Quietly Shaping the Future of the United Methodist Church

published 8/13/2012

An anonymous donation. A student quietly hearing the call to ministry. Letters from donors to seminary students to show their support. The Stegall Seminary Scholarship Endowment Foundation makes a monumental impact on the future of the United Methodist Church but much of their work goes unnoticed or is behind the scenes.

Thursday, August 9, 2012, the Stegall Scholarship Fund hosted its annual banquet at the Renaissance Hotel in downtown Montgomery. A record number of supporters gathered to show their support of this ministry while also welcoming twelve seminary students back home; placing donors and students face to face, some for the first time. Despite a most elegant evening, the night was paid for by two generous donors so that no money was taken away from scholarships.

Dr. Karl K. Stegall, retired Alabama-West Florida Conference pastor and now executive director of the fund, was the host for the evening and welcomed all in attendance. Dr. Nathan Attwood, pastor at Millbrook First United Methodist Church, gave the invocation but before explained the importance of small checks that came in the mail while he was attending seminary. He stated, “Each young clergy person in this room knows what it’s like to have Dr. Stegall take an interest in him or her.”

The highlight of the evening was hearing from three current seminary students and one alumnus, now serving as a leader in the AWF Conference.

First speaking was Angie Long, who attends Candler School of Theology at Emory University. Circumstances of her childhood led her to be self sufficient and a non-trusting woman. She always had a strong sense of God’s presence in her life and after having two children, felt the need to search for a church home. She found that home in Aldersgate United Methodist Church in Montgomery, AL and was introduced to Christ. She heard the call to ministry at the time in her life when she was married, 33 years of age, had two children and a full-time career--she had no idea how to respond. Long said to the donors in the room, “At any time I begin to feel alone or worry, you’ve been there. I’ve found what it means to be a part of your Christian family.” Hearing those quiet prayers during her long and monotonous travels to and from seminary.

Gabe Holloway delivered an emotional testimony about a very dark time in his life. He attends Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, KY and is from Opelika First United Methodist Church. After hearing what he was hoping wasn’t a call, he started work towards his master of divinity in 2010. In April of 2011, Gabe and his wife, Lynn, found out she was pregnant but the baby was diagnosed with anencephaly, a fatal defect of the neural tube that would not allow her to survive outside of the womb. Annie was born on a cold November morning and lived for 45 minutes. Holloway sincerely expressed, “No other organization stepped in like this one.” He explained that it wasn’t just the financial support but prayers, phone calls and e-mails. He concluded by saying, “Keep on loving and trusting Jesus.”

Before the other guest speakers gave their messages, a duet was provided by Susan Cooper, wife of former seminary student, Rev. Jay Cooper, and Jack Horner, Director of Music at First United Methodist Church Montgomery. They performed a beautiful rendition of “Amazing Grace.”

Drew Willis of Duke University, made the drive from Durham, NC to express his heartfelt thanks. His home church is Livingston United Methodist Church in the Demopolis District. Willis eloquently shared with the group, “You are the ones that we are stepping out in faith hoping to find.” Drew is a first-generation college student from a single parent home and did not think a seminary education at Duke University was within reach until he found out about the Stegall fund. Current pastors in the Alabama-West Florida Conference, Tim and Cherie Meadows, supported and encouraged him and members of Demopolis District affirmed him. “I could only do it if I leaned out in faith and you all were there to support us,” he said. “Seminary is not a solo journey.”

Robin Wilson, seminary alumnus, grew up in Prattville First United Methodist Church and is now co-senior pastor at Dauphin Way United Methodist Church with her husband, Jeff. In 1996, at 22 years old, she had just finished her first year of seminary. Looking to explore how to answer a call into ministry, she interned with the Holston and Western North Carolina Conferences. Both conferences urged her to make her ministry home there. She and a friend made a journey to the Southeastern Jurisdictional Conference and met a man that would change her life forever—Dr. Karl Stegall. After learning her story, he promised she would receive a check from the foundation that became the Stegall Seminary Scholarship Fund. All of a sudden, she had a connection to home. She stressed the importance of financial commitment, but more than that, how much donors have made a difference in their lives. Wilson explained, “You have made us want to be not only better pastors, but better Christians.”

