Ordained Deacon Leads a Life of Service

published 10/28/2019
(Kara Witherow for the AWFUMC) - Whether on the plains of Auburn, in the Black Belt of West Alabama, or the deserts of Iraq, there’s one thing in Rev. Lisa Pierce’s life that doesn’t change.

Her passion to serve.

For decades, the driving force of Rev. Pierce’s life has been serving others.

An ordained deacon in the Alabama-West Florida Conference of The United Methodist Church, for more than two decades Rev. Pierce has faithfully lived out the calling she first felt as a sophomore at Auburn University.

As a former Wesley Foundation director at the University of West Alabama, a lieutenant colonel in the Alabama Army National Guard, as director of Alabama Rural Ministry, and as director of Lee County United Methodist Disaster Response, Rev. Pierce epitomizes what Jesus said in Matthew 25: “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”

Gifted in relational ministry with a heart for those in need, Rev. Pierce uses her gifts, graces, and talents to engage in the community, advocate for others, and make disciples and Christian leaders.

“Lisa has a heart for those who are living in impoverished situations and wants to provide safe and dry housing for all folks as well as advocate for helping people to understand poverty more and break the cycle of poverty,” said Rev. Ashley Davis, Director of Connectional Ministries for the Alabama-West Florida Conference. “Lisa’s just amazing.”

With a degree in animal science, Rev. Pierce initially thought she’d live out her calling by working with animals. But God had other plans, and upon graduation, she began serving as the Wesley Foundation director at the University of West Alabama.

“My calling was very broad; it was just a calling to service,” Rev. Pierce said.

While at West Alabama, she was reminded of the spring breaks, winter breaks, and summers spent serving in home repair ministries and, after much research and prayer, Alabama Rural Ministry was launched and welcomed its first four work teams.

“It’s been this experiment that’s been going on ever since,” she said.

This “experiment,” now in its 21st year, has served hundreds of families like Ms. Matthews, a grandmother living on a fixed income who adopted her two grandchildren. When her roof began leaking, Matthews saved money and hired a roofing contractor to fix it. But she still had interior damage she couldn’t afford to repair. Alabama Rural Ministry heard her story and wanted to help.

During the ministry’s twelfth annual “No More Shacks-No More Blue Tarps” fundraiser, Rev. Pierce slept in a tiny, one-room shack with just enough space for a mattress. With open windows and a roof that leaked, the building was Rev. Pierce’s home for five days and five nights.

The fundraiser netted nearly $120,000 to help families in Lee County repair tornado damaged-homes and help end substandard housing in Alabama. Matthews is one of the homeowners who will be helped.

In March, after deadly tornadoes tore through Lee County and destroyed and damaged hundreds of lives and homes, Rev. Pierce was named Lee County United Methodist Disaster Response Director.

Her compassion, coupled with her proven ability to work with under-resourced communities and build strategic community partnerships, made Rev. Pierce an obvious choice, Rev. Davis said.

“We want The United Methodist Church to be the hands and feet of Jesus and offer hope and reconciliation. We want to do everything we can to offer hope and healing,” she said.

In Lee County, where 242 homes were destroyed, 157 had major damage, and another 260 had minor damage, there are still nearly 200 families whose homes were destroyed or suffered major damage who were uninsured or underinsured. Those with unmet needs are being helped by Rev. Pierce and her three case managers.

It’ll be an 18-month to two-year process, but the team is building relationships, helping people access resources, and advocating on homeowners’ behalf.

Rev. Pierce’s faith drives all she does. Living out the greatest commandment – to love God with all her heart, mind, soul, and strength, and to love her neighbor as herself – and the Great Commission – to make disciples – are her life’s focus.

“What I do and what we do is a response to Christ’s love,” she said.

For Rev. Davis, Rev. Pierce is the perfect combination of compassion and strong leadership, the person you want with you during difficult times.

“To borrow a Brené Brown quote, Lisa is somebody who has a soft front but a strong back,” she said. “And maybe more than anybody I’ve ever experienced, Lisa just portrays Jesus.”

For Rev. Pierce, she’s simply loving people, loving God, and following Him.

“I feel like I’ve lived into my calling.”

