Commission ends its work; hears bishops’ recommendation for a way forward

published 5/18/2018

(UMNS) - The 32-member Commission on a Way Forward for The United Methodist Church concluded its ninth and final meeting in Nashville yesterday (May 16).

The Commission met nine times over 17 months. The Commission reviewed a wide variety of petitions presented as legislation to previous General Conferences regarding human sexuality and examined how other faith communities and denominations are responding or have responded to the question of inclusion of LGBTQ persons.

“The key part of the early work was to build trust and intentional community among a group of people who had good reasons not to trust each other,” said Bishop David Yemba, one of the moderators of the Commission.

At the heart of the work on relationship building was the book, The Anatomy of Peace, from the Arbinger Institute. The focus of The Anatomy of Peace is to help people build the capacity for living through conflict with a heart of peace instead of a heart at war. A heart of peace helps us to see and treat others as people while a heart at war tends to see and treat others as objects, obstacles, or problems.

“A heart at war exaggerates our differences. A heart at peace sees what we have in common,” said Bishop Yemba.

The Commission wrote a covenant with each other that both guided the work of the Commission and helped to build community and trust. Commission members focused on finding a way forward rather than on representing groups or constituencies.

“The Commission’s practice of voicing differing theological views and interpretations of scripture stands as a model for what kind of ministry we are both called and empowered by God to do,” said Bishop Sandra Steiner Ball, one of the moderators. “This led us to discover the interests behind the various positions and opened up multiple possibilities for how the church can continue to fulfill the ministry of Christ in both unity and with diversity.”

The Commission spent significant time listening to the church through an open framework for receiving documents, ideas, and testimonies. The Commission received and processed feedback from boards and agencies, local churches, annual conferences, individual lay and clergy persons, candidates for ministry, and seminary students. Conversations took place with individuals and interest groups across the globe.

Along the way, Commission members worked on possible models for a way forward.

In November 2017, the Commission presented an extended interim report to the Council of Bishops. The report included three sketches: one that focused on accountability within the context of the current Book of Discipline language; one that focused on removing restrictive language and placing a high value on contextuality and protections of various perspective; and one that reimagined the church as a unified core with multiple branches.

In February 2018, the bishops held a special meeting to hear more details on the proposed plans from the Commission and to offer feedback.

With continued input from bishops and constituencies around the church, the Commission refined and adapted the models and presented its final report to the Council of Bishops in May 2018.

The Council of Bishops is in the process of revising and perfecting their report and recommendation based on the work of the Commission to the special session of General Conference 2019.

“We anticipate the report will be released in early July. Future work will be with delegations to create a culture that will listen to God, receive the report, and do this work with a heart of peace and not a heart of war,” said Bishop Ken Carter, president of the Council of Bishops.

Although their work is officially over, members of the Commission will collaborate with residential bishops in equipping delegations between now and 2019 General Conference, which will be held Feb. 23-26 in St. Louis, Missouri.

About the Commission: The Commission on a Way Forward was created after the 2016 General Conference approved a motion for the Council of Bishops to name a commission that would explore options to keep the unity of the church that had been threatened over the question of inclusion of LGBTQ persons. The Commission is diverse body that represents the global church with members coming from nine countries with a variety of theological perspectives. The Commission is one third laity, one third clergy, and one third bishops and includes younger persons, LGBTQ persons, professors, administrators, pastors, youth ministers, campus ministers, lay leaders, large church pastors, and persons identified with renewal and advocacy groups.

Important Final Details and Guide to Annual Conference 2018

published 5/16/2018

We are quickly approaching the 2018 session of the Alabama-West Florida Annual Conference. We are excited to see many of you soon. Click here to access a working agenda. Copies of the final agenda will be distributed at the doors of Wesley Hall prior to Monday's first business session. 

The reservation system closes on May 21, 2018, at 2:00pm. After this date and time, the reservation system will be closed so that we can accurately report head counts to our host churches. Click here to make a reservation

The 2018 Guide to Annual Conference has been published. It contains the bulletins for the Opening Worship Service and Memorial Service and overviews of the morning worship services. We continue to strive to be good stewards of our resources. Therefore, printed bulletins will not be produced for these services (family attending the Memorial Service will receive keepsake copies). The 2018 Book of Reports is available online. Hard copies will be available at the registration tables during annual conference. 

