Conference News

'It was always important'

published 6/22/2017
Alabama Chief Justice Lyn Stuart makes church family a top priority
(Kari C. Barlow for the Alabama-West Florida Conference) - Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Lyn Stuart loves the view from her office window, which overlooks historic River City United Methodist Church on Dexter Avenue.  
“It’s a beautiful old church with beautiful stained-glass windows and a really, really tall steeple with a big cross on top of it,” she said. “I just love having that be what I look at.”
On Thursday, she happily joined family and friends inside that beloved sanctuary for a special service celebrating her recent appointment as well as the appointment of Associate Justice Will Sellers. Gov. Kay Ivey appointed Stuart in late April following the resignation of former Chief Justice Roy Moore. Ivey tapped Sellers to serve in the open associate justice seat held by Stuart.  
The service, planned by Rev. Jay Cooper, pastor of FUMC of Bay Minette and Stuart’s home congregation, drew dignitaries and local officials from across Alabama.
“There is something special about being able to stand here and gather at midday as a congregation of believers for worship and the sacrament of Holy Communion,” Cooper told the congregation. Several UMC clergy from the Montgomery area—Rev. Virginia Kagoro of River City UMC, Dr. Larry Bryars of Frazer Memorial UMC, Dr. Lester Spencer of Saint James UMC and Rev. Richard Williams and Dr. Brian Miller of Aldersgate UMC—also participated, serving communion and offering prayers.
For Stuart, that connection to other Christians is a blessing that has shaped her entire life. The Atmore native, who was raised Presbyterian, can’t remember a time when church was not a significant part of her life. “I came from a family where we were at church every time the doors were open,” she recalled. “It was always important.” Stuart joined the UMC in 1984 when she and her husband, George, settled at FUMC of Bay Minette. More than 30 years later, they remain active members. In fact, Stuart still teaches the same adult Sunday school class that she started in 1985. “We’ve aged together! It started as a young adult class,” she said. “They are my closest friends and they are like family. … We pray for each other all the time.” One of her greatest joys is cooking Wednesday night church dinners, which she does with a team of volunteers on a rotating basis. “It’s very rewarding to me,” said Stuart, whose popular dishes include chicken divan, roasted tomato soup and grilled pork tenderloin. “I think that’s a gift I have, and it’s a gift I use to benefit the church.”
Staying connected to church family is one of the many ways she keeps her busy life on an even keel. “You have to work at keeping things in balance,” said Stuart, who also enjoys “playing in the dirt” but laments not having a green thumb. “I do acknowledge that I am a bit of a workaholic, so I have to save time for other things.” When she is at work—leading the judicial branch of Alabama state government—Stuart doesn’t hesitate to turn to God for guidance. “In my court, we always pray before we meet, and we take turns praying,” she said. “… I always pray that God will give us wisdom and discernment to make the right decisions.”  
Click here to see photo from the service. To read Chief Justice Lyn Stuart’s biography, go to
Read more of our conversation with Chief Justice Lyn Stuart:
Q: Did you always want to be a lawyer and a judge?
A: No, neither! I wanted to be a juvenile probation officer, and I knew that from the time I was, probably, early high school. That’s really what I studied to do. I actually have a double major from Auburn in sociology and education. … I just wanted to work with young people, and I thought juvenile probation was the way to do it. But there were very, very few opportunities in the state of Alabama. It was just not realistic that I would be able to get that job. So I took the LSAT, the law school admission exam, pretty much on a lark and did well on it. I applied to law school and was admitted to both Alabama and Cumberland, and Alabama gave me a small scholarship.
Q: What’s the most challenging thing about being a judge?
A: The most challenging part is trying to keep your personal feelings separate from trying to make decisions based purely on the law and the facts. That’s just something you have to do. It’s something you have to do from the beginning. It’s a given, a requirement. If you can’t do that, then it’s really not the job for you.
Q: What’s it like campaigning for an elected judgeship?
A: It’s interesting. Alabama is a really big state, but it’s a beautiful state and it has wonderful people. And that’s the part I really like about (campaigning)—getting to see the state and meet all the people.
Q: What do you like about being a member of the United Methodist Church?
A: I like that we are very welcoming and open to all people. And I guess I like that we are just sort of middle of the road.
Q: What advice do you have for young women?
A: I say this often when I speak to young women. I truly believe that you can do anything that you want to do with God’s help, as long as it’s part of his plan. … And that requires a lot of prayer!
Q: Do you have a favorite scripture?
A: Yes. Philipians 4:4-9.
Q: What’s your favorite place in Alabama?
A: Home. Baldwin County!
Q: How long have you been married and where did you meet your husband, George?
A: 36 years. I had already finished law school, and I met him in Gulf Shores at a Fourth of July party his parents were giving. His parents and my parents had been friends for years and sort of lost contact and then re-established contact. I was studying for the bar exam and should have never been at that party!
Q: And the rest is history?
A: And the rest is history—that’s exactly right!

