A special session of the General Conference of The United Methodist Church will take place February 23-26, 2019, in St. Louis, Missouri. The purpose will be to receive and act on a report from the Commission on a Way Forward based on the recommendations of the Council of Bishops. The Commission was authorized to examine paragraphs in The Book of Discipline concerning human sexuality and to consider different expressions of church unity as a result of the 2016 General Conference. General Conference is the top policy-making body of The United Methodist Church and is the only voting body who can speak for the United Methodist Church.
There are many resources available to help you and your local church in the coming weeks. Many Alabama-West Florida Conference leaders, in addition to Bishop Graves, will be attending the conference. Necessary updates will be sent from the Office of Communications throughout the week. The official hashtags for social media are #GC2019 and #umcgc.
Below are links related to the special-called conference that will help you follow the session.
Bishop Graves will communicate with the conference at the conclusion of the gathering. Please be in prayer for the delegates, our Bishops, leaders and staff traveling to this conference in the coming days.
Eight hundred and sixty-four delegates from around the world will convene in St. Louis, MO, on February 23-26, 2019, to attend the special-called session of General Conference. General Conference is the top policy-making body of The United Methodist Church and is the only voting body who can speak for the denomination. The delegates will examine paragraphs in the United Methodist Book of Discipline concerning human sexuality and consider different expressions of church unity. Ten delegates, half clergy and half laity, will represent the Alabama-West Florida Conference at this conference. We welcome your prayers during this historical time in the United Methodist Church.
-The Alabama-West Florida Conference of the United Methodist Church
There are many resources available related to this special-called general conference session. Click here to access the dedicated page on the Alabama-West Florida Conference Website.
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In mid-December, church members, community residents and local officials joined roughly two dozen accomplished architects, planners and engineers from across North America in kicking off “The Century Project.” The four-day workshop centered on new approaches to church planning and specifically the long-term vision for Century Church’s permanent campus.
“It’s a beautiful piece of land,” said Rev. Patrick Quinn, lead pastor at Century Church. “We have 23 acres the Lord is letting us play on.”
Century Church—originally planted by Frazer UMC in 2016—meets regularly at Pike Road Elementary School. The congregation has grown rapidly since its inception, baptizing almost 80 people growing a membership of 525. It’s also a young church, with an average age of 39 and 85 to 90 children in attendance every Sunday. Early on, Quinn and church members began debating whether they should be portable or permanent, and after much prayer and discussion, they concluded they can do the most good with a permanent campus.
But the Century Church campus will be anything but traditional.
“What we have designed is a piece of property that is for the community first and the church second,” Quinn said. “It’s a totally new way of looking at church planning.”
He said the church hopes to finalize the overall design by March 10. The front of the property will be dedicated to leasing space to businesses, nonprofits and other organizations whose mission falls in line with Century Church’s beliefs. Some of the possibilities include a commissary kitchen, a YMCA branch, a farmer’s market, creative arts studios, business incubators and the United Methodist Children’s Home.
Instead of a traditional church building, the campus will feature The Well, an indoor-outdoor space where people can gather, worship, and enjoy secular and Christian music together.
Quinn, who worked in resort management prior to entering the ministry, said it has long been a dream of his to incorporate the hospitality, community and nature found at the best resorts into the space of the church. He said his own study of Jesus life led him to conclude that such a way of living is well within God’s plan for people.
“It seemed that Jesus had in mind that people would hang out with each other and become family to one another,” he said.
Quinn said he wants the permanent campus to be a place where people who are not looking for Jesus realize he’s looking for them, a place where they can lose track of time and a place where the secular becomes the sacred.
He said the community of Pike Road has been extremely supportive, particularly the school system and the mayor’s office.
“They’re cheering us on and want this church to reach the next generation,” Quinn said. “What we have found is that people are excited about a church that wants to give itself away. … There’s not one building that will be solely for our use. Even down to the office space, we’re looking at having work share possibilities!”
Many details have to be ironed out in the coming months, but church officials hope to break ground on the campus sometime in the fourth quarter of this year.
“I feel like God has had his hands on me to do this kind of ministry,” he said. “Is it stressful? Sure, but this is a vision that’s bigger than me or any one person, and I’m learning to trust God in that.”
Photo courtesy of Jennifer Trew
Equipping, educating and helping local pastors be the best they can be in ministry is close to Cash’s heart. He helped start the Alabama Course of Study School in the mid-1990s and has served as the Director of the program for 24 years. In June 2019, he will retire from this role.
“I am proud to be part of a denomination that takes the education of its pastors seriously,” Cash says.
The Alabama Course of Study School (ALCOS), an Extension of the Emory Course of Study School, educates and trains local pastors in The United Methodist Church. ALCOS is sponsored jointly by the Alabama-West Florida and North Alabama Annual Conferences with campuses at Birmingham-Southern and Huntingdon Colleges.
