Conference News

Bishop Forms New Team to Help Congregations in Crisis

published 8/18/2017
(Kari Barlow for the AWF Conference) - A new 19-member Bishop’s Response Team now stands ready to support congregations across the Alabama-West Florida Conference in times of crisis.  
 
Bishop David Graves, along with his cabinet and the Board of Ordained Ministry, began forming the team in May, after recognizing the need to provide more tangible support to churches dealing with a wide range of disruptive and life-altering events.
 
“His vision is to deploy a response team of trained persons into a church and community whenever there is a traumatic event,” said Rev. June Jernigan, Assistant to Graves and Director of Ministerial Services. “He wants the congregation, complainant, clergy and clergy family to find support, encouragement and healing.”
 
The team, intentionally comprised of both clergy and lay members, will assist in times of the sudden death of a pastor, sexual misconduct, abuse of authority, misuse or embezzlement of funds or other chargeable offenses, Jernigan said.
 
“Having a Bishop’s Response Team is just one more way that we are seeking to help churches be vital congregations,” she added.
 
Each team member was nominated by a District Superintendent and is representative of the Conference in regard to age, gender, ethnicity and church-size. Several of those who accepted the invitation to serve described the opportunity as “a calling upon their lives,” Jernigan said.
 
“An effective team member is a person willing to step into a crisis, a good listener, a non-anxious presence and a person who is willing and able to set aside his or her own story to hear the story of others,” she said.
 
Individual or small groups of team members will be deployed based on their calling, gifts, geography, and availability, and they will work closely with the District Superintendent. During their time at a church, one of the response team’s first priorities will be to connect with the pastor parish relations committee or the staff parish relations committee.
 
“It is important that communication with a congregation is clear and transparent throughout the process,” Jernigan said. “Team leaders might be assigned to support the SPR, the complainant, the congregation as a whole, the clergy person or the clergy spouse and family.”
 
Conference officials have estimated a response team could be needed every four months, but the length of time a team works with a congregation will depend on the specific situation.
 
On Aug. 12, the new team completed an extensive all-day training with Becky Posey Williams (pictured above), who serves as the Senior Director for Sexual Ethics and Advocacy for the General Commission on the Status and Role of Women. The team delved into topics such as sexual ethics, how to treat victims of sexual abuse, guidelines on how to deal with a staff member or clergy member accused of a sexual abuse, the church’s responsibility and ways to move toward justice and individual and church-wide healing following a crisis.
 
Jernigan said the challenging work of the team is based on building and nurturing relationships with people affected by a crisis or trauma within a congregation.
 
“The key question we ask—so that God is guiding this process of healing—is, ‘What are the needs for this particular situation?’” she said. “Based on the answer, the response team opens up a safe space for God to do God’s work of healing, restoring of hope and strengthening of faith.” 
 
 

SEJ College of Bishops Grieves the Violence in Charlottesville

published 8/18/2017

Witness and Invitation from the Southeastern Jurisdiction College of Bishops meeting in Atlanta, Georgia, August 17, 2017 

"The things, good Lord, that we pray for, give us grace to labor for." - Thomas More, UMH, 408

Serving with you in the Southeastern Jurisdiction, we grieve the violence in Charlottesville. We renew our baptismal covenant to trust and serve Christ, to resist evil, and to honor all in the human family.

We share with you our resolve to name, resist and dismantle racism in our churches, in our communities and in the world. As Paul writes in Ephesians 2:14, we pray that the dividing walls of hostility come down so that in every place Christ becomes our peace.

At the 2016 Southeastern Jurisdictional Conference, a mission initiative for our region was embraced. That plan identified anti-racism as an essential focus of our shared mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. Each of us is working with clergy and laity to build anti-racist commitment in our episcopal areas.

We would like to communicate with you the strategic anti-racist work across the jurisdiction. We will share with you the stories of the work of one of our Annual Conferences each month for the next year. Our desire is not simply to pray but to also demonstrate the work the United Methodist Church is doing to confront racism. It is our prayer that this sharing will increase courage and strengthen community in every place in the Southeastern Jurisdiction.