Dr. Paulette Thompson, Stegall Seminary Scholarship Foundation board member, presented the second annual Stegall Scholarship Appreciation Award to John Bullard. Lovingly she said, “This recipient is unique in a singular way that sets him apart from the rest of us.” Bullard exemplifies what it means to be a United Methodist and has served at every level of the church. In the local church he participated and led Bible Studies, was the chairman of the trustees and administrative board as well as the finance committee, council on ministries and staff parish relations. He has served the district through the board of trustees, nominating committee and grounds committee. At the conference level he was an active board member of the UM Foundation, chaired the conference CFA as well as serves as a delegate to annual conference. He has also participated at the general church level and has attended world Methodist conferences. He has shown a lifelong commitment to time, talents and service. Bullard is a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Duke University in Civil Engineering. Under his leadership and at his home dining room table, others were pulled into the birthing process to make the Stegall Scholarship Endowment Fund a legal and functioning reality. Bullard was honored by a standing ovation of nearly 400 guests.

Dr. Stegall introduced Bishop Paul Leeland, resident Bishop of the AWF Conference, to share a few words. Bishop Leeland was proud to inform the guests that the AWF Conference has 55 persons enrolled in seminary and broke into the top ten conferences for receiving young adult clergy of 35 and under into their conference. He further explained that 70% of United Methodist seminarians leave with a tremendous amount of debt and stressing the important of the great work of the donors.

Terry Mitchell , treasurer of foundation, shared, “We have much to be thankful for and celebrate this night. Imagine the multitude of disciples that will be made from these seminary students.” A surprise $500,000 check from the estate of Irene Miller was presented to Dr. Karl Stegall, bringing the fund close to the goal of raising $5 million of funds within 5 years. Mitchell eloquently concluded by saying, “God’s blessings are flowing from your faithfulness.” Dr. Stegall emotionally expressed his thanks to God for the faithful ministry of Irene and Carlisle Miller. Quiet servants changing the lives of many.

A most appropriate conclusion was held by having each seminary student in attendance come to the stage where the Bishop offered a benediction and prayer for those taking on this quiet, but sincere call. Maybe you haven’t heard from these students yet, but rest assured, you will. For the future of the AWF Conference is quietly studying and preparing to lead you and future generations.

To see photos from the evening, click here. For more information on the Stegall Seminary Scholarship Fund, go to


{Angie Long, current Candler School of Theology Seminary
student, expresses her thanks to those in attendance who have
helped her follow her ministerial call.}

AWF Cabinet August Meeting Summary

published 8/10/2012

(Dr. Jeremy Pridgeon) - Bishop Leeland and members of the Cabinet met this past week in a regularly scheduled session in Montgomery, AL. We celebrate the variety of ministries found across the conference and were able to receive updates on many of these initiatives during our gathering. Amelia Fletcher, Conference Disaster Response Coordinator, provided essential information to guide superintendents in their role when an event occurs within the districts requiring assistance in response and recovery. Additional training has been scheduled for the Cabinet for later in the year. Fred and Laurel Blackwell, leaders of The Circles of Transformation ministry, an effort to eliminate the cyclical nature of poverty, shared about the expansion of this ministry from Dothan into Montgomery, Mobile, and Niceville, FL. They outlined a new aspect of the ministry creating "Circle Congregations" involving churches that take an interest in supporting and encouraging community development in their area. Reverend Neil McDavid, Director of Connectional Ministries, gave an overview of other ministries and programs of the conference, including the SBC 21 - Strengthening the Black Church for the 21st Century event which took place over the weekend.

Reverend June Jernigan, Director of Ministerial Services and Assistant to the Bishop, discussed changes to the Discipline affecting ordained ministry, particularly in the area of mentoring as the denomination shifts to a group mentoring model. Our Conference Board of Ministry is in the process of implementing this new mentoring approach under the direction of Dr. Alan Cassady and Reverend Kathy Knight. Other aspects of the conversation about Ordained Ministry included the legislation changing security of appointment and the upcoming hearings before the Judicial Council as well as a need for timely reporting of information and forms required by the denomination from local congregations and pastors.

