Conference News

Bishop Ough, thousands of United Methodists to join in rally against racism

published 3/13/2018

WASHINGTON, D.C.  – As the nation marks the 50th anniversary of the assassination of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., United Methodists will unite with members of the National Council of Churches in Washington, D.C., April 3-5, for the Truth and Racial Justice Initiative.

The events begin with a briefing on alleviating racism and injustice in the areas of criminal justice, economic justice, the media, health care, voting, civil and human rights, environmental justice, education and immigration. Led by the General Board of Church and Society, the briefing will be held April 3, from 1 to 2 p.m., at the Methodist Building at 100 Maryland Ave., NE, in Washington, D.C.

Bishop Bruce Ough, president of the Council of Bishops of The United Methodist Church, will kick off the ACT NOW to End Racism event on April 3 with a prayer rally to Awaken, Confront and Transform, at the United Methodist Building at 2 p.m. Leaders from Baltimore-Washington Conference, Virginia Conference and others will also be in attendance.

A Rally to End Racism will be held April 4 on the National Mall. The day begins with a silent prayer walk from the MLK Memorial to the Mall at 7 a.m. An interfaith worship service is on the Mall at 8 a.m. and the rally and call to commitment will be held from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

NCC leaders expect thousands of people from across the nation to attend the rally. Among the speakers are Bishop Vashti McKenzie, Rabbi Jonah Pesner, Jennifer Harvey, Bishop Darin Moore, Rev. Freddie Haynes, Danny Glover, Esther Lopez, Bishop Elizabeth Eaton, DeRay McKesson, Bishop Michael Curry, Phil Lee, Bishop Teresa Jefferson-Snorton, Rev. Jim Wallis, Lou Gossett, Jr., Rabbi David Saperstein, Christie Duncan-Tessmer, and many others. Ben & Jerry will be present and will bring ice cream.

April 5 is a National Day of Advocacy and Action. That morning, the Methodist Building will be open so that United Methodists can have conversations and network with leaders from the General Board of Church at Society and the General Commission on Religion and Race, and the Council of Bishops at the Methodist Building. The NCC will lead efforts to lobby legislators on Capitol Hill.

For more information, visit:
Act Now! Unite to End Racism - United Methodist Facebook event
Unite to End Racism Eventbrite registration page

Singing from the Heart: Auburn Wesley Foundation Forms New Student Choir

published 3/12/2018
(Kari Barlow for the AWF Conference) - Auburn University Freshmen Chip Blake and Carsen Grant are proof positive that you can’t take the youth choir outta the kid.

When Blake and Grant started college last fall, they proceeded to have a blast, happily juggling classes, friends and Auburn Wesley activities. But soon these two youth choir lifers—Blake from FUMC in Montgomery and Grant from Asbury Church in Madison— realized something was missing.

“We started talking about how we really love to sing, but as students … it can be hard to find an outlet for that passion,” says Blake, who sings tenor.

For Grant, youth choir at Asbury was her primary vehicle for reaching out to the community.

“It was just a really cool way for me to go out and serve through music,” she adds. “We would sing at nursing homes and homeless shelters and Boys and Girls Clubs, and we would also have a service project day.”

They started to envision a choir not only for students in Wesley but anyone on campus who wants to “continue singing and worshipping God like we have our whole lives,” Chip says.

One night after a fellowship dinner, they presented their idea to Wesley Director David Goolsby—literally writing the names of all interested students on a napkin they had passed around the table—and after a few months, the choir was officially approved.

Goolsby enlisted the assistance of Rev. Chris Kelsey, a member of the worship and media staff at Auburn UMC, to lead the choir, and the ensemble started practicing in January.

“These kids, they’re just bubbly and excited,” says Kelsey, a provisional deacon in the Alabama-West Florida Conference who also has a background in choral music. “It’s very obvious in the way that they sing. They really want it to be something good and special.”