The clergy session and laity session will be held Sunday evening following opening worship (please note the start time for opening worship). Clergy will report to Wesley Hall and laity may remain in the sanctuary. Registration will close during opening worship but will briefly reopen prior to these sessions to accommodate those who are not able to register prior to opening worship. It will close promptly at 8pm Sunday evening. Clergy need to have their name badge visible to enter the executive session. 

This year's 2018 Annual Conference session falls during the Alabama Primary Elections. Election day is Tuesday, June 5, 2018. This is important for you to know for absentee balloting purposes and Frazer Memorial UMC is a polling location. Click here for more details

Each morning (Monday-Wednesday) will begin with worship in Wesley Hall at 8:30am. Holy Communion will be served on Tuesday and Wednesday. Please plan to join your fellow clergy and laity for a special time of worship and reflection. This was a very meaningful part of last year's annual conference. 

At the beginning of the Tuesday session in Wesley Hall, we are asking all clergy to find their local church lay members and sit with them by district. There will be a screen visual (see image below) and pages to assist you in finding your district. If you are projected to receive a new appointment, please find your new church lay members. This will be important for our morning session with Julia Kuhn Wallace. Please note district sections have been reversed from last year. 

We look forward to seeing everyone June 3-6, 2018, at Frazer Memorial UMC! 

Answering the call: Alabama women to become deaconesses

published 5/16/2018
(Kari Barlow for the AWF Conference) - You could hear the excitement in Laurel Akin’s and Celeste Eubanks’ voices on Monday as they made their way to Columbus, Ohio, for the 2018 Assembly of United Methodist Women.
Not even the stress of multiple flight delays could dampen the spirits of the two women who are just days away from answering the call to serve as deaconesses in the United Methodist Church.
“It’s been such a faith walk,” Eubanks said in a phone interview from Charlotte Douglas International Airport. “I’ve seen God work in amazing ways. … I am living Jeremiah 29:11!”
Indeed, God’s plans for Eubanks, the director of leadership strategies for the Alabama-West Florida Conference, and Akin, a freelance photojournalist from Enterprise, are coming to fruition after years of prayer and study.
“I feel like I’m finally doing what God has called me to do,” said Akin, who was waiting with Eubanks at the same airport gate. “This is just another world opening up.”
Akin and Eubanks are among roughly two dozen other women to be consecrated as deaconesses at a special service Friday morning, which will be streamed live from the Greater Columbus Convention Center.
Within the UMC and under the umbrella of the UMW, deaconesses, who are women, and home missioners, who are men, commit their lives to full-time ministries of love, justice and service. Beginning in 2016, deaconesses and home missioners were considered an official order of the UMC. Deaconesses and home missioners must complete a rigorous application and a course of study that includes the New Testament, Old Testament, theology of mission, history of the UMC and polity and doctrine of the UMC.
After their consecration, Akin and Eubanks will join two other women in the AWF Conference—Susan Hunt, director of mission and advocacy for the conference, and Clara Ester, who retired in 2006 as the executive director of the Dumas Wesley Community Center in Mobile—as deaconesses. Hunt and Ester were sources of faith and guidance to Akin and Eubanks, with Hunt leading a key discernment event they both attended in 2012 and with Ester encouraging Eubanks when she resisted the idea of being a deaconess.
“The call was definitely something I ran from,” Eubanks added. “She said, ‘Celeste, I see something in you. You have a heart for the people.”
Taking that advice to heart, she transitioned from a corporate job in the IT industry to full-time ministry and plans to concentrate on ways to help make the UMC more diverse and inclusive.
“It’s always been a passion of mine,” Eubanks said. “Heaven is going to be people from all walks of life. … And diversity is not just about race. It’s culture too. Even as Americans, we have cultural differences.”
Akin, who has worked closely with VISTA’s Communities of Transformation program in Dothan, plans to use her photojournalism skills to help nonprofits and churches fight poverty within the AWF Conference and beyond.
“I want to help people tell their stories,” said Akin, who got her first camera when she was in sixth grade. “I’ve always felt drawn to the marginalized. I want to educate people and shine a light on different issues.”
Akin and Eubanks say they are encouraged by the work God is doing through the UMW across the globe and are excited to be part of it.
“God sits on the throne,” Eubanks said. “Regardless of what man is doing, God is going to have his way.”
To view the consecration service at the 2018 UMW Assembly, go to

