Conference News

Prayers for the AWF Conference Appointment Process

published 1/17/2019


Currently the Cabinet, Pastors, Staff-Parish Relations Committees (SPRC), and churches are working on the upcoming appointment year, which spans from July 2019 to June 2020. To inform you of our process, but most importantly to ask for your prayers, I want to share the following information:
The Cabinet, consisting of the eight District Superintendents, the Assistant to the Bishop, and myself will be working to make over 650 appointments between now and annual conference, which is scheduled for June 2-5. While we may also consult with key conference staff members who represent multicultural ministries and new church starts, it is only the Cabinet who will be projecting the appointments. It is a vital process and is why I seek your prayers.
There are many factors that go into this process including retirements, clergy deaths, church and pastor needs/concerns, and family considerations. This will be my tenth year that I have sat at an appointment table either as a District Superintendent or Bishop. What I have come to experience is that the Holy Spirit is in the process. As unusual as this may sound, I have been so blessed by my appointment making time. It is sacred work and the Alabama-West Florida Conference has a Godly Cabinet that makes our work deep and rich. Please pray for us!
To help guide your time of prayer, let me share a timeline of our work:
December: Each District Superintendent shared with the cabinet about the ministry and needs of their districts related to appointments. We also reflected on how the results of the special called General Conference session might influence our work.
January: The Cabinet met the 8th-10th to take our December conversations to a deeper level. District Superintendents continue to hold consultations and SPRCs are also in the process of meeting to evaluate their pastoral needs.
February 4-6: We will determine which churches and/or pastors have requested a return or move. In some cases, the appointment is open due to a retirement, death or vacancy. I estimate 75-80% of pastors will be marked as a return. During this time, we will begin to make some appointment projections.
March 5-6: We will continue this process, but most of our work will be centered around how we move forward following the special called General Conference.
March 20-22: The Cabinet will project most of the appointments during these days.
March 28-29: We will seek to finish our work and prepare to communicate to all the pastors and church SPRCs.
April 1-3: Those pastors moving will receive a phone call from their District Superintendent to arrange a meeting to review their projected appointment. SPRC chairs will be called and informed of the projected appointment. The full SPRC will then be informed and all committee members will be required to keep the appointment confidential.
April 11-12: The Cabinet meets to review all projections and to make any adjustments. Following April 12, pastors and churches are free to publicly communicate the new appointment unless otherwise directed by the District Superintendent.
April 13-June 5: The Cabinet will continue to work at filling part-time appointments and handling other situations that might arise as pastoral introductions are made.
As you see, the appointment process involves most of our year with March and April being the most intense months of our work. In my mind, it is the most important work we do and led by God’s will. I feel it important to be transparent to all our clergy and congregations.

Thank you for your ministry; we need your prayers. 

With gratitude,
Bishop David Graves
Resident Bishop, Alabama-West Florida Conference 

