News

Southeastern Jurisdiction Leaders Collaborate in Montgomery

published 1/16/2020
The 2020 Southeastern Jurisdiction (SEJ) Leadership Gathering was held in Montgomery, AL, January 7-9. SEJ Bishops, Directors of Connectional Ministries, Lay Leaders and the Committee on Episcopacy gathered from nine states and fourteen conferences to worship, collaborate in ministry, and discuss the current climate of the United Methodist Church.
 
The meeting was organized by Bishop David Graves, SEJ College of Bishops President, and Claire Bowen, a layperson from North Georgia who has implemented the on-boarding process in this jurisdiction. Each day provided an opportunity to express ideas, collaborate with the whole group while also seeing world renowned sights in Montgomery. “Our goal for this meeting was to understand one another, celebrate our collective journey and help one another lead our conference, jurisdiction and denomination in the best way possible,” said Bishop David Graves. “I could not be more pleased with the outcome of the meeting and it is indicative that the Holy Spirit was at the epicenter of the entire week.”
 
The latest United Methodist proposal, released just days prior to the meeting, provided ample discussion. Bowen was able to quickly shift and provide a framework for each of the four sub groups to discuss this new legislation in their respective groups. At the conclusion of the meeting on Thursday, with input from all four groups, the SEJ Committee on Episcopacy provided a statement that will guide their work at the upcoming SEJ Conference in July 2020 at Lake Junaluska
 
Numerous members of the conference support staff played an instrumental part in organizing and executing the event. Celeste Eubanks, Director of Leadership Strategies, was instrumental in planning this outing as well as many other key segments of the week. Perhaps the most moving part of the meeting was the trip to the National Memorial for Peace and Justice (informally referred to as the lynching memorial) and the Legacy Museum. “Montgomery is often called the birthplace of the civil rights movement,” Eubanks said. “We felt it important to take our guests to one of the most poignant sites in Montgomery. People have come from all over the world to see the memorial and museum. Both are a sobering reminder of where we have been and what we as church leaders must insure is not repeated in the future.”
 
Bishop Sharma D. Lewis, Resident Bishop of the Virginia Conference was in attendance and found the visit to the Equal Justice Initiative Memorial moving. “I could not predict the emotions it stirred within me as an African American woman. The displays and images of hatred and violence in many counties across the Southeast including Bulloch, my birth county, was a reminder of our turbulent history.” The spouses in attendance were also treated to a backstage tour of the highly acclaimed Alabama Shakespeare Festival as well as a visit to the Rosa Parks Museum.
 
First United Methodist Church Montgomery, under the leadership of Rev. Jay Cooper, hosted a celebration of ministry dinner on Tuesday night and displayed outstanding hospitality. Dr. James Seay directed the cathedral choir, which provided entertainment during dinner. The dinner focused on four ministry spotlights of the Alabama-West Florida Conference: 
Rev. Chris Ackerman spoke about the Hurricane Michael recovery efforts; 
Celeste Eubanks spoke about “AWF Then and Now” focused on racial reconciliation and the efforts within AWF on that topic; 
Daphne Johnston, lay person and now founder and director of Respite for All Foundation, presented on the nationally recognized adult respite dementia program that started as a mere dream and vision in the local church;
and Katy Wrona, Director of Communities of Transformation, presented about this ministry that was launched out of the AWF Conference and how it walks alongside families to move them from poverty to independence.
Bishop Ken Carter of the Florida Conference presented a check on behalf of the the Florida Conference to Bishop Graves for hurricane relief efforts in the amount of $100,234.
 
The next meeting of this group will be held in January 2021 in the Kentucky Conference.

Click here to see photos by Luke Lucas. 
 

Disaster Response Update

published 1/13/2020

As we remember 2019 and move forward into 2020, we want to thank all of our churches and partners such as UMCOR, Volunteer Florida, and the Florida Annual Conference for supporting disaster response in Alabama-West Florida.  The destruction and loss in many areas throughout our conference has been overwhelming, but you have helped the United Methodist Church to be a beacon of hope and healing. In the past year your support has made the following possible:
 
-$602,849.12 in salary support for churches (13) who would have had to lay off staff immediately after the hurricane;
-$94,779.76 to replace personal items lost by pastors ($300,000 will be given out when all receipts are in);
-$53,000 spent on clergy health and well-being for those affected areas (17 pastors);
-$381,507.04 church repair (18 churches);
-147 families assisted (cases closed) with 245 cases currently in process;
-69 homes repaired/completed;
-9 new homes in the process of being rebuilt (active construction on these);
-25 Hurricane Michael staff/8 Lee County staff;
-2,986 volunteers. 
 
In this new year, we ask for your continued prayers and support of disaster response ministry. There is much to do and most importantly we want to be those who walk alongside survivors and help them realize just how resilient they are.  
 
Below are links to give and volunteer. We continue to welcome donations to our conference and to UMCOR.

Click here to donate to the AWF in-conference relief efforts

Click here to donate to UMCOR

Click here to volunteer


A Special Word from Bishop David Graves

published 1/8/2020

Friends,

Last week the United Methodist Church was in the national media headlines regarding a potential split in the denomination. A press release about a proposed agreement for separation sparked this media attention. Many of the secular headlines caused confusion, as they often do.
 