Connectionalism at Work: Dothan District Ready to Build Habitat House

published 5/14/2018
(Kari C. Barlow for the AWF Conference) -  The Dothan District of the Alabama-West Florida Conference is ready to build a house. After almost two years of fundraising, the district has raised the $40,000 needed to sponsor the construction of a Coffee County Habitat for Humanity house for Benita Smith, who lost her home in the 2015 Christmas Day floods in Elba.
“Two years felt like a long time, but I knew we’d get there eventually,” District Superintendent Sara Shaver said.
Smith, along with officials from Coffee County Habitat and the Dothan District, celebrated the project’s groundbreaking on April 22.
“It was really heartwarming,” Shaver said. “It’s on a really nice site with a lot of trees.”
It was Shaver’s district leadership team, which is comprised of clergy members and laity from across the 91-church district, that was moved to act after seeing how much damage the torrential rains had caused in Elba.
“When the flood happened, it was really a no-brainer,” Shaver added. “We felt like that was the where we needed to concentrate our efforts. … It was devastating. Some people had lost everything.”
Shaver said she is especially thankful for the many churches and individuals and organizations—including The Bethel Boys, a popular Christian comedy troupe—across the district who helped raise money for the house even when they had other projects that needed attention.
“It’s pretty exciting that we’ve come together and focused our efforts,” she said. “It’s our connectionalism at work!”
Now Shaver and her leadership team are eager to do their share to get Smith’s two-bedroom, two-bath house built and ready to be occupied. When construction starts in the next few weeks, she and her staff are already planning to take a few days to work at the site.
Coffee County Habitat Chairman Charlene Goolsby said the two-bedroom, two-bath house, which will be located on land that Smith owns on the outskirts of Elba, will be the nonprofit’s 23rd home. Construction is expected to last about four months.
“We are so excited,” Goolsby said. “I know all of the churches have worked hard. It’s certainly a mission project.”

Constitutional amendment to be revisited

published 5/10/2018
(UMNS) - Des Moines, Iowa: The Rev. Gary W. Graves, Secretary of the General Conference, announced today that an error was made in the text of a proposed Constitutional amendment as it was presented for voting, and which subsequently failed to pass. Amendment #1 of the five constitutional amendments that were approved by the 2016 General Conference--and which narrowly failed to be ratified--included a sentence which had been removed by the legislative body.

Graves, who became secretary on December 1, 2016, said he was made aware of the error today and immediately began to take corrective action. Graves expressed regret that the mistake occurred and said it was simply a matter of human error. “A new ballot is being prepared for voting by annual conferences at their next meeting; however, some conferences will not meet again until 2019,” said Graves.

The proposed amendments were sent via email to bishops and annual conference secretaries by the former secretary of the General Conference, the Rev. Gere Reist, who also voiced his apologies.

The sentence that should not have been included in the amendment was removed by a vote of 746-56, but was inadvertently included in the version that was distributed. That sentence reads as follows: "The United Methodist Church recognizes it is contrary to Scripture and to logic to say that God is male or female, as maleness and femaleness are characteristics of human bodies and cultures, not characteristics of the divine."

The text as approved by the General Conference should have read: “As the Holy Scripture reveals, both men and women are made in the image of God and, therefore, men and women are of equal value in the eyes of God. The United Methodist Church acknowledges the long history of discrimination against women and girls. The United Methodist Church shall confront and seek to eliminate discrimination against women and girls, whether in organizations or in individuals, in every facet of its life and in society at large. The United Methodist Church shall work collaboratively with others to address concerns that threaten the cause of women’s and girl's equality and well-being.”

The proposed Constitutional amendment, which would have created a new paragraph focused on gender justice, was approved by 31,304 voters (66.5%), as opposed to 15,753 "no" votes. A two-thirds majority is required for passage. 

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