Potential AWF Called Annual Conference Session Announced for 2020

published 9/17/2019

Under the leadership and direction of Bishop David Graves, the Alabama-West Florida Conference has announced a potential special called annual conference session related to General Conference 2020 legislation. This is in addition to the previously announced dates with one revision. At the conclusion of the 2019 Annual Conference session, the dates of annual conference were announced as June 7-10, 2020. The new dates for that session are now June 7-9, 2020. All business of the annual conference will conclude by 5:00pm on Tuesday, June 9, 2020.
An additional called conference may be held on Saturday, June 27, 2020, in a centrally located public facility within the bounds of the conference, if needed. Because General Conference 2020 concludes on May 15, 2020, additional time could be needed to properly prepare the conference should a vote of any sort be required.
“I have prayed and spent intentional time asking God how I can best lead the Alabama-West Florida Conference related to the divisive topics of our time,” stated Bishop David Graves. “Although an additional called conference could require our clergy and lay members to meet on June 27th, we are concluding our regularly scheduled annual conference a day earlier to accommodate this extra obligation. I want the voting body of the conference to have as much time for prayer and preparation, should a vote be needed, while also centering ourselves in worship and celebration at the regular session of annual conference.”
Clergy and lay members to annual conference should make plans now to attend the two conferences. Should any elected lay member have a conflict with the newly announced date, they should notify their church leadership so that a called charge conference may happen in their church to elect alternate lay members. Clergy and lay members should be able to attend both conferences. If the additional session is not needed, the revised dates of June 7-9, 2020, will still stand for the 2020 Annual Conference session.
More information will be released as details are arranged.

Hurricane Michael Remembrance Resources Now Available

published 9/16/2019
As previously announced, the Alabama-West Florida Conference is planning intentional time to remember the devastation caused by Hurricane Michael, which made landfall on October 10, 2018. 

Multiple resources are now available to assist your local church to appropriately remember this disaster in our conference. Details may be found below.

“We will never forget the fear of watching a category five hurricane descend on our conference,” said Bishop David Graves. “The residents of Panama City, Port St. Joe, Mexico Beach, Marianna and many surrounding inland communities suffered significant property loss and experienced trauma that will remain with them for the rest of their lives. Sadly, these communities continue to lose neighbors when the trauma becomes too much for some to handle. As a conference, it is imperative we all recognize and remember this catastrophic event. This conference continues to walk alongside residents of the gulf coast through the Hurricane Michael Recovery program. I am so grateful for a talented team that is dedicated to helping those impacted by the storm rebuild their homes and lives. Despite all of our denominational heartache, our disaster response program, with the help of UMCOR, exhibits what is best in our connection.”

The conference will remember the historic event in the following ways:

  • We invite all churches in the Alabama-West Florida Conference and the global connection to ring their church bells at noon on October 10, 2019;
  • Prayers written by pastors of churches in the impacted areas may be found here. We ask that you select one to be used in your worship services on the weekend of October 6, 2019;
  • brief video is available to share in your weekend worship services on October 6 for those churches who have audio visual capabilities. Click here to access video;
  • Bishop Graves has written a guest column that our churches can use in place of the regular letter from the pastor in church newsletters. Click here for document
  • We have supplied a bulletin insert you may use the weekend of October 6 highlighting the ongoing disaster response work. Click here for file
  • Bishop Graves will offer a video prayer on our conference social media pages on October 10 – we invite you to share this on your local church social media pages;
  • October 10 will serve as a Hurricane Michael Remembrance Day of Giving with all donations going to UMCOR to honor the partnership and significant grants we have received from them. Specials offerings in worship services on October 6 are also welcome and encouraged. All UMCOR donations received from this day of giving will be designated for the US Disaster Response and Recovery fund. Click here to give;
  • Bishop Graves will be present in churches in the impacted areas in September and October where he will preach and participate in worship.
Thank you for acting as a testament to God's love and the strength of our connection. 