The 15 to 20 participants have different backgrounds and majors, but they share an intense love of singing and are “taking initiative and ownership of their faith,” he adds.

“The gusto with which they’re singing is just delightful,” says Kelsey, who sees the choir as an effective outreach tool. “Music is always a connection for people. Whether you play the music, sing or just listen, music is almost always a place where you can meet God.”

For now, the choir is sticking to simple, three-part harmony and primarily contemporary worship songs such as the popular Hillsong anthem, “Forever Reign.” Kelsey, who provides accompaniment on the piano, wanted the group to feel successful right off the bat. The choir made its debut Sunday, Feb. 25, singing selections at two AUMC services and also at the Wesley evening worship. As the group progresses, it plans to share its singing in and around Auburn.  

And for Blake and Grant, putting choir practice back on their weekly to-do lists just feels right.

“I see (God) working every time we sing,” Blake says. “I am really excited to see what God has in store for us because I can already start to see how we have affected people’s lives.  

Bishop Announces District Cabinet and Staff Appointments

published 3/6/2018

Bishop David W. Graves is pleased to announce two projected district appointments and two projected staff appointments. Rev. John Brooks, current Montgomery-Prattville District Superintendent, will be appointed as the Director of Multicultural Ministries in the conference office. Rev. Allen Newton, current Demopolis District Superintendent, will become the new Montgomery-Prattville District Superintendent. Rev. Alan Gantzhorn, current pastor at Jackson FUMC, will be appointed as the Demopolis District Superintendent. Rev. Bill Kierce, current pastor at Trinity UMC-Opelika, will be appointed to the conference staff as the Director of Congregational Development and Vitality. 

As Director of Multicultural Ministries, Rev. Brooks will focus on recruiting minority clergy, developing relationships in the appointment process and forming relationships with churches of other denominations and community leaders. Rev. Kierce will cultivate conference work in congregational vitality, Fresh Expressions of Ministry and new church starts as the Director of Congregational Development and Vitality.

“I am excited to announce these conference leadership changes,” said Bishop David Graves. "John will do an outstanding job of developing multicultural ministries in the conference and Bill has tremendous training and experience helping teams and organizations improve on all levels. Allen Newton has done a phenomenal job in the Demopolis District and for that I am most grateful. Alan Gantzorn will easily step into this role to provide fruitful leadership and be an outstanding asset to the cabinet. I look forward to these four servants leading us in the coming years.” 

Brooks and Kierce will join the Bishop’s extended cabinet in these new leadership positions. Also joining the extended cabinet are:
-Celeste Eubanks, AWF Director of Leadership Strategies;
-Susan Hunt, AWF Director of Mission & Advocacy;
-Martha Rovira, AWF Director of Hispanic Ministries.

To see the complete extended cabinet, click here

Graves continued by saying, “The more leadership voices and diversity we have at the table, the better we can serve our local churches. By expanding our extended cabinet, we have more representation for the numerous ministry areas in this conference, therefore, more people are heard.” 

All appointment changes are effective July 1, 2018, and other local church appointments will be announced at annual conference on June 6, 2018, at the sending forth service. Click here to see yesterday's announcement about the appointment process

A Word from Bishop Graves: The Appointment Process

published 3/5/2018

March 5, 2018


The AWF District Superintendents, Rev. June Jernigan and I have been working on the appointment process since December and will continue to do so leading up to this year’s annual conference, which will be held June 3-6. Consultations and seminary visits have taken place over the past three months, staff-parish relations committee forms have been submitted, and senior pastors with associate pastor(s) on staff have submitted their requests for the coming year. The District Committees on Ordained Ministry, along with the Conference Board of Ordained Ministry, have been hard at work. There have been many, many conversations.

Here is a timeline of the work that has been accomplished and the work to come: 

February 21-23: The cabinet met and projected several appointments. The projected appointments related to our conference leadership align with our strategic mission around diversity, new church starts, and congregational vitality. Those changes will be announced soon.

March 11-14: The cabinet will meet to continue its work.

