published 1/28/2013

The CATAPULT conference returns on April 29-May 1 at Christ United Methodist Church in Mobile, AL. CATAPULT's goal is to launch leaders into Kingdom mission. More and more, we see the need to understand all Christians as missionaries. CATAPULT equips for that mission. Through inspiring talks during Community Sessions by leading voices in the missional movement, you will be encouraged and challenged to see where God is already at work right around you. Through helpful nuts and bolts teaching during Breakout Sessions by active and effective practitioners, you will be given tools to accomplish the dreams God is planting.

Over the past several years, your support of CATAPULT has allowed thousands of dollars to be given through CATAPULT grants. Several of these grants were the fulfillment of missional imagination cultivated at the conference. Feeding ministries, GED training, archery courses, among others, have allowed local churches to connect with and build relationships with new people in efforts to make new disciples of Jesus Christ.

Our announced speaker list is exciting. The Rev. Rudy Rasmus of St. John UMC in Houston led an inner city church toward renewal through serving new and more diverse people. The Rev. Becca Stevens is an author, chaplain, and founder of Magdalene House and Thistle Farms, a home for women and social enterprise. Hugh Halter has been a significant voice in the missional movement for over a decade. He is the lead pastor at Adullum in Denver as well as a co-author of The Tangible Kingdom.

For the announcements of remaining speakers, like the CATAPULT Facebook page. You can also follow CATAPULT on Twitter.

Registration is open now at! Individuals register for $119 through April 14. Bring three from your church or neighborhood and get a $30 discount on each registration.


Standing Rules, Resolutions and Petitions & Brochure of Reports Deadlines Approaching

published 1/25/2013

To: Members and friends of the Alabama West Florida Conference of the United Methodist Church:

Greetings in the name of Christ. As preparations are underway for the 2013 meeting of Annual Conference June 2-5 at Christ UMC in Mobile, Alabama, the Committee on Standing Rules will be looking at proposed changes to these rules; you will find them listed on pages 258-267 of our 2012 Journal. If you do not have a printed Journal, you may view it online here

Let me alert you to these upcoming deadlines, which are in our current Standing Rules:
• Any proposed changes in the Standing Rules should be received in writing by the chairperson of the Committee on Standing Rules no later than February 1. You may submit these by e-mail to, or by mailing proposed changes to Robin Wilson 1507 Dauphin St, Mobile, AL 36604.
Resolutions shall be submitted to the Committee on Resolutions and Petitions by February 15, except in cases where it can be demonstrated by the author of a late petition that the situation which gave rise to making the petition was not apparent until after the deadline for petitions. The Chairperson of this Committee is Rev. Kathy Knight.
• Materials and reports to be included in the Brochure of Reports shall be in the hands of the Journal editor NO LATER THAN the last Monday in February (Feb 25, 2013). The Journal Editor is Jackie Slaughter. Please send any materials to

If you have questions or changes, do not hesitate to contact me. Thank you for your excellent service to God and for your work for the Kingdom.


Robin C. Wilson

An Interview with Blake Horne: United Methodist Children's Home Director

published 1/24/2013

(Rebecca Morris) - The United Methodist Children's Home welcomed a new director in 2012, Dr. Blake Horne. As Dr. Horne transitions into his new role, he explained his vision and direction for this worthwhile agency. 

What led to you pursuing the leadership vacancy at the United Methodist Children’s Home?

Foremost, I strongly believe in UMCH’s mission: To follow the example of Christ, by caring for all God’s children… child, one family at a time. Sixteen years ago, I briefly directed a group home cottage at the Methodist Home for Children and Youth of the South Georgia Conference in Macon, Georgia. I left the home to pursue doctoral work in marriage and family therapy at Florida State, but the experiences there really stole my heart for Methodist Children’s Home ministry.

Second, I felt like it was time for a new professional challenge in my life. After 12 wonderfully rewarding years directing The Samaritan Counseling Center in Montgomery, I found I had become more passionate about leading an organization than direct delivery of clinical services. UMCH stands at an important crossroads in its development – we are in many ways having to rethink and re-invent the way we carry out our mission. I felt like my experiences leading and growing The Samaritan Counseling Center made for a nice developmental intersection between where UMCH is as an organization and my emerging strengths as a leader.

