(Rev. Chris Ackerman) - As a conference, we want to keep you updated on the aftermath of Hurricane Laura. As you can imagine, emergency crews are hard at work cleaning up debris and restoring utilities. The infrastructure of the impacted area took a severe hit, and it will be some time before basic utilities are functional. As a result, we have been asked by the Louisiana Conference, by UMCOR, and by federal, state and local agencies to NOT deploy into Louisiana at this time. Too many people showing up and trying to help is actually making it difficult for the emergency crews to do their job. In other words, an excess of people descending into the area is actually making the relief efforts worse and stopping people from restoring what is critical. State and local agencies are supplying basic needs of food, water and shelter. They are also not allowing entry or reentry in and out of the affected areas.
Soon they will allow for relief efforts to enter and assist. Until that time, we will respect the wishes of the conference and local authorities and patiently wait for an invitation to begin sending emergency response teams (ERT), in addition to relief items.
Speaking from personal experience after having gone through Hurricane Michael, I can assure you that pastors and staff who were affected by this hurricane are not in a clear state of mind. The stress and trauma of having experienced this situation, as well as the burden of wanting to be there for their entire congregation, is overwhelming beyond words. The simplest of decisions becomes incredibly difficult to make. That is why we are wanting to partner with affected churches in the area. Here is what that looks like. One of the things that brought our staff and me some peace was when we had other folks simply sit with us, pray with us, and be present with us. It becomes very easy to feel isolated and alone when experiencing the kind of stress levels that follow a disaster of this size. As a conference we will be working on making these connections for any church that is interested in partnering in this way. Please do not take it upon yourselves to try and make this connection on your own as it will make it more difficult for these churches. They will end up having multiple churches reaching out to them which puts them in a position of having to make more decisions. Additionally, partnering with these churches also has a financial component. Many of these churches are going to struggle to be able to put together worship services. Their congregation will also be struggling with their own needs as a result of the hurricane, which means giving will significantly decrease. Please consider partnering with these churches through the conference in a way that will allow them to continue their ministry without financial concerns.
I know the hearts of those in our conference and I know the deep desire we have to love on those affected by Hurricane Laura. Let’s be the absolute best we can be by first “doing no harm“ and second by doing “all the good we can.” I am thankful to be in ministry with all of you! I will continue to keep everyone updated as I know more. In the meantime, let’s cover our neighbors in prayer and position ourselves to join with these survivors in a long-term partnership.
As previously announced on May 5, 2020, the Alabama-West Florida Conference has made significant budget cuts that have led to the restructuring of staff. All staff transitions are complete as of today, September 1, 2020. To further assist our local churches in understanding the staff resources available, the following changes have occurred.
Episcopal Office and Office of Ministerial Services
-Erika Glawson will serve as the Executive Administrative Assistant to the Episcopal Office. She will resource Bishop David Graves and Rev. June Jernigan, as well as the AWF Board of Ordained Ministry.
Office of Communications
-Conference audio visual and design needs will be outsourced out as needed.
Office of Congregational Development
-Rev. Bill Kierce, AWF Director of Congregational Development, will serve as the staff liaison to the AWF Town & Country Commission.
Office of Connectional Ministries
-Rev. Ashley Davis, AWF Director of Connectional Ministries, will oversee the work of mission and outreach.
-Celeste Eubanks, AWF Director of Leadership Strategies, will manage multicultural ministries and will serve as the staff liaison to the AWF Committee on the Status and Role of Women and the AWF Board of Church and Society.
-Should you need to visit the conference office in person, please make an appointment with the relevant staff member prior to your visit.
-The two regional offices have been established and are fully operational. The southern region includes the Baypines, Marianna-Panama City, Mobile and Pensacola districts and is resourced by Kim Doss, district administrator. The southern region office is located in the former Mobile district office. The northern region will include Demopolis, Dothan, Montgomery-Opelika and Montgomery-Prattville districts and is resourced by Charlene Moncrief, district administrator. The northern region office is located in the former Montgomery districts office.
-The current Montgomery-Opelika district superintendent will also serve the Montgomery-Prattville district, while other district superintendents will share supervision roles.
- The eight district Websites are merging into a presence on www.awfumc.org.
“While reducing staff is always difficult work, I am grateful for the professionalism exemplified by our current staff and those who are exploring new opportunities,” stated Bishop David Graves. “Many of our former employees have found life-giving opportunities or have decided not to pursue job opportunities at this time. Each ministry area has embraced creative ways to continue to resource our conference. Since announcing these changes in May, I have been overwhelmed at the leadership shown by this conference. I want to thank Celeste Eubanks for her role in transitioning our district offices to regional offices and handling that tedious work with compassion and attention to detail. We covet your prayers and ask for grace and patience as we move forward with less resources. You will find that our current team demonstrates the best of our United Methodist denomination and I am proud to walk alongside them.”
