Hurricane Florence update

published 9/16/2018

Thank you for your prayers for those who have been affected by the winds, storms, and floods brought by Hurricane Florence in South Carolina, North Carolina, and its continued path up the east coast.

ERT Teams:
Our AWF conference disaster response leadership team has been in touch with officials from UMCOR and our counterparts in the affected conferences. At this time, they are still waiting for waters to recede before they do assessments and know what they need. Their own ERT teams are not yet being sent into the harmful or dangerous situations; they have not offered invitations for our teams to travel there, either.

If your ERT teams are interested in serving in the Carolinas, now is the time to review your response protocol, form your teams, and get any necessary vaccinations or booster shots (e.g., tetanus) to avoid future possible illnesses. We will send out more information when they have requested teams.

However, there will be many offers of help for the Carolinas from major metropolitan areas closer to the east coast. Please consider planning a long-term recovery team in the spring or summer.

The affected conferences are not yet asking for UMCOR relief kits, but will soon begin receiving those direct from the UMCOR depot in Sager Brown, Louisiana, and other UMCOR affiliated warehouses. If your church is interested in assembling relief kits (cleaning kits and hygiene kits), we will collect them and send them to Sager Brown or the warehouse in Decatur, AL. This is by request from the affected conferences.

Watch for additional details in the next few days on where these items will be collected in the Alabama-West Florida Conference.

*NOTE:  We are only collecting cleaning kitshygiene kits, scoop shovels (flat), wheelbarrows, box fans, and rakes, all in good condition. Click on the kits' names for more details on contents for each kit. Please do not collect clothing, water, food or other supplies.

Financial contributions:
The best way to respond to those who are affected, after prayer, is through financial contributions. If your church would like to collect/make an offering for Hurricane Florence, make your check payable to AWFC with "Hurricane Florence" in the memo line. Send it to AWFC - Fiscal Office, 4719 Woodmere Blvd, Montgomery, AL 36106.

We will continue to update the conference website as we learn more in the next few days and weeks. Visit this link: 


Conference Seeks Event Input

published 9/12/2018

September 12, 2018

In an attempt to study and obtain data on conference-sponsored events, we invite you to take a brief survey. One of our goals at the Alabama-West Florida Conference office is to make the best use of our clergy and laity's time while offering relevant and helpful events that will better equip our leaders for ministry. 

Click here to take the survey.

Thank you for your valuable time. Your input is most helpful to us. 

Mary Catherine Phillips
Director of Communications
Alabama-West Florida Conference 

Winners and Losers

published 8/29/2018
(Bishop David Graves for The Montgomery Advertiser) - Football season has kicked off for high school and college with the pro ranks soon to follow. Each week until the Super Bowl, which will take place the first Sunday of February, the list of winners and losers will be posted through various media channels. Football polls and standings will become of interest to many in these parts of the country. Some of us Atlanta Braves baseball fans will be holding out hope that our beloved team can play into October and possibly the World Series. The fall is a wonderful season for sports fans. Yet, there are winners and losers. As a University of Tennessee graduate, I hold out hope that my Volunteers will win more games than they lose, perhaps upsetting a team or two. All of these scenarios create winners and losers.

Yet, we choose sides not only in sports but politics, church, schools (private vs. public) and even what side of town one lives. Our polarization around these and many other matters of our society seem to position people against one another. People often think, “If you have the same thought or attitude as mine, you are a winner.” Or, “If it is different than my way of thinking, well…you are a loser. Not only a loser, but I don’t even like you.” To go deeper, hate builds a wall around our heart.

This winner and loser mentality is crippling us as a nation and our Christian witness. Every day as a Bishop in the United Methodist Church, I make decisions that tend to be viewed by some, and perhaps many, as a win or a loss. I’ll decide on one matter, be criticized for making it, and then be called names–most of which I cannot print here! I then make another decision, am applauded by the same group who criticized me before and then criticized by the other side. It could be viewed as winning and losing. What I have come to focus on is that it is not about winning and losing, but simply doing the right thing in the sight of God.

In our United Methodist denomination, we are heading to a called General Conference in February of 2019 where we will vote on issues around human sexuality–primarily our stance on human sexuality and same sex marriage. In our church polity, only the General Conference of the United Methodist Church can speak or change anything around church law or principles for ministry. Currently, our Book of Discipline states that homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching and marriage is between one man and one woman. There will be petitions presented at General Conference to strengthen our stance and there will be petitions to include same sex marriage and remove language that homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching. At General Conference 2019, there will be proposals, much debate and voting over these issues. When the votes are tallied, there will be winners and losers.

We witness in our political elections, whether they be national, regional, or local, where a typical election is decided by a narrow margin. Winners and losers. The results come with a great cost where divisiveness leads to polarization and distracts us from what is important in life. The important things in life are our relationships with people and most importantly our relationship with God.