Veterans Day Reflection and Prayer from Bishop David Graves

published 10/28/2019

This commentary and prayer was originally published on November 8, 2017. We offer it again as a way to honor our veterans

As I travel around the Alabama-West Florida Conference, I meet those who are currently serving in the military and many veterans who have previously served our country, including some who are combat wounded. Rev. John Brooks, AWF Director of Multicultural Ministries, is one such veteran, who was severely wounded in Vietnam. John was told that he would never walk again and never use his left arm after losing his right arm. Today, Rev. John Brooks is a walking miracle. On Monday, November 11th, we recognize Veterans Day, and I encourage you to reach out and thank those who are serving in the military. Moreover, thank those veterans who have served to not only provide us the freedom we enjoy in the United States, but who have given humanitarian aid all across the world and right here at home.

Join me in praying this Veterans Day:

Lord, we are given the assurance in Psalm 23 that you are our Shepherd. You lead us beside the peaceful streams and renew our strength. Even when we walk through dark valleys and the shadow of death, we will not be afraid. Lord, you protect and comfort us. Even in the midst of the enemy, you prepare a feast for us. Your goodness and unfailing love pursues us all the days of our lives. The best is always yet to come because we will live in the house of the Lord forever, for those who live according to your purposes.

When we do not know what to pray for, the Holy Spirit prays for us. We join in prayer to give thanks for Veterans who have sacrificed so much for our freedom and the goodwill of other people. Bless those who serve and who have served, that they might experience the peace that comes from you, the peace that passes all our understanding.


Bishop David Graves
Alabama-West Florida Conference 

New Alabama-West Florida Podcast Series Focuses on Preaching Excellence

published 10/21/2019
The Alabama-West Florida Conference is pleased to announce a new clergy preaching resource. “Word on the Street” is a bi-weekly podcast that was designed to offer unique ways to explore the lectionary text and other relevant passages of the Bible.
“One of our greatest gifts as United Methodist clergy is to be in connection with one another,” said Rev. Ashley Davis, Alabama-West Florida Director of Connectional Ministries. “Preaching is a gift but can also be a daunting task week after week. Our hope is that we can present new ways to consider scripture that will challenge and enhance our weekly sermons.”
In 2018, Bishop David Graves announced four conference staff priorities. One of those is, “to teach, train, and coach to support excellent preaching so that people encounter Jesus and live out the Great Commission.”
“It is common for conference staffs to become overloaded with tasks and projects,” stated Bishop David Graves. “Our collective goal, with significant input from the staff and cabinet, is to prioritize our work in order have the biggest impact on our area. I am thrilled that this is another resource our clergy can count on so that they can continue to excel in preaching. The number one answer when we ask a church what makes a good pastor is relevant and exceptional preaching.”
The idea of the podcast came from Dr. Sam Parkes who is a member of the AWF Preaching Excellence Team and pastor at Mary Esther UMC (FL). He also had vital input into how the resource would be produced and implemented.
“Word on the Street” is hosted by Mary Catherine Phillips, AWF Director of Communications and is produced by Luke Lucas, AWF Communications Specialist.
“It is always rewarding to see a creative vision become a reality,” stated Mary Catherine Phillips. “This series will be new territory for the communications ministry team as this will be our first official podcast. We could not ask for a better team to collaborate with from conception to development to production. In addition to this being a personal area of growth, I look forward to connecting with clergy from around our conference in this unique way.”
The first episode launches today, October 21, 2019, and will be released every other week. Participants are ordained and provisional elders and deacons, licensed local pastors and occasionally a few guests.
To subscribe to the show, search “Word on the Street” on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher or your favorite podcast platform (show is populating out to all platforms and will be available soon). You may also access the podcast through this link

