Competency, Camaraderie and Creativity

published 12/17/2018
New Bishop’s Clergy Learning Cohort focuses on pastoral support
(Kari C. Barlow for AWFUMC) - Bishop David Graves, in partnership with the Academy for Congregational Excellence (ACE),  has launched a new initiative—the Clergy Learning Cohort—to provide specialized support for clergy who could one day be pastors of fast-growing churches, pastors of large churches and district superintendents.
The inaugural meeting was held Oct. 29-30 at the Hilton Sandestin Beach Golf Resort & Spa and drew 40 participating pastors from across the Conference. The event featured keynote speaker Rev. Jim Herrington, co-founder of The Leader’s Journey: Coaching for Wholehearted Leadership, and a panel comprised of multiple UMC clergy members—Rev. Shawn Moses Anglim of New Orleans, Rev. Justin LaRosa of Tampa and Rev. Audrey Warren of Miami.
“I am thrilled with the success of the clergy cohort,” Graves said. “With the help of Celeste Eubanks, the vision came to life through many hours of dreaming and planning.”
Eubanks, director of leadership strategies for the Conference, said they wanted the pastors to be able to relax and have fun in a space that was not a church setting.
“The real goal is to have these clergy realize that we are focusing on them as the person,” she said. “So, when they come together, they’re not Pastor Smith or Minister Willis. They are Tom. They are Susan. We’re focused on the person!”
After dinner on the first day, they all had the opportunity to relax on the beach.
“It was great!” Eubanks said. “We sat around two fire pits and roasted s’mores and listened to music.”
Some of the pastors even thanked her for playing mainstream/secular music at the beach bonfire.
“And they didn’t mean it negatively!” she said. “They said it let them know they could be themselves. That touched me. … And the honest truth is when they all hop in their cars, they are not always playing K-LOVE [a Christian radio station] or singing Charles Wesley’s favorite hymn. They are human!”
Under the bishop’s plan, the 40 cohort members were divided into three individual cohorts that are being led by one of three paid facilitators— Melissa Wiginton, a research professor in Methodist Studies and the vice president of Education Beyond the Walls at Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary; Rev. Deborah Wight-Knight, pastoral counselor for South
Georgia Annual Conference, and UMC Pastor David A. Dodge, who most recently served as assistant to the bishop in the Florida Conference before retiring in 2016. The use of paid facilitators, which is an integral part to the success of any learning cohort, is made possible through a partnership with the Academy for Congregational Excellence (ACE).
Each of the cohorts will work on their own until October 2019 when the entire group gathers for a second time.
“The kickoff focused a lot on relationship building because a lot of these clergy know of each other, but they don’t know each other,” Eubanks said.
During their initial meetings, each of the three groups also made a covenant for their individual cohort.
“That might have been they set parameters around communication, around tardiness, around whether or not cell phones call be used or other things about being fully present or being open and honest,” Eubanks said. “And they are all agreeing to live up to those covenants.”
She noted that a critical aspect of the cohorts is trust and the assurance that their conversations and discussions will be kept private.
Over the coming months, the cohort members plan to stay in communication with each other and their facilitator using social media and other platforms. Each member will submit case studies—situations they might be dealing with in their congregations—to their facilitators, who will select one for the group to analyze and work through together when the individual cohorts meet in May 2019. The cohorts will also discuss self-care and the value of supporting fellow pastors.
Graves said the Clergy Learning Cohort was designed to strengthen the competencies of existing Conference leaders, to bolster camaraderie among those same pastors and to cultivate the creativity needed to grow churches in these challenging times.
“In these uncertain times in the denomination, I wanted some of our brightest and best clergy to be able come together for a time of respite,” he said. “We did not ask them to do anything except to build relationships with one another and hear from an expert panel. I am dedicated to helping these talented leaders develop the necessary skills to continue their growth as pastors.”
Click here to see photos by Luke Lucas

Hurricane Michael Disaster Response, December 10, 2018

published 12/10/2018

The Alabama-West Florida Conference continues to serve those in need along the panhandle of Florida after Hurricane Michael. 

