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To the People of the Alabama-West Florida Conference:
Greetings! As we live in the glow of Easter, the Gospel of Matthew concludes with Jesus reminding us, “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” The Great Commission-Matthew 28:18-20
Let us all keep these words as our focus next week when the United Methodist Judicial Council will make the long-awaited decision on the July 2016 election, consecration, and assignment of Bishop Karen Oliveto in the Western Jurisdiction. The Judicial Council meets April 25-28.
Much has been written around Bishop Oliveto’s election. People across our denomination and the Alabama-West Florida Conference have various opinions on this issue because Bishop Oliveto is in a same-sex marriage. Our nation and the general church are divided on the issues of same-sex marriage and human sexuality. Therefore, when the Judicial Council reaches and shares its decision at the end of next week, there will be strong reactions to follow.
Let me remind you that regardless of the Judicial Council ruling, the United Methodist Church has not changed. Only the General Conference of the United Methodist Church can bring change to our denomination. The Judicial Council ruling is simply a ruling on one particular issue. The Bishops’ Commission on the Way Forward is doing its work and there is to be a called General Conference in February or March of 2019 for the specific purpose of dealing with human sexuality legislation.
Over the last four months I have addressed questions around this matter and many others in town hall meetings in each district, I have spoken to our clergy, and shared in video presentations so that you would have an opportunity to process this information. I have also provided you with the Southeastern Jurisdiction Bishops’ question and answer document.
I would remind you, the wonderful people of the Alabama-West Florida Conference, the Church will not change next week. We will live in our covenant to follow the Book of Discipline which only General Conference can change. Most importantly, I urge you to keep focused as Easter people on the mission and ministry to win people to Jesus, see the unseen, transform lives and change this corner of the world.
Live in the glow of Easter and stay focused on mission. I thank you in advance for doing so.
Please let us join together in prayer, “Oh God, empty us of all our pre-conceived solutions and preferences so that the Holy Spirit can enfold us and fill us with new possibilities, new hope and new life.”
God hears and honors our prayers. The self-emptying prayers create room for the Spirit to instruct and guide. In Christ, the best is yet to come!
Resident Bishop, Alabama-West Florida Conference
(Jenn Lusher) - The “Place at the Table” gathering was held on April 8th at Evergreen UMC. It was a great time of worship, food and fellowship between our ethnic churches and leaders around the conference. Our desire was to begin a conversation on inclusivity and unity in diversity. All in attendance answered questions to help us better understand what it means to be at the table and how intentional inclusion and unity can be implemented to move us forward as a conference. Some asked hard questions about the lack of ethnic inclusion, while others admitted that our ethnic ministries have, at times, isolated themselves from the larger AWF. Yet the common refrain was: God still had much work for our ethnic ministries to do, and He was not done with them yet! This conversation was just the beginning. We hope this will be the start of what will be one of many conversations.
We plan to gather again on October 28th [tentatively] at the St. John Vision Center in Mobile, Alabama (Old Forrest Hills UMC). Sneak Peak: We will have an authentic Mexican food spread the likes of which an AWF conference gathering has never seen! During this time we hope to move into the next phase of “At The Table.” Our desire is to turn the lens “within” and begin discussing what a THRIVING ethnic ministry should look like and how we can be intentional about raising up indigenous leaders, that will help our churches evolve with a changing church culture.
From this event we also gleaned the importance of offering translative services to all ethnic groups. As we move forward we hope to implement these services in future conference gatherings where multiple cultures/languages will be present.
We want to invite you all to consider joining us as we continue these vitally unifying conversations.
WASHINGTON, D.C. - Council of Bishops President Bishop Bruce Ough has called on all United Methodists to pray unceasingly, intentionally and earnestly for the unity of the church as the Judicial Council ponders its decision on the election of Bishop Karen Oliveto.
A petition requesting a declaratory decision on the election, consecration and assignment of Bishop Oliveto will be considered during the church’s highest court’s meeting April 25-28 in New Jersey. The petition was from the South Central Jurisdiction.
Bishop Oliveto was elected, consecrated and assigned as a United Methodist bishop in July by the Western Jurisdiction.
In a statement to the nearly 13 million United Methodist Church members released two days after Easter Sunday, Bishop Ough said Easter is “the season of waiting for the Holy Spirit to come among us and make it possible for us to hear one another, to understand one another, to know the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”
He urged the members not to be afraid. “We are Easter People and we are not afraid! Come Holy Spirit! Come and grant us ears to hear and hearts to discern your wisdom and will for “such a time as this.”
Bishop Ough pointed out that the Judicial Council’s actions are always specific to particular circumstances and its decision will not change The Book of Discipline.
He noted that The General Conference speaks for the church. The Council of Bishops exercises oversight and support of the church’s mission. The Judicial Council determines the constitutionality and legality of actions taken by individuals or constituted entities of the church.
He said the Council of Bishops is committed to the unity of the church and the flourishing of its mission and one of the instruments of this unity is the Commission on a Way Forward, which is accountable to the Council of Bishops, and through the Council, to the General Conference.
“We believe the Holy Spirit is operating through the Commission’s and Council’s leadership and conferencing,” he said, calling for prayers by all. “Pray that God will empty you of all your pre-conceived solutions and preferences so that the Holy Spirit can rush in and fill you with new possibilities, new hope, new life.”
Read the full statement from Bishop Ough here.
The Alabama-West Florida Conference, under the leadership of Bishop David Graves, is pleased to announce the naming of Jennifer (Jenn) Lusher as Director of Leadership Strategies. Her priority will be to help align the resources of the conference with the mission, vision, challenge and declared priorities of the conference. These priorities include supporting and assisting all churches to be invitational and missional regardless of size or geographic location. Lusher will serve as a liaison between the local church and the annual conference. She will also provide oversight to lay leadership training, with special attention to inclusivity and diversity.
Lusher has been an active lay person in the United Methodist Church for four years. She completed her undergraduate work at Southeastern Bible College and graduated from Beeson Divinity School at Samford University. She was previously on staff at Daphne United Methodist Church as their Director of Children’s Ministry. Lusher will serve on the Connectional Ministries team under the direction of Rev. Nancy Watson.
“We’re incredibly blessed to have Jenn on our conference staff,” said Watson, Director of Connectional Ministries. “She brings a unique perspective and a ministry passion to help the local churches in this conference. In her short tenure as a contract employee, she has already demonstrated an outstanding willingness to work with leadership around the conference and to help those find their voice who often don’t feel heard.”
She and her husband, Sean, reside in Montgomery, AL, and have one infant son, Lucas.