The Charlottesville Violence Aftermath

published 8/16/2017
A message from Bishop David Graves regarding Charlottesville (posted on social media on 8/13/17)

As I read social media posts from around the Alabama-West Florida Conference, I am so thankful that many are joining together in speaking out against white supremacy, hatred, racism, and evil. As I shared in my Episcopal Address at our Annual Conference a few weeks ago, we must work together to end the kind of event that took place in Charlottesville, Virginia yesterday. In this moment, I am thankful for our Clergy and Conference leadership. We have much work to do as the past 48 hours proves, but today, just today, I pray we are moving to a better place. With this, there is great hope for tomorrow. Keep speaking the truth and pray to end these evil acts of injustice.

Bishop Bruce Ough, president of the United Methodist Council of Bishops, issued the following statement:
 
My shock, dismay and grief over the clashes between white supremacy advocates and counter-protesters in Charlottesville, Virginia, continue to grow. I grieve for the lives lost, and pray for the family of Heather Heyer, the families of the two state troopers killed while monitoring the Charlottesville demonstration from the air, and for the healing of all the injured. I am shocked by the blatant resurgence of white nationalism, neo-Nazism and racially motivated domestic terrorism in the United States. I am dismayed (and frightened) by the animosity, division, extremism and evil that is spiraling out of control in the U.S.
 
Let there be no excuses or political justification for the evil that was on full display in Charlottesville last Saturday. Nor, let us forget that many such displays of white supremacy, racism and hatred go un-reported or under-reported in many places. White supremacist and neo-Nazi ideologies are abhorrent and entirely inconsistent with the Christian faith.
 
Jesus called his followers to “love your neighbor.” It is clear this key spiritual imperative means all neighbors without regard to race, color, religion or national origin. And, Paul taught that “enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions and factions” are among many works of the flesh that are antithetical to the kingdom of God. “By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” (Galatians 5: 19-23) These works of the Spirit lead to peace-making and the kingdom of God.
 
The Social Principles of our United Methodist Church are a clarion call and powerful witness in times such as these. “We affirm that no identity or culture has more legitimacy than any other. We call the Church to challenge any hierarchy of cultures or identities.” (Para. 161A, The Nurturing Community, page 110, 2016 Book of Discipline). And, from Para. 162A The Social Community, page 120: “Racism, manifested as sin, plagues and hinders our relationship with Christ, inasmuch as it is antithetical to the gospel itself … Therefore, we recognize racism as sin and affirm the ultimate and temporal worth of all persons … We commit as the Church to move beyond symbolic expressions and representative models that do not challenge unjust systems of power and access.”
 
Martin Luther King, Jr. echoed a similar sentiment when he challenged the United States to transform the thin paper of the Declaration of Independence that affirms the self-evident truth “that all men are created equal, are endowed with certain inalienable rights” into thick action.
 
I pray that the shock, dismay and grief of Charlottesville will be a turning point for the U.S. and even our global United Methodist church. We share collective responsibility to turn our thin words into thick action. We share collective responsibility to break our silence. We share collective responsibility to restore health to the communities and relationship out of which extremism, hatred and racism grow. We share collective responsibility, as followers of the Prince of Peace, to create non-violent communities where people with different political and religious views respect each other. We share responsibility to articulate the vision of the Beloved Community where no person feels endangered on account of their social, racial or cultural identity.
 
This collective responsibility begins by each of us examining our own hearts for the prejudice that contributes to attitudes of supremacy or hatred, or to violence, or silence or fear. Peacemaking and reconciliation always begins within.
 
This is the moment for The United Methodist Church and all peoples of faith to be bold in our witness against racism and white supremacy. The vision of the Beloved Community lies not behind us, but before us. I urge us to pray for the Holy Spirit to break through and work through The United Methodist Church to heal our broken world and make tangible, visible the kingdom on earth as it is in heaven.
 