Hurricane Dorian: How You Can Help

published 9/10/2019

Although the impact on the United States from Hurricane Dorian was less than predicted, we know other areas were not as fortunate. Our prayers continue for our neighbors in the Bahamas and others impacted by the storm. Our conference disaster response team has been in touch with surrounding annual conferences and UMCOR letting them know of our readiness to serve. UMCOR (United Methodist Committee On Relief) has awarded a solidarity grant to Bahamas Methodist Habitat, the Disaster Ministry of the Bahamas Conference of the Methodist Church. Bishop Theophilus Rolle, president of the Bahamas, Turks & Caicos Islands Conference of the Methodist Church, said that the hurricane's force has resulted in "an unimaginable living nightmare" there. 

Know that we are staying in close contact with our partners in the Bahamas but at this time, one of their greatest difficulties is to effectively distribute relief supplies. Because of this, we are asking churches to make monetary donations to help with infrastructure and to establish their recovery program. 

The Conference Disaster Response Team will continue to monitor how Alabama-West Florida can be of assistance. In the meantime, here's how to help right now:

  • Prayer: Please join us in praying for all those already impacted by this storm. We also ask that you pray for those affected by Hurricane Michael and the trauma they relive as other storms make landfall. 
  • Giving: To help the recovery effort in the Bahamas, give to UMCOR International Disaster Response #982450. To help in the recovery along the U.S. coast, donate to UMCOR Domestic Disaster Response #901670. Click here for online giving.
  • Needs: There are no requests for donated items at this time. Items not being used from the Hurricane Michael response along the Gulf Coast are being collected by a leadership team and will be sent to the Bahamas. Please do not send unsolicited items to any church unless you are specifically asked to do so. 
  • Early Response Teams: We will be releasing information as to if and when Early Response Teams are needed in surrounding conferences. Do not self-deploy.

Thank you for your desire to help those who need it most at this time. 

Preaching Event Equips Clergy for Upcoming Advent Season

published 9/8/2019
Under the leadership of Dr. Sam Parkes and Rev. Jeremy Steele, clergy from around the Alabama-West Florida Conference gathered on Thursday, September 5, 2019, at Montgomery FUMC to collectively explore sermon preparation around the Advent season.
Parkes, senior pastor at Mary Esther UMC, and Steele, teaching pastor at Christ UMC in Mobile, co-led the group through multiple exercises that would encourage reading scripture in various ways. As the leaders read scripture in the morning session, the attendees were asked to reflect on out-of-the-box imagery connected to scripture and collaborate with their table to accept other imagery discovered. A unique method of doing this was through art; whereby the participants drew images with oil pastels on canvas without editing, keeping the crayon active on the page the entire time.
“Part of what we are doing through this process is to collaborate, which means both being assertive with our ideas, but also respecting the ideas of others enough to build on them without feeling the need to ignore them or offer stark alternatives,” said Parkes. “We wanted to encourage the pastors to just say YES, AND to the ideas of others without saying YES, BUT.”
The group also engaged in verb processing to identify what stirs, evokes, fascinates and bothers them in scripture passages. Questions such as, “What do you know about God from this moment in text that gets you” and “Why does your community need to hear this today?”
As participants began to shape their sermon ideas for each week in the series, Steele asked them to think about preaching to the whole person:
-What one idea do you want the listener to KNOW?
-What would you hope the hearer would FEEL?
-What action might the hearer DO in response to the gospel proclaimed in the sermon?
The participants departed the workshop with two complete sermon series themes for Advent/Christmas along with themes for each sermon in the six-week series. Steele will work with his creative team at Christ UMC to produce graphic elements for bulletin covers, media templates for worship, and social media promotion. 
“This is just the beginning of walking alongside pastors to better equip them with the tools they need to become better preachers,” said Rev. Ashley Davis, AWF Director of Connectional Ministries. “Not only does this specifically speak to one of our conference priorities, research shows that of all the needs church members and visitors have, a good sermon each week is at the top of the list. With the leadership talent in our conference, we have the ability to better teach, coach and train our pastors in our own backyard.”
The Alabama-West Florida Conference Preaching Excellence Team will analyze feedback from this event and hopes to offer future events like this in the coming months. Click here to see more photos by Luke Lucas