Over the last two weeks, we have seen people place a priority on the mission of our children here in Montgomery over politics, teams, and schools to help in the aftermath of the Booker T. Washington Magnet High School fire. People have rallied together to prepare the temporary location at the Hayneville Road property and to pray for all those involved. The community response has been a wonderful blessing and has united us in a cause that is most important–children who are our future. The tragic loss of a building from a fire has ironically brought such a winning attitude to our community.

Jesus reminds us in His message called the Sermon on the Mount: blessed are those who know they need more than this world can ever offer and that is a need for God.

Blessed are those who are humble. We all need to think about that one.

Blessed are those who thirst for what is the right thing to do.

Blessed are the merciful.

Blessed are the peacemakers.

In a culture that seems to thrive on winning and putting down others who disagree with them, Jesus reminds me to focus on going deeper in my relationship with God, put a spirit of humbleness within me, seek to do the right thing even when we are persecuted for it, have a spirit of mercy and seek to be a peacemaker in a world that so needs a spirit of peace.

What about you?

Commission on the General Conference determines petition process

published 8/28/2018

Nashville, Tenn.: The Commission on the General Conference has outlined a process for determining if petitions submitted to the 2019 Special Session of the General Conference are in harmony with the Council of Bishops’ amended call to the session, which states that the purpose of the special session “shall be limited to receiving and acting upon a report from the Commission on a Way Forward based upon the recommendations of the Council of Bishops.”

The Judicial Council ruled that petitions may be filed by an organization or lay/clergy member as long as the business proposed to be transacted is in harmony with the purpose stated in the call. According to Decision 1360, “It is the obligation of the General Conference to determine, in the first instance, through its committees, officers and presiders, acting in accordance with The Discipline and the rules and procedures of the General Conference, whether any such petition is ‘in harmony.’”

The Commission on a Way Forward has submitted 48 petitions. Seventy-nine additional petitions were submitted, of which 18 have been found to be invalid due to errors in formatting or failure to meet other requirements. The 61 remaining petitions are still being reviewed to determine validity in formatting. These determinations will all be reviewed by the Committee on Reference, in accordance with the Plan of Organization and Rules of Order of the General Conference.

In designing a process for consideration by the Commission on the General Conference to carry out the Judicial Council’s ruling, the executive committee of the Commission on the General Conference worked with a design team for the 2019 Special Session, which met in Charlotte, N.C. August 18-19 to discuss plans for the event. The design team includes the executive committee of the Commission on the General Conference, representatives of the Council of Bishops and the Commission on a Way Forward, and a representative of the 2019 Special Session hospitality team. The design team is providing recommendations, but only the Commission itself is authorized to make decisions.

The executive committee prepared a recommended process for determining whether petitions are in harmony with the call to the special session. This process was presented to the full membership of the Commission on the General Conference for approval and received an affirmative vote. The process is as follows:

The Secretary of the General Conference and the Petitions Secretary will review petitions that were submitted to make sure the format adheres to the instructions for petition submission, as well as the Plan of Organizations and Rules of Order and requirements in the Book of Discipline

All valid petitions will be printed in the Advance edition of the Daily Christian Advocate; however, the petitions submitted by organizations and individuals other than the Commission on a Way Forward will still have to be reviewed by the Committee on Reference to determine if they are in harmony with the call to the special session. If the petition is not found to be in harmony, it will be withdrawn. The actions of the Committee on Reference will be reported in the first daily edition of the Daily Christian Advocate.

During the design team meeting, the group also discussed the idea of offering a covenant for delegates, inspired by the accountability covenant that members of the Commission on a Way Forward adopted to guide them in their work together. 

Also on the agenda was discussion of ideas to help provide a tone and an environment that will help delegates to do their best work and ways to integrate prayer and worship into the process. The day preceding the start of General Conference, February 23, has been designated as a day of preparation and prayer as a culmination of the Praying Our Way Forward initiative.

Foundation Celebrates Milestone: $10 Million Goal Realized!

published 8/24/2018

(SSSEF) - On Thursday, August 9, 2018, the Stegall Seminary Scholarship Endowment Foundation celebrated its 11th year in ministry at the annual Dinner of Celebration. The banquet, held at the Renaissance Hotel in downtown Montgomery, welcomed approximately 425 students, alumni and supporters. Including those in attendance were some of the 53 seminary students being supported by the Foundation during the 2018-2019 school year. These 53 seminary students, in addition to 10 local pastors completing the advanced course of study, sets a new record  of 63 individuals receiving foundation support.

Each year, two extravagantly generous donors underwrite the entire cost of the banquet, ensuring that donations made to the Foundation are allocated for scholarships. Rev. Anthony J.  McCullough, senior pastor of Prattville (Ala.) First United Methodist Church, served as the evening’s Master of Ceremonies. The invocation was given by Rev. Robin C. Wilson, senior pastor of Opelika (Ala.) First United Methodist Church.

