Conference News

Pastors/Volunteers Install New Fountain at Wesley Gardens Retirement Community

published 6/20/2013

(Sherri Easdon, UMCH) - Residents at Wesley Gardens in Montgomery will soon hear the relaxing sound of cascading water from a new courtyard fountain, thanks to the efforts of area pastors, and volunteers and donors.

Among those getting their hands dirty at the installation on May 2 were Frazer UMC Adult Education Minister Charles Wise, Joel Epler (son of Frazer associate pastor Dr. Neil Epler), Rev. Stan Mullins, a resident of Wesley Gardens and the community’s Chaplain, along with the community’s maintenance supervisor Chris Polk and his friend Joe Riley. Larry Summerlin, contractor for the recently constructed Life Enrichment Center at Wesley Gardens, donated his time and the use the heavy equipment to lift the fountain into place, saving Wesley Gardens plenty of money and man hours.

Rev. Stan Mullins spearheaded the effort to raise money for the fountain project at Wesley Gardens, an assisted living retirement community, which is part of Methodist Homes of Alabama and Northwest Florida.

“I looked out at the courtyard and said to myself, this place needs a fountain,” said Rev. Mullins. “We want to build a community and get people more interested in what’s going on.” He then contacted his daughter, an attorney, who composed a letter that went out to 75 of Rev. Mullins’ former church members and friends. In 3 weeks they held $1,600 toward the purchase of the fountain.

“The fountain will make residents want to go outside, stand close to it, watch it, walk around it,” said Rev. Mullins. It’s good for mental health and disposition.”

Randy Allen, Wesley Gardens’ administrator, said that the test run on the fountain showed that it is working great. “With just a few final touches, the fountain and pool should be fully operational in another week or so,” Mr. Allen said. “Once the fountain is running, we will plan a courtyard reception to thank the pastors, donors and volunteers who helped make the fountain a reality.”


2013 Annual Conference: In Brief

published 6/6/2013

The 2013 Alabama–West Florida Annual Conference was held June 2-5 in Mobile, AL, with the theme, “The Great Commission: Seeking Disciples.” Bishop Paul L. Leeland, presiding over his fifth annual conference session since becoming the resident bishop, welcomed clergy and lay members to Christ UMC in Mobile. 

Prior to this year’s conference, Bishop Leeland urged the churches of the conference to receive a special offering for Hurricane Sandy Relief. The people of the AWF Conference responded by contributing over $46,000. The offering collected at the ordination and commissioning service for the Ministerial Education Fund collected close to $2,500. A special offering for the Oklahoma tornado survivors was collected on Wednesday. Over $6,500 was generously donated. 

The 2013 Annual Conference session was opened on Sunday evening with hundreds from throughout the conference gathering for worship. Bishop Lindsey Davis of the Louisville area preached the sermon based on Matthew 28: 18-20 and entitled, "Our Primary Task." He encouraged our conference to, "Make sure everyone in your congregation knows what you are about--it's making disciples. In this day of bombarding messages, you just have to be basic. We're here to make disciples." He continued saying, "Everything else that distracts us from our primary task; we need to quit doing. The United Methodist Church cannot afford vision slippage. We must have clarity so that we all carry this message in our DNA." Combined choirs from Christ UMC provided inspiring music for the service including moving renditions of, "No Other Name" and "10,000 Reasons." The Toulminville-Warren Street UMC choir was a special addition to this year's opening worship and was shown appreciation from the congregation with a standing ovation. 

One deacon in full connection and seven elders in full connection were ordained and two provisional deacons and five provisional elders were commissioned on the evening of June 3 at Dauphin Way UMC. One associate member was also presented. Prior to the start of the service, the chancel choir, brass quintet and men's ensemble of Dauphin Way UMC presented worshipful music led by John Ricketts.

Thirty-five clergy and clergy spouses who died in the past year were remembered during a Service of Commemoration and Holy Communion.  Rev. Debora Bishop of Spanish Fort UMC offered the inspiring sermon based on I Peter 5: 1-3 entitled, "Celebrating Examples to the Flock." She featured each person who had passed in a special way by telling of their past achievements. A capacity crowd remembered those that have given many years of service to the conference. Surviving family members were hosted at a special luncheon by the AWF Commission on Archives and History. 
Twenty-two clergy retiring this conference year were honored on Monday, June 3. Together, they represent over 600 years of combined service to the United Methodist Church. Rev. Ron Ball spoke on behalf of the retiring class.

During his Episcopal address, Bishop Leeland acknowledged the clergy of our conference by having them stand and mentioned the sacrifices and stress often not seen by others. He expressed a moment of gratitude for starting eleven new churches within our conference and informed the congregation that the conference was starting a full-time, African American church in the coming year. As part of his address he invited Brandy Cole, wife of Rev. Dunford Cole, to lead the conference in a Service of Repentance and Reconciliation for Native Americans. 

