The regional gatherings in Montgomery, Dothan and Mobile were a time of worship and reflection where attendees heard from Bishop David Graves, the delegation and conference staff. “General Conference brought a lot of pain and anger to many people, regardless of one’s desired outcome of the conference.” stated Bishop Graves. “My intention was to provide a safe space for United Methodists in our conference to hear more about the intricacies of the general conference results while encouraging everyone in this season of Lent to see how we can heal wounds we might have caused and reach out to someone who might not look or think like we do. It is difficult to legislate human emotion and feeling and I wanted our conference to understand that we have significant work to do for the Kingdom in our own back yards. The topic of human sexuality is important, and I am grateful for the brave voices who were willing to share their hearts and perspectives in this time.” Graves also mentioned the recent tornado destruction and loss of life within the bounds of annual conference and how pastors from the Montgomery-Opelika District had ministered to grieving families just days ago. It was an example of showing the love of Jesus to those who are hurting and how our corner of the world need the United Methodist Church.
Rev. Ashley Davis, Director of Connectional Ministries, led the gathering in the responsive reading, Psalm 51, and each host district superintendent offered a time of silence and centering prayer.
Dr. Larry Bryars, head of the Alabama-West Florida Conference and lead pastor at Frazer Memorial UMC, gave an overview of the petitions addressed and presented commentary he used with his own congregation about the results of General Conference. A Wespath information sheet was also distributed.
The question and answer time gave Bishops Graves the opportunity to answer frequently asked questions from members around the conference. A dedicated gmail account was established to field questions ahead of time in order to maximize time at these events. Over 100 questions were sent through this account. Many people expressed similar interest in topics such as the Judicial Council, the exit plan passed, the Wespath plan passed, upholding the Book of Discipline, ways churches can welcome LGBTQIA+ persons, to name a few. Click here to read the questions and answers discussed at the three meetings.
“Ask the UMC,” which is managed by the United Methodist Infoserv, published this summation of General Conference on Tuesday, March 12.
Each meeting concluded with Holy Communion, served by the delegates in attendance.
Click here to see photos by Luke Lucas.
The annual conference planning team, directed by Bishop David Graves, is pleased to announce that this year's missional giving recipient for the 2019 Annual Conference special offering is Teaming with Tanzania.
Many of you collect special offerings during your worship services leading up to conference. Click here to access a bulletin insert that will help explain the impact this ministry has on our conference and global connection. The insert is setup so that you may print this file on a single sheet of paper, front and back, and then trim to have two inserts per page. A promotional video is also available by clicking here. We invite you to show this video during your worship services. To learn more about this partnership, click here.
We encourage you to give generously to this ministry that has made a significant impact in Tanzania. This offering will be collected at the opening worship service on Sunday, June 2, 2019, at Frazer Memorial United Methodist Church.
For sure, the United Methodist pastors of Lee County, Alabama, will long remember how they became a team of crisis counselors just after the EF4 twister tore through the area on Sunday afternoon, March 3.
When she learned from a TV news broadcast that the county had been badly hit, the Rev. Robin Wilson texted the chaplain at East Alabama Medical Center, offering to help.
“She texted back just two words: ‘Please come,’ ” said Wilson, pastor of First United Methodist in Opelika, Alabama.
Wilson hurried there.
“When I got to the hospital, it looked like a war zone,” she said. “The cries of the people who were hurt, the pain of the people who were grieving, the fear of the people who couldn’t find their loved ones — that just filled up the whole hospital.”
Wilson’s husband — the Rev. Jeff Wilson, superintendent of the Montgomery-Opelika District of the Alabama-West Florida Conference — meanwhile contacted other local United Methodist pastors and asked them to go to the hospital.
They did, ministering to victims’ family members and friends streaming into the lobby, while Robin Wilson worked in the emergency room.
The next day, some of those pastors were at a Baptist church in Beauregard, Alabama, scene of the worst damage, to accompany family members who had been summoned by the coroner to identify bodies.
“Just to be in a ministry of presence with them,” said the Rev. Cory Smith, pastor of Auburn (Ala.) United Methodist Church, describing his and his colleagues’ task. “Just to help them know that God was with them in the midst of this.”
Among those killed was a member of Cornerstone (United Methodist) Church, Lynn Grimes. The church, in Auburn, was to have a service for him on March 7.
Many homes and other structures in Lee County were damaged by the tornado. President Donald Trump issued a disaster declaration, releasing federal funds for relief, and he plans to visit March 8.
The 1905 sanctuary of Watoola United Methodist Church was clobbered by the twister.
“Half the roof is gone,” said the Rev. Gary Perry, pastor.
The Lee County church’s community building came through and will be the home to worship services beginning this Sunday, as church leaders work with insurance adjusters to decide whether the sanctuary can be salvaged.
“For many people in the church, it’s the only church they’ve known,” Perry said. “When they look at it and think about it having to be replaced, it’s difficult.”
The Lee County tornado was one of many that hit across parts of the Southeast on Sunday.
At Cairo United Methodist Church, in Cairo, Georgia, a tornado badly damaged a former parsonage that had recently been remodeled for a youth ministry space. The church had roof and interior damage as well, said Allison Lindsey, director of connectional ministries for the South Georgia Conference.
She said homes “in the shadow of the (church’s) steeple” also were hit.
“It’s a unique opportunity for the church to be in outreach,” Lindsey added.
In Lee County, United Methodist volunteers have been helping with debris removal and roof repair.
Pierce Chapel United Methodist Church has become an emergency response staging site. Smith said Auburn United Methodist is serving as an American Red Cross shelter, housing 100 people.
“We will respond to immediate and long-term needs in the days and weeks to come,” said Alabama West-Florida Conference Bishop David Graves in a statement.
The United Methodist Committee on Relief has sent supplies and issued a $10,000 grant to the Alabama-West Florida Conference. The conference is accepting checks for recovery.
Officials with the Alabama-West Florida, South Georgia and North Georgia conferences said they have communicated about mobilizing a broad support effort.
Two of the pastors who reported to the hospital on Sunday, Wilson and Smith, had only recently returned from the special General Conference in St. Louis.
“I had a funeral after St. Louis, and this hit the next day,” Wilson said. “I haven’t had quite as much time as I’d like to prepare and lead my congregation into a season of Lent. But perhaps that’s what Lent is for — to realize how little control we have and how to show how we have to put our hope in a savior who came to heal everything.”
Hodges is a Dallas-based writer for United Methodist News Service. Contact him at 615-742-5470 or firstname.lastname@example.org. To read more United Methodist news, subscribe to the free Daily or Weekly Digests.
In preparation for the post general conference meetings with Bishop Graves this week, we are announcing a dedicated gmail address where you can send your questions ahead of time. These questions will be given priority. We will also field additional questions at the meetings as time permits.
Please send to email@example.com.
As a reminder, the meetings are as follows. Details can be found on our event calendar on the Website.
Thursday, March 7, 2019, at Montgomery FUMC
Saturday, March 9, 2019, at Covenant UMC in Dothan, AL
Saturday, March 9, 2019, at Covenant UMC in Dothan, AL (local pastors and associate members)
Sunday, March 10 2019, at Christ UMC in Mobile, AL
Monday, March 11, 2019, at Christ UMC in Mobile, AL (clergy)
Bishop David Graves has offered a Lenten challenge for the people of the Alabama-West Florida Conference and beyond. Click here or to see the video. We invite you to share this challenge with your local churches and on social media.
You may also listen to this message as an audio-only podcast by clicking here, by searching for "AWFUMC Podcasts" on iTunes or in your preferred podcast player. We invite you to subscribe to these podcasts.