Vital Congregations and the need for "turnaround" leaders continues to be an area of emphasis for the Cabinet. Superintendents will be in communication with local church leaders during the charge conference season regarding fruitfulness and vitality in our work to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. The emphasis on the Great Commission is a central component to our call. In a season where many churches are diminishing or have plateaued in their witness and influence we are working to identify ways these congregations can reengage their particular context for the work of ministry in the world.

Superintendents were also given guidance on how to implement a decision from the Conference Council on Finance and Administration that calls for the financial services in each district to be provided by the Conference Fiscal Office. One district has already made the transition to this new system and other districts will begin the process in the upcoming months.

A significant amount of our time was spent participating in the Incubator process, under the direction of Spiritual Leadership Incorporated (SLI) directors, Greg Survant and Craig Robertson. We reviewed the Ministry Action Plan for the Conference and we seek to continue to work toward alignment of our resources, initiatives, and goals in the operation of the SEND model. The SEND model is the method in which we Seek, Engage, Nurture, and Deploy spiritual leaders for ministry in the conference and beyond. The SEND model effectively coordinates ministry across the diverse landscape of the conference, while providing the flexibility necessary to adapt to the local context for ministry.

We continue to celebrate the commitments of local churches toward the Connectional Giving and are hopeful that increases we have seen this year relative to last year will continue for the remainder of 2012. We are grateful for the many ways that clergy and laity across Alabama and West Florida seek to live in connection with each other and in mission to the world. We are excited to have Bishop Paul Leeland and his wife, Janet, assigned to our area for another four years and are eager to build upon the foundation that has been laid under his leadership. We sense an excitement at the "even greater things" yet to be done for the Kingdom of God here in the Alabama-West Florida Annual Conference! To God be the glory!


A New Place For New People " The Journey

published 8/9/2012

(Rev. Neil McDavid) - July 1, 2011, The Rev. Sean and Sandra Peters were appointed to the growing Crestview, FL area to plant a new United Methodist Church. The church, The Journey, began public worship gatherings at Crestview High School in January of this year and has grown steadily connecting with new families and offering a variety of opportunities to serve within the community. The Journey Java Connection, the thriving church coffee shop on Main Street in Crestview, is a missional outpost for the church and has helped them connect with artists, musicians, local businesses and hundreds of “locals” in creative and innovative ways. Plans going forward include expanding student ministries, developing more small groups, launching more community development ministries, actively engaging in local mission and finding a permanent home for worship celebrations, discipleship and community ministry. The Journey is reaching out to many unchurched people in the Crestview area and making a significant difference in the life of that community. The Journey speaks of itself in this way, “we are not perfect, and we don’t expect you to be perfect either. We are a group of travelers searching for meaning and purpose in this life. We follow Jesus because we believe He offers it to us.”

To learn more about The Journey go to or check out Facebook at and Also please aware that Pastor Sean tweets at and blogs at

Is your church doing something new like starting a new community of faith, starting a new service, thinking about starting a second campus? What new thing is your church doing to reach new people? Please know I would love to hear about new things you are doing. Contact me at and let me know how you are creating “new places for new people” or post on our conference Facebook page


Wesleyan Wisdom: Ala.-W.Fla. Bishop Shares His Leadership Style

published 8/9/2012

(DONALD W. HAYNES, UMR COLUMNIST) - United Methodists love our bishops. One of the 1808 “Restrictive Rules” was that subsequent General Conference sessions could not “change nor alter any part or rule of our government so as to do away with the episcopacy.”

We usually see our bishops in their role as presiding officers and we are aware of their power to send pastors to local churches, but we seldom witness a bishop baring his or her soul.

At the 2012 Southeastern Jurisdictional Conference, Bishop Paul Leeland, who was assigned to a second four-year term as leader of the Alabama-West Florida Conference, gave this writer an hour and a half of enlightening conversation about his journey as a Christian, his modus operandi as an episcopal leader, and his vision for the church in his area and across the connection.

