Conference News

RIOM Goes Digital

published 10/4/2017
(Kari Barlow for the Alabama-West Florida Conference) - A shift toward digital resources in the Alabama-West Florida Conference is making it easier for newly commissioned ministers to navigate the challenging path to ordination.
Conference officials say the decision to make its Residency in Ordained Ministry program accessible through an online portal has resulted in more efficiency and greater connections among the candidates.
“It’s how we live now, and it’s how we’re going to live in the future,” said Rev. June Jernigan, Assistant to Bishop David Graves and Director of Ministerial Services. “The Alabama-West Florida Conference is giving our residents this gift. It’s a gift and an investment in them.”
During RIOM—the required two-year provisional period between commissioning and ordination—candidates are tasked with not only with further discerning their call to ministry but also completing an extensive curriculum unique to their annual conference.
“It’s really the foundation,” Jernigan said. “We’re preparing them for lifelong, fruitful ministry.”
In years past, the new pastors had to delve old-school style into giant binders of information to complete assignments and access study materials. Today they click a few links and log in to a secure website.
“They love it!” Jernigan said. “It’s really a great tool because it allows us to use videos and blogs and TED Talks. … If you can hear one of the best preachers in the country preach, wouldn’t that be grand, instead of reading it?”
The RIOM curriculum is designed to help candidates integrate their call stories—how they were mentored or nurtured in their decision to pursue ministry—theological training and spiritual practices and disciplines. During the first year, candidates meet one day each month to work through the curriculum together. In the second and final year, candidates must also complete and evaluate a ministry project at their current congregation or extension ministry.
With the online portal, candidates can accomplish many of those tasks digitally—whether they’re taking course notes, writing essays, messaging an instructor or taking an assessment, Jernigan said.
“When they have homework, they just send it through the portal to their leaders,” she added. “They don’t even have to touch a piece of paper unless they want to!”

Rev. Angie Long, pastor at Grenville FUMC said, “I have the honor to serve as a current RIOM leader and see first hand how this portal is more efficient for our candidates. Having gone through the ordination process several years ago, I am pleased to see the progress our conference has made in reducing time and paperwork for those seeking to be ordained." 

The Conference’s RIOM curriculum is currently being used by two other annual conferences, the North Carolina Conference and the Western North Carolina Conference but is available to any conference that is interested, Jernigan said.
“We definitely believe this could help every Board of Ordained Ministry in the United Methodist Church,” she said. “We’re just offering it to other conferences and hoping they might find it to be of some help.”  

Friday Night Lights: UMC pastors, congregations show the love during football season

