Conference News

Phishing Scam Targets Congregations

published 9/19/2019
We have heard from a number of Alabama-West Florida Conference clergy whose congregations have been the target of an e-mail scam. Church members have received fraudulent emails that appear to be from the pastor and ask for help (usually financial help). A common theme is a need for a gift card or urgent help for a loved one. Our Bishop and conference staff have also encountered this issue.

If you receive an email that strikes you as unusual, confirm that it's legitimate before you reply. Refrain from forwarding the email to others. Instead, make a quick phone call to the church or write a new email to your pastor or a staff person. If the email is fraudulent, report it as phishing to your email provider and delete the email. Pay careful attention to the sender's address (not just name) as that will help you to identify if the email is legitimate. All AWF staff emails use @awfumc.org. 

The issue isn't unique to AWF. A recent article in The Christian Post shared that churches nationwide are the target of these scams. The Federal Trade Commission shares tips on how to recognize and avoid phishing scams at https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/how-recognize-and-avoid-phishing-scams.

The issue is also not unique to email but extends to text and phone calls. As with email, remember that clergy and churches do not ask for personal or financial information by text. Don't be rushed, instead, be cautious and confirm the legitimacy of a communication before you respond.

Local Church Turns Charge Conference Reports into Ministry Celebrations

published 9/18/2019
Charge Conference season is in full force! Many pastors view this as a time of paperwork and a necessary meeting, but others have begun to see this as a time to celebrate ministry and the ways God is working in their local church. Rev. Teresa Seevers of Greystone UMC in Dothan, AL, is doing just this. Dr. Ed Glaize, Dothan District Superintendent, led this annual meeting. 

The charge conference is defined as the basic governing body of each United Methodist local church and is composed of all members of the church council. All members of the charge conference must be members of the local church. The charge conference must meet at least once per year. The charge conference directs the work of the church and gives general oversight to the church council, reviews and evaluates the mission and ministry of the church, sets salaries for the pastor and staff, elects the members of the church council, and recommends candidates for ordained ministry.

It's understandable how such yearly events can become just another task on the calendar. But thanks to pastors like Seevers, these conferences can become a transformational celebration. 

"Charge conference gives the local church the fabulous opportunity to celebrate all that God has done, is doing, and will continue to do as we profess our calling to 'make Disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world," said Seevers. "It allows a time of reflection as we answer the question 'Who are we called to love?' It provides a time of remembrance of the Saints who have gone before us in the past year. Yes, business is conducted, but when you are celebrating the business of the church, there is much to be thankful for and excited about."

In addition to the required reports, Seevers used this valuable time to honor her staff, share a meal and welcome Greystone UMC's new District Superintendent, Dr. Ed Glaize. She also enlisted various speakers to educate those at the conference about the special ministries that they support outside of the church.

Seevers concluded, "I look forward to Charge Conference every year because we turn the page forward with hearts of thanksgiving to the One that unites us in our faith. When the reports are complete and the votes are cast, we rest in the presence of God and simply say, 'Thank you, Lord, for loving us so that we can love one another.' "

Panama City Church Gives Generously to Hurricane Dorian Survivors

published 9/18/2019

Lynn Haven UMC (LHUMC), located in the heart of the Hurricane Michael devastation, knows the pain and heartache of losing everything. On October 10, 2018, Michael was relentless with its power. Many members of Lynn Haven UMC lost their homes, business, jobs and their church home. Since last fall, the church has met in the parking lot and now meets at Bay Haven Charter Academy to continue ministry in the best way they can. Just days after the storm made landfall, the church was distributing supplies and meals to their neighbors. 

After seeing the complete devastation Hurricane Dorian left behind in the Bahamas, the LHUMC family immediately mobilized and identified Bahamas Methodist Habitat as the best way to help. 

On Sunday, September 8, 2019, LHUMC collected a special offering during communion designated for the Bahamas Methodist Habitat. The church communicated to the members that they would use church mission funds to match their individual contributions up to $2,500. The initial offering was over $8,800; meaning at least $11,300 will be sent to the relief effort. To date, the congregation has collected over $10,000 and anticipates even more money to be collected through online and text efforts. 

"I am amazed by God's providence and the faithfulness of His people called Methodists," stated Rev. Craig Carter, lead pastor at Lynn Haven UMC. "He has provided for us so generously over the past eleven months and He led us to dedicate the offering to Bahamas Methodist Habitat even before we heard that would be our conference's partner. Perhaps someday soon we can even send a team to help them so we can 'pay forward' the help we've received."

