Conference News

Foundation Continues to Thrive Through Donor Support

published 8/9/2013

(Meredyth Earnest) - On Thursday, August 1, 2013, the Stegall Seminary Scholarship Endowment Foundation held its annual Dinner of Celebration at the Renaissance Hotel in downtown Montgomery. Nearly 400 supporters - a foundation record - gathered to hear words of thanksgiving from representatives of the 17 seminary students in attendance that evening.

Each year, two extravagantly generous foundation donors underwrite the entire cost of the banquet, ensuring that donations made to the foundation only go directly toward student scholarships. Rev. David Saliba, senior pastor of First United Methodist Church of Greenville, Ala., served as the emcee for the evening. The invocation was given by Brady Baird, pastor of the Summerville Road United Methodist Church in Phenix City, Ala. Baird is a new foundation scholar, and enters Candler School of Theology this Fall.

The highlight of each year’s banquet is the ability for donors to hear firsthand from current seminary students and alumni. This year, four students and one alumna spoke on behalf of the 38 seminary students the foundation currently supports.

Rev. Carolyn Nelson, a native of Prattville, Ala. and foundation alumna, spoke first. Carolyn, currently serving as the associate pastor at St. Luke UMC in Pensacola, Fla., is a graduate of Asbury Theological Seminary. She reminded donors of the importance of the additional benefits their support provides. “The benefits of the Foundation extend beyond financial – they provide special and life giving relationships with donors that provide a connection to home. Through your encouragement, I was able to fulfill the dream God laid upon my heart.”

John Russell, a native of Mobile, Ala., and a current student at Gammon Theological Seminary in Atlanta, Ga., spoke next. Addressing the donors, he said, “Seminary is hard, but this journey is wonderful. I celebrate you on this day. Just continue to do what you do; you’re making a major difference.”

Russell reinforced the idea of partnership between donors and students, saying: “I want to go all the way, and with your support we can go together.”

Woods Lisenby, a native of Dothan, Ala., will begin his third year at Candler School of Theology this fall. He spoke to donors about how their support creates a lasting relationship. “You mean more to me than I can explain. Thank you for being a part of our stories, and letting us be a part of yours.”

Ebb Hagan, a native of Evergreen, Ala. and a student at Princeton Theological Seminary, joined the banquet via a pre-recorded video message. He took the donors on a tour of the seminary and a local church where he interned. Hagan discussed how God had put a call to ministry on his heart, but the real-world financial realities of responding were daunting. “With an undeniable call you have to commit,” he told donors. “It is because of people like you that I’m able to commit to something this big.”

Colby Leonard is a native of Coker, Ala. and a graduate of Huntingdon College. Currently a student at Duke Divinity School, Leonard shared how his experience with the foundation allows him the opportunity to watch God at work through others. “When looking at you, I see people who want to build the church. With whatever gift I have for ministry, I hope to make every one of you proud. It is only because of your generous gifts that I have the opportunity to attend Duke Divinity School. This is an opportunity that my parents – and my grandparents – never even imagined.”

A duet of “You Raise Me Up” was provided by Susan Cooper and Jack Horner, of First United Methodist Church of Montgomery.

Dr. Paulette Thompson, on behalf of the Stegall Seminary Scholarship Foundation board, presented the third annual Spirit of the Foundation Award to Temple Millsap. “This award is designed to give a special recognition to someone whose insight, guidance, and support have furthered the foundation’s capacity to respond to student needs,” said Thompson.

Millsap, who was joined at the banquet by his wife, SuSu, was honored with a standing ovation. “I am speechless. Thank you,” said Millsap when recognized by the crowd. Bishop Paul A. Duffey and Mr. John Bullard are the two previous recipients of the Spirit of the Foundation award.

Introducing the visionary behind the foundation, Rev. Saliba said, “No man has ever worked as passionately or as fervently for a cause without any credit or compensation whatsoever as Dr. Karl Stegall does for the seminary scholarship foundation. He works, he lives, he breathes to support the future of Christ and His church through the education of ministers.”

Dr. Karl K. Stegall, retired Alabama-West Florida Conference pastor and executive director of the Foundation, then took to the stage to share a word with those in attendance. “When we very informally began these dinners in the late 1980s, we had 25 people and tonight we celebrate that we have nearly 400 people,” said Stegall. “However, our job is not finished and I want to challenge you to help me once again.”

Stegall invited the donors to provide a minimum scholarship of $10,000 per year per student. “Will you join me in this effort,” he asked. He went on to share, “I don’t know of a greater investment - I don’t know of a greater feeling that could dwell in your hearts - than that of knowing one day in the future the felling you will know that you have made a financial investment in the life of one of these seminary students who comes to be your pastor.”