You say that UMCH is re-thinking and re-inventing, and it stands at an important crossroads? Can you say more about that?

UMCH made the very difficult – but necessary – decision to sell the Selma campus over 2 years ago. That was a little bit like losing “the temple” for many of our United Methodist constituents and employees. We are still very much engaged in group home ministry for abused and neglected children in 8 different locations in Alabama and Northwest Florida. Yet the child welfare landscape is compelling us to learn how to “sing the Lord’s song in a strange land.”

We find ourselves in many ways where we were 75 years ago when there was very little assistance from government to care for lost and forgotten children. As recently as 5 years ago, UMCH was paid $35 per day by the state of Alabama to care for children in our group homes. This wasn’t enough to cover the full cost of caring for the child, but when we put that alongside the overwhelming generosity of our United Methodist laity and churches we could make ends meet. Today, UMCH receives a mere $11.80 per day to care for these same abused and forgotten children.

I wouldn’t be interested in leading UMCH if we didn’t do group home ministry, and do it well. However, we need to be a little more creative about how we deliver group home ministry. We also need to diversify our services in ways that are more privately supported than they are dependent upon state contracts.

Can you give an example of what you mean by “creative” when it comes to delivering group home ministry?

One example would be what we are doing with our Tuscaloosa and Florence group homes. Our group homes – though vital to our mission and near and dear to my own heart – are very expensive programs to run. They take a very large toll on the financial health of UMCH, forcing us to draw down at present more than is prudent on our unrestricted endowment.

We also have a restricted endowment designated for higher education. We have been only marginally successful in the past using these funds to provide a college education for children at different schools and universities around the state. Foster children can be very academically capable but tend to need more support services than your typical child from an intact family to succeed at college.

In a partnership with the University of Alabama and University of North Alabama, we will transform our Tuscaloosa and Florence group homes solely for the purpose of providing a college education for our children and other foster children around the state. By focusing our higher education efforts exclusively with the Tuscaloosa and Florence group homes, we believe our kids will have higher graduation rates and more fulfilling college experiences.

With the established support services in place at both Universities, along with our caring staff, the foster kids will have a better chance of success in a college environment. It will also help us save hundreds of thousands of dollars in operating costs that strain our unrestricted endowment.

When I look at my own life as a first generation college graduate, there were three key factors that maximized my life course – a loving family, a relationship with Jesus Christ, and a college education. By converting our homes in Tuscaloosa and Florence in this manner, we are providing young men and women with an opportunity to experience all three.

You mentioned diversifying the services offered by UMCH. Can you talk about that a little more?

I’d like to see our agency develop outpatient mental health services for children and families. We are already involved in family preservation services with families who are in jeopardy of losing custody of their children. However, these services take place in the home and are referred almost exclusively by DHR. We are often very successful with this program, but if we are not successful removing the child from the home is the next step.

I’d like to see UMCH not only diversify its services but also diversify where it meets children and families on the continuum of functioning. I’d like to see us offer counseling and therapeutic services that have a multi-generational impact. When a child enters one of our group homes, it’s often the result of a multi-generational process where each successive generation of the family has functioned just a little less effectively than the last. I’d like to see us offer outpatient family therapy and other mental health services on a large scale across our state that elevate access to care and get out in front of that multi-generational process. I’d like to see us develop as a mental health care provider as much as we have developed over the years as a social service agency. In this way, we’d be able to give back to our United Methodist churches and their members through these kinds of services.

Anything else happening with UMCH that you would like for us to know about?

I’m really excited about some developments taking place with our spiritual care program with our kids. Rev. Lonna Lynn Higgs, our Director of Spiritual Care, is the right person at the right time for UMCH in this area. She has a very difficult job – finding a way to meet the spiritual needs of over 200 children and staff who are spread out in 12 different locations all over the entire state of Alabama and Northwest Florida. She is putting together a volunteer team of clergy and lay leaders in the areas where we have group homes and programs to offset our geographical challenges and heighten the level of spiritual care in all of our programs.

In addition, we are in the early stages of planning our first foreign mission trip here at UMCH. I want our children to have the opportunity to both travel abroad and serve others in need. This may be the only opportunity some of our children have ever had to leave the country, and I think it’s important that they have a broader perspective of the world and where they fit into it.