I am sure by now many of you have read these articles, commentaries, blogs and opinions about this new proposal. It is often my preference to prayerfully reflect before I comment in haste. I am grateful for the space you allowed me to do this. This past Sunday we celebrated Epiphany and I have found myself reflecting on Matthew chapter 2 where the wise men follow the light of the star. I would respectfully ask each of us to consider where we need to seek God’s light as we move through 2020. It will be imperative that we look for those Epiphany moments only God can provide.
 
First, the most important thing to understand about this proposal is that it is another piece of legislation that will come before the 2020 General Conference delegates. As a reminder, General Conference is the only voting body that can consider structural and policy change to our denomination. The next meeting is in May in Minneapolis, MN. The Alabama-West Florida elected four clergy and four lay delegates to represent us at this upcoming gathering. At this point, the proposal is something that will have to be voted upon by our delegates and the other 854 delegates in May. No changes to our denomination have been made thus far.
 
Next, there were many voices at the table to craft this proposal including Bishops, denominational leaders and representatives of interest groups. This shows me that progress has been made in allowing each of us to minister in the best way we feel God has called us to lead. However, as with any group, even within interest groups, people are not of one mind. Therefore, it remains to be seen if this proposal will be adopted by the aforementioned delegates. As with any legislation, it can be amended, passed or rejected.
 
If I can speak honestly, this proposal has caused a lot of emotional pain for me. Whether you were born a United Methodist or have recently found your place in our connection, you grieve the possibility of a denominational split. I have the same questions and uncertainty as many of you. You might be asking, “What does this mean for my church, my pastor, my ministry, my job, my calling to help others?” These are just a few uncertainties that I have heard from many of you. As your Bishop, I prefer to lead you in the best way I can but I simply cannot answer these questions, yet. What I do know is that the hope I have is in God.
 
This week we have had the honor of hosting the 2020 annual Southeastern Jurisdiction Bishops and conference leaders in Montgomery. As you might expect, we have discussed this proposal in depth and will continue to do so. There are so many questions and ideas to consider. Most importantly, how do we work best for the Kingdom?
 
I have asked time and time again that you remain focused on the mission of our church. The work of the local church is the heart of this denomination. I respectfully and humbly ask you to continue this work. Believe it or not, there are many United Methodist members sitting in your pews who know nothing about this plan, or any other plan. They come to church each week to hear and see the good news of Jesus Christ. Continue to lead these people in a way that is a reflection of Jesus’ love.
 
In my 41 years of ministry, this is one of the most uncertain times I’ve witnessed. The next few months will be emotional, challenging and exhausting. As your Bishop, I offer myself in any way to help you continue fruitful ministry in your corner of the world. I will be transparent with you and will communicate with you when appropriate.
 
I ask for your prayers and in turn, I will pray for you daily. Together, let us glorify Christ and show the world the best United Methodists have to offer.
 
In Christ,
David W. Graves
Resident Bishops
Alabama-West Florida Conference 


United Methodist Traditionalists, Centrists, Progressives & Bishops sign agreement aimed at separation

published 1/3/2020
(Washington, D.C.) - A diverse group of representatives from United Methodist advocacy groups with contrasting views and bishops from around the world has collaborated on a proposed agreement for the separation of The United Methodist Church (UMC) that has the unanimous support of all the parties involved.

The agreement, the Protocol of Reconciliation & Grace Through Separation, was achieved on December 17, 2019, and announced today.

The action comes amid heightened tensions in the church over conflicting views related to human sexuality after the 2019 Special Session of the General Conference failed to resolve differences among church members.

Legislation to implement the Protocol statement — an eight-page document detailing the terms of a split of the 13+ million-member denomination — is expected to come before the United Methodist General Conference for a vote at their legislative meeting in Minneapolis, Minn. in May 2020.

The 16-member group came together as an outgrowth of a consultation initiated by bishops from Central Conferences located outside the United States.  The parties sought assistance from prominent attorney Kenneth Feinberg, who specializes in mediation and alternative dispute resolution. Feinberg, who served as Special Master of the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund and administrator of the BP Deepwater Horizon Disaster Victim Compensation Fund, along with a number of other complex matters, agreed to provide his services pro bono.

Meeting over several months, the unofficial group reached an agreement by signatories associated with all of the constituencies within the UMC for a mutually supported pathway for separation, bridging differences among other plans to be considered by the General Conference.  “The undersigned propose restructuring The United Methodist Church by separation as the best means to resolve our differences, allowing each part of the Church to remain true to its theological understanding, while recognizing the dignity, equality, integrity, and respect of every person,” says the Protocol Statement.

The document’s signers include representatives from Europe, Africa, the Philippines, and the United States, and include persons representing UMCNext; Mainstream UMC; Uniting Methodists; The Confessing Movement; Good News; The Institute on Religion & Democracy; the Wesleyan Covenant Association; Affirmation; Methodist Federation for Social Action; Reconciling Ministries Network; and the United Methodist Queer Clergy Caucus; as well as bishops from the United States and across the world.  The representatives have pledged to work together to support the proposal and develop legislation to implement it.