Over 500 people were the hands and hearts of Christ in the City of Mobile as a part of 2013 Mission Day. A total of over 1,500 combined volunteer hours were spent on 20 projects. This effort was led by Susan Hunt, AWF Director of Mission & Advocacy. Close to 1,500 UMCOR relief kits were assembled as part of this day and will be sent to the warehouse for immediate use.  

The Conference was honored and blessed by the outstanding leadership of several guest speakers. Dr. David Cann, the Cornelius & Dorothye Henderson Chair/E. Stanley Jones Professor of Evangelism at Interdenominational Theological Center led two Bible Study sessions. Bishop Lindsey Davis of the Kentucky Conference preached the opening worship service as well as the Ordination & Commissioning Service. Our conference was honored to welcome back home Dawn Wiggins Hare, General Secretary of the General Commission on the Status and Role of Women, who gave an informative church structure presentation at the laity session. 
Several awards were given to recognize outstanding leadership and service in the conference. President Cam West of Huntingdon College received the Francis Asbury Award and Norma Taylor Mitchell received the Alice Lee Award. There were four recipients of the Denman Evangelism Award: The clergy winner was Rev. Jeremy Mount of Perdido Bay UMC. Lay recipients were Mark Jackson of Mulder Memorial UMC, Robert Powell of Dothan First United Methodist Church and Brooke Herndon of Chickasaw UMC (youth winner). The Bishop's Award of Excellence in scouting was presented to Julie Grace of Gulf Breeze UMC for her leadership. Tripp Gulledge, son of Rev. Rob Gulledge, spoke to the laity about his involvement in scouting. He became an Eagle Scout at age 16 and has not allowed the fact the he is blind to stand in the way of his achievements.
Spiritual directors from around the conference led prayers at the beginning of all sessions and a compelling addition again to this year's conference was the showing of eight district videos that informed the conference about how each district seeks disciples. To see the video archive, click here
Dr. Steve Furr and Dr. Larry Bryars presented the proposed constitutional amendments from the 2012 General Conference. All were approved by the voting body of the annual conference.
A total of four petitions and two resolutions were presented to the annual conference. Three petitions were not passed, one was approved and two resolutions were approved. The petition approved allows a task force to "craft the guidelines by which persons (who wish to make known their desire and willingness to serve as a clergy delegate to the General and/or Jurisdictional Conferences) are provided the opportunity to share information about themselves through the conference website." If adopted at the 2014 annual conference, it would be in time for the 2015 election cycle in our conference. One resolution passed, "calls upon the Alabama delegation to the United States Congress and the Florida delegation to the United States Congress to join in a Congressional effort to pass Federal immigration laws that provide for compassion, respect, and justice for immigrant children, workers, and their families." The other resolution passed calls upon the Alabama Legislature to, "pass appropriate legislation to curb the activities of predatory lenders."

Dr. Lawson Bryan reported on the Apportionment Task Force that met to determine the fairness of the current formula (75% is financial strength and 25% is membership). They studied the other conferences within the Southeastern Jurisdiction as a comparison.The recommendation is to continue use of the formula as a fair calculation. Dr. Wesley Wachob reported on the task force that met to determine the salaries of district superintendents. They took the average top 25 clergy salaries (excluding district superintendents and conference staff) and made that the salary of the district superintendent, which is $113, 637. The old formula took the top three salaries in each district. Dr. Robbins Sims reported a 4.28% increase in conference apportionments.

The conference established an $11.109 million budget for mission and ministry for 2014, level with 2013. 

Membership stands at 145,049, down 1 % from the previous year. Worship attendance stands at 65,781, up 1%. Church school attendance stands at 26,830, down 5%. Covenant discipleship groups stand at 8,553, down 8%. Two areas that showed increases were Participants in Christian Formation Groups and Number of Persons Baptized; 70,042, 7% increase and 2,154, 9% increase, respectively.

The clergy appointments for 2013-2014 may be found online here

The 2014 session of the AWF Annual Conference will be held June 1-4, 2014, at Frazer Memorial UMC. Montgomery First United Methodist Church will host the Ordination Service. We express our sincere appreciation to the Christ United Methodist Church Leadership Team and Rev. Jeff Spiller for their hospitality during this year's annual conference.

A downloadable pdf recap that can be used in your upcoming church bulletins can be found here. Full coverage of the 2013 AWF Annual Conference may be found at To see photos taken by Luke Lucas, click here.   