published 9/27/2017
(Kari Barlow for the Alabama-West Florida Conference) On Friday afternoons during high school football season, the folks at First United Methodist Church of Marianna don’t have a lot of time to stand around and chat.
They’re too busy cooking up baked chicken, barbecue pork or some other hearty fare for the Marianna High School Bulldogs. And while feeding dozens of hungry varsity and junior varsity football players before each game is hard work, the church wouldn’t have it any other way.
 “It’s a big ministry here,” said Dr. Nathan Attwood, senior pastor at the church. “On game nights, we have church members who have decorated the tables with purple and gold. … Sometimes we have motivational speakers, and we always pray for the team.”
The MHS principal, varsity football coach and junior varsity football coach are all church members, which makes it easy to stay informed of the program’s schedule and needs.
“There’s a real feeling in our church that we are missionaries to our young people,” said Attwood, who’s a regular at home games. “It’s a great outreach.”
FUMC Marianna is one of many congregations across the Alabama-West Florida Conference taking a more active role in their local high school football scene. From Prattville to Pensacola—particularly in those small towns where a single high school unites the entire community—United Methodist pastors and church members are using their time, talents, money and straight-up love of the gridiron to minister to players, coaches and their families.
“I love high school football,” said Rev. Jay Cooper, pastor of Bay Minette FUMC. “It’s like the one time our community comes together. On Sunday mornings, we’re so separated. … A game is the one time everyone is one place and pulling in the same direction.”
Cooper, who played football and soccer in his younger days, holds season tickets to the Baldwin County High School Tigers’ home games and supports the team on the road when possible. He’s also been known to brave the BCHS pep rallies to cheer on the football players and marching band and dance team members connected to the congregation.
Cooper noticed the bond between the church and the football program back in the fall of 2015, a few months after arriving in Bay Minette. During a home game, a Baldwin player took a hard hit after catching a pass and was knocked unconscious. As the stadium fell silent with worry, a woman walked over to Cooper and asked if he would pray for the young man.
“I agreed, not knowing she meant over the loudspeaker,” he recalled. “But I followed her to the booth, assumed the microphone, and asked everyone in the stadium to pray with me, which many were already doing in groups all over the stands.”
Later that night, Cooper visited with the injured player, who went on to a full recovery.
“None of this would have happened had the lines of communication not been open and a relationship established,” he said. “The community trusts those who invest in its young people.”
Like its counterpart in Marianna, Bay Minette FUMC also makes sure its players, coaches and cheerleaders are well fed, providing them with a full breakfast at the church on the morning of every home game.
“You just open your doors and feed them and love them,” said Cooper, who delivers a brief devotional to the students after the meal. “What I can give them that is gospel is that they are never beyond the reach of God’s love. That God really wants to be part of their lives.”
The church’s efforts have brought more young people—friends of church members and those simply connected through the team breakfast— into the church, particularly its Wednesday night youth program.
“I think they feel welcome and they know we care about them,” Cooper said. “A lot of the players will see me at Wal-Mart or a restaurant or something and they’ll come give me a high-five or a hug. It’s just opened up a door!”
In Ozark, home of the Carroll High School Eagles, local pastors have partnered with the principal, coaches and teachers to support a newly revived Fellowship of Christian Athletes. Bobbi Lassiter, associate pastor at Ozark FUMC, delivered the devotional at the group’s kick-off meeting.
“It was such an honor to be able to set the tone for them,” she said. “I used the story of Peter stepping out of the boat and walking on water and talked about how hard it is to stand up for your faith in high school but how important it is.”
Lassiter said the high school’s football coach and cheerleading coach are members of the congregation and eager to have her involved with the team. She led the prayer for the team’s recent pep rally and scrimmage game and also led the football players and cheerleaders in a joint devotional before a home game.
“I use personal stories in all of my stuff,” said Lassiter, a former softball player. “It’s helped a lot. The students all know me know, and when I see the kids around town, it makes it easier to connect.”
Although Attwood, Cooper and Lassiter live and serve in different communities, they agree that investing in the local high school football program is well worth the effort.
“I consider it a Matthew 25 ministry—when Jesus said feed, clothe, welcome and visit,” Cooper said. “It’s all of that!” 

Photo courtesy of Rev. Bobbi Lassiter

A Word from Bishop Graves: Hurricane Aftermath

published 9/12/2017
Over the last several days, we have watched the destruction from Hurricane Irma as it traveled through the Caribbean, Cuba, up South Florida, and into Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina, and Tennessee. Here in the Alabama-West Florida Conference, we experienced little or minimal damage. You are always thankful when you seem to dodge the storm, but your heart hurts for all those who are suffering major damage and loss of their home. Some lost their life. Irma and Harvey have been overwhelming experiences for our nation and the church in the last few weeks.
Today, I write to thank this annual conference for all you are doing to help others. You have collected offerings for UMCOR, prepared flood buckets and hygiene kits along with the collection of other supplies to help our neighbors to the west and now you will do it again to help those to our east. Many of our churches have opened their doors as a shelter, a shower station, or a place to receive a hot meal. I am so thankful to be in ministry with you as your Bishop.
I am also thankful for our disaster relief efforts that prepared us for whatever might have come our way this week. Amelia Fletcher and our District Disaster Coordinators have worked overtime to ensure we were ready. Our Connectional Ministries Staff of Nancy Watson, Susan Hunt, and Jen Lusher have worked tirelessly, along with the wonderful work of our Communications Director, Mary Catherine Phillips. Our eight District Superintendents have put in a lot of time contacting pastors and churches, along with coordinating resources in their respective districts. Amelia Fletcher and Rob Haynes have been working closely with UMCOR as needed demands will continue for weeks, days, and months to come. The AWF Conference is so thankful for our working relationship with Cathy Earl, UMCOR Director of Disaster Response. Cathy has been most helpful and is always a joy to partner with.
I am hearing of churches all over this conference who have been working with evacuees as they came to our area. These stories are heartwarming and bless me each time that I hear another glory sighting of people helping people. I spent two days in the Florida part of our conference this past week and the stories of the evacuees were heartbreaking.
I could list so many people here by name. There are so many. I give thanks for each of you in the Alabama-West Florida Conference. Thank you!!!
Again, we need to collect an offering for UMCOR and continue the collection of those things that our Disaster Relief Committee requests. Please only do what is asked. Many people want to donate items, but as we saw again in Texas, they are not needed and only become more trash to sort. Teams will be called upon in the future, but right now, please pray for our neighbors to the east and to the west. Your giving to UMCOR is the greatest way you can help right now.
Remember, this is our week to pray for the Way Forward work of the Council of Bishops and the Commission. All local churches who have church bells or chimes are asked to ring them this Wednesday, September 13th from 5:23 to 5:30pm. Let the Church speak all through South Alabama and West Florida this Wednesday.
Alabama-West Florida, you have been a wonderful witness of the powerful connection of the United Methodist Church.
In Christ,
Bishop David Graves
Alabama-West Florida Conference