While he cannot give the exact number of students to come through the Alabama Course of Study over the last 24 years, he notes, “We’ve had quarters with as many as 100 students in a term. The lowest number of students we ever had was 35. Most quarters we have 60 to 75 students.”
The Beginnings of the Alabama Course of Study School
In 1992, Cash was serving on the North Alabama Conference Board of Ordained Ministry as the Chair of the Local Pastors section. As part of that role, he traveled to Candler School of Theology at Emory University in Atlanta to attend the graduation of the Course of Study School. A colleague from the Alabama-West Florida Conference, Dr. Larry Bryars, was also there. The two heard about a new opportunity called Course of Study by Extension. This allowed a Course of Study to be offered in areas away from the seminary, but with Emory serving as the supervising agency. An extension had already begun in Mississippi and one was starting in the Memphis area. Cash and Bryars decided they wanted to work to bring this opportunity to Alabama.
Working together for three years, they secured permission to use facilities at both Birmingham-Southern and Huntingdon and also put together a board of managers. In September 1995 ALCOS offered its first classes and Cash became the Director.
Cash says, “Neither Conference worked on their own. We worked together and are still doing that today.”
Course of Study
Course of Study (COS) is the educational process for those seeking to become local pastors, but who have not attended seminary. A local pastor first completes Licensing School and then the Five-Year Basic Course of Study.
Course of Study is prescribed by the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry – Division of Ordained Ministry which is responsible for developing curriculum, purpose and learning goals; providing resources; establishing, maintaining, and evaluating schools; keeping central records on all students; and reporting on student progress to each Conference Board of Ordained Ministry every year.
It is made up of 20 required courses including courses in Bible, Theology, Church History, Preaching, Pastoral Care, Christian Education and Ethics. Participants, who are part-time students, can complete the Basic Course of Study in five years. Cash says many participants take eight to 12 years to complete these educational requirements.
Each year ALCOS offers two sessions at Birmingham-Southern College and two sessions at Huntingdon College. Cash says the schedule is designed so ALCOS offers all 20 required courses over any two-year period.
Cash explains that while Emory University is the supervising agency and must approve faculty and curriculum vitae, ALCOS has its own financial setup and board of directors that includes District Superintendents, local pastors, institutional representatives, students, alumni and members at large from both annual conferences. They also choose their own professors who become adjunct faculty of Emory and must meet certain educational requirements.
Although the ALCOS is jointly sponsored by the Alabama-West Florida and North Alabama Conferences, Cash says there have been students from 15 different Annual Conferences.
Learning and Growing
Over the last 24 years Cash has served as the Director of ALCOS and as a faculty member in Alabama and other extension programs. He says that the student participants are not the only ones who learn and grow as a result of the school.
As a result of teaching courses in preaching, worship and sacraments Cash says, “I have had to struggle with my own sacramental theology and struggled to keep my own preaching fresh. The way I teach has evolved.”
He adds, “I have had my own sense of call affirmed, through the sense of call I have experienced in the lives of others. I have had my belief in the system of education of the UMC enforced. I have, along with my students, struggled with issues in the life of the church, even as we are all struggling this year. I think my faith in the church has grown stronger as I have seen the church go forward for Christ.”
Cash explains that students are invited to offer reflections on their ALCOS experience during graduation exercises. Some admit they did not want to come to Course of Study, but once they have completed the courses, they say it has been one of the best things to happen in their ministry.
He says “seeing students in appreciation of the process and what the education means to their lives and ministries” is meaningful to him.
The students he has worked with and the professors with whom he has worked and taught alongside have been Cash’s favorite part of the experience.
“I have thoroughly enjoyed my years participating in this significant point of ministry,” he says.
As he counts down the months to retiring from the role of Director of ALCOS, Cash says he wants to thank both the Alabama-West Florida Conference and the North Alabama Conference for their support of ALCOS. He also wants to thank both conferences for their support of their local pastors and the congregations served by those pastors.
He additionally thanks the North Alabama Conference Office of Communication for hosting the ALCOS website and North Alabama Conference Treasurer Scott Selman and Controller Johnny Frazier for handling the ALCOS fiscal responsibilities.
Local Pastors - A Great Genius of the Methodist Church
Looking back, Cash says he is grateful for the opportunity to be an advocate for and a helper with local pastors.
He notes, “One of the great geniuses of the Methodist Church has been our local pastors. Our history shows that – both in England and America when the movement crossed the waters.
“Local pastors have filled pulpits and inspired our people. Without local pastors, many local churches would not have pastoral leadership. Because of local pastors and the process which they go through, we are offering these churches pastors who have learned and are learning and growing within themselves to be able to pastor. I know the shape of the church would be different without local pastors – many of whom are bi-vocational.
“I think the need for local pastors will be as great going forward as it is now.”