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

Hurricane Michael Disaster Response, December 10, 2018

published 12/10/2018

The Alabama-West Florida Conference continues to serve those in need along the panhandle of Florida after Hurricane Michael. 

Conference leaders and UMCOR consultants have assisted those who setup temporary shelter at Forest Park UMC in Panama City, FL, to find new housing arrangements. Our sincere appreciation is extended to the UMCOR team who was on the ground in the area assisting conference leaders to ensure care and dignity were shown to all temporary residents. 

We also joyfully announce that the Alabama-West Florida Conference is the recipient of a $628,768 grant from UMCOR. We are grateful to UMCOR for recognizing the extensive need along the coast. This grant will allow for three volunteer coordinator sites to be established, support staff to manage these sites, construction costs for those we help and assessments for the next grant. UMCOR is sending another team to the panhandle in January to consult with the conference so that we manage the sites in an effective and efficient way. 

Susan Hunt, AWF Director of Mission and Advocacy, has established a partnership program for churches to partner with Marianna-Panama City district churches. Click here to read suggestions on ways you can help provide support to those churches in need. Should you have questions, she can be reached at If your church wishes to participate, please contact Susan. 

We continue to encourage all volunteers to register through the portal to ensure our volunteer coordinators appropriately match the skill level with the need. 

Thank you for the many ways you continue to minister to those in the Port St. Joe, Marianna and Panama City areas.  

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