Photo courtesy of Cokesbury UMC, Pensacola

AWF Conference Participates in "Praying Our Way Forward"

published 9/11/2017
The Alabama-West Florida Conference is participating in the "Praying Our Way Forward" initiative. The denomination-wide initiative launched on New Year’s Day 2017 with 75 weeks of focused prayer for The United Methodist Church. Each annual conference will take one week to have intentional prayer for the mission of The United Methodist Church to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world and for the work of the Commission on a Way Forward. The effort began in the North Carolina Conference and will conclude in the West Angola Episcopal area in June 2018.

The week started with a prayer from Bishop David Graves. Click here or read below. Throughout the week prayers will be posted from the AWF district superintendents. Bishop Graves is also asking local churches with chimes or bells to sound them on Wednesday, September 13 , 2017, from 5:23-5:30pm. 

Imagine: By Faith It Can Happen

As the storms of hurricanes rage in the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico this day, we turn in faith to you Jesus, and place our faith that in the midst of the storms you are ever present. In this crucial time of discernment for the United Methodist Church, we imagine by faith that your assuring grace would unify our purpose for building Your Kingdom on earth as it is in heaven.

We, in the United Methodist Church, tend to create storms of fear and disunity. Hear our prayers! May we find ourselves empowered by your Holy Spirit focused on the mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. We seek to imagine by faith, it can happen.

In the words of St. Francis, “Lord, make me an instrument of your peace, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love.”

As we seek your way forward for us called United Methodists, we lift before you the members of the Commission on the Way Forward. Pour out your Holy Spirit as they seek to give guidance that by faith, they can begin to imagine your way. We pray for the Council of Bishops that will soon discern efforts that have been completed and work yet to be done.

It may seem to be an overwhelming task, but help us to be a people that imagine by faith. A people unified on mission, led by scripture, so that your will be done!


A Word from the Bishop: DACA

published 9/5/2017

To the People of the Alabama-West Florida Conference,

As we enter the recovery phase of Hurricane Harvey and prepare for Hurricane Irma, along with Tropical Storm Jose forming in the Atlantic Ocean, we continue to navigate the immigration storms of our nation. Many of our Hispanic brothers and sisters in our AWF Conference Churches are living in fear. An executive order has been handed down by President Trump to rescind Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and is being turned over to Congress for a six month review, which adds to this storm of fear. I know that DACA most likely needs adjusting, but to eliminate it puts many children at risk.
I am calling on all of us to be in prayer for the right decisions to be made around this matter. The United Methodist Immigration Task Force has put out a helpful document that I encourage you to use as a resource. Our prayers, our voices, and our actions are most important to living out Jesus' “Great Commandment” and our United Methodist Social Principles.
Today, let’s place this situation, along with many living in the storms of hurricanes, in our prayers.
In Christ,
Bishop David Graves
Alabama-West Florida Conference

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