Rev. Walter Cash to retire as Director of Alabama Course of Study School after 24 years of service

published 2/7/2019
“I am where I am in ministry because of persons who have taken an interest in me – helping me and mentoring me and providing a way for me to be the best pastor I can be,” the Reverend Walter Cash reflects. “Because so many have helped me, I have always had a desire to mentor others and help them become all they can be.”
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.
Expressing Thanks
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.”

Seminar on Racial and Economic Justice Educates Conference on Past and Present Issues

published 2/1/2019
The AWF Board of Church and Society held a Seminar on Racial and Economic Justice to bring awareness to current and past injustices. The seminar welcomed Gabrielle Daniel, a Racial Justice Fellow with Equal Justice Initiative (EJI); Evan Milligan, an EJI Law Fellow; and Rev. John Brooks, Director of Multicultural Ministries in the AWF Conference.
Daniels and Milligan shared a presentation focusing on the historical legacy of racial and economic injustice in our nation and state and encouraged and empowered attendees to use their voice and work towards trust, equity, and justice within our communities today. Rev. Brooks spoke about actions that the UMC and the AWF conference are doing to begin to work toward justice in these areas.

Sixty-five people were in attendance the event at Frazer Memorial UMC on Monday, January 28, 2019, and over 200 people watched by live stream. An additional 400 people have viewed the seminar online. Click here to access the recording of the seminar
“We were overwhelmed by the interest in this seminar,” said Rev. Ashley Davis, AWF Director of Connectional Ministries. “Although this can be a difficult topic to address, our conference is committed to keeping racial and economic injustice at the forefront of our conversations. One of our conference priorities is to be adaptive leaders through uncharted times, focusing on Kingdom work. Many people might think this only applies to our denominational discussions but racial issues have always been challenging, especially in our conference. Our conference leadership team looks forward to exploring even more ways to ensure many voices are at the table.”
The conversation served as a starting point for additional conversations to happen in the future. The next event related to this topic will be the upcoming “At the Table” at Monroeville UMC on March 23rd from 10am-2pm or at Aldersgate UMC on April 6th from 10am-2pm.

Think about it ... social media exposes whatever is in your heart

published 1/31/2019
(Bishop David Graves for The Montgomery Advertiser) - My seminary professor of preaching was Dr. Fred Craddock who said, “The longest journey any of us will ever make is from the head to the heart.” Think about that for a moment.

Often what we communicate comes more from our head and from emotions that leave the heart far behind. It is no secret we live in a world dominated by social media. Social media has many good qualities and I’ve seen first-hand positive action come from it. There are countless stories of inspiration, families and friends that are reunited after many years, upcoming events that are well worth our time, and precious pictures that warm our hearts.

Yet, we’ve also witnessed the dark side of social media that tears people down, hurts them, and leaves a trail of woundedness. People of all ages feel they are never worthy enough comparing themselves to people they’ve never met. We see the division it creates in politics, personal relationships, and even in our churches. Think about it.

Recently, a friend told me a story about his daughter’s employment with a major airline. When she attended her orientation, the new employees were told that if they have a Facebook account, Twitter, Instagram, or any other social media account, they recommended deactivating those accounts. They did not require them to do so, they simply highly suggested it. The airline explained that they would monitor their social media accounts and should they post anything not in line with the integrity or policies of the employer, they could be terminated. The airline emphasized that if they are employing and paying them, they would be required to live up to their principles. Think about that for a moment. I can’t find fault with the airline for taking this clear, yet powerful stance. I have seen many posts from people that leave me speechless and leave me to wonder if they remember who they represent whether it be their fellow family members, an employer, a volunteer group, church, etc.

It causes me to wonder: if we held our pastors and lay leaders to this same standard, what would be the outcome? For we not only represent ourselves, but the church. Most importantly we represent God. More times than I would like to recall, we have had to tell pastors to remove posts on social media. Do we not realize that when we post on social media, we are inviting the whole world into our lives? Even adults don’t seem to understand that there is no removing your online history. We do so without taking time to journey from our head to our heart. Think about it!

We have become a society addicted to our mobile devices and often do not take the time to build relationships with people we encounter. Hear me when I say I have been as guilty as everyone else. I am preaching to myself and allowing you to journey with me for a moment. I gave up all forms of social media several months ago. I am not asking you to take that drastic leap, but I am asking when you share on social media to simply think for a moment and take the time to journey from your head to your heart. Don’t we all want to share our best self? Don’t we want to represent good and not harm? Take the journey from your head to your heart. It is good to remember that what we put in our heart will present itself through what we think, say or post on social media.

