Conference News

Bishop Graves Announces New Staff Members

published 11/16/2017
The Alabama-West Florida Conference, under the leadership of Bishop David Graves, is pleased to announce two new staff members.
 
Ms. Celeste Eubanks will be joining the connectional ministries staff as Director of Leadership Strategies, effective January 8, 2018. Eubanks currently works in the secular human resources field but has recently felt a call into ministry. She has been active in the Mobile district and the conference through her service on the Board of Ordained Ministry and the district board of trustees. Celeste also serves as a delegate (lay member) to annual conference through St. John UMC.
 
Mrs. Sarah McWilliams began her ministry on October 10 as the conference receptionist and connectional ministries administrative assistant. She has extensive experience in a variety of areas with her work in a local church prior to coming to the conference office. 
 
“I am thrilled to announce the addition of Celeste and Sarah to our staff,” said Bishop David Graves. “They both have exemplified excellence in their previous work. They will bring new energy to the conference office and I look forward to seeing their growth in this conference. It is a priority to me to develop a staff that can best serve our churches in an efficient way. Celeste and Sarah are high capacity, highly relational individuals who will help move this conference forward. Join me in welcoming them to our team.”

Bishops uphold values of mission, unity, space, contextuality in interim report on Way Forward’s work

published 11/9/2017

(LAKE JUNALUSKA, NORTH CAROLINA) - Placing emphasis on the values of unity, space and contextuality - all for the sake of mission – the Council of Bishops (COB) is exploring sketches of three models as possible directions for a way forward for The United Methodist Church over LGBTQ inclusion.

With the mission of God through the risen Christ at the core, the bishops this week received an interim report from the Commission on a Way Forward that offered three sketches of models that would help ease the impasse in the church, noting that the power of the Holy Spirit trumps and guides all the church’s activities. The Commission serves the COB, helping prepare the COB to fulfill its mandate to make a recommendation for a way forward to the General Conference.

Just as the Commission did not express a preference for any of the models in its interim report to the COB in order for the bishops to fully do their work, the COB is also not now expressing a preference for any model, while engaging deeply with them and the implications for their church and their leadership. This will provide the space bishops need to teach and engage leaders in their episcopal areas.

After receiving the interim report of the sketches of the three possible models, the bishops engaged in prayerful discerning and offered substantial feedback to the Commission, but did not take any vote on any of the sketches.

The moderators of the Commission on a Way Forward noted that the values highlighted in any one model also live within the fabric of the other models. Values expressed by any one model are not exclusive to one or absent in another. The values that may be associated with the identity of any one model are there because it may be a value lifted to a higher level of preference or differentiation among the models.

“Operate with a heart of peace and an openness. All three models grew out of mission, vision and scope. Each one of these models connects to a story and experience that is represented in this body,” Bishop Sandra Steiner Ball, one of the moderators told her fellow bishops.

She added: “As we talk about it, let’s be respectful of each model. When we speak about one of the models in a less than respectful way, we are speaking of someone’s experience or someone’s conscience. How we talk about these models is important because they are representative of where people are standing and how people are experiencing the church.”

The Commission and the COB acknowledge the interaction between the values of unity, space and contextuality, and the tension this interaction often creates, as part of what completes the UMC as a denomination rather than what divides it.

The Commission shared sketches of three models, with the awareness that the Commission and the COB are not restricted to these sketches and are open to learning, listening and improvement. It is likely that additional models or sketches may emerge as this process continues. Here is the summary about the sketches of the models presented to the bishops:

▪  One sketch of a model affirms the current Book of Discipline language and places a high value on accountability.

▪  Another sketch of a model removes restrictive language and places a high value on contextualization. This sketch also specifically protects the rights of those whose conscience will not allow them to perform same gender weddings or ordain LGBTQ persons.

▪  A third sketch of a model is grounded in a unified core that includes shared doctrine and services and one COB, while also creating different branches that have clearly defined values such as accountability, contextualization and justice.

▪  Each sketch represents values that are within the COB and across the church.

▪  Each sketch includes gracious way of exit for those who feel called to exit from the denomination.

The values underlying these proposed models are found in two documents; The Mission, Vision and Scope document, which was affirmed by the COB; and the Status Report of the Commission, released in July 2017. As part of the ongoing discernment within the church, resident bishops are being equipped to lead discussions in their episcopal areas by emphasizing the values of the proposed models as found in these two important documents.

The Commission will process the feedback received from the bishops at the Lake Junaluska meeting and will continue to welcome further input from members of the church through conversations and discussions with their respective bishops on the strengths and limitations of each model. The basic resources for these conversations were shared in a handbook with the bishops, and this handbook will be available on the Commission on a Way Forward’s website as a PDF.

The COB and the Commission have a series of meetings scheduled for early 2018 designed to continue the preparations for the Special Session of the General Conference in 2019. This includes Commission meetings in January and March; an additional COB meeting in February before a final report is discussed at the May meeting of the COB.

The COB is committed to prayerfully seeking God’s future for the UMC and continues to invite the entire church to be engaged in praying for a way forward.

“Pray for the work of the Commission and for the bishops as they continue to discern God’s plan for the future of the UMC; a future that shows love for all of God’s people and a future with hope,” said COB President Bishop Bruce R. Ough.


Bishop Carter elected as president of Council of Bishops

published 11/8/2017

(Lake Junaluska, NC) - Florida Area Bishop Kenneth H. Carter today was officially elected as the next president of the Council of Bishops of The United Methodist Church.