Despite not having a physical church home, Lynn Haven UMC continues to look beyond the "walls" of the church to serve others. 

Carter continued, "We've already contacted the Bahamas Methodist Habitat to let them know assistance is on the way and to testify that the Lord will provide for them even as He has provided for us. Hurricane Michael took a lot away from us but it also gave us a compassionate and generous spirit that we believe mirrors our Father's heart. To God be the glory!"


Potential AWF Called Annual Conference Session Announced for 2020

published 9/17/2019

Under the leadership and direction of Bishop David Graves, the Alabama-West Florida Conference has announced a potential special called annual conference session related to General Conference 2020 legislation. This is in addition to the previously announced dates with one revision. At the conclusion of the 2019 Annual Conference session, the dates of annual conference were announced as June 7-10, 2020. The new dates for that session are now June 7-9, 2020. All business of the annual conference will conclude by 5:00pm on Tuesday, June 9, 2020.
 
An additional called conference may be held on Saturday, June 27, 2020, in a centrally located public facility within the bounds of the conference, if needed. Because General Conference 2020 concludes on May 15, 2020, additional time could be needed to properly prepare the conference should a vote of any sort be required.
 
“I have prayed and spent intentional time asking God how I can best lead the Alabama-West Florida Conference related to the divisive topics of our time,” stated Bishop David Graves. “Although an additional called conference could require our clergy and lay members to meet on June 27th, we are concluding our regularly scheduled annual conference a day earlier to accommodate this extra obligation. I want the voting body of the conference to have as much time for prayer and preparation, should a vote be needed, while also centering ourselves in worship and celebration at the regular session of annual conference.”
 
Clergy and lay members to annual conference should make plans now to attend the two conferences. Should any elected lay member have a conflict with the newly announced date, they should notify their church leadership so that a called charge conference may happen in their church to elect alternate lay members. Clergy and lay members should be able to attend both conferences. If the additional session is not needed, the revised dates of June 7-9, 2020, will still stand for the 2020 Annual Conference session.
 
More information will be released as details are arranged.


Hurricane Michael Remembrance Resources Now Available

published 9/16/2019
As previously announced, the Alabama-West Florida Conference is planning intentional time to remember the devastation caused by Hurricane Michael, which made landfall on October 10, 2018. 

Multiple resources are now available to assist your local church to appropriately remember this disaster in our conference. Details may be found below.

“We will never forget the fear of watching a category five hurricane descend on our conference,” said Bishop David Graves. “The residents of Panama City, Port St. Joe, Mexico Beach, Marianna and many surrounding inland communities suffered significant property loss and experienced trauma that will remain with them for the rest of their lives. Sadly, these communities continue to lose neighbors when the trauma becomes too much for some to handle. As a conference, it is imperative we all recognize and remember this catastrophic event. This conference continues to walk alongside residents of the gulf coast through the Hurricane Michael Recovery program. I am so grateful for a talented team that is dedicated to helping those impacted by the storm rebuild their homes and lives. Despite all of our denominational heartache, our disaster response program, with the help of UMCOR, exhibits what is best in our connection.”

The conference will remember the historic event in the following ways:

  • We invite all churches in the Alabama-West Florida Conference and the global connection to ring their church bells at noon on October 10, 2019;
  • Prayers written by pastors of churches in the impacted areas may be found here. We ask that you select one to be used in your worship services on the weekend of October 6, 2019;
  • brief video is available to share in your weekend worship services on October 6 for those churches who have audio visual capabilities. Click here to access video;
  • Bishop Graves has written a guest column that our churches can use in place of the regular letter from the pastor in church newsletters. Click here for document
  • We have supplied a bulletin insert you may use the weekend of October 6 highlighting the ongoing disaster response work. Click here for file
  • Bishop Graves will offer a video prayer on our conference social media pages on October 10 – we invite you to share this on your local church social media pages;
  • October 10 will serve as a Hurricane Michael Remembrance Day of Giving with all donations going to UMCOR to honor the partnership and significant grants we have received from them. Specials offerings in worship services on October 6 are also welcome and encouraged. All UMCOR donations received from this day of giving will be designated for the US Disaster Response and Recovery fund. Click here to give;
  • Bishop Graves will be present in churches in the impacted areas in September and October where he will preach and participate in worship.
Thank you for acting as a testament to God's love and the strength of our connection. 

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