Methodist Church:
The Committee on Standing Rules has begun its work in preparation for the 2020 Annual Conference session, June 7-9, 2020, at Frazer Memorial UMC in Montgomery, AL. The committee will be reviewing the Conference Standing Rules and recommending revisions. 

Please be aware of upcoming deadlines specified in our Standing Rules:
  • Any proposed changes to the Standing Rules should be received in writing by the chairperson of the Committee on Standing Rules no later than February 1, 2020.  You may submit proposed changes by email to or by mail to Shirley H. Woodie, 171 Meadowview Drive, Ozark, AL 36360. 
  • Resolutions shall be submitted to the Committee on Resolutions and Petitions by February 15, 2020, except in cases where it can be demonstrated by the author of a late petition that the situation which gave rise to making the petition was not apparent until after the deadline for petitions. The committee shall provide copies of all resolutions submitted by February 15 to all voting members present at the conference session. The maker of the late resolution shall supply these copies of his/her resolution if submitted after February 15.  No resolution will be received on the last day of the session.  The Chairperson of the Committee on Resolutions and Petitions is Rev. Christina Shaver. You may contact her at
  • Materials and reports to be included in the Book of Reports shall be in the hands of the Journal editor NO LATER THAN February 24, 2020. Please email materials and reports to Sarah McWilliams,  Journal Editor:
If you have questions or need additional information, please contact Dr. Shirley Woodie.
Shirley H. Woodie, Chairperson
AWFC Committee on Standing Rules
334-774-5516 (home)
334-379-7207 (cell)


Global Ministries to Commission New United Methodist EarthKeepers

published 11/18/2019
Global Ministries will commission 67 new EarthKeepers from 23 annual conferences in an online service on November 19, 2019 at 8 pm at

Lavanda Paul, from Eight Mile, AL, is one of the new EarthKeepers from the Alabama-West Florida Conference. 

This service will affirm the EarthKeepers in their call to the ministry of creation care and will bless their work in their communities. Commissioning online creates the opportunity for all three classes of EarthKeepers trained in 2019 to be commissioned together while minimizing the carbon footprint of the service. It also allows EarthKeepers to participate with family, friends and church community alongside them. Bishop Larry Goodpaster of the Southeast Jurisdiction, Roland Fernandes, Global Ministries COO and UMCOR Executive Director, and Rev. Jenny Phillips, Creation Care Program Manager, will lead the service.

EarthKeepers is a training program to equip United Methodists in the United States for environmental stewardship. Participants spend three and a half days immersed in discussions on theology, United Methodist resources, community organizing, and anti-racism, and then use what they learn to develop an environmental project for their churches and communities. It serves as both a launchpad for people looking to turn an idea into action, and an incubator for people who want to deepen an existing ministry. Participants develop plans in conversation with their peers, troubleshooting ideas and sharing strategies.

This year’s participants range in age from 13 to 83 and are from annual conferences in every United States Jurisdiction. Trainings were held in Philadelphia, Austin, and Chicago.

“Creation is in crisis. Global Ministries EarthKeepers recognize the many ways in which the Bible calls people to participate in the health and flourishing of Creation,” said Rev. Jenny Phillips, Creation Care Program Manager. “EarthKeepers are empowered to turn big ideas into powerful action by developing projects that address urgent environmental concerns in their communities.”

Upon completion of the training, EarthKeepers are expected to launch an environmental project in their communities and can apply for UMCOR grants to support their work. This year’s projects include community gardens, green building programs, waste-management initiatives, and more.

To receive information on 2020 trainings, please email Alicia Stromberg, Sustainable Development Program Assistant, at

AWF Clergy Visit Bahamas to Offer Support

published 11/14/2019
Several Gulf Coast pastors from the Alabama-West Florida Conference visited the Bahamas this week to show solidarity after experiencing a category five storm. Rev. Chris Ackerman, Dr. Nathan Attwood and Dr. Geoffrey Lentz visited the devastated area under the leadership of Amie Readdy. Readdy, who is the founder of Capacity Path and was a response leader in the days after Hurricane Michael, coordinated the trip. The team also visited with Stephanie Gottschalk, the Director of Bahamas Methodist Habitat.
While on the island the clergy exchanged best practices of disaster response, prayed for one another and engaged with leaders who continue to face the daily challenges of life after a catastrophic storm.
The Hurricane Michael leadership team has begun to identify pastors as secondary responders. Rev. Chris Ackerman, director, stated, “After Hurricane Michael, there were moments where as pastors we felt very alone and almost even forgotten.” He continued, “We remembered what it was like to simply have someone sit with us, not expecting anything from us, so that we knew that we were not alone. We wanted to share that with the pastors of the Bahamas. It is impossible to explain just how chaotic and demanding ministry is after a disaster. When you are with other pastors who have been in a disaster you don’t have to try and explain the unexplainable, you can simply look at each other and know. We came to tell them that we see them, they are not forgotten, and they are not alone.”
Because the response to Dorian, like Michael, will last years, the hope is to send pastors on multiple upcoming trips.  

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