Milton First Celebrates 150 Years of Ministry

published 6/22/2017
For 150 years, the people called Methodists have connected people to God and people to people through Jesus Christ in Milton, Florida! A celebration of this ministry and mission of First United Methodist Church was held on Heritage Sunday, May 21. The theme of the day was “Great is Thy Faithfulness.” 

In his sermon, “Through These Doors,” Bishop David W. Graves reminded the congregation that the saints who had gone before were stepping stones on which the future of the church was built and continues to this day. District Superintendent The Reverend Timothy R. Trent introduced Bishop Graves and  assisted in the leading of prayers and the affirmation of faith. The members of the children’s, youth, and chancel choirs sang uplifting, majestic music accompanied by the church organist and those playing hand bells, flutes, a saxophone, and a trumpet. Special Guests included former pastors, other clergy, a historian of Santa Rosa County, and representatives of the Milton City and Santa Rosa County governments.  

Each family attending the celebration received a booklet containing a history of the church with photographs of members throughout the years; a brick paperweight representing the “Pennies for Bricks” campaign to rebuild the church building after its second structure was destroyed by fire during the Great Depression; and a commemorative bookmark. 

A lovely meal was served in fellowship hall, with old-fashioned table centerpieces made primarily of magnolias. The youth of the church provided extravagant hospitality by serving as the waitstaff for the tables. During the meal, a video of the history of the church in pictures played on a perpetual loop while everyone enjoyed table fellowship. Pastor Kathy Knight thanked the congregation for its discipleship by writing in the church's weekly e-mail message, “Words cannot express the exhilaration I felt yesterday as we celebrated our 150 years of ministry at First United Methodist Church. It was a day in which everyone gave his or her best for the glory of God – and it showed! Thank you for making it a day to remember in every way.”

Safe Sanctuaries Training Video Release by AWF Trustees

published 6/22/2017

As the Chair of the Alabama-West Florida UMC Conference Safe Sanctuaries Committee and a former juvenile judge, I am reaching out to you because of your position of leadership at your United Methodist Church. As a member of the Conference Board of Trustees, I know that the Trustees are indeed proud of our record of caring for and protecting our children and vulnerable adults. 

In an effort to ensure that none of our local churches are mired in the controversy of abuse allegations, your Conference Board of Trustees has endeavored to amend, with Conference approval, our Safe Sanctuaries Policy and Minimum Standards so that the content can be more understandable and easier to implement. We know that you want your staff and volunteers to be shielded from meritless complaints. It goes without saying that all of our churches want the children and vulnerable adults to whom we minister to be protected from all potential harm. Consequently, the Safe Sanctuaries Committee urges you to take ownership of your local congregation's commitment to and implementation of your Safe Sanctuaries policy.

If your church has all ready adopted and put into practice a Safe Sanctuaries policy, wonderful. Now we ask you to assist your fellow members in becoming knowledgable about the requirements, including the essential requirement of ongoing training and reporting. If your church has not established a local Safe Sanctuaries policy, we sincerely recommend that you place this important topic on the agenda of your next Administrative Board  meeting and take an active role in complying with the Annual Conference directives regarding this matter.

A training video has been prepared and a link to it is attached below. Accessing the video is easier now as there is a link to it on the home page of our conference website. We hope that you will ensure that it will be viewed by every member of your staff and every person who volunteers in Sunday School, youth ministry and any other church-related activity which involves children and vulnerable adults. The Trustees would also like to encourage you to invite all of your Adult Sunday School classes to use it for a class lesson. 

Yours in Christ,
Sue Bell Cobb
Chair, Conf. Trustees Safe Sanctuaries Committee

Click here for video.

