This commentary and prayer was originally published on November 8, 2017. We offer it again as a way to honor our veterans.
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, AWF Director of Multicultural Ministries, 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. On Monday, 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.
Bishop David Graves
Alabama-West Florida Conference
“One of our greatest gifts as United Methodist clergy is to be in connection with one another,” said Rev. Ashley Davis, Alabama-West Florida Director of Connectional Ministries. “Preaching is a gift but can also be a daunting task week after week. Our hope is that we can present new ways to consider scripture that will challenge and enhance our weekly sermons.”
In 2018, Bishop David Graves announced four conference staff priorities. One of those is, “to teach, train, and coach to support excellent preaching so that people encounter Jesus and live out the Great Commission.”
“It is common for conference staffs to become overloaded with tasks and projects,” stated Bishop David Graves. “Our collective goal, with significant input from the staff and cabinet, is to prioritize our work in order have the biggest impact on our area. I am thrilled that this is another resource our clergy can count on so that they can continue to excel in preaching. The number one answer when we ask a church what makes a good pastor is relevant and exceptional preaching.”
The idea of the podcast came from Dr. Sam Parkes who is a member of the AWF Preaching Excellence Team and pastor at Mary Esther UMC (FL). He also had vital input into how the resource would be produced and implemented.
“Word on the Street” is hosted by Mary Catherine Phillips, AWF Director of Communications and is produced by Luke Lucas, AWF Communications Specialist.
“It is always rewarding to see a creative vision become a reality,” stated Mary Catherine Phillips. “This series will be new territory for the communications ministry team as this will be our first official podcast. We could not ask for a better team to collaborate with from conception to development to production. In addition to this being a personal area of growth, I look forward to connecting with clergy from around our conference in this unique way.”
The first episode launches today, October 21, 2019, and will be released every other week. Participants are ordained and provisional elders and deacons, licensed local pastors and occasionally a few guests.
To subscribe to the show, search “Word on the Street” on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher or your favorite podcast platform (show is populating out to all platforms and will be available soon). You may also access the podcast through this link.
The Alabama-West Florida Conference remembered this historic event in multiple ways and provided video and print resources for local churches to use the weekend prior to the anniversary. In addition to the local church participation, Bishop David Graves spent four weekends over the course of September and October visiting with AWF churches who sustained damage and who helped their communities in the days after the storm.
Bishop Graves visited the following areas:
September 15: Gulf Breeze UMC
September 22: Good News UMC
October 6: Lynn Haven UMC
October 13: Port St. Joe UMC and Apalachicola UMC
Each of these churches ministered to their communities in unique ways. Gulf Breeze UMC and Good News UMC immediately served as supply collection hubs and exhausted their resources and contacts to get supplies where they were most needed. Lynn Haven UMC and Port St. Joe UMC received significant structural damage; yet both congregations have found creative ways to continue ministry. Lynn Haven UMC has met in a parking lot and charter school to ensure that their church family can continue to worship together. Port St. Joe UMC had recently completed a community life center that withstood the strong winds and fared much better than their traditional sanctuary. Although Apalachicola UMC is part of the Florida Conference by a few miles, this congregation continues to help house volunteers and were able to access and provide relief to the Port St. Joe area immediately after the storm.
“Sometimes, the greatest gift you can give a person is your presence,” stated Bishop David Graves. “It was important for me to personally thank these pastors and congregations for the tireless efforts they have given since October 10, 2018. These pastors have made their churches a priority and some of them still have a long road ahead of them. I wanted to give thanks for their servant hearts. I look forward to spending time on the second anniversary with other churches who also share this burden.”
Rev. Chris Ackerman, who serves as the Hurricane Michael Recovery Director, was a full-time associate pastor at Lynn Haven UMC when the storm hit. “Fifty-three weeks ago I could have never dreamed that I would be dedicating my ministry to the relief efforts,” said Ackerman. “In the days that followed, we didn’t know if we would even have a church, where our paychecks would come from or what the next day would look like. I am forever grateful to a Bishop who showed up days after the storm to assure us we were not alone and one year later to continue to encourage us. He exemplified his continued commitment in the past few weeks by simply being present with us.”
The common thread through the recovery process has been the United Methodist Connection. Through global financial donations, to UMCOR grants, to relief teams, to conference support, the survivors have hope that one day, life might begin to look a little more stable. Until then, the Alabama-West Florida Conference has pledged to walk alongside these communities through the long-term recovery process.
For more information visit www.hurricanemichaelrecovery.org.
"We are truly humbled to be the recipient of this grant as only four organizations were chosen related to Hurricane Michael," stated AWF Grant Writer, Kristi McClellan. "This grant is a reflection of the strength of our organization, volunteer support and the infrastructure established with the help of UMCOR and their financial support," she explained.
The full press release about today's news is below.
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Today, the Volunteer Florida Foundation announced that $8 million in Florida Disaster Fund long-term recovery grants will be awarded to organizations engaged in Hurricane Michael and Hurricane Irma long-term recovery efforts. The Volunteer Florida Foundation will distribute $3 million to four organizations engaged in Hurricane Michael recovery efforts and $5 million to ten organizations engaged in Hurricane Irma recovery efforts.
“As we recognize the one-year anniversary of Hurricane Michael, I am pleased to announce that the Volunteer Florida Foundation will be releasing $8 million in long-term recovery grants to support Hurricane Michael and Hurricane Irma recovery efforts,” said Governor Ron DeSantis. “We are committed to ensuring our communities receive the support necessary as we rebuild stronger than ever before. Thank you to the generous individuals who donated to the Florida Disaster Fund and made this support possible.”
