Statement from SEJ Heads of Delegation regarding Protocol

published 1/29/2020
We, the undersigned SEJ Lay and Clergy Heads of Delegations, affirm the work done on the ‘Protocol of Grace & Reconciliation Through Separation’ and recommend the Protocol be among the first legislative items considered by General Conference 2020.  We look forward to seeing the related legislation and give thanks to those who did this work on our behalf. 
SEJ Lay and Clergy Heads of Delegations who support this statement include:
Larry Bryars, Clergy, Alabama West Florida Annual Conference
Molly McEntire, Lay, Florida Annual Conference
Alex Shanks, Clergy, Florida Annual Conference
Emily Ballard, Lay, Holston Annual Conference
Kim M. Goddard, Clergy, Holston Annual Conference
Alan Beuscher, Lay, Kentucky Annual Conference
Bill Arnold, Clergy, Kentucky Annual Conference
David Reed, Lay, Memphis Annual Conference
Autura Eason-Williams, Clergy, Memphis Annual Conference
David Stotts, Lay, Mississippi Annual Conference
Fred Britton, Clergy, Mississippi Annual Conference
Steve Lyles, Lay, North Alabama Annual Conference
Glenn Conner, Clergy, North Alabama Annual Conference
Christine Dodson, Lay, North Carolina Annual Conference
Jane Finley, Lay, North Georgia Annual Conference
Byron E. Thomas, Clergy, North Georgia Annual Conference
Marilyn R. Osborne, Lay, Red Bird Missionary Conference
Robert Amundsen, Clergy, Red Bird Missionary Conference
Bill Hatcher, Lay, South Georgia Annual Conference
Jim Cowart, Clergy, South Georgia Annual Conference
Jim Allen, Lay, Tennessee Annual Conference
Harriet Bryan, Clergy, Tennessee Annual Conference
Warren R. Harper, Lay, Virginia Annual Conference
Tom Berlin, Clergy, Virginia Annual Conference
Jennifer Davis, Lay, Western North Carolina Annual Conference
Kimberly T. Ingram, Clergy, Western North Carolina Annual Conference

A Word from the Bishop: Prayers for the AWF Conference Appointment Process

published 1/27/2020


Currently the cabinet, pastors, staff-parish committees, and churches are working on the upcoming appointment year: July 2020 to June 2021. To inform you of our process, but most importantly to ask for your prayers, I want to share the following:

The cabinet, consisting of the eight district superintendents, Rev. June Jernigan, and myself will be working to make over 575 appointments between now and annual conference, scheduled for June 7-9. There will be times when we ask Rev. John Brooks, director of multicultural ministries, and Rev. Bill Kierce, director of congregational development, to meet with us as we seek to become more aware of diversity while also being mindful of church starts. Yet it is only the cabinet who will be projecting the appointments. It is a vital process that involves thousands of lives and is why I seek your prayers.

There are many factors that go into this process which include retirements; churches open by the death of a pastor; pastors leaving our annual conference; local church needs and concerns; pastors’ needs and concerns; and family considerations, to name a few. The combination of these circumstances leads to many emotions. I understand that, as I, too, come from a local United Methodist Church that saw pastors come and go. I have seen churches decline when a pastor leaves, while I have seen other churches experience renewal when a new pastor arrives. Our United Methodist appointment process is like no other mainline denomination. What complicates this year’s process is the uncertainty around an historic upcoming General Conference in May.  

What I have come to learn and have experienced is that the Holy Spirit is in this process. As unusual as it may seem, I have been so blessed by my appointment-making time. It is sacred work and the Alabama-West Florida Conference has a Godly cabinet that makes our work deep and rich. Please pray for us!

To help guide your time of prayer, let me share how we will do our work:

First, we have been working our appointment process since this past November. In our January 22-24 cabinet meetings, each district superintendent shared about their district and possible needs and concerns that could take place around next year’s appointments. We talked about possible clergy couple moves; seminary students graduating and seeking their first appointment; and those going to licensing school and seeking their first appointment. Senior pastors with an associate have shared with me and the district superintendent their needs around the associate pastor appointment. We have people wanting to transfer into the conference and those who seek to transfer out. The list of parameters we encounter is endless, and General Conference could potentially alter our work later this year.  

In January, we took our November and December conversations to a deeper level. District superintendents will complete their pastor consultations in January, pastor-parish committees will meet to evaluate their pastoral needs and conversations will take place in which I or the district superintendent are involved.

February 11-12: We will gather and mark our worksheet consisting of each church and pastor. We will mark a “return” meaning the pastor is projected to go back to the church they are serving. We will mark “open” due to retirement, death, or the pastor has left. “Move” indicates the pastor will be moving from their present appointment or “either,” means the pastor could stay or move. We mark them in pencil as move statuses could change based on shifting needs and conversations. Approximately 75-80% of pastors will be marked R (return). We will begin to make some appointment projections; we may or may not communicate them out of the cabinet.