A Word of Thanks from Bishop David Graves

published 6/12/2017

To the clergy and laity of the Alabama-West Florida Annual Conference:

I want to take this opportunity to express my appreciation for the spirit-led, inspirational, incredible, and over-the-top annual conference that we shared together last week. Words cannot begin to express my appreciation to our planning team, preachers, worship leaders, and presenters who made this annual conference the best that I have ever been a part.

My prayers for months have been that we would be inspired by powerful worship, Christian in our debates and opinions, and leave conference feeling led by the Holy Spirit to return to our churches and win people to Jesus, see the unseen, transform lives and change our corner of the world. I began to imagine a God-sized event that would give us hope, peace, energy and a love to live into that by faith, it can happen. Even I could not have imagined what God would do with us the four days we shared together.

Thank you for loving Nancy and me. We love and appreciate this annual conference. This our home in this season of ministry. We feel so blessed to be here and look forward to what God is going to do in and through each of us.
So, let’s get moving! The best is yet to come!!

In Christ,
Bishop David Graves

2017 Annual Conference: In Review

published 6/8/2017

The 2017 Alabama-West Florida Annual Conference was held June 4-7 in Montgomery, AL, with the theme, "Imagine: By Faith It Can Happen." Bishop David Graves, presiding over his first annual conference session since becoming the resident bishop, welcomed clergy and lay members to Frazer Memorial UMC in Montgomery.

A capacity crowd attended the Opening Worship Service of the 2017 Alabama-West Florida Annual Conference session, which was held Sunday evening, June 4, in the sanctuary of Frazer Memorial UMC in Montgomery, AL. The service began with an uplifting reading of the Pentecost Story in six languages (English, Spanish, Korean, Russian, Shona and Hebrew) from lay and clergy representing various areas of the conference. A mass choir from around the conference, and led by Wayne Sigler of Frazer, provided inspiring music for the service including moving renditions of, "For the Glory of the Lord," "To Whom, Then, Will You Liken God" and "Whenever I Hear His Name." The Scripture lesson was read by Jenn Lusher, AWF Director of Leadership Strategies. Bishop David Graves was introduced by Alexis Tibbetts, Chair of the Episcopacy Committee. She expressed a heartfelt welcome to Bishop Graves and his wife, Nancy, and articulated how sincere and genuine Bishop Graves has been since the first day of his assignment. Rev. Robin Wilson, Senior Pastor of Dauphin Way UMC, preached the sermon based on Ephesians 3:7-21 entitled, "More Than We Imagine." She recalled the past memories of attending annual conference as a child and youth delegate and the impressions those years made on her. She said, "I saw and I knew the power and presence of our God. At the age of 17, I felt called into ordained ministry and wanted to show the world what you as a church had witnessed so faithfully to me." She passionately challenged the congregation to truly imagine what God can do in this place and reminded them of the first pentecost and how the earnest followers had no idea what to expect of their God. Some might have imagined Jesus would come quickly, or a mighty deliverance, but they never imagined what God was about to do, and we are no different. "We have such set expectations of what God should do, that we have lost the creativity to imagine what God can do." 

The Alabama-West Florida Local Mission Agencies were the beneficiaries of the 2017 missional offering. Churches from within the conference collected money and presented their offerings at opening worship. The agencies benefitting from this collection are The Ark, Dumas Wesley Community Center, Mary Ellen’s Hearth, Milk and Honey Outreach Ministries, United Methodist Inner City Mission in Mobile, and Pensacola United Methodist Community Ministries. A total of $46,022 was collected for this offering. Over $2,700 was collected at the Service of Commissioning & Ordination for the Ministerial Education Fund. Thank you for your generosity!

New to the 2017 Annual Conference was the addition of morning worship services on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. These worship services, under the direction of Rev. Jay Cooper of Bay Minette UMC, incorporated people from around the conference. A special emphasis was made to involve people representing the various stages of ministry, which included seminary students, local pastors, deacons, elders, laity, clergy spouses and conference staff. 