April 3-4: The cabinet will convene again to confirm the majority of the appointments.

April 9-10: Pastors affected by a move this year will meet with their District Superintendents. In churches affected by a move, the chairperson of the staff-parish relations committee will be contacted.

April 11-13: The cabinet will gather to make any adjustments to the projected appointments.

April 15: Public announcements will be made in churches where a move is to take place.

As I said, we will continue this vital and prayerful work leading up to annual conference. The comprehensive list of appointments will be published following the fixing of the appointments at the sending forth service before we adjourn. Please remember that all appointments are projected until annual conference.

We covet your prayers in this process. It is the most important work a Bishop and cabinet do each year. This year, the process is complex for numerous reasons: we have few retirements, we have many pastors who have moved to new appointments during the past three years, we have important family needs to consider, and we have several churches that are lowering their salaries as they have a pastoral change. These salary decreases have been trending since 2008 in our denomination across the United States. To be transparent with you, it is hard work, but not too hard! For we have witnessed the presence of the Holy Spirit in our work thus far. Please join us in prayer as we continue this journey.

I am thankful for you and know the best is yet to come!

Bishop David Graves
Alabama-West Florida Conference 

Commission on a Way Forward clarifies values as it presents two sketches to bishops

published 3/1/2018
(COB) - What is the Christ’s way forward for doing mission and ministry in the worldwide United Methodist Church? That is the question bishops pondered during their February meeting in Dallas this week as they received an updated report from the Commission on a Way Forward.
In the report given to the Council this week, the Commission shared with the bishops two sketches that carry forward many of the values and principles of the three sketches that were presented to the bishops at their meeting in November .

“The sketches of these two models represent the values, concerns and feedback we have received since we reported to the Council in November. The two sketches provide avenues for unity, contextualization and mission,” said Bishop Ken Carter, one of the moderators of the Commission.

The bishops offered feedback but did not vote on the two revised sketches, instead asking the Commission to continue working to prepare a final report to be presented to the bishops at their April/May meeting.  

Summary of the sketches of the models
Here is a summary of the two sketches in process.  Details may change based on the work of the Commission at its next meeting.

  • The One Church Model gives churches the room they need to maximize the presence of United Methodist witness in as many places in the world as possible.  The One Church Model provides a generous unity that gives conferences, churches, and pastors the flexibility to uniquely reach their missional context in relation to human sexuality without changing the connectional nature of The United Methodist Church.
  • This model is grounded in a unified core that includes shared doctrine and services and one Council of Bishops, while also creating different branches that have clearly defined values such as accountability, contextualization and justice.  The five U.S. jurisdictions would be replaced by three connectional conferences, each covering the whole country, based on theology and perspective on LGBTQ ministry (i.e. progressive, contextual, traditional branches).  Annual conferences would decide which connectional conference to affiliate with; only local churches who choose a branch other than the one chosen by their annual conference would vote.
During this week’s meeting in Dallas, the bishops also heard reports on the impact of both models on pension benefits, the connection, central conferences and fiscal responsibilities.
Council President Bishop Bruce Ough noted that the process of seeking a way forward was grounded in three major values:
  1. A renewed attention to our public mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world, especially with those who are not yet a part of our churches.
  2. A focus on contextuality in a global church, and our continuing call to learn from each other, listen to each other.
  3. Continuing to work with traditional, contextual and progressive values that are present in two models, one that is more aligned with a contextual church with the removed language about human sexuality, a second which differentiates between these values as different branches of one church.
At the close of the meeting, the Council of Bishops offered condolences to the family of the Rev. Dr. Billy Graham, the noted evangelist, who passed away recently. 

The Council of Bishops meeting began with worship and the presidential address/sermon on Sunday afternoon and ended today, February 28, with a Love Feast.

The Commission on a Way Forward will meet in Los Angeles in a few weeks and then give its final report to Council of Bishops at the April/May meeting in Chicago.

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