February 25-26: We will hear feedback from conversations over the previous two weeks. We will also hear a report on the work of the AWF Bishop’s Task Force around plans and the protocol coming before the General Conference in May.  We will make more appointment projections. Again, we may or may not communicate them out of the cabinet. 

March 10-12: The cabinet will project most of the appointments during these days.

March 23-25: Those pastors moving will get a phone call from their district superintendent to set a meeting to go over their projected appointment and pastor-parish chairs will be called and told of the projected appointment. The full SPRC will be informed and instructed to keep the appointment confidential.

April 1-2: The cabinet meets to review all projections and to make any adjustments. Following April 2, pastors and churches are free to communicate publicly the new appointment unless otherwise directed by the district superintendent.

April 3-June 7: The cabinet will continue to work at filling part-time appointments and other situations that might arise as pastoral introductions are made.

April 21: We will hold a Pastoral Transition Event with all clergy receiving a new appointment, which will help them in their move so that all may have a successful start.

In some churches we will be doing a new process called “off-boarding” to help churches prepare for a new pastor and in other places on-boarding to help the new pastor move into their new appointment. Furthermore, there will be a Beginning Pastors Workshop for those who have their first appointment. That date will be released in late winter.

As you see, the appointment process involves most of our year with February and March being the most intense months of our work. In my mind, it is the most important work we do and one that I want to live into God’s will. I feel it is important to be transparent to all our clergy and congregations.

We need and appreciate your prayers.

In Christ,
Bishop David Graves
Resident Bishop
Alabama-West Florida Conference

Southeastern Jurisdiction Leaders Collaborate in Montgomery

published 1/16/2020
The 2020 Southeastern Jurisdiction (SEJ) Leadership Gathering was held in Montgomery, AL, January 7-9. SEJ Bishops, Directors of Connectional Ministries, Lay Leaders and the Committee on Episcopacy gathered from nine states and fourteen conferences to worship, collaborate in ministry, and discuss the current climate of the United Methodist Church.
The meeting was organized by Bishop David Graves, SEJ College of Bishops President, and Claire Bowen, a layperson from North Georgia who has implemented the on-boarding process in this jurisdiction. Each day provided an opportunity to express ideas, collaborate with the whole group while also seeing world renowned sights in Montgomery. “Our goal for this meeting was to understand one another, celebrate our collective journey and help one another lead our conference, jurisdiction and denomination in the best way possible,” said Bishop David Graves. “I could not be more pleased with the outcome of the meeting and it is indicative that the Holy Spirit was at the epicenter of the entire week.”
The latest United Methodist proposal, released just days prior to the meeting, provided ample discussion. Bowen was able to quickly shift and provide a framework for each of the four sub groups to discuss this new legislation in their respective groups. At the conclusion of the meeting on Thursday, with input from all four groups, the SEJ Committee on Episcopacy provided a statement that will guide their work at the upcoming SEJ Conference in July 2020 at Lake Junaluska
Numerous members of the conference support staff played an instrumental part in organizing and executing the event. Celeste Eubanks, Director of Leadership Strategies, was instrumental in planning this outing as well as many other key segments of the week. Perhaps the most moving part of the meeting was the trip to the National Memorial for Peace and Justice (informally referred to as the lynching memorial) and the Legacy Museum. “Montgomery is often called the birthplace of the civil rights movement,” Eubanks said. “We felt it important to take our guests to one of the most poignant sites in Montgomery. People have come from all over the world to see the memorial and museum. Both are a sobering reminder of where we have been and what we as church leaders must insure is not repeated in the future.”
Bishop Sharma D. Lewis, Resident Bishop of the Virginia Conference was in attendance and found the visit to the Equal Justice Initiative Memorial moving. “I could not predict the emotions it stirred within me as an African American woman. The displays and images of hatred and violence in many counties across the Southeast including Bulloch, my birth county, was a reminder of our turbulent history.” The spouses in attendance were also treated to a backstage tour of the highly acclaimed Alabama Shakespeare Festival as well as a visit to the Rosa Parks Museum.
First United Methodist Church Montgomery, under the leadership of Rev. Jay Cooper, hosted a celebration of ministry dinner on Tuesday night and displayed outstanding hospitality. Dr. James Seay directed the cathedral choir, which provided entertainment during dinner. The dinner focused on four ministry spotlights of the Alabama-West Florida Conference: 
Rev. Chris Ackerman spoke about the Hurricane Michael recovery efforts; 
Celeste Eubanks spoke about “AWF Then and Now” focused on racial reconciliation and the efforts within AWF on that topic; 
Daphne Johnston, lay person and now founder and director of Respite for All Foundation, presented on the nationally recognized adult respite dementia program that started as a mere dream and vision in the local church;
and Katy Wrona, Director of Communities of Transformation, presented about this ministry that was launched out of the AWF Conference and how it walks alongside families to move them from poverty to independence.
Bishop Ken Carter of the Florida Conference presented a check on behalf of the the Florida Conference to Bishop Graves for hurricane relief efforts in the amount of $100,234.
The next meeting of this group will be held in January 2021 in the Kentucky Conference.