QuadW Foundation awards an additional $718,000

published 5/30/2013

The Mobile District is pleased to announce the QuadW Foundation’s continued and expanded support of local mission work in our area as well as providing for the expansion of the QuadW Missional Internship program. Specifically, the grant funds:

- Staff support and stipends for up to 28 college-aged interns each summer for the next five years. These interns serve God in Mobile’s inner city communities, live in Christian community, and are trained as missional leaders.
- Expansion of the QuadW Missional Internship to Kansas City, Kansas in 2013. This represents the first expansion of the internship outside of Mobile. Funding is for up to twelve interns.
- Support for a cooperative effort between the General Board of Global Missions and the Mobile District to pilot new approaches in Young Adult Missions programs. As part of this effort, the district requested and received three GBGM missionaries– Deborah Strausbaugh, and Ash and Stephanie Norton. The pilot program incorporates the components of the existing internship for college students.
- Salary for Rev. Don Woolley to serve as Director of QuadW. He is charged with expanding the QuadW Missional Internship to additional cities, while coordinating local mission work in the Mobile District and overseeing the work of local GBGM Young Adult Missionaries.

The money is specifically granted to “Open Doors – United Methodists on Mission” – a 501c3 recently established under the oversight of the Mobile District’s Board of Mission and Church Extension. The mission of Open Doors is to “fully engage United Methodists in expressing God’s love by sharing the good news of Jesus Christ through holistic ministries that transform our communities.” Our district is excited about the creative ministries fostered by Open Doors both in support of existing agencies and to launch new initiatives.

Finally, we are very grateful that the QuadW Foundation granted our request to rename the internship in honor of Willie Tichenor, who died of osteosarcoma on March 15, 2006 at age 19. The QuadW Foundation itself was established to carry on Willie’s desire to make positive changes in the world around him, and the question “What Would Willie Want?” guides the Foundation’s work. We encourage you to see to learn more about Willie, QuadW, and the incredible efforts they support. We deeply appreciate the opportunity to partner with them in this God-honoring, Kingdom expanding work! 

A Word from the Bishop: EF-4

published 5/21/2013

EF-4 is the designation used to describe a storm whose winds reach 200 miles an hour. Yesterday, May 20, 2013, such a storm devastated Oklahoma. This will be an epic disaster, a tornado that at one point was two miles wide, scorched twenty miles in length, and continued for at least 45 minutes.

What has happened is hard to put into words. It is truly an unspeakable, horrific, tragedy. We are once again thrust into a nightmare where the natural forces of nature remind us how vulnerable we really are. The pictures themselves are a shock to our senses, creating a surreal picture of life the day after EF-4.

The exact number of deaths and those who were injured by this storm will be determined by the officials. As of Monday evening, news services report 51 deaths, at least 20 of them children. Now it becomes urgent for trained personnel to get into these areas. Families looking for family, hoping against hope.

In this storm we can see our fears – it is possible to literally lose everything. Nothing is left. Still, we live in anticipation some will be rescued.

Now is the time:
To offer prayers
Offer supplies
Organize aid
Wait for the shock to wear off
Give thanks for those with special training for search, rescue, and recovery
Begin the clean-up of massive debris.

When we are in shock and grief it is difficult to hear the words of God’s Presence and Love. We must act out of Christian compassion first, remembering God is present with us no matter how horrific our circumstances. In time we pray others will see God’s compassion through our spontaneous response. A special account is available for immediate gifts. You may send to our conference office or directly to UMCOR.

Alabama-West Florida Conference
100 Interstate Park, Suite 106
Montgomery, AL 36109
(please label checks for UMCOR Oklahoma disaster)

Or, you may make a direct donation to UMCOR by using this link. 100% of your donation goes to those in need. 

Now, let the Church come forward with deep compassion to manifest the deep love of the God, the God who also suffered and died that we might have life. Our feeble efforts, joined with thousands of others, will emerge as the signs of hope and new life.

One young girl, speaking to MSNBC News Service, said, “I had to hold onto a wall to keep me safe.” Let us send Oklahoma “Walls of Love” through our support.

When we are in shock and grief we cannot find the words that need to be spoken; we have no voice; we cannot pray. This week, many families will gather in our churches, sharing relationships with those who live in Oklahoma. They will look to us as their minister to express the words they need to hear. With no words, no voice, and uncertainty, we allow the Church to pray in our place. Here is my prayer:

“O God, our help in ages past, our hope for years to come, our shelter from the stormy blast, and our eternal home!
Under the shadow of thy throne, still may we dwell secure; sufficient is thine arm alone, and our defense is sure.
Before the hills in order stood, or earth received her frame, from everlasting, thou art God, to endless years the same.
A thousand ages, in thy sight, are like an evening gone; short as the watch that ends the night, before the rising sun.
Time, like an ever rolling stream, bears all who breathe away; they fly forgotten, as a dream dies at the opening day.
O God, our help in ages past, our hope for years to come; be thou our guide while life shall last, and our eternal home.” UMH 117.