Bishop Bruce R. Ough, President
Council of Bishops
The United Methodist Church
 

Foundation Celebrates Past, Imagines Future at 10th Anniversary “Dinner of Celebration”

published 8/15/2017
(Montgomery, Ala.) – Imagination. The ability to imagine the future often fuels creativity, drive, and determination. On Thursday, August 10, 2017, the Stegall Seminary Scholarship Endowment Foundation asked supporters during its annual Dinner of Celebration to imagine the future, while celebrating the past 10 years.  "We celebrate that you have enabled us to build our foundation to the point where tonight with $6.25 million in our endowment, we are reaching out in faith and establishing a new goal of $10 million," said Dr. Karl K. Stegall, volunteer president of the foundation.

The banquet, held at the Renaissance Hotel in downtown Montgomery, welcomed approximately 450 students, alumni and supporters. Including those in attendance were some of the 49 seminary students being supported by the Foundation during the 2017-2018 school year.=

Each year, two extravagantly generous donors underwrite the entire cost of the banquet, ensuring that donations made to the Foundation are allocated for scholarships. Dr. Patrick M. Quinn, Teaching Pastor of Frazer United Methodist Church in Montgomery, served as the evening’s Master of Ceremonies. The invocation was given by Dr. Jeremy K. Pridgeon, Senior Pastor of First United Methodist Church of Montgomery.

Following dinner, Bishop David W. Graves, resident bishop of the Alabama - West Florida Conference (AWF), shared episcopal greetings with those assembled. In his remarks Graves said, "It may have been hard in the beginning to imagine that the foundation would raise over $6 million, and now you begin to imagine raising $10 million. Can you imagine if we raised $20 million, where we could equip and empower leaders for the next generation?

"If every annual conference had what this annual conference has been blessed with, we would have seminary students all over the world that would go {to seminary} and not have any debt," said Graves. "When I go to seminaries to visit students, this foundation is a great asset as we recruit and encourage leaders in the AWF Conference. I give thanks that Karl, Brenda, and others had the great faith to imagine what could happen."

Dr. James Seay, Director of Music at First United Methodist Church of Montgomery. performed a solo of "You Raise Me Up." Later in the program he was joined by his wife, Mabs, as they sang a duet of "How Great Thou Art."

A highlight of the annual banquet is the ability for donors to hear firsthand from current seminary students. This year, two students shared words of thankfulness to donors. Miss Halle Deemer, a second-year student at Asbury Theological Seminary, was able to share a witness with those gathered via a video message. Halle is currently pursuing a Masters Degree in Pastoral Counseling after realizing a great need for the service within Christian communities.

During her video, Deemer reflected on the stress and anxiety she felt when considering seminary and the associated financial burden. "In this process (of discernment) I was prayerful that I needed help, and the Lord answered those prayers through this scholarship," she said.

Mr. Matt Langford, a first-year student at Candler School of Theology, then told donors that their support drives him to succeed. "On the Candler website it estimates that seminary will cost $120,000 to graduate in three years. The money we (students) receive is the difference between someone like me being able to answer the call God has placed on my life and not being able to.

"I hope you know how thankful we are for you," he said. "For your prayers that sustain us, your gifts that help us respond to that call, and most importantly your love. I am blessed to know that each person who gives to the scholarship fund is supporting what I am doing."

In response to the student witnesses, Dr. David Saliba, Senior Pastor at Perido Bay (Fla.) United Methodist Church, said: "The church cannot survive without new ministers; ...we were headed to a place where we had more churches than pastors. But you helped Christ right the ship. Your gifts will bless, enrich and sustain the future of the Christian church for years to come because persons like Matt will be able to accept God's call on their lives!"

Rev. Tony McCullough, pastor at Brewton (Ala.) First United Methodist Church, then presented two special awards on behalf of the Stegall Foundation Board of Directors. The first-ever Church Appreciation Award, which seeks to recognize a congregation who faithfully supports the mission of the foundation, was presented to Fort Davis (Ala.) United Methodist Church.

"The Fort Davis church gives generously to support various mission projects, making our foundation one of their top priorities," said McCullough. "In more recent years, this small membership church of only 51 members ranks in the top five churches among the 625 churches of the AWF Conference in their gifts to our foundation."

Present to receive the award on behalf of the church was Rev. Keith Turner, accompanied by a delegation of members from the church. "In our church we have decided to reach out and to give, and we're going to continue to give," said Turner. "The United Methodist Church means so much to us and we try to always remember that 'giving is living.'"