AWF Announces Hurricane Michael Recovery Leaders

published 1/15/2019
The Alabama-West Florida Conference is pleased to announce two new leaders for the Hurricane Michael long-term recovery efforts.
Rev. Chris Ackerman will serve as the Hurricane Michael Recovery Director and Tammy Tisher will serve as the Assistant Director. Ackerman is a licensed local pastor who was previously serving as an associate pastor at Lynn Haven UMC when Hurricane Michael came ashore. His responsibilities will include managing and overseeing all active disaster recovery activities on behalf of the Alabama-West Florida Conference and directing, assigning and coordinating the work of the regional team coordinators funded by UMCOR grants. He will also work with the Conference Disaster Response Coordinator and the Director of Connectional Ministries to create and implement a strategic plan for recovery and work in consultation on all staffing, funding and other issues related to the success of the recovery. Chris has spent many years of his life working in various kinds of construction. Most recently he owned his own custom furniture business where he built anything from farm tables to kitchen cabinets. Rev. Ackerman’s previous appointments include pastor at Shady Grove UMC and Grand Ridge UMC and associate pastor at Good News UMC.
Tammy Tisher is a resident of Panama City, FL, and a member of Woodlawn UMC. Tammy worked in inventory control and supply chain for General Motors for 22 years and started her own businesses in 2012 in ladies fashion. Moving from Tennessee to Florida in 2016, she was affected by Hurricane Michael, losing businesses and suffering damage in her neighborhood and home. After extensive volunteering immediately following the disaster, she felt a need to continue providing assistance to others using her skill set and will be helping lead the teams in our relief efforts. 
“We are so thankful that God sent two qualified and capable people to us during this time of need,” said Bishop David Graves. “As we have been saying for months, this will be a long-term effort to which our conference is committed to for years to come. Both of these leaders are residents of Panama City and were in the heart of disaster area in the aftermath of the storm. They know, more than anyone, the needs of the residents in the Panama City, Marianna and Port St. Joe areas. We are grateful that both of them were open to new leadership opportunities. I would be remiss if I did not thank Rev. Shawn York for his outstanding leadership the past three months. Rev. York gave 110% to the recovery efforts in the immediate aftermath of the storm. I am grateful to Gulf Breeze UMC, the Pensacola District and his family for allowing him to serve as the director in the interim.”
Rev. Rob Haynes continues to serve as the AWF Conference Disaster Response Coordinator. He will implement disaster preparedness initiatives with the districts who were not affected by the hurricane so that they are prepared for future disasters. 
Volunteer coordinators, construction coordinators and case managers at the three sites–Marianna, Port St. Joe and Panama City–will be announced at a later date.

A Video Message: 2019 is off to a great start!

published 1/14/2019

We invite you to watch and share a video message from Bishop David Graves, staff and cabinet about several exciting things happening in 2019. Click here to view. Click here to read the transcript. Closed captioning is now available for this video and can be accessed by clicking "CC" to the right of the volume icon on Vimeo.

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.

Deaf Prayer Service Held for those impacted by Hurricane Michael

published 1/10/2019
Woodlawn United Methodist Church in Panama City hosted a Deaf Prayer Service for members of the local Deaf Community impacted by Hurricane Michael on November 24, 2018.

Reverend Mark Ehrlichmann, pastor of Center Ridge United Methodist Church in DeFuniak Springs, FL, led the prayer service and through his agency – Agency for Deaf Advocacy and Services, ADAS – provided donations of clothes and other items. ADAS also donated two visual alert systems.

Rev. Ehrlichmann is one of the few trained pastors serving the Deaf Community and has been in Deaf Ministry since 1998 as a lay leader and graduated from Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, DC, in 2007 with a Master of Divinity. He was ordained in 2008 in Garfield, Minnesota.

Rev. Ehrlichmann continued working in Prison Ministry focusing on Deaf and Hard of Hearing individuals upon ordination and receiving a call to serve as Missionary at large from Christ Lutheran in Belmont, MA, as the only Deaf Missionary/Pastor in Lutheran Congregations in Mission for Christ. He served in the Baltimore-Washington, DC area since 2007 and recently moved to the Florida Panhandle area in 2016.  He worked to establish a ministry presence and developed a Deaf Advocacy Service and began serving Center Ridge United Methodist Church in DeFuniak Springs, FL in July 2018.

Deaf Ministry is his focus, but he serves all.  What is unique and challenging about Deaf Ministry is that the Deaf Community is statistically the highest unchurched population group at 98%.* There are no accurate statistics for how many Deaf and Hard of Hearing people live in the Panhandle area.  Most however, live in large metro areas. Yet, in his advocacy and ministry experience in the past two years, has travelled extensively throughout the Panhandle area due to contact from Deaf themselves or family and friends looking for help in communication and employment discrimination issues, job searches, direct spiritual care, and prison/jail ministry. Deaf people face insurmountable access issues in every part of social life, including the church.  Even Rev. Ehrlichmann experiences challenges in accessing resources available to all pastors. Churches do not have an understanding of providing and using a Sign Language interpreter services because they do not have an understanding of the impact of hearing loss on communication. 

Rev. Ehrlichmann provides consulting services and speaking engagements to increase understanding of how hearing loss impacts a person’s life and function in an audio-centered world. Please contact Rev. Ehrlichmann to learn more about how God desires all of us to be Ephphatha to His efforts to have a relationship with all of us, including those with diverse needs. For the Body of Christ is made up of all various parts for various reasons that through this Ephphatha learning we will gain a deeper connection to The Father, The Son, and The Holy Spirit, and to each other.