Hurricane Michael Tour Exemplifies Strength of Connection

published 10/17/2019
October 10, 2018, will be a day not easily forgotten for thousands of people along the Gulf Coast. As with any traumatic event, the first year can be the hardest. For Hurricane Michael survivors, the first anniversary was an opportunity to remember the devastation caused by the category five storm and look ahead to better days.
The Alabama-West Florida Conference remembered this historic event in multiple ways and provided video and print resources for local churches to use the weekend prior to the anniversary. In addition to the local church participation, Bishop David Graves spent four weekends over the course of September and October visiting with AWF churches who sustained damage and who helped their communities in the days after the storm.
Bishop Graves visited the following areas:
September 15: Gulf Breeze UMC
September 22: Good News UMC
October 6: Lynn Haven UMC
October 13: Port St. Joe UMC and Apalachicola UMC
Each of these churches ministered to their communities in unique ways. Gulf Breeze UMC and Good News UMC immediately served as supply collection hubs and exhausted their resources and contacts to get supplies where they were most needed. Lynn Haven UMC and Port St. Joe UMC received significant structural damage; yet both congregations have found creative ways to continue ministry. Lynn Haven UMC has met in a parking lot and charter school to ensure that their church family can continue to worship together. Port St. Joe UMC had recently completed a community life center that withstood the strong winds and fared much better than their traditional sanctuary. Although Apalachicola UMC is part of the Florida Conference by a few miles, this congregation continues to help house volunteers and were able to access and provide relief to the Port St. Joe area immediately after the storm. 
“Sometimes, the greatest gift you can give a person is your presence,” stated Bishop David Graves. “It was important for me to personally thank these pastors and congregations for the tireless efforts they have given since October 10, 2018. These pastors have made their churches a priority and some of them still have a long road ahead of them. I wanted to give thanks for their servant hearts. I look forward to spending time on the second anniversary with other churches who also share this burden.”
Rev. Chris Ackerman, who serves as the Hurricane Michael Recovery Director, was a full-time associate pastor at Lynn Haven UMC when the storm hit. “Fifty-three weeks ago I could have never dreamed that I would be dedicating my ministry to the relief efforts,” said Ackerman. “In the days that followed, we didn’t know if we would even have a church, where our paychecks would come from or what the next day would look like. I am forever grateful to a Bishop who showed up days after the storm to assure us we were not alone and one year later to continue to encourage us. He exemplified his continued commitment in the past few weeks by simply being present with us.”
The common thread through the recovery process has been the United Methodist Connection. Through global financial donations, to UMCOR grants, to relief teams, to conference support, the survivors have hope that one day, life might begin to look a little more stable. Until then, the Alabama-West Florida Conference has pledged to walk alongside these communities through the long-term recovery process.
For more information visit

Alabama-West Florida Conference Awarded Grant for Hurricane Michael Recovery Efforts

published 10/10/2019
On the one-year anniversary of Hurricane Michael, the Alabama-West Florida Conference was awarded a $1.125 million-dollar grant from Volunteer Florida Foundation dedicated to repair and rebuild at least 73 homes.

"We are truly humbled to be the recipient of this grant as only four organizations were chosen related to Hurricane Michael," stated AWF Grant Writer, Kristi McClellan. "This grant is a reflection of the strength of our organization, volunteer support and the infrastructure established with the help of UMCOR and their financial support," she explained.

The full press release about today's news is below. 

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Today, the Volunteer Florida Foundation announced that $8 million in Florida Disaster Fund long-term recovery grants will be awarded to organizations engaged in Hurricane Michael and Hurricane Irma long-term recovery efforts. The Volunteer Florida Foundation will distribute $3 million to four organizations engaged in Hurricane Michael recovery efforts and $5 million to ten organizations engaged in Hurricane Irma recovery efforts.

“As we recognize the one-year anniversary of Hurricane Michael, I am pleased to announce that the Volunteer Florida Foundation will be releasing $8 million in long-term recovery grants to support Hurricane Michael and Hurricane Irma recovery efforts,” said Governor Ron DeSantis. “We are committed to ensuring our communities receive the support necessary as we rebuild stronger than ever before. Thank you to the generous individuals who donated to the Florida Disaster Fund and made this support possible.”

The Florida Disaster Fund is the State of Florida’s official private fund established to assist Florida’s communities as they respond to and recover after emergencies or disasters.

“As we reflect on the one year anniversary of Hurricane Michael, the Volunteer Florida Foundation is pleased to announce the award of Florida Disaster Fund grants that will support long-term recovery efforts in the panhandle and areas still recovering from Hurricane Irma,” said Volunteer Florida CEO Clay Ingram. “With the support of Governor DeSantis, Volunteer Florida has been able to continue to assist communities as they rebuild and recover through our Florida Disaster Fund grants and Disaster Case Management Programs.”