Bishop Carter will take over from Dakotas-Minnesota Area Bishop Bruce R. Ough effective at the end of the May 2018 meeting.

The United Methodist bishops also elected:

•        Louisiana Area Bishop Cynthia Fierro Harvey as the president-designate. She is currently serving as secretary of the Council.

•        North Katanga-Tanzania Bishop Mande Muyombo as secretary. Bishop Mande was elected as bishop early this year.

Executive secretary Bishop Marcus Matthews and Ecumenical Officer Bishop B. Michael Watson will continue in their current positions.

The executive secretary and ecumenical officer, who are retired bishops, serve four-year terms, starting in 2016.

Bishop Carter, Bishop Harvey and Bishop Mande -  who are active bishops - will continue in their roles as residential bishops in their areas in additional to the their additional roles in the COB.

Bishop Carter has additional responsibilities as one of the moderators of the Commission on a Way Forward.


Veterans Day Reflection and Prayer from Bishop David Graves

published 11/8/2017

November 8, 2017

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, Montgomery-Prattville District Superintendent, 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. This coming Saturday, 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.

Amen

Bishop David Graves
Alabama-West Florida Conference 


A Reflection from Dr. Darren McClellan

published 11/7/2017
For out of Zion shall go forth instruction, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.  He shall judge between many peoples, and shall arbitrate between strong nations far away; they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore; but they shall all sit under their own vines and under their own fig trees, and no one shall make them afraid; for the mouth of the LORD of hosts has spoken. 
--Micah 4:2b-4

Blessed are the peacemakers; for they shall be called children of God.
--Matthew 5:9

Lo! the hosts of evil round us
scorn the Christ, assail his ways!
From the fears that long have bound us
free our hearts to faith and praise.
UMH # 577
 
Dear Friends,
It is a Monday to be sure and the sorrow of our nation grows once more in response to another act of gun violence.  For the many who gathered yesterday to engage the liturgy of an All Saints Sunday, the horrific reality of yesterday’s shooting at First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, TX is an added twist of ironic agony.  The people of God gathered to remember and give thanks for the Saints past and present; but who would imagine that the list would grow with such immediacy within the worship hour?  Lord, in your mercy…hear our prayer.

The witness of the prophet Micah—as well as that of Jesus—reminds us of the perceived disconnect between a lasting vision of peace and the warring madness of our present age.  Such dissonance often leads to a crisis of faith.  Can God really be trusted in the face of such threat and uncertainty?  Are there not extra alternative measures of security that the church ought to consider? 

I wonder this morning how each congregation will address these underlying fears and varied responses. We sing a mighty fortress is our God, a bulwark never failing… but how does that stand up to the presence of evil when armed with an automatic assault rifle?  What else might we do in the interest of justice, self-preservation, or protection (and are these interests always one and the same)?  In response to this tragedy, how might our ongoing witness be shaped by the gospel?
I would not presume to offer a blanket response here, as each church will need to do the prayerful work of engaging this issue within its own community context.  In doing so, however, some may find helpful tools within our United Methodist connection. 
 
First of all, I would call to your attention the following emergency guidelines from the AWF Conference Trustees.

In my own experience as pastor, I have had several members in my congregation who made a habit of carrying firearms into the sanctuary during worship.  This was admittedly foreign to my personal sensibilities, but in almost all cases, their military experience, current role in law enforcement, or credibility as a gun safety instructor led them to find a sense of vocation in providing responsible oversight for the common good of the congregation.  Though this initiative was not at my request, as pastor, I felt it my task to be respectful of their intention and do my best to promote open communication, collaboration, and consistency for any crisis response plan.  For me, the gospel question of “and who is my neighbor?” became an essential element of reflection in devising such protocols.

On the other hand, I will never forget one Sunday when a well-intentioned saint unwittingly lost his pistol within steps of our children’s playground, where it could have easily been retrieved in a potential case of lethal curiosity.  The weapon apparently fell out of the side compartment of the owner’s motorized mobility scooter.  Fortunately, it was another elderly usher who called the local authorities to report it, but having not considered how he would appropriately present it to law enforcement (yelling “the gun is here in my pocket” outside the door of the church with hands out of sight is never a good lead) there were sheriff’s deputies who had to draw their own weapons on the usher in the church parking lot as a matter of precaution.  All of this happened unbeknownst to me while I was in the pulpit.  Some witness!  It may sound comical now, but I assure you it was not. 

Did we in our own strength confide, our striving would be losing…(UMH #110).

As an additional resource, the General Board of Church and Society has offered a thought provoking Bible Study resource entitled Kingdom Dreams, Violent Realities: Reflections on Gun Violence from Micah 4:1-4.  I believe this three week Bible Study (found for free at www.umcjustice.org/documents/37) may be useful for individuals or groups as a way of providing a framework for further discussion and discernment. 

The debate over gun safety in this country will ramble on in the coming days, as it should.  Politicians and special interest groups will certainly have their say.  I sincerely hope that the voices of the victims and their families will be heard as well.  Still, there are churches of Jesus Christ whose call is to worship in the midst of this reality, in grief, with hope; to bear witness to the power of the Holy Spirit by pressing forward in faith and without fear. 

As we await a God-given solution to our communal concerns, my prayer is that your particular congregation will pursue intentional responses that are as practical as they are theological, for the sake of the common good.  

Grant us wisdom, grant us courage,
for the living of these days,
for the living of these days.
 
Grace to You,
 
Darren
 
 
 

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