A complete conference staff listing may be found here. District information may be found here.
In the wake of Hurricane Laura, we continue to pray for those affected by the storm. Bishop David Graves is requesting that churches begin collecting special offerings so that we are prepared to purchase critical items or donate money directly to the annual conferences where there is a need. Our recent experience with Hurricane Michael showed that many supplies went to waste. We have been in contact with the Louisiana Annual Conference and others affected by the storm. Their Conference Disaster Response Coordinators will communicate to us what supplies are needed and how we can best assist them. Please do not send goods and supplies until we have clear needs, and do not deploy until the call is made. So many well-meaning efforts often go to waste. We want to be faithful and good stewards of our funds, time, and energy.
UMCOR has already staged thousands of flood buckets in the area. In the months and weeks to come, there may be a need to help replenish the supply at Sager Brown. We will communicate with you if there is a time to produce those buckets.
We will begin identifying churches that have been impacted by the storm and will be looking for partner churches within our annual conference to spiritually and financially support them. Please consider being a partner church. If you are interested in partnering, please reach out to email@example.com.
Offering checks may be mailed to the conference office at the below address. Please write "Hurricane Laura Relief" in the memo line. We are grateful for our United Methodist connection during devastating times such as these. Our prayers are with Louisiana and Texas as they begin the recovery and relief process.
Alabama-West Florida Conference
Attention: Fiscal Office
4719 Woodmere Boulevard
Montgomery, AL 36106
As Bishop David Graves completes his first four years of Episcopal ministry in the Alabama-West Florida Conference, he reflects on several important topics in this interview. Hear his thoughts on:
-ministry in the pandemic;
-the conference response to dismantling racism;
-how he stays encouraged during uncertain times;
-and the one thing he would change in the past four years; to name a few.
Click here to view. You may also listen to this message as an audio-only podcast by clicking here, by searching for “AWFUMC Podcasts” on iTunes or in your preferred podcast player. We invite you to subscribe to these podcasts.
We welcome shares with your congregation and on social media.
As I am sure most of you are aware, we currently have two storm systems that have the potential to be hurricanes entering into the Gulf of Mexico. As of right now, both systems seem to be tracking towards the west with one possibly landing in the western portion of our conference. It is important to remember that these are just predictions and we must stay alert and continue to monitor the trajectory.
Here are some of the things that we need to be doing now to prepare for any such eventuality:
- Back up your church and home systems (computers, databases, etc.) onto devices that can be taken with you should you need to evacuate, or to a location that will not be affected by the storms.
- Protect your electronic devices, sensitive equipment, musical instruments, organs, pianos, etc. Covering them with a tarp or plastic sheeting will protect them from leaks that might occur. Any equipment that can be elevated at least four inches off the floor will help prevent damage if waters do get into the building. Many computer towers sit on the floor under desks….put them up on the desk if you can.
- Protect your records and historical documents (technical drawings, pictures, paper files). Placing them in sealable, waterproof plastic bags within a safe or file cabinet would help if you cannot relocate them to a safe place.
- Secure your building, bringing inside loose items that could be blown around. This is especially important for church playgrounds.
- Verify that there is a contact list for all facility personnel, neighbors, family, etc. Do not rely on cell phones; land lines may be disrupted as well.
- Check on your fragile/elderly folks: are they evacuating? Where will they be going? If they are not leaving, who will check on them following the storm?
- Be aware of where shelters are in your community.
1. Make sure you and your family are ok.
2. Check on your church and congregants and report to your District Superintendent or your District Disaster Recovery Coordinator (DDRC).
- If the disaster is larger than what you can handle on your own, then reach out to your district for help.
- If the disaster is larger than your district can handle, then your DS will reach out to the Conference.
We would also like to share with you the following video that explains more about what steps your church and district leadership should take in the event of a disaster in your area. Please click on your district’s link.
Baypines District: https://vimeo.com/341846801
Demopolis District: https://vimeo.com/341852737
Dothan District: https://vimeo.com/341864328
Marianna Panama City District: https://vimeo.com/341872073
Mobile District: https://vimeo.com/341865253
Montgomery Opelika District: https://vimeo.com/341873949
Montgomery Prattville District: https://vimeo.com/341876510
Pensacola District: https://vimeo.com/341868258
Rev. Chris Ackerman
Director of Hurricane Michael Recovery
Conference Disaster Recovery Coordinator