Oldest Conference Clergy Member Turns 100

published 9/5/2019
(Kari Barlow for AWFUMC) - On a summer evening in Grove Hill, Alabama, in the early 1930s, a 12-year-old Ray Whatley answered the call to pastoral ministry and never looked back.
He and his younger brother, Billy, had walked seven miles from their home to a revival being conducted at Grove Hill Methodist Episcopal Church.

“Both of us went to the altar,” Billy recalled. “He committed himself to the pastoral ministry and me to accept Christ as my savior. As far as I know, Ray never had second thoughts about his decision.”

In the years that followed, Ray went on to lead a fiercely principled life, taking stands on civil rights issues that would ultimately derail his career as a church pastor but place in him in a position to help transform the United Methodist Church’s pension program. Along the way, he married Katherine Green of Conway, Arkansas, and they adopted a son, David. After Ray retired from the UMC in 1981, he and Katherine settled in the Lake Junaluska community near Asheville, North Carolina.
Today, almost nine decades after answering the Lord’s call, Ray is turning 100 and being recognized as the oldest living pastor in the Alabama-West Florida Conference. Katherine died in 2012, but Ray still makes his home in Asheville—now in a UMC retirement center—and his family and friends are planning a big celebration at Lake Junaluska the weekend before his birthday, which is Oct. 16.
“It’s going to be some turnout!” David said. “I am so proud of my dad. I’m so fortunate to have him in my life. He will be 100, but his mind is as clear as it can be.”
‘Ahead of his time’
Dr. Herb Sadler, who is Ray’s nephew and a retired pastor from the AWF Conference, fondly remembered his uncle as a pretty straight arrow.
“He was kind of straitlaced,” Sadler said. “He always wore a white shirt and tie everywhere for everything. … He was very precise, and he was great at administration.”
Sadler was never surprised by his uncle’s enduring service to the UMC. After all, their family comes from a long line of Methodist preachers dating back seven generations to the 1790s. Ray was licensed to preach in 1939, only one year after graduating from Clark County High School in Grove Hill. After earning his degree from Huntington College in 1945 and receiving his full connection in the UMC, he continued on to pastor several congregations across Northwest Florida and Southeast Alabama.
It was while pastoring St. Mark Methodist Church in Montgomery—at the time of the 1955 Montgomery bus boycott— that Ray’s understanding of God stood at odds with mainstream Southern culture. He served as president of the Montgomery Council on Human Relations, alongside Vice President Martin Luther King Jr., working to find a solution that would work for all involved.
“He was preaching that we were all God’s children and deserve respect,” David said. “When I talk to Dad now, he thought he did the right thing, taking the positions he did on racial issues, but it was hard on him and my mother. But he wouldn’t change it.”
Before long, Ray was labeled a liberal and a radical and transferred to a series of small country churches that didn’t particularly want a pastor of his reputation.
Sadler described his uncle as a pastor who was always “ahead of his time” and a “prophet” who was unafraid to tell the South how it needed to change.
“A few years ago, when he was in his early 90s, he spoke on the floor of the Annual Conference for full inclusion of gays and lesbians,” he said. “At that time, it was shocking!”
After leaving the pulpit altogether, Ray took a position with the UMC General Board of Pension where he played a critical role in convincing church leaders to fund their pension program.
“Every pastor should be grateful to him,” Sandler said. “It’s the difference between having a livable pension and not having a livable pension.”
David said his father has told him that he’s most proud of the work he accomplished at the Board of Pension.
“He’s a pastor, and he wanted pastors who devote their lives to the church to be taken care of,” he said. “He fought many battles.”
Sadler agreed, adding that the most important lesson he learned from his uncle was courage.
“He was always a man of principles,” he said. “The moral integrity he showed was his greatest gift to me.”

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