He states that his credo is to “balance personal humility with professional capability,” and he notes that at every level of connectional ministry, including the bishops, “we must be faithful with the covenant.” Sprinkling his conversation with Scripture references, he cites II Peter 1:8: “If these things are yours and are increasing among you, they keep you from being ineffective and unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
The most influential person upon the young Paul Leeland was his great-grandmother, who reared him and his siblings. She was what early Methodism called a “mother of Israel,” steeped in the scriptures and Wesleyan ideology. Bishop Leeland’s practice of rising early to meditate upon Scripture and his mastery of the biblical idiom is a gift from this woman. Just as young Timothy had his “Eunice and Lois,” the future bishop had a dear saint who “trained up a child in the way he should go” in spite of encumbering circumstances that would have moved many to despair. Bishop Leeland remembers his great-grandmother’s faithful courage as she quoted Exodus 14:13: “Do not be afraid. Stand firm. . . .”

‘Guard your spirit’

“The office defines the person,” Bishop Leeland said, but he warned that the authority of the office must put every bishop on guard “not to be seduced by title, power and position. . . . You must guard your spirit and, as they say in theater, ‘have balcony time’ when you are off the stage and seeing the church as others see it.”

Every day in his morning prayer, the bishop prays for those he will interact with that day—the persons, the anticipated agendas, and any local churches under his shepherding care that might be brought before him. Similar to most bishops, he opens cabinet meetings by receiving reports of pastoral care needs from each district superintendent. Then he calls or writes to each pastor whose family or church is reported to be in need of care.

The bishop often cites Ezekiel 34:8, when the prophet conveys God’s lament that “my shepherds have not searched for my sheep, but the shepherds have fed themselves, and have not fed my sheep.” Just as Ezekiel’s insights came from his pastoral care—“The hand of the Lord being strong upon me, I came to the exiles . . . and I sat there among them. . . .” (Ezekiel 3:14-15)—Bishop Leeland puts a high priority on listening. He meets regularly with retired bishops, retired district superintendents and retired pastors, and has a “laity day apart” to hear the voice of the laity. He senses the danger of a bishop’s losing what he calls the “personal touch,” and he listens to the “engines of the local lay leadership who keep our churches going.”

Bishop Leeland tries to get laity and clergy “on the same page.” He does not embrace the role of “vision caster” so much as he seeks to be a “team builder,” working to get “everyone looking in the same direction.” He requires the executive committee of every conference board and agency to articulate how they are serving local churches. If a connectional body is not enhancing and motivating missional ministry in the local church, he feels we can do without it.

This bishop prefers Acts 11 to Acts 2. It was in Antioch, he notes, that the disciples were first called Christians. It was to Antioch that Barnabas brought Paul from his self-imposed exile. It was from Antioch that Paul, Barnabas, John Mark and Silas launched missionary journeys into Asia Minor and eventually answered the Macedonian call to take the gospel to Europe and the western world. It was in Antioch that Paul brought the first Greeks to live as an inclusive fellowship in Christ. This is our model for ministry today. We must be invitational.

Pastoral accountability

My conversation with Bishop Leeland turned to appointment making, the role of a bishop felt most pointedly by the local churches. Quickly he said, “We must not reward mediocrity; we must reward effectiveness.”

The bishop has resurrected the Town and Country Commission in the Alabama-West Florida Conference, which championed small, rural churches for many years before being scuttled. We cannot abandon God’s historic call for the Wesleyan connectional ministry to provide quality pastoral leadership to churches without regard to their size.

“Small membership need not mean that a church is small in vision and mission,” Bishop Leeland said as he noted that one of the districts in the conference has very few ordained clergy. Our history owes a great debt to the former “local preachers”—part-time and full-time. The bishop meets annually with his megachurch pastors and challenges them to be coaching younger colleagues.

Since district superintendents are the “linchpin of the connection” between the local congregation and the bishop, Bishop Leeland sets for his cabinet a high bar for effective leadership. He meets with each D.S. one-on-one and presses with questions like, “What is your passion?” and “How are you employing and deploying your laity?” and “Are you coasting?” He urges them to show up at barbecues, bazaars and homecomings, even if their presence not “on the program.”

In January he commits time to sit with each D.S. and discuss every potential appointment change, wanting to know the specifics of each perceived need for a pastoral move. He charts the pattern of “dashboard indicators” for that pastor’s track record—attendance, professions of faith, support of the connectional church, missional ministries on both the local and global levels, recurring conflicts, etc. He charts the same information with churches that repeatedly ask for pastoral changes. When the cabinet meets, non-confidential discussions, recommendations and concerns are immediately posted on the conference website—so laity and clergy can “see into the heart” of their superintendents and bishop.