Thirty clergy and clergy spouses who passed since the 2016 AWF Annual Conference session were remembered during the Service of Remembrance and Holy CommunionBishop David Graves offered the opening prayer and Rev. Ralph Sigler, Founder and Leader Pastor of Harvest Church UMC, delivered the inspiring and uplifting sermon entitled, "Things Above" based on Colossians 3:1-4 and Ephesians 3:20-21. He mentioned that, "We need to honor them, they don't need us to honor them." Sigler explained that we often look to others for validation but Jesus is the One to affirm us. He felt that if our loved ones could talk back to us after their death they would say, "I'm fine. Don't worry about me." Sigler continued with, "I don't believe that anyone who has gotten to Heaven would want to come back." He disputed the common opinion that Heaven is a boring place. A capacity crowd remembered those who gave many years of service to the conference. Each individual name was read aloud by Rev. Olivia Poole of Mt. Zion UMC. A candle was lit for each person we remembered. Robert McMichael and Jarvis Wilson provided comforting music through their rendition of, "His Eye is on the Sparrow." Jerrod Dorminey, Worship Leader at Frazer UMC, shared remembrance music as communion was served. Surviving family members were hosted at a special luncheon by the AWF Commission on Archives and History. To see photos from this service, click here.

Twenty-one clergy were recognized upon their retirement by Rev. Kathy Knight. Together, they have 617 years of service in our conference. Bishop Graves gave a heartfelt prayer honoring this group in a new season of life. Rev. Libba Stinson spoke on behalf of the retiring class. Back by popular demand was the "passing of the torch." Stinson presented a stole to Rev. Woods Lisenby, who was ordained as an elder in full connection Monday evening, signifying new leadership in the conference.

The Service of Commissioning and Ordination was held Monday evening in the sanctuary of First United Methodist Church in Montgomery. The congregation represented family members and special friends of those being commissioned and ordained. Prior to the start of the service, the cathedral choir of Montgomery FUMC presented worshipful music led by Dr. James Seay. The service included the commissioning of one provisional deacon and five provisional elders and the ordination of two deacons in full connection and six elders in full connection. Bishop David Graves preached a sermon entitled, “Be All That God Called You to Be," based on Matthew 28:18-20. He asked those being commissioned and ordained to remember where they came from and challenged them to be all God called them to be by doing several things. He explained to first, stay in love with Jesus–ministry is best accomplished when you do it as a team and said, "Surround yourself with people who are better than you." Next, learn to be a great communicator and listening is crucial to that. Discipline yourself so that no one else has to do so. Don't just work hard when you need to, work smart. Graves stated, "Success is having the right person in the right place at the right time. When you need help, ask for it." Change is a must. Finally, handle success like you handle failure citing you can't control what happens but you can control how you handle it. A special offering was collected for the Ministerial Education Fund. To see photos from this service, click here.

The conference was honored by the outstanding leadership of several guests. Claire Bowen and Dr. Victor Dingus led two teaching sessions. We welcomed President Cam West from Huntingdon Colleges and Lane Estes from Birmingham-Southern College, as well as Blake Horne, director of the United Methodist Children's Home. Patricia Barnes (Sister Schubert) gave the Mary Ellen Bullard Leadership Address at this year's laity banquet. 

Several awards were given to recognize outstanding leadership and service in the conference. Dr. Jimmy Jeffcoat of Huntingdon College received the Francis Asbury Award and Daphne Johnston of Montgomery FUMC received the Alice Lee Award. There were three winners of the Harry Denman Evangelism Award. The clergy winner is Rev. Andres Doimeadios of Casa De Dios Gateway Of Heaven. The Lay recipients is Malcolm Smith of Canton Bend UMC and the youth recipient is Brett Herndon from Chickasaw UMC. Caroline Barrett of Marion UMC was presented a scholarship on behalf of the United Methodist Federal Credit Union. The inaugural recipient of the One Matters Award is Parker UMC. Helen Meigs Edwards of Church Street UMC was honored with the third annual Susanna Wesley Leadership Award at the Laity Banquet. 

New this year for conference was the availability of translating devices for Hispanic clergy and lay during business sessions. Erika Glawson, AWF Assistant to Ministerial Services, provided translation services, as did Demetria Weekly of Birmingham, AL. This service was a result of a spring meeting with Hispanic leaders and conference staff where it was indicated this would allow our Spanish-speaking brothers and sisters to be more engaged at conference. Listening devices were also provided for those who are hearing impaired. 

