We appreciate your prayers and offers of service to those who lost property from the March 2 storms. Rev. Steve Reneau of Verbena UMC and Dr. Chris Perry, Montgomery-Prattville district disaster response coordinator, are coordinating relief efforts for the Verbena area. The best way to stay current on needs in that area is to follow the conference Facebook page.
The Rev. Tom Hazelwood, US Disaster Response executive for the UM Committee on Relief (UMCOR) traveled Monday, March 5, to areas affected by the recent tornadoes. You can follow him on Twitter @TomUMCOR for updates.
Our brothers and sisters in Christ in the states of Indiana, Kentucky and Tennessee have been assessing damage. Should there be a need for Early Response Teams or Long-term Recovery Teams from our area, we will notify district disaster response coordinators as well as those who are currently certified in our database. We do anticipate a need in the coming weeks but will wait to hear the request from the conference inviting teams into the area.
For now, please continue to pray for all who have experienced a loss—whether it be a loss of a friend or family member, or property. We know too well in this conference the pain these natural disasters cause. You may also donate to UMCOR using the Advance #901670 and select "Tornadoes 2012" from the menu. Again, we appreciate the care and concern so many have shown to those who need it most at the moment.
As the United Methodist Church worldwide, the General Board of Global Ministries has committed to four areas of service. One is Ministry with the Poor. It is one way that we commit to live out our Christian witness, our ministry in this world. It is who we say we are as United Methodists, as brothers and sisters in Christ, as servants of our Lord.
To catch this vision, click on the link below that will take you to the Global Ministries site which describes Ministry with the Poor… not to or for, but with the poor. This video casts the vision of the United Methodist Church in a way that will capture the heart and attention of believers. “In ministry with we are transformed… We transform each other,” the video says. Simply click www.ministrywith.org.
So what does ministry with the poor look like in the Alabama-West Florida Conference of the United Methodist Church? In our Conference, a new ministry with the poor is emerging through the Circles of Transformation initiative. It is, in its simplest terms, United Methodists building intentional relationships across socioeconomic lines. This partnership of Circles and the United Methodist Church is not only being piloted here, but also by the North Carolina Conference.
The Circles® Campaign is a nationwide outreach that partners community leaders and volunteers with families that want to make the journey out of poverty. Operating in communities around the country, each Circles® initiative is built of families working to get out of poverty and several middle and upper income Allies who befriend them and lend support – not financial support, but support through the building of intentional friendships. The family is the Circle Leader who sets the goals and direction for the activities that will help to move them to a better place. With the help and friendship of their Allies and the Circles staff, families set and achieve goals specific to their own needs. So rather than targeting a surface need of at-risk families such as housing or food provision, Circles® seeks to create a brand new path for the future for families at risk. Recently CBS News did a story on Circles. Click here to see the transformation in one family’s lives that the CBS story shares.
In our Conference, for the last nine months a conference-wide Circles Leadership Team has been developing a Ministry Action Plan (MAP) for the implementation of Circles throughout the Conference. The Leadership Team chose Dothan as the initial site to pilot this effort. Circles information meetings have been held with Dothan area United Methodist pastors, interested church members, and with community agencies that desire to partner in this initiative.
In May, a Circles of Transformation Community Kick Off will be held in Dothan, and at that time we will invite the community to join us in this work. The CEO of the national Circles Campaign, Karin VanZant, will be the speaker and leader of the day’s events. The Circles process will be laid out for government leaders, potential community volunteers, and agencies in Houston County. Additional volunteers from the community at large will be enlisted. Those volunteers will commit to invest a few hours a month to befriend a family, as part of a team, in order that the family can learn how to grow in strength and stability. Ultimately, the goal is to help a family develop enough relationships and resources to do more than just survive… but to thrive.
The Circles Leadership Team is beginning to seek other communities within our Conference who are interested in being a part of this Conference-wide initiative in Ministry with the Poor.
To learn more about Circles, you can contact Fred and Laurel Blackwell, the Conference Circles Coordinators, at email@example.com or at 334.524.3652.
Alabama Rural Ministry (ARM) is seeking energetic and dedicated students to run its summer youth mission camps called “Extend.” There are still a few openings for construction and day camp counselors and are in need of guys to round out our total staff. The work is hard and the hours are long but extremely rewarding as you mentor youth, serve families through vital home repair, and minister with some vibrant and energetic children! Jesus will work in your life in a powerful way! Staff receive a $1,700 scholarship, $20/week stipend, housing, and most meals.
Still seeking a place to serve this summer? ARM’s summer mission camps, Extend, still have openings at both sites in Livingston (West Alabama) and Tuskegee (East Alabama). A flat cost covers all of your expenses and included are materials, meals, sleeping arrangements, and evening worship and discussion. Activities include some disaster response in addition to serving our elderly and disabled families. Groups can also lead the daily activities at Sonshine Kids Day Camp with children ages 5-12 in each community. For information contact Lisa Pierce at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (334) 501-4276 and see www.arm-al.org.