* Around the globe, only 2 percent of Deaf people have been introduced to the gospel.  There are not enough Christians among the Deaf to establish and grow their own churches.

Competency, Camaraderie and Creativity

published 12/17/2018
New Bishop’s Clergy Learning Cohort focuses on pastoral support
(Kari C. Barlow for AWFUMC) - Bishop David Graves, in partnership with the Academy for Congregational Excellence (ACE),  has launched a new initiative—the Clergy Learning Cohort—to provide specialized support for clergy who could one day be pastors of fast-growing churches, pastors of large churches and district superintendents.
The inaugural meeting was held Oct. 29-30 at the Hilton Sandestin Beach Golf Resort & Spa and drew 40 participating pastors from across the Conference. The event featured keynote speaker Rev. Jim Herrington, co-founder of The Leader’s Journey: Coaching for Wholehearted Leadership, and a panel comprised of multiple UMC clergy members—Rev. Shawn Moses Anglim of New Orleans, Rev. Justin LaRosa of Tampa and Rev. Audrey Warren of Miami.
“I am thrilled with the success of the clergy cohort,” Graves said. “With the help of Celeste Eubanks, the vision came to life through many hours of dreaming and planning.”
Eubanks, director of leadership strategies for the Conference, said they wanted the pastors to be able to relax and have fun in a space that was not a church setting.
“The real goal is to have these clergy realize that we are focusing on them as the person,” she said. “So, when they come together, they’re not Pastor Smith or Minister Willis. They are Tom. They are Susan. We’re focused on the person!”
After dinner on the first day, they all had the opportunity to relax on the beach.
“It was great!” Eubanks said. “We sat around two fire pits and roasted s’mores and listened to music.”
Some of the pastors even thanked her for playing mainstream/secular music at the beach bonfire.
“And they didn’t mean it negatively!” she said. “They said it let them know they could be themselves. That touched me. … And the honest truth is when they all hop in their cars, they are not always playing K-LOVE [a Christian radio station] or singing Charles Wesley’s favorite hymn. They are human!”
Under the bishop’s plan, the 40 cohort members were divided into three individual cohorts that are being led by one of three paid facilitators— Melissa Wiginton, a research professor in Methodist Studies and the vice president of Education Beyond the Walls at Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary; Rev. Deborah Wight-Knight, pastoral counselor for South
Georgia Annual Conference, and UMC Pastor David A. Dodge, who most recently served as assistant to the bishop in the Florida Conference before retiring in 2016. The use of paid facilitators, which is an integral part to the success of any learning cohort, is made possible through a partnership with the Academy for Congregational Excellence (ACE).
Each of the cohorts will work on their own until October 2019 when the entire group gathers for a second time.
“The kickoff focused a lot on relationship building because a lot of these clergy know of each other, but they don’t know each other,” Eubanks said.
During their initial meetings, each of the three groups also made a covenant for their individual cohort.
“That might have been they set parameters around communication, around tardiness, around whether or not cell phones call be used or other things about being fully present or being open and honest,” Eubanks said. “And they are all agreeing to live up to those covenants.”
She noted that a critical aspect of the cohorts is trust and the assurance that their conversations and discussions will be kept private.
Over the coming months, the cohort members plan to stay in communication with each other and their facilitator using social media and other platforms. Each member will submit case studies—situations they might be dealing with in their congregations—to their facilitators, who will select one for the group to analyze and work through together when the individual cohorts meet in May 2019. The cohorts will also discuss self-care and the value of supporting fellow pastors.
Graves said the Clergy Learning Cohort was designed to strengthen the competencies of existing Conference leaders, to bolster camaraderie among those same pastors and to cultivate the creativity needed to grow churches in these challenging times.
“In these uncertain times in the denomination, I wanted some of our brightest and best clergy to be able come together for a time of respite,” he said. “We did not ask them to do anything except to build relationships with one another and hear from an expert panel. I am dedicated to helping these talented leaders develop the necessary skills to continue their growth as pastors.”
Click here to see photos by Luke Lucas

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