The following organizations were awarded Florida Disaster Fund long-term recovery grants to support existing projects that are helping individuals recover from Hurricane Michael:

Alabama-West Florida Conference of the United Methodist Church ($1,125,000)
Alabama-West Florida Conference of the United Methodist Church will repair and/or rebuild at least 73 Hurricane Michael-damaged homes.

Gulf District Schools ($1,125,000)
Gulf District Schools will complete repairs and upgrade existing HVAC units in schools to ensure the health and well-being of staff and students.

The Salvation Army ($600,000)
The Salvation Army will provide resources to those affected by Hurricane Michael who have exhausted all other sources of funding for personal unmet needs, such as rebuild/repair materials, household goods and furniture. The Salvation Army will be able to increase the number of unmet needs cases served from 400 to 600.

Town of Alford, Florida ($150,000)
The Town of Alford will rebuild its volunteer fire station facility. The station was located next to the Town Hall building, which was also severely damaged. The equipment and trucks are being temporarily housed in an open pole barn until the facility can be rebuilt.

The following organizations were awarded Florida Disaster Fund long-term recovery grants to support existing projects that are helping individuals recover from Hurricane Irma:

Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Miami, Inc. ($925,000)
Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Miami, Inc. will provide financial assistance to residents experiencing disaster-caused needs, including rent/mortgage assistance to 60 families throughout Monroe County and infrastructure support to assist an additional 37 units of affordable housing in Monroe County.

Cento Campesino Farmworker Center, Inc. ($750,000)
Centro Campesino Farmworker Center, Inc. will provide comprehensive recovery services to Floridians affected by Hurricane Irma through home repairs and financial assistance.

Florida Presbyterian Disaster Assistance Network, Inc. ($25,000)
Florida Presbyterian Disaster Assistance Network, Inc. will assist Long Term Recovery Groups by connecting them with grants and other resources.

Metropolitan Ministries, Inc. ($100,000)
Metropolitan Ministries, Inc. will prevent families impacted by Hurricane Irma from becoming homeless through prevention assistance programs, such as utility, rental, mortgage and other financial assistance.

Rebuilding Together Broward County, Inc. ($225,000)
Rebuilding Together Broward County, Inc. will serve Irma affected clients by providing utilities assistance, rent support, income replacement, food, clothing, transportation, medical supplies and household items.

Rebuilding Together of Central Florida, Inc. ($225,000)
Rebuilding Together of Central Florida, Inc. will direct/implement critically needed roof replacement projects at the homes of low and very low-income residents/households at no cost to the homeowner. Those served will include qualifying veterans, seniors, single mothers and the disabled, among others.

Star of the Sea Foundation, Inc. ($225,000)
Star of the Sea Foundation, Inc. will purchase and distribute food, primarily locally sourced produce and proteins, to those still recovering from Hurricane Irma.

St. Lucie Habitat for Humanity ($525,000)
St. Lucie Habitat for Humanity will rebuild, repair and fortify Hurricane Irma damaged homes. This will be accomplished by repairing or replacing critically damaged roofs, installing impact windows or hurricane shutters, and repairing or replacing exterior damage.

The Salvation Army ($1,000,000)
The Salvation Army will provide resources to those affected by Hurricane Irma who have exhausted all other sources of funding for personal unmet needs, such as rebuild/repair materials, household goods and furniture. The Salvation Army will be able to increase the number of unmet need cases served from 250 to 500.

Young Adult Missional Movement of the Florida Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church ($1,000,000)
Young Adult Missional Movement of the Florida Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church will support staff delivering holistic disaster services in Hurricane Irma-affected areas, including construction coordination, volunteer management, funding contractual costs and materials/products.

The Florida Disaster Fund long-term recovery grants are awarded through a competitive application process. An additional long-term recovery grant opportunity will be made available by the Volunteer Florida Foundation soon. To learn more about this funding opportunity and others, please sign up for the Volunteer Florida newsletter by clicking here.

Established in accordance with Section 14.29 (9), Florida Statutes, the Volunteer Florida Foundation is a 501(c)(3) organization. The Florida Disaster Fund, administered by the Volunteer Florida Foundation, was established in 2004 to fulfill needs unmet by other disaster relief organizations.

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