Bishop Paul L. Leeland
Alabama-West Florida Conference
The United Methodist Church 

Alabama Rural Ministry wins national honor

published 4/29/2013

By Maidstone Mulenga*

WASHINGTON (UMNS) — Alabama Rural Ministry, a volunteer ministry of the Alabama-West Florida Annual (regional) Conference of The United Methodist Church, was honored April 25 with 13 other groups as one of America's top volunteer organizations.

During the annual Make A Difference Day Awards luncheon at Carnegie Library in Washington, the members of Alabama Rural Ministry (ARM) were hailed for "putting their faith into action" for orchestrating the work of 72 volunteers in dozen of projects in Tuskegee, 28 miles away from its headquarters.

Make A Difference Day, created by USA Weekend, is a national day of helping others, and it is observed on the fourth Saturday of every October. The honorees each received a $10,000 donation from Newman's Own to continue their good work.

For its projects, the Opelika-based ministry rallied volunteers to make home repairs for the disabled, sanding walls for a historic church, cleaning a park, entertaining nursing home residents and helping launch a food bank. ARM was also saluted for getting 40 fraternity brothers from Auburn University's FIJI House to continue the home repairs for the disabled.

After accepting the honor, ARM founder and director Lisa Pierce said she was humbled and excited, noting that the group plans to share some of the funds with the Wesley Foundations at colleges and institutions in the conference.

“We hope to get more volunteers to help serve in the spirit of our Lord and Savior,” she said. Volunteering “was a great way to partner with communities in which we live and serve,” she added.

Pierce was accompanied by the Rev. Sheila Bates, Tuskegee University Wesley Foundation director, and Jennifer M. Chambliss, the ministry’s board chair.

Impacting lives

Bates noted that the work of ARM was a celebration of the connectionalism of The United Methodist Church, adding that “John Wesley set up the connectionalism as a pattern to get people together to impact God’s Kingdom.”

Chambliss said most of the ministry’s volunteers were young adults and students, a clear indication that “our youth value the importance of doing work for other people and having an impact on their lives.”

Earlier, actor and best-selling author Tony Danza saluted the volunteers, telling them they were an example of how to truly work for a better America.

“The honorees give me hope … they give me hope to keep believing that in spite of our many differences, we are all in this together,” said Danza, who was the keynote speaker.

Danza noted that his experience as a teacher in a Philadelphia public school had opened his eyes to the challenges that the country was facing in providing for a better future for all of its citizens.

He said the motto of America — which he said was missing from the lives the youth and some of the adults — is crucial for the work of the volunteers. “It is E pluribus unum, it’s Latin for ‘Out of many, one’ … we don’t talk about it any more.”

But Danza said that was the message he was getting from those who were being honored for their volunteer work and for being selfless in their efforts.

“We all do better when we all do better,” he said. “If we have the ability to help other Americans who are not as fortunate as us, we should give of ourselves.”

Building awareness of poverty

Pierce and Bates echoed Danza’s words, emphasizing the need for more of God’s people to give of themselves in service to those who may feel less blessed.

Pierce said the Make A Difference Day efforts are growing each year and have become a focal point of Poverty Awareness Week. This is the week when Pierce makes her home in a streetside shanty to dramatize the living conditions of impoverished rural residents. October’s campaign raised $31,000 to apply toward the 130 homes on the organization’s waiting list.

The work of Alabama Rural Ministry (GCFA Advance #721001) was featured in USA Weekend, a Sunday insert for about 800 newspapers around the country.

The other honorees for Make A Difference Day were:
• The Sundial Men’s Club, Sun City, Ariz.
• National Assistance League, Burbank, Calif.
• Wen Marcec, Geneva, Ill.
• Lions Club – District 22-W, Thurmont, Md.
• FIRST Robotics Competition, Teams 340 and 1511, Rochester, N.Y.
• C&S Wholesale Grocers, Keene, N.H.
• Nick Lowinger, Cranston, R.I.
• Shaquawana Wester, Cookeville, Tenn.
• Operation Lorax, Ellensburg, Wash.

City Award honorees were:
• Fremont, Calif.
• Albuquerque, N.M.
• Kettering, Ohio

The All-Star Award winner was Melbourne Central Catholic High, St. Joseph Catholic School, West Shore Junior/Senior High, Lake Washington Fellowship, Melbourne and Palm Bay, Fla.

* Mulenga is in charge of global and electronic affairs at the Baltimore-Washington Conference. He can be reached at or 410-309-3425.

News media contact: Joey Butler, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or


(From left) Tuskegee University Wesley Foundation
director the Rev. Sheila Bates and Alabama Rural
Ministry founder and director Lisa Pierce pose with
actor Tony Danza at the Make a Difference Day Awards
luncheon held at Carnegie Library in Washington, D.C.,
on April 25. A UMNS photo by Maidstone Mulenga.

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