Click here to see photos by Luke Lucas. 

Disaster Response Update

published 1/13/2020

As we remember 2019 and move forward into 2020, we want to thank all of our churches and partners such as UMCOR, Volunteer Florida, and the Florida Annual Conference for supporting disaster response in Alabama-West Florida.  The destruction and loss in many areas throughout our conference has been overwhelming, but you have helped the United Methodist Church to be a beacon of hope and healing. In the past year your support has made the following possible:
-$602,849.12 in salary support for churches (13) who would have had to lay off staff immediately after the hurricane;
-$94,779.76 to replace personal items lost by pastors ($300,000 will be given out when all receipts are in);
-$53,000 spent on clergy health and well-being for those affected areas (17 pastors);
-$381,507.04 church repair (18 churches);
-147 families assisted (cases closed) with 245 cases currently in process;
-69 homes repaired/completed;
-9 new homes in the process of being rebuilt (active construction on these);
-25 Hurricane Michael staff/8 Lee County staff;
-2,986 volunteers. 
In this new year, we ask for your continued prayers and support of disaster response ministry. There is much to do and most importantly we want to be those who walk alongside survivors and help them realize just how resilient they are.  
Below are links to give and volunteer. We continue to welcome donations to our conference and to UMCOR.

Click here to donate to the AWF in-conference relief efforts

Click here to donate to UMCOR

Click here to volunteer

A Special Word from Bishop David Graves

published 1/8/2020


Last week the United Methodist Church was in the national media headlines regarding a potential split in the denomination. A press release about a proposed agreement for separation sparked this media attention. Many of the secular headlines caused confusion, as they often do.
I am sure by now many of you have read these articles, commentaries, blogs and opinions about this new proposal. It is often my preference to prayerfully reflect before I comment in haste. I am grateful for the space you allowed me to do this. This past Sunday we celebrated Epiphany and I have found myself reflecting on Matthew chapter 2 where the wise men follow the light of the star. I would respectfully ask each of us to consider where we need to seek God’s light as we move through 2020. It will be imperative that we look for those Epiphany moments only God can provide.
First, the most important thing to understand about this proposal is that it is another piece of legislation that will come before the 2020 General Conference delegates. As a reminder, General Conference is the only voting body that can consider structural and policy change to our denomination. The next meeting is in May in Minneapolis, MN. The Alabama-West Florida elected four clergy and four lay delegates to represent us at this upcoming gathering. At this point, the proposal is something that will have to be voted upon by our delegates and the other 854 delegates in May. No changes to our denomination have been made thus far.
Next, there were many voices at the table to craft this proposal including Bishops, denominational leaders and representatives of interest groups. This shows me that progress has been made in allowing each of us to minister in the best way we feel God has called us to lead. However, as with any group, even within interest groups, people are not of one mind. Therefore, it remains to be seen if this proposal will be adopted by the aforementioned delegates. As with any legislation, it can be amended, passed or rejected.
If I can speak honestly, this proposal has caused a lot of emotional pain for me. Whether you were born a United Methodist or have recently found your place in our connection, you grieve the possibility of a denominational split. I have the same questions and uncertainty as many of you. You might be asking, “What does this mean for my church, my pastor, my ministry, my job, my calling to help others?” These are just a few uncertainties that I have heard from many of you. As your Bishop, I prefer to lead you in the best way I can but I simply cannot answer these questions, yet. What I do know is that the hope I have is in God.
This week we have had the honor of hosting the 2020 annual Southeastern Jurisdiction Bishops and conference leaders in Montgomery. As you might expect, we have discussed this proposal in depth and will continue to do so. There are so many questions and ideas to consider. Most importantly, how do we work best for the Kingdom?
I have asked time and time again that you remain focused on the mission of our church. The work of the local church is the heart of this denomination. I respectfully and humbly ask you to continue this work. Believe it or not, there are many United Methodist members sitting in your pews who know nothing about this plan, or any other plan. They come to church each week to hear and see the good news of Jesus Christ. Continue to lead these people in a way that is a reflection of Jesus’ love.
In my 41 years of ministry, this is one of the most uncertain times I’ve witnessed. The next few months will be emotional, challenging and exhausting. As your Bishop, I offer myself in any way to help you continue fruitful ministry in your corner of the world. I will be transparent with you and will communicate with you when appropriate.
I ask for your prayers and in turn, I will pray for you daily. Together, let us glorify Christ and show the world the best United Methodists have to offer.
In Christ,
David W. Graves
Resident Bishops
Alabama-West Florida Conference 

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