I asked how we can evaluate bishops after they have been assigned to an episcopal post. Bishop Leeland’s response was, “I ask another bishop to meet with my Committee on Episcopacy in my absence.” His colleague then hears about achievements, and any tensions or misunderstandings.
He believes that bishops must be held accountable for effective service, and that “without mutual trust, any relationship breaks down.” He acknowledges that United Methodist bishops have tremendous authority but does not feel that “term episcopacy” is the answer. He is concerned about the potential for “creeping congregationalism” if the United Methodist connection is not both efficient and effective. He laments the tendency of clergy—pastors, superintendents, bishops, agency staffs—to put personal interest, creature comforts and convenience above the covenant to “have done with lesser things.”

Looking ahead

Somewhat surprisingly to me, Bishop Leeland is not that concerned that the “Call to Action” was debated, amended, substituted and finally declared unconstitutional in its final form at the recent General Conference.

First of all, he insists that some of the research done prior to General Conference motivated boards and agencies to trim budgets, cut staff and board membership and become more responsive to the grassroots.

Secondly, he notes that we now have four years to “build vital congregations.” We have models of effective ministry in every type of community; we know what a vital congregation is. Now we have the motivation to be sure that the paradigm and passion of the effective, vital congregation is made the expected norm for every church, regardless of its size or context. “We are a huge flotilla of ships, each with captain and crew,” Bishop Leeland said. “We have 48 months to build from the particular to the general rather than from the general to the particular.”

Lastly I asked if, as a global church, we must allow more structural diversity in order to be culturally relevant and effective. He noted how different our central conference churches are, from the Philippines to Africa to Europe. Our Board of Missions decades ago discovered that we must be sensitive to indigenous cultures. That is true regionally, even in the United States. We must do as our Lord and meet people where they are.
My conversation with the bishop left me with enormous encouragement for our future. God is not finished with United Methodism! “Rise up, ye saints of God! The church for you doth wait, her strength unequal to her task. Rise up and make her great.”

Dr. Haynes is a retired member of the Western North Carolina Conference. He is the author of On the Threshold of Grace: Methodist Fundamentals. Email:


Six Graduate from Course of Study School at Emory

published 8/8/2012

On Friday, August 3, six Alabama-West Florida pastors graduated from the Emory Course of Study School in Atlanta. Five of these graduated from the Basic Course of Study: Dunford Cole, pastor of the Thomaston Charge (Demopolis District); David Hendrix, pastor of Beulah UMC (Montgomery-Opelika District); Ruth Knights, associate pastor of Gulf Breeze UMC (Pensacola District); Joel Wasson, Jr., pastor of Fairview UMC (Montgomery-Prattville District); and Bobby D. Williams, associate pastor of Christ UMC (Mobile District). Robert (Bob) Brown, recently retired, graduated from the Advanced Course of Study School.

Rev. Fred Grady, Chair of the Fellowship of Local Pastors for the AWF Board of Ordained Ministry and Rev. June Jernigan, Director of the Office of Ministerial Services and Assistant to the Bishop, represented the Alabama-West Florida Conference at the graduation ceremony in Cannon Chapel at Candler School of Theology.

The Course of Study School educates and trains local pastors in The United Methodist Church. To be admitted, students must be certified candidates for ordained ministry, have completed the requirements for license as a local pastor, and received endorsement of the annual conference Board of Ordained Ministry.

The five-year Course of Study School is conducted in two, two-week modules each summer for part- and full-time pastors. Successful completion of both modules fulfills one year of study. After completion of this program, students are eligible for the advanced Course of Study School. Candler also offers a Saturday Course of Study program for part-time local pastors.

The Course of Study School at Emory is sponsored by The United Methodist Church Board of Higher Education and Ministry, the Southeastern Jurisdictional Administrative Council, and Candler School of Theology.


{Pictured left to right: David Hendrix, Dunford Cole, Joel Wasson,
Bob Brown, Ruth Knights. Bobby Williams not present}

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