The Protocol anticipates the formation of a new traditionalist Methodist denomination. Once formed, the new church would receive $25 million over the next four years and give up further claim to the UMC’s assets. An additional $2 million would be allocated for potential additional new Methodist denominations which may emerge from the UMC. Acknowledging the historical role of the Methodist movement in systematic racial violence, exploitation and discrimination, the Protocol would allocate $39 million to ensure there is no disruption in supporting ministries for communities historically marginalized by racism.

Under the Protocol, conferences and local congregations could vote to separate from The United Methodist Church to affiliate with new Methodist denominations created under the agreement within a certain time frame.  Churches wishing to stay within the UMC would not be required to conduct a vote. Provisions exist for entities that choose to separate to retain their assets and liabilities. All current clergy and lay employees would keep their pensions regardless of the Methodist denomination with which they affiliate.

Under the Protocol, all administrative or judicial processes addressing restrictions in The Book of Discipline of The United Methodist related to self-avowed practicing homosexuals or same-sex weddings, as well as actions to close churches, would be held in abeyance until the separation is completed.  The Protocol also references a plan which calls for a special general conference of the post-separation United Methodist Church. The purpose of the Special Session would be to create regional conferences, remove the current prohibitions against LGBTQ persons, and to repeal the Traditional Plan.
 
Speaking on behalf of the group, Bishop John Yambasu (Sierra Leone) stated, “All of us are servants of the church and realize that we are not the primary decision makers on these matters.  Instead, we humbly offer to the delegates of the 2020 General Conference the work which we have accomplished in the hopes that it will help heal the harms and conflicts within the body of Christ and free us to be more effective witnesses to God’s Kingdom.”

The signatories to the Protocol have provided a FAQ document  to provide additional information about the agreement. Comments and questions may be directed to the signatories at mediationprotocol@outlook.com.

A livestream event will take place on Monday, January 13, to provide further clarity and explanations of the plan by members of the Mediation Team. 
 
This statement is being released by the Council of Bishops Office on behalf of the Mediation Team members.
###
Members of the Mediation Team
  • Bishop Christian Alsted (bishop@umc-ne.org), Nordic-Baltic Episcopal Area
  • Rev. Thomas Berlin (tberlin@florisumc.org), representing UMCNext, Mainstream UMC, Uniting Methodists
  • Bishop Thomas J. Bickerton (bishop@nyac.com), New York Episcopal Area
  • Rev. Keith Boyette (president@wesleyancovenant.org), representing The Confessing Movement, Good News, IRD/UM Action, and the Wesleyan Covenant Association
  • Bishop Kenneth H. Carter (bishop@flumc.org), Florida Episcopal Area
  • Rev. Junius Dotson (jdotson@umcdiscipleship.org), representing UMCNext, Mainstream UMC, United Methodists
  • Bishop LaTrelle Easterling (bishopeasterling@gmail.com), Washington Episcopal Area
  • Rev. Egmedio “Jun” Equila, Jr. (jun@brmc.org.sg), Philippines Central Conference
  • Bishop Cynthia Fierro Harvey (bishop@la-umc.org), Louisiana Episcopal Area
  • Bishop Rodolfo Rudy Juan (bishoprudyjuan@gmail.com), Davao Episcopal Area, Philippines
  • Janet Lawrence (jan@rmnetwork.org), representing Affirmation, Methodist Federation for Social Action, and Reconciling Ministries Network
  • Rev. David Meredith (dmeredith@cliftonumc.com), representing Affirmation, Methodist Federation for Social Action, and Reconciling Ministries Network, member of UM Queer Clergy Caucus
  • Patricia Miller (pmiller1224@gmail.com), representing The Confessing Movement, Good News, IRD/UM Action, and the Wesleyan Covenant Association
  • Dr. Randall Miller (randall4015@hotmail.com), representing Affirmation, Methodist Federation for Social Action, and Reconciling Ministries Network
  • Bishop Gregory Vaughn Palmer (wocbishop@woc.org), Ohio West Episcopal Area
  • Bishop John K. Yambasu (bishopyambasu@gmail.com), Sierra Leone Episcopal Area
 
For questions or comments, please contact: mediationprotocol@outlook.com.
 

A Call for Prayer from Bishop Graves on The Pensacola Naval Air Station Shooting

published 12/6/2019
We invite you to receive these words from Bishop David Graves about the act of violence at the Naval Air Station in Pensacola, FL, this morning.

"Our thoughts and prayers extend to all those affected by the shooting that took place Friday morning at the Pensacola Naval Air Station. Our own, Rev. Chris Terrell, serves as a base chaplain and has been very involved in ministering to those on the base. Please join me in praying for this situation. I encourage you to lift this up in prayer during your worship services this weekend. I appreciate our Pensacola District Superintendent, Dr. Tim Trent, and clergy in the area who are ministering to those affected. As we move toward Christmas, may our community and world experience the Prince of Peace that is found in the Christ Child."

Bishop David Graves
Resident Bishop
Alabama-West Florida Conference

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