Each business session began with triumphant song, prayer and celebratory moments from our eight districts. Glory sighting videos were shown highlighting the work our local churches accomplish in their respective communities. Click here for video links

As a result of a motion from the floor of the 2014 Annual Conference, a task force was formed to explore the number of districts in the Alabama-West Florida Conference. Dr. Robbins Sims presented an update on behalf of the group affirming the number of districts is appropriate for our conference. The team was given a list of recommendations to consider in order to be more effective in their work. Dr. Sims reported that the cabinet is living into those recommendations, with one being longevity in appointments, when possible. Creating relationships within the districts was another priority. Bishop Graves was able to help facilitate this with the town hall meetings. The cabinet is also utilizing technology to reduce conference travel expenses. 

Two resolutions were presented to the annual conference voting body. A Resolution Concerning the Welfare of Unaccompanied Migrant Children in the Alabama-West Florida Conference was amended to include the state of Florida and approved. A Resolution Concerning Adequate, Long-term Funding for Alabama Medicaid was also approved with an amendment to include the state of Florida. Church and Society had previously accepted an amendment changing the Governor's name from Robert Bentley to Kay Ivey. Revised copies of the amended resolutions will be posted on the conference Website in the coming days. 

Five amendments from General Conference 2016 were brought before all annual conferences in the denomination under the guidance of Dr. David Saliba, AWF Conference Secretary. Click here to read the proposed amendments. The amendments could be discussed but could not be amended. Per the instructions from the general church, results of these votes will not be reported by annual conference. The collective results will be announced at a later date.  

Bishop Graves reminded the voting members of the special called session of General Conference. The current delegation, which was elected two years ago, was recognized and will continue to represent the Alabama-West Florida Conference at the special called session in Missouri in February of 2019. Dr. Larry Bryars will move to first clergy delegate and Rev. June Jernigan will move from first alternate to a general conference delegate.

The conference established a $11,084,468 million budget for mission and ministry for 2018, a 1.21 increase from 2017. The recommended district superintendent salary for 2018 is $120,475. The minimum salary for 2018 will be $37,200. We welcomed 224 health screening participants as a part of the health and wellness initiative. 

Mr. Frank Dunnewind reported that membership stands at 137,618 down 1% from the previous year. Worship attendance stands at 61,273 down 2%. Asian, Native American and Multiracial attendance all showed areas of increase over the past year. Other areas that also showed increases were baptisms, constituents, and children and youth in christian formation. In 2016, 404 churches paid 100% of their apportionments, which is the highest in the past few years. There was a 1.58% increase in missional giving over 2015, which was at it highest level since 2001. Thank you!  

Presiding over his first AWF Annual Conference, Bishop David Graves delivered his Episcopal address to the body of the conference. Before he preached, he took intentional time to diligently thank those who were an integral part of annual conference. Graves conveyed to the conference how valued this team is to him and how blessed we are to have this leadership. His powerful sermon was entitled, "Too Hard" based on Exodus 14:10-13. Graves walked through various scenarios that seemed impossible but through imagining faith, they occurred. He spoke of racial and gender barriers that have divided our church and made a public apology to people of color and women who have been victims of discrimination. An emotional standing ovation was given after these statements. He explained that his recent trip to the Council of Bishops meeting felt at times, too hard. He said, "Can you begin to imagine, and do you believe by faith it can happen? Then start acting like it!!" He spoke of Nehemiah 9:19; Psalm 68:20; Psalm 42:8; and Psalm 68:20 as a help in times that feel too difficult. He ended by saying, "Let's get moving, the best is yet to come!" A video of his address will be posted online in the coming days. 

4,944 UMCOR kits were collected over the course of the annual conference, which is the most in recent history. The Baypines District collected the most with 1,720 kits with Montgomery-Prattville District next with 1,641. Montgomery FUMCMt. Zion UMC (Prattville), and Aldersgate UMC sent youth group workers who managed the collection truck. Thank you for your donations and to the youth who received these supplies!  

The 2017-2018 clergy appointments may be found online here.

The 2018 session of the AWF Annual Conference will be held June 3-6, 2018, at Frazer Memorial United Methodist Church in Montgomery, AL. Montgomery First United Methodist Church will host the Ordination Service. We express our sincere appreciation to the these staffs for their outstanding hospitality. 

downloadable pdf recap that can be used in your upcoming church bulletins can be found here. Full coverage of the 2017 AWF Annual Conference may be found here. To see photos taken by Luke Lucas, click here.


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