One of the most exciting parts of the evening was the announcement that the foundation had reached a new milestone. “Last year, when our Dinner of Celebration was held in this same ballroom, it was announced that we wanted to raise over $10 million for our scholarship foundation, through present assets and promised bequests, said Dr. Karl K. Stegall, volunteer president of the foundation. “ i give thanks to God, and to all of you tonight, that we have now exceeded our $10 million goal. To God be the glory!”

Bishop David W. Graves, resident bishop of the Alabama - West Florida Conference (AWF), shared episcopal greetings with those assembled. Speaking to the donors  he said, “I give you thanks for all that you are doing...we need clergy to be called from our local churches, we want to be a place that has excellent clergy, and we want to develop a call not only for clergy but for laity, as well. God has called us all to present the good news of Christ. “

Mr. Lee Jackson performed a solo of "You Raise Me Up." Later in the program he also sang “Here I Am, Lord.”

A highlight of the annual banquet is the ability for donors to hear firsthand from current seminary students. This year, three students shared words of thankfulness to donors.

Mr. Hunter Bethea, a second-year student at Asbury Theological Seminary, is from Shalimar, Fla.  During his witness, Bethea said “I’m a firm believer that I stand on the shoulders of giants. Giants like my parents who taught me the unconditional love of God and encouraged me to experience that love for myself. Giants like Wayne Walker, my former youth director who God used to reveal to me that he was calling me into ministry. Giants like Jonathan Hart and Christina Shaver, both of whom were Stegall Seminary scholarship recipients, who have been mentors to me as I walk through this process to become a pastor. And, Giants like you, who have sacrificed so much to make all of this possible,” he said.  

Miss Bria Rochelle, a first-year student at Duke Divinity School, is from Eight Mile, Ala.  Rochelle thanked donors for their support, telling them: “It is because of you that I will be able to delve deeper into what I feel God has called me to do; to go into unfamiliar places, to make a home, and truly illustrate what God’s kingdom is meant to look like and to be like,” she said. Although she didn’t begin her college career thinking about ministry as a vocation,“I am glad that this exercise science graduate decided to let go of her own life and allow God’s will to be done in it. “

Mr. Ryan Runager, a second-year student at Candler School of Theology, and native of Moulton, Ala., spoke about his late mother, who died during his freshman year at Huntingdon College.  “She is the reason I switched my major to religion, and she affirmed the vague nudge to ministry that I felt,” he said. “She knew something about me that I never did; that I was called.” Runager said he thanked God that faith “takes a community,” and recognized the donors for their endless support. “Thank you all for giving me a community; one where I feel loved, where I am accepted and my call to ministry is continuously affirmed;  a community where I will be proud to serve in the future,” he said.

Dr. Paulette Thompson, on behalf of the Stegall Foundation Board of Directors, presented the ninth annual "Spirit of the Foundation" Award to Mr. George T. Goodwyn. This award is presented annually to honor a donor who has shown faithful commitment to the mission of the foundation. In presenting the award, Thompson said, “As the ripples from a pebble dropped in a still pond flow outward, so do the many acts of kindness, insightful guidance and generosity of this man.”

In response to his receiving of the award, Goodwyn said: “The Stegall Foundation has certainly been a ministry that recognizes God and develops young people; it has been a blessing to me to be involved in this program.“

Previous recipients of the Spirit of the Foundation Award are: Mr. Boyd Goddard; Bishop Paul A. Duffey; Mr. John Bullard; Mr. Temple Millsap; Mr. Wayne Russell; Mr. Dan Lindsey, Sr.; Dr. Paulette Thompson; and Rev. Arthur Carlton (posthumously).

Also on behalf of the foundation’s board of directors, Dr. Jeremy K. Pridgeon then presented the second annual Church Appreciation Award to Lillian UMC in Lillian, Ala. The award recognizes a congregation who faithfully supports the mission of the foundation.

Present to receive the award on behalf of the church was their pastor, Rev. Daniel Randall. In his acceptance speech, Randall said: “I want to challenge every pastor here tonight to make it a goal to fully support a seminary student, as we can all do our part.”

The first recipient of the Church Appreciation Award in 2017 was Fort Davis (Ala.) UMC.

As a challenge to those attending the Dinner, Mr. David E. Housel shared a video message, as he was unable to attend in person. Watch it here.

Dr. Karl K. Stegall, volunteer president of the foundation, personally offered a word of appreciation to donors at the conclusion of the banquet. “One of the lessons that God has taught me over these past 11 years is how God can take something very small and use that small gift for His glory,” he said. “I believe so strongly in what we are doing that i am not bashful to ask for your continued support, remembering that we now support 63 individuals.”

Dr. Stegall then invited all seminary students present to come forward as Bishop Graves offered a blessing over the students as a sending forth for the evening.

Click here to see photos by Luke Lucas

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