Cycle of Service (aka Bike Across Alabama) is now registering riders. This 3rd annual ride benefits families in Alabama needing home repair! Riders take a three-day journey beginning May 4th and ending May 6th--you can go from state line to state line! In the afternoons, riders participate in community events. Registration goes through April 27th. Not a cyclist or can’t make it? Still want to help? Consider being a virtual rider! You can still sign up and either log in cycling miles around your home OR you can sponsor a fundraiser on our behalf. Lots of ways to plug in! For more information see www.cycleofservice.arm-al.org.
The storms that have damaged areas across 10 states passed through our Alabama-West Florida Conference. Let us be in prayer for our congregations and families as we continue to receive news regarding the impact of these storms.
The Montgomery-Opelika District reports the storms were north of the district, although Ron Ball is checking with his district disaster coordinator as he monitors the fallout of last night's storm.
Dothan District reports no damage at this time.
Marianna-Panama City District reports no damage although they are in communication with their churches.
Pensacola District is in conversation with Alan Gantzhorn, their district disaster coordinator. At this time, there is no damage to report.
Mobile District reports no damage although they continue to check with churches in their district.
Demopolis District reports all is well and they are monitoring the district process of reporting damage.
Baypines District has a report from Amelia Fletcher, our Conference Disaster Response Coordinator, saying, "Have monitored storms all afternoon. There have been no reports in the Baypines District which was under the gun this afternoon. Tim Trent in the Andalusia area, Rob Haynes in Baldwin County, and Charles Walters in the western area report an 'All Clear' as of 8:30 last night."
I have been in touch with some of the Bishops from other conferences that have been hurt by the storms and continue to receive word of the damage to churches and towns. Some ministers in areas that were damaged have not been reached. Let us remain in prayer and hope.
Almighty and Loving God, You are always present. Fulfill Your promise that You will not leave us comfortless but will come to us. Since we do not know what a day will bring forth, we place our faith in You asking that the storms of life may be calmed and we may offer ourselves in compassion and mercy to those most in need at this time. May Your mercy and Love be our light and our salvation in every difficult and overwhelming moment. Reform our compassionate service to others into obedience to You. We ask for the grace this week to be imitators of Christ as we stand firm in the Lord. Amen.
Paul L. Leeland
Sometimes “thank you” is not enough. It doesn’t always capture the depth of our gratitude and we don’t always recognize the sacrifice that has been made by others. However, I did think about the sacrifices made by congregations in our Alabama-West Florida Conference when I looked at the large stack of certificates awaiting my signature in gratitude for the acknowledgement of paying 100% of their Missional Giving. As United Methodists, we truly represent a Movement within the world. Thank you!
This Movement, of which we are a part, represents 340 United Methodist missionaries who share the word of God and the love of Jesus Christ in more than 60 nations. Seven of these missionaries are directly related to our Alabama-West Florida Conference. What a Movement of Christ being proclaimed throughout the world. Thank you.
As I signed the certificates of a vast majority of our local churches completing 100% of their Missional Giving, I thought about the United Methodist students attending Huntingdon College, all of whom receive a 50% reduction in their tuition. What a gift from our United Methodist churches and an investment in our future leadership representing an amazing Movement of the Holy Spirit as we prepare for the years to come. Thank you.
We could record a significant list of communities and people directly impacted by our local congregations. Such a list would include:
• Women who do not have to spend the night on the streets in Mobile, AL, because of our support for Mobile Inner City Mission
• Alleviating the fatal disease of malaria throughout the world
• Breaking the cycles of poverty because of our CIRCLES of Transformation initiative
• Creating new congregations to make disciples of Jesus Christ
• Conference staff who work with congregations of small membership churches who cannot afford additional church staff
• Offering retreats and events in our camping ministry where many of our current clergy leadership experienced the Presence of Jesus Christ in their lives.
What a movement. Thank you.
For all who completed their goal of 100%, I want to say thank you. And for those congregations who came close but did not quite make 100% this year, let me thank you as I encourage you to remain faithful to the covenant shaped by our sisters and brothers who work on our conference budget to represent these missional priorities. If we can contribute to other meaningful missional initiatives in our community and around the world while still remaining faithful to our covenant, then I say, “Thanks be to God.”
Gil Rendle, in his book, Back To Zero, acknowledges the great Movement our United Methodist Church has become and reminds us, “Ours is a church that would be a movement. We cannot dismantle our institutional side because we do, in fact, need some form of infrastructure to organize and align us. But if enough of us shift from self-interest to missional purpose, we have the capacity to birth a movement within our institutional self” (p.67). Gil Rendle acknowledges there are different types of movements and his primary question is “what kind of movement are we seeking?" I would encourage all congregational leaders to read this insightful resource in our search to rediscover the Methodist Movement. I believe the covenant set by our sisters and brothers expresses a major movement impacting our annual conference, our denomination and our world. So, I say once again, “thank you.”
Each person representing a local church can find a complete list of all churches who were faithful to the covenant set by our sisters and brothers, many who sacrificed to remain faithful, completing 100% of their apportionments, allowing us to be a presence, a witness for Jesus Christ, a United Methodist Movement throughout our world. This complete list of 2011 Missional Giving is found here.
Sometimes “thank you” is never enough. It isn’t enough for the wonderful work you have accomplished this year. Still, there is no other word that captures the depth of my appreciation. Thank you.
Paul L. Leeland