Conference leaders and UMCOR consultants have assisted those who setup temporary shelter at Forest Park UMC in Panama City, FL, to find new housing arrangements. Our sincere appreciation is extended to the UMCOR team who was on the ground in the area assisting conference leaders to ensure care and dignity were shown to all temporary residents. 

We also joyfully announce that the Alabama-West Florida Conference is the recipient of a $628,768 grant from UMCOR. We are grateful to UMCOR for recognizing the extensive need along the coast. This grant will allow for three volunteer coordinator sites to be established, support staff to manage these sites, construction costs for those we help and assessments for the next grant. UMCOR is sending another team to the panhandle in January to consult with the conference so that we manage the sites in an effective and efficient way. 

Susan Hunt, AWF Director of Mission and Advocacy, has established a partnership program for churches to partner with Marianna-Panama City district churches. Click here to read suggestions on ways you can help provide support to those churches in need. Should you have questions, she can be reached at If your church wishes to participate, please contact Susan. 

We continue to encourage all volunteers to register through the portal to ensure our volunteer coordinators appropriately match the skill level with the need. 

Thank you for the many ways you continue to minister to those in the Port St. Joe, Marianna and Panama City areas.  

Save the Date: Post General Conference Regional Meetings

published 12/7/2018

Please save the date for a post 2019 general conference regional meeting in your area. Bishop David Graves and AWF conference leadership are inviting all clergy and laity to join them for an overview of the called session and a question and answer time. The dates and locations are below.
Thursday, March 7, 2019, at Montgomery FUMC
Saturday, March 9, 2019, at Covenant UMC in Dothan, AL
Sunday, March 10 2019, at Christ UMC in Mobile, AL

There will also be a clergy gathering on Monday, March 11, 2019, at Christ UMC in Mobile, AL, from 10am-2pm. Clergy should click here to register their attendance. Registration is not required for the above three meetings. 


Upcoming Annual Conference Deadlines

published 12/5/2018
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 2019 Annual Conference session, June 2-5, 2019, 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, 2019.  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, 2019, 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 25, 2019. Please email materials and reports to Rev. Jackie Slaughter, Journal Editor:
If you have questions or need additional information, please contact me.
Shirley H. Woodie, Chairperson
AWFC Committee on Standing Rules
334-774-5516 (home)
334-379-7207 (cell)

Fund Pledges Additional Resources For Hurricane Michael Relief

published 11/28/2018

Hurricane Michael caused severe damage to Port St. Joe, Florida, a community with deep ties to the Jessie Ball duPont Fund. According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, 57% of structures, (homes and businesses with addresses in the town) were damaged and residents are facing extraordinary costs as they clean up properties and arrange temporary housing.

“This is clearly one of the worst disasters to befall one of the Fund’s core communities and the need is overwhelming,” said Katie Ensign, senior program officer for the Jessie Ball duPont Fund. “We’re going to stay alert for opportunities to provide short and long-term recovery support.”

The Fund supported the immediate disaster response through a $250,000 grant to the Salvation Army and a $100,000 grant to the American Red Cross. In addition, the Fund’s trustees approved disaster response grants including:

  • Christian Community Development Fund, Port St. Joe, up to $100,000 to support the volunteer home repair program. Funds will support housing and feeding volunteers, purchasing supplies and materials for mold prevention, and providing supplies for home repairs.
  • Gulf Coast CareerSource, Panama City, up to $50,000 to support the Community Resource Center in North Port St. Joe, allowing it to provide emergency financial assistance to low-income residents facing extraordinary costs for tree and debris removal and roof repairs.
  • First United Methodist Church, Port St. Joe, $125,000 for community outreach relief efforts needed as a result of the storm.

The trustees also authorized a funding initiative to support Jessie Ball duPont Fund grantees in Gulf County, Florida, with distinct short-term relief needs.

The Jessie Ball duPont Fund works to expand access and create opportunity by investing in people, organizations and communities that were important to Jessie Ball duPont. The Fund has assets of $309 million and has awarded more than $376 million in grants since 1977.

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