In closing, Dr. Stegall introduced Bishop Paul Leeland, resident Bishop of the AWF Conference, to share a few words. “It’s like we’re sitting on the front row of watching what God is doing to build the church,” said Leeland. Leeland then invited each seminary student to join him on the stage as a blessing was said over them.

To view photos of the evening, please click here.

{John Russell, a current Gammon Theological Seminary student, 
speaks to those in attendance.}

Alabama-West Florida Conference Office to Move This Month

published 8/1/2013

(Montgomery, AL) - The Alabama-West Florida Conference of the United Methodist Church is pleased to announce that conference headquarters will be relocating within the Montgomery area. The Conference Board of Trustees, under the leadership of Rev. Debora Bishop, has researched this move for several years. Rev. Bishop stated, "It was our desire to find a location that will be a permanent home for the conference office. We have been renting space for seven years and know that finding a place we can own will allow us to be better stewards of the conference budget. We have diligently explored various options including renovating existing space at a current Methodist facility, building a new site and purchasing an existing office building. The decision to purchase and renovate was made by the members of the Alabama-West Florida Conference in January and is the best fit for the conference in terms of size, price, location and future ministries to our communities."

The new office is located on Woodmere Boulevard in Montgomery and is situated among other professional office buildings. It is convenient to I-85, the Eastern Bypass and Perry Hill Road. In addition to conference staff and the Episcopal Office, the two Montgomery District offices will now be located within this new building.

The official move dates for the conference office are August 14-15. Because the conference computer server is located on site and must move, there will be a brief time where all staff e-mails will be down. Telephone service will also experience a brief outage during these two days. The plan is to be fully accessible by Friday, August 16. A notification will be sent as soon as telephone and e-mail services are fully restored.

The leadership directors of the conference may be reached by cell phone during the move. Those numbers are as follows:
Frank Dunnewind: 334.488.0667
Rev. June Jernigan: 334.324.4820
Rev. Neil McDavid: 251.510.3514
Mary Catherine Phillips: 334.590.5641
Bishop Paul Leeland's calls may be routed through his assistant, Megyn Ard: 334.318.8720.

The new contact information for the conference and Montgomery District offices maybe be found below.
Alabama-West Florida Conference of the United Methodist Church
4719 Woodmere Boulevard
Montgomery, AL 36106
Conference Main Telephone: 334.356.8014
Montgomery-Opelika and Montgomery-Prattville Districts Telephone: 334.239.7329
All e-mail addresses will remain the same. Please call for fax information, if needed.

The conference staff, trustees and leaders look forward to hosting a ribbon cutting and open house on Thursday, September 26 from 10am-2pm. More details about this event are forthcoming. Please make plans to attend this celebratory time of fellowship. 

A Word from the Bishop: Quadrennial Sexual Ethics Training

published 7/26/2013

Dear Colleagues in Ministry:

The Conference Board of Ordained Ministry and I are excited to offer the upcoming quadrennial sexual ethics training this September. I am confident this seminar will broaden our understanding of how we appropriately work within our appointed areas of ministry and interact with our church members.

It is a pleasure to welcome Rev. Dr. Karen McClintock, a United Methodist elder and clinical psychologist to the Alabama-West Florida Conference. She is currently in clinical practice and adjunct professor in the psychology department at Southern Oregon University. Dr. McClintock has worked with a number of our United Methodist Conferences, each offering affirmation for her leadership and understanding of the unique challenges of clergy life.

For your convenience, three dates and locations have been arranged to accommodate your personal schedules: Saturday, September 14; Monday, September 16; and Tuesday, September 17th. Seating is limited to 200 in each setting, so if there is a specific date that is more conducive to your schedule, you may want to register immediately. These dates have been offered to ensure your participation.

You may not be aware, but in the brief time I have served as the Bishop of the Alabama-West Florida Conference, I have received eight complaints of sexual misconduct in our conference. There is one case in legal litigation at this time, and one which is being threatened. In both of these cases the minister and the local church have been named in the lawsuit for the purpose of seeking damages. For this reason, this is one of the very few offerings extended to you that is mandatory. All clergy must participate which ensures our conference, our legal counsel, and our insurance partners that all clergy have received the same information. Pastor Parish Relations Committees (PPR & SPRC) are being notified of this required attendance so they will understand your participation is required.

Dr. McClintock will speak to us about congregations at risk, clergy at risk, and how we might lower the risk of public scandals and litigation.

To register for this event, please go to I look forward to an educational day together in addition to a time of Christian fellowship. As always, I am grateful to you for your faithfulness and fruitfulness in all things; even the things that prepare us for a greater ministry and stronger covenant.