The Florida Disaster Fund is the State of Florida’s official private fund established to assist Florida’s communities as they respond to and recover after emergencies or disasters.
“As we reflect on the one year anniversary of Hurricane Michael, the Volunteer Florida Foundation is pleased to announce the award of Florida Disaster Fund grants that will support long-term recovery efforts in the panhandle and areas still recovering from Hurricane Irma,” said Volunteer Florida CEO Clay Ingram. “With the support of Governor DeSantis, Volunteer Florida has been able to continue to assist communities as they rebuild and recover through our Florida Disaster Fund grants and Disaster Case Management Programs.”
The following organizations were awarded Florida Disaster Fund long-term recovery grants to support existing projects that are helping individuals recover from Hurricane Michael:
Alabama-West Florida Conference of the United Methodist Church ($1,125,000)
Alabama-West Florida Conference of the United Methodist Church will repair and/or rebuild at least 73 Hurricane Michael-damaged homes.
Gulf District Schools ($1,125,000)
Gulf District Schools will complete repairs and upgrade existing HVAC units in schools to ensure the health and well-being of staff and students.
The Salvation Army ($600,000)
The Salvation Army will provide resources to those affected by Hurricane Michael who have exhausted all other sources of funding for personal unmet needs, such as rebuild/repair materials, household goods and furniture. The Salvation Army will be able to increase the number of unmet needs cases served from 400 to 600.
Town of Alford, Florida ($150,000)
The Town of Alford will rebuild its volunteer fire station facility. The station was located next to the Town Hall building, which was also severely damaged. The equipment and trucks are being temporarily housed in an open pole barn until the facility can be rebuilt.
The following organizations were awarded Florida Disaster Fund long-term recovery grants to support existing projects that are helping individuals recover from Hurricane Irma:
Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Miami, Inc. ($925,000)
Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Miami, Inc. will provide financial assistance to residents experiencing disaster-caused needs, including rent/mortgage assistance to 60 families throughout Monroe County and infrastructure support to assist an additional 37 units of affordable housing in Monroe County.
Cento Campesino Farmworker Center, Inc. ($750,000)
Centro Campesino Farmworker Center, Inc. will provide comprehensive recovery services to Floridians affected by Hurricane Irma through home repairs and financial assistance.
Florida Presbyterian Disaster Assistance Network, Inc. ($25,000)
Florida Presbyterian Disaster Assistance Network, Inc. will assist Long Term Recovery Groups by connecting them with grants and other resources.
Metropolitan Ministries, Inc. ($100,000)
Metropolitan Ministries, Inc. will prevent families impacted by Hurricane Irma from becoming homeless through prevention assistance programs, such as utility, rental, mortgage and other financial assistance.
Rebuilding Together Broward County, Inc. ($225,000)
Rebuilding Together Broward County, Inc. will serve Irma affected clients by providing utilities assistance, rent support, income replacement, food, clothing, transportation, medical supplies and household items.
Rebuilding Together of Central Florida, Inc. ($225,000)
Rebuilding Together of Central Florida, Inc. will direct/implement critically needed roof replacement projects at the homes of low and very low-income residents/households at no cost to the homeowner. Those served will include qualifying veterans, seniors, single mothers and the disabled, among others.
Star of the Sea Foundation, Inc. ($225,000)
Star of the Sea Foundation, Inc. will purchase and distribute food, primarily locally sourced produce and proteins, to those still recovering from Hurricane Irma.
St. Lucie Habitat for Humanity ($525,000)
St. Lucie Habitat for Humanity will rebuild, repair and fortify Hurricane Irma damaged homes. This will be accomplished by repairing or replacing critically damaged roofs, installing impact windows or hurricane shutters, and repairing or replacing exterior damage.
The Salvation Army ($1,000,000)
The Salvation Army will provide resources to those affected by Hurricane Irma who have exhausted all other sources of funding for personal unmet needs, such as rebuild/repair materials, household goods and furniture. The Salvation Army will be able to increase the number of unmet need cases served from 250 to 500.
Young Adult Missional Movement of the Florida Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church ($1,000,000)
Young Adult Missional Movement of the Florida Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church will support staff delivering holistic disaster services in Hurricane Irma-affected areas, including construction coordination, volunteer management, funding contractual costs and materials/products.
The Florida Disaster Fund long-term recovery grants are awarded through a competitive application process. An additional long-term recovery grant opportunity will be made available by the Volunteer Florida Foundation soon. To learn more about this funding opportunity and others, please sign up for the Volunteer Florida newsletter by clicking here.
Established in accordance with Section 14.29 (9), Florida Statutes, the Volunteer Florida Foundation is a 501(c)(3) organization. The Florida Disaster Fund, administered by the Volunteer Florida Foundation, was established in 2004 to fulfill needs unmet by other disaster relief organizations.
The Alabama-West Florida Conference Board of Pension and Health Benefits is pleased to announce new benefits at no cost to you starting January 1, 2020, for eligible clergy and conference staff. Rev. Steve Reneau, Pension and Health Board President and BeLinda Carnegie, Conference Benefits Officer, offer initial details in this video. Click here to view.
Great! So what do I need to do to take advantage of this?
- You do not need to do anything. Eligible clergy and staff will automatically be enrolled in both plans at no additional cost. Clergy spouses will be enrolled in the CHC Wellness Program.
- If you would like to learn more about these new benefits, plans for upcoming Webinars and trainings will be announced soon.
- Please check the BOPH Website for brochures related to the Employee Assistance Program (EAP) and the CHC Wellness Program. Click here for additional information.