Following the church award, the eighth annual "Spirit of the Foundation" Award was then presented to the family of the late Rev. Arthur McCoy Carlton, Sr., who died in 2016 at the age of 96.  This award is presented annually to honor a donor who has shown faithful commitment to the mission of the foundation.

In presenting the award, McCullough said, “Arthur's life was marked by generosity. He and his wife endowed scholarships at Huntingdon College, Birmingham Southern College, and Africa University. For many years, they were the top supporters of Blue Lake United Methodist Assembly. Arthur and Mabel established two trusts at the United Methodist Foundation with earnings designated for our seminary scholarships through our foundation.

"Just as he had remembered our seminary students in his life, Arthur in his financial planning remembered our seminary students prior to his death," said McCullough. "Our foundation owes a great deal of gratitude to this good man, and to all of the members of the Carlton family."

Speaking on behalf of the family, Carlton's son, Charlie, said that during a time of reflection before he died his father realized the giants who had come before him and in doing so was moved to include the foundation in his will. "Dad left a small remembrance to each of us eight children, but he left the entire residual of his estate to the Stegall Seminary Scholarship Foundation," said Carlton.

Carlton then read aloud his father's own moving words: "I was born the son of a Methodist preacher, reared by the church, and loved by the church. I enjoyed three years of scholarship at Birmingham Southern College, three years at Duke University, and then I enjoyed 33 years of serving in the pastorate across the AWF Conference.  My entire life has been supported and intertwined with our United Methodist Church. I can think of no greater institution like the Stegall Seminary Scholarship Endowment Foundation that can assist and provide education for our young pastors to continue the call of Christ."

Past recipients of the Spirit of the Foundation Award are: Mr. Boyd Goddard; Bishop Paul A. Duffey; Mr. John Bullard; Mr. Temple Millsap; Mr. Wayne Russell; Mr. Dan Lindsey, Sr.; and Dr. Paulette Thompson.

As an invitation to partnership, Mr. Daniel L. Lindsey, Jr. shared with those in attendance specific ways gifts may be made to the foundation. In discussing the options for planned giving in particular, Lindsey said: "You can't take it with you; just look around the room at the legacy we can leave! If we even scratch the surface of our potential for planned giving, what a difference we can collectively make in the lives of those current and future seminary students and the people they will ultimately serve in their congregations for generations to come."

Toward the end of the banquet, a video celebrating the ten-year anniversary was shown, featuring many students, alumni, and donors of the foundation. Following this video Dr. Karl K. Stegall, volunteer president of the foundation, personally offered a word of appreciation to donors present.

"Brenda and I are indeed grateful to all of you here tonight for the wonderful support you've given our foundation and these seminary students over these past 10 years," Stegall said. "Tonight is a night of celebrating what YOU have done. When you invest in the lives of these present and future seminary students, you are investing in those who have shared and will share in the next half century the words of eternal life."

In closing, Dr. Stegall invited all of the seminary students present to come forward as Bishop Graves offered a blessing over the students as a sending forth for the evening.

Click here to see photos by Luke Lucas


Commission on a Way Forward Offers Status Report

published 7/27/2017

The Commission on a Way Forward has released a status report to the Council of Bishops and the entire United Methodist Church, updating the church and the leaders on the faithful work of the Commission after four meetings.

The 32-member commission is accountable to the Council of Bishops, which named the members following a mandate from the 2016 General Conference. The charge from the General Conference was for the bishops to find a way forward and for unity in the UMC on issues related to human sexuality.

In releasing the status report, the Commission moderators Bishops David Yemba, Sandra Steiner Ball and Ken Carter said the status report was available in multiple formats so it can easily be shared electronically, shown in meetings, used in Bible Studies or even in worship

“We encourage all United Methodists to view this," wrote the moderators. "We encourage you to offer us feedback and prayer.”

The Commission has five more meetings to complete, with two of the meetings coming prior to the November meeting of the Council of Bishops.

The final report will be issued to the Council of Bishops, who will then present the report to the 2019 Special Session of General Conference for action.  

For more information on the Commission on a Way Forward, visit umc.org/wayforward

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