Also, we are implementing new partnerships and seeking ways to “give back” to those people and churches that support the Children’s Home. For example, you will soon hear about our partnership we are working on with Driver’s Way, a car dealership in Birmingham, to implement a car donation program. We are also seeking to partner with churches to hold “Better Family” seminars in their churches or community, where we will provide credentialed speakers for these programs.

This is an exciting time for the Children’s Home and we are looking for ways to be an innovative leader in foster care and residential group homes. I know the direction I want to lead the Children’s Home will benefit the kids we care for and continue to fulfill our mission….To follow the example of Christ by embracing all God’s Children…one child, one family at a time.





Bryan to Serve on General Board of Pension and Health Benefits

published 1/18/2013

The Alabama-West Florida Conference would like to congratulate Dr. R. Lawson Bryan, senior pastor at Montgomery First United Methodist Church, on being named to the General Board of Pension and Health Benefits. Dr. Bryan replaces Judge Dawn Hare after her selection and naming as the General Secretary for the General Commission on the Status and Role of Women.

Dr. Bryan was named by the Southeastern Jurisdiction College of Bishops at the recent Council of Bishops meeting per the 2012 Book of Discipline ¶712 stating, "a vacancy in the jurisdictional conference or central conference membership shall be filled by the corresponding College of Bishops (the replacement must be a member of the same annual conference of the person being replaced)." His service to this board is effective immediately.

Bryan expressed his gratitude by saying, "Because of wise and faithful leadership the UM pension has become the largest denominational pension fund in the world. This is especially significant to us all during challenging economic times. I thank God for the confidence this imparts to the clergy and lay participants in the fund. To maintain a fiscally responsible pension fund is a glory to God and a strong witness to our society. I am grateful to represent the Alabama-West Florida Conference and to work with our own bishop who is the current president of this General Board."

Please join the conference in praying for Dr. Bryan as he embraces this service to our conference and the general church.



We Remember: Newtown, Connecticut

published 12/17/2012

"A voice is heard in Ramah,
weeping and great mourning,
Rachel weeping for her children
and refusing to be comforted,
because they are no more
." (Jer. 31:15)

(Bishop Paul L. Leeland) - Unbelievable. Unspeakable. Shock.

Our nation prays with the families of Newtown, Connecticut, in response to the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School. The unanswerable questions of "why", "how", and "could it have been prevented", do nothing to alleviate the sudden horror unleashed upon these innocent children. No attempt on our part will help to explain the evil in our world. Once more we see the spirit of Herod and the Death of Innocents. In this moment, we know our world is broken and far outside the Love and Will of God.

Any attempt to speak of the mystery of suffering and evil will prove to be unsatisfying. Personally, I wish Jesus had said, "Come unto me and I will spare you from these things." But He didn't. Instead He said, "I am with you always." How we need the assurance of His presence now! How we need to hear him say once more, "Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted; Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God."

My mind races to all the people impacted at this moment: parents, grandparents, family members, those who served these children lunch at school every day, bus drivers, neighbors, and the list goes on. I find myself praying for them. And I find myself praying for the young man who committed this atrocity and his family. They also need our prayers.

I can't help but hear the words of Romans 5 that keep coming to my mind: "suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces courage, and courage produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us because God's love has been shed into our hearts by the Holy Spirit." It is far too early to understand the words of the Apostle Paul when he reminded us, "All things work together for good to those who love him and are called according to his purpose." How can this be? Can this moment be transformed by God? Perhaps it is enough to know GOD IS WITH US even in these unspeakable moments.

I certainly know God does not desire evil and hurt. Yet when it comes He knew we needed to be guided in what to do. And so I continue to think about His Sermon on the Mount – “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted; Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God; Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.”

I will think on these things for a long time.

But first we cry.

A woman holds a child as people line up to enter the Newtown United Methodist Church near the scene of an elementary school shooting on Dec. 14 in Newtown, CT Photo by Douglas Healey/Getty Images.

A woman holds a child as people line up to enter the Newtown
United Methodist Church near the scene of an elementary
school shooting on Dec. 14 in Newtown, CT.
Photo by Douglas Healey/Getty Images.

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