Will you think about it?

Florida churches raise over $1.5 million for Michael relief

published 1/24/2019

(Florida Conference UMC) - Inspired by a matching funds challenge of $500,000 from First UMC Ormond Beach, Florida Conference churches raised over $1 million for Hurricane Michael relief for the Alabama West Florida Conference. A total of $1,533,096 was donated to their recovery.

Bishop David Graves of the Alabama West Florida Conference said the money will ease suffering so many continue to endure after the hurricane.

“I extend my deepest gratitude to each person who made financial donations on our behalf,” he said. “Please know how much I appreciate each of you. You have shown what it is to be not only be United Methodists, but also the hands and feet of Christ.”

“First United is honored to be on mission together with you in helping our neighbors in the Panhandle discover hope,” Pastor Scott Smith of FUMC Ormond Beach said. “When we come together and unite in a common effort, great things happen for the Kingdom.”

Conference Staff off to busy start in 2019

published 1/22/2019
(Kari C. Barlow for AWFUMC) - The Alabama-West Florida Conference staff is ushering in the new year with a renewed focus on its 2018-2020 priorities.  

Those four areas—growing discipleship, cultivating exceptional talent, training and teaching and being adaptive leaders through uncharted times—are considered to be pivotal in the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead in the next two years.

“We really wanted to start the year off right,” said Rev. Ashley Davis, director of connectional ministries for the conference.  

During the first week of January, Davis, along with Bishop David Graves, Rev. John Russell of St. John UMC in Mobile, Rev Richard Williams of Aldersgate UMC and Dr. Sam Parkes of Mary Esther UMC, attended the 2019 National Festival of Young Preachers in Atlanta. The annual event allows young preachers from across the country to attend master classes on preaching, to connect with mentors from colleges and seminaries and to network with other young people answering the call to full-time ministry.

Graves and Russell preached at the festival’s opening worship service, and the AWFUMC—a partner in the event—set up a booth to welcome and recruit potential clergy members.  

“It’s a very ecumenical gathering—there were United Methodists, Lutherans, Presbyterians, Catholics,” Davis said. “It includes young preachers from age 14 to 35. If we’re going to encourage people, they have to start somewhere!” 

All of the young preachers who attend have an opportunity to practice preaching—and be evaluated—during the event. Parkes, who holds a doctorate in homiletics, served as one of those evaluators tasked with providing constructive feedback. Russell, who leads a diverse congregation, and Parkes also taught a class on preaching in a multicultural setting. 

“I was inspired by the level of preaching,” Davis said. “A lot of the sermons had me on my feet! … And there was a lot of willingness to call out injustice.”

One of her favorite moments came at the end of the festival with a “Gospel Slam” featuring traditional preaching and much more.

“It was great,” Davis said. “There were songs. There were poems. There were all sorts of ways people were sharing the gospel!”

The festival is an excellent way to create a “brave space” with a lot of camaraderie for young people who are considering becoming preachers, she added.

“It’s invaluable—especially because of the communities they are forming,” Davis said. “If you’re a 14-year-old or 15-year-old who wants to be a preacher, chances are you’re pretty different … and to be with other young people who are experiencing a call, there’s a lot of encouragement in that.”

The festival has even motivated Davis to explore holding a similar regional festival for young preachers across the Alabama-West Florida conference. 

A few days after returning from Atlanta, Davis accompanied members of the conference staff and Huntingdon College to Lakeland, Florida, to meet with Florida Conference staff and the leadership of First UMC Lakeland. Their purpose was to learn about the programs that have helped the FLUMC and First UMC Lakeland create a vibrant culture of the call. 

Davis said she was especially impressed with Rev. David McEntire, the senior pastor, and his staff’s commitment to First UMC Lakeland’s strong internship program and efforts to make the vocation of ministry accessible to young people.

 “It’s very intentional,” she said. “Young people really get to experience all aspects of ministry.”

Although a quick trip, connecting with First UMC Lakeland inspired many ideas, Davis added.

“It was a really good time of crossing conference boundaries,” she said. “It was connectional!”

The conference plans to hold a meeting of 10 selected churches on March 2 to officially share what it learned in Lakeland. 

“The hope is to do a deep dive with this group and spread it to others,” Davis said. “And one of the hopes is that we can make it possible for more small- and medium-sized churches to have internships.”

Photo courtesy of Rev. Sam Parkes

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