In Appreciation,
Paul L. Leeland
Resident Bishop 

Jackie Robinson and Evangelism

published 7/12/2013

(Rev. Frederick Outlaw) - A couple of months ago, with the beginning of major league baseball, I had some free time and decided to go to the movies. As I was driving to the theater a ministerial colleague called and we began a conversation. My friend asked, "What are you into?” My reply was, "I am going to the movies." He responded, “Are you going to see 42?" I said, “No, I prefer an earlier film, The Soul of the Game.” Further, I explained how this depiction captured Jackie Robinson’s entrance into the Negro Baseball League after his discharge from the Army for taking a stand against some discriminatory practices. At that time, Jackie Robinson played for the Kansas City (MO) Monarchs, of which Mobile native Satchel Paige was the star pitcher. The conversation continued about Jackie Robinson, the integration of the major leagues and eventually the United Methodist Church.

I arrived at the theater, bought a ticket to see another film. While sitting in the dark watching trailers for upcoming movies, the plight of Jackie Robinson got me to thinking on a definition of evangelism from a Huffington Post blog, “Evangelism is crucial for the church not just because Christians have something to share but because the church needs those whose presence has always been intended but who have not found their way to where they have always belonged. Evangelism is more about taking down our road blocks, barriers, and prejudices that keep people out than it is persuading people to come in. It is part of the nature of Christianity to always draw the circle wider. But expanding the circle can be uncomfortable and conflictual.”

The film 42 celebrates Jackie Robinson’s courageous crossing of major league baseball’s color line. The film The Soul of the Game chronicles the anticipation of the best players in the Negro Baseball League waiting for the call to cross the color line. Jackie Robinson was not the best African American baseball player in 1946. He was a rising talent in development. But, he was willing to help Branch Rickey take down road blocks, barriers and prejudices which were keeping a specific group of players out. Branch Rickey’s and Jackie Robinson’s mission was to draw the circle wider. Both men recognized the consequences of their actions would make people uncomfortable and lead to conflict. Yet they covenanted together to be “evangels” for major league baseball in the United States of America.

Almost some 60 years later, we as the United Methodist Church find ourselves renewing our commitment, vision and mission to evangelistically make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. We are discerning the adaptive challenge for our specific congregations within the Alabama-West Florida Conference. The more and more I resource, or coach, local congregations, the road blocks, barriers and prejudices in each area, though different, become clearly apparent. We must be courageous and embrace whatever the crisis is in our local congregation. To follow Jesus, we are going to go through some crisis events, crisis moments. We must embrace the crisis in our local congregations. We can get through it. God is there, if we embrace the crisis. The road blocks, barriers, and prejudices–problems–we face today cannot be solved by the exact thinking and behavior which led to them in the first place.

The story of Branch Rickey and Jackie Robinson can be seen as analogous to evangelism in the 21st century. They were willing and obedient to take the risk to avoid the decline and appeal of major league baseball. Consequently, for Methodism to avoid our spiritual cliff, we must go and do what God has commanded us to do, "Be my disciples." Thus, by being disciples of Jesus Christ we become transforming agents of God to the world.

“…Blessed are you when men revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so men persecuted the prophets before you…”- Matthew 5:11-12 RSV

As a member of the team at our Conference Resource Center, I look forward to assisting local congregations discern the way forward in bringing down the road blocks, barriers, and prejudices in order to become a vital effective evangelistic congregation. Somebody is knocking at our doors. It sounds like Jesus Christ. We must let Him come in.

Your consideration in this matter will be greatly appreciated.

In the love of Christ!


Mission Day at Annual Conference: How Was Your Church Inspired?

published 6/25/2013

(Susan Hunt) - I have received great feedback from the Mission Day experience during Annual Conference. Many delegates, both clergy and lay, have told me that their chosen project was very meaningful and enjoyable. That is music to my ears! We had a great team of people doing their best to make it a good day, so your positive reports mean that all the hard work paid off. As best we can count, there ended up being approximately 600 delegates participating in the 20 different projects.

The purpose of the day was not just to participate in an outreach project for one afternoon. While it was wonderful that the delegates spent that time in service, the bigger goal was for all churches to be inspired to take what they learned back home with them. That might mean a church initiating their first mission project or adding a new element to a current ministry, or anything in between.

Many churches in our conference already have outreach and mission as part of their DNA and therefore the day was nothing new. However, other congregations have no organized mission and outreach program, or have only a few projects they do. For those churches Mission Day was a good opportunity to gain new ideas and insights on how they can be salt and light in their own communities.

One church was inspired from the day’s experience to organize their own day of service in their community this coming fall. They will be holding a potato drop of their own, and are investigating other new ways to reach out to their community.

Was your church inspired? What new things did you learn that you will now incorporate in your own community? What new partnerships of ministry will your church form? Please share in the comments section about what difference the “mission day” experience has or will make in your own church and community.


{Photo by Luke Lucas}

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