News

Graves Issues Update on Worship in the Alabama-West Florida Conference

published 6/25/2020

In consultation with the cabinet, I am encouraging churches to continue virtual, drive in, and outdoor worship. These worship methods have become important outreach tools and many members cannot return to in-person worship for weeks or months. For churches who have returned to in-person worship, a significant number are reporting 25 to 30% of their previous average attendance. 
 
COVID-19 will be with us in some form for months to come. This balance of virtual and in-person worship has been demanding on pastors, staff, and church leaders. All of us have been overwhelmed the last three months. Pastors and staff, especially, have had to adapt and lead in unexpected ways. They, along with church leaders, have done great work and have demonstrated tremendous effort.
 
As we move into the next few weeks, I would ask that we all practice patience, understanding, and remember we are a people of grace. When your local church COVID-19 leadership task force deems it is appropriate to return to in-person worship and other church functions, I do request that all churches follow the in-person guidelines. Please know that I pray for the people of the Alabama-West Florida several times each day. 
 
With Gratitude,
Bishop David Graves
Alabama-West Florida Conference


Teaming with Tanzania Impact Report

published 6/14/2020
The relationships that were built in March of 2018 when Bishop Graves, as well as other lay and clergy members of the Alabama-West Florida Annual Conference (AWFC), visited Tanzania has sprouted into a beautiful partnership.
 
June of 2019 saw the signing of a partnership agreement by Bishop David Graves and Bishop Mande Muyombo signifying officially what was already happening through shared prayers, support, and ministry between the two conferences. 2019 has seen tremendous growth in this partnership as well as in the ministry happening in Tanzania, in part because of this partnership.
 
From the beginning it was understood that in order to succeed it would be necessary to focus in on a few key areas essential to the growth of the United Methodist Church in Tanzania, as well as giving the churches of the AWFC a road map toward engaging in mutual ministry and partnership. Therefore, it is exciting to look back on 2019 and see the progress made in each of these areas.
 
Much gratitude also needs to be shared with Annual Conference leadership in Tanzania and AWFC. A special thanks to Susan Hunt, Director of Mission and Advocacy for coordination on behalf of the AWFC. Also, many thanks to the churches in both conferences that have prayed, hosted, built relationships across the globe, and contributed to see this partnership grow.
 
Church Growth:
The Body of Christ in the form of the local church is often the heartbeat of the community in urban Tanzania. Many people have moved from their villages to the city, leaving behind family, friends, and traditions. The church has the opportunity to be the family, community, and place of spiritual support and guidance that is missing. Yet, when the lives of members are unstable in so many different ways it is important to develop local churches to be able to provide that stability and support in the community.
 
The Teaming with Tanzania partnership has provided the funds to build four church buildings:
  • Nyasaka UMC
  • Dodoma FUMC
  • Nyagesi UMC
  • Igombe UMC
In total, $122,332 has been given towards church construction in Tanzania since the partnership began in 2018. Even more special is over $30,000 of that was raised by the children of the AWF Annual Conference during VBS when Teaming with Tanzania was the mission focus for over 30 churches.
 
Capacity Development:
The ministry of the local church is the ministry of the global church incarnated in each neighborhood and community. Church growth depends on having a home for the church, but it also depends on well-trained and well-equipped leaders able to carry out the work of the church all week long. The Teaming with Tanzania partnership also wanted to ensure that the capacity of the local church grew as the church grew.
 
Since 2018, four mission teams from AWFC have traveled to Tanzania. These teams have spent important time building relationships, learning from Tanzanian leadership, listening to what the church in Tanzania has to say about their own church and the global church, and building the capacity of local leaders.
 
Teams and individual volunteers have done training and worked with the church in the following ways:
  • Children’s ministry
  • Community asset-based development
  • Pastoral leadership
  • Women’s health and ministry
  • Theological training for students at Wesley College
  • Wesleyan theology
  • English training for students and faculty at Wesley College
  • Photography and communication strategies and technology to tell the story of ministry in Tanzania
 
Education and Pastor Training:
Training is important, but there is a level of formation that is needed for leaders in the church that is hard to do on a short-term mission trip. That is why the third focus of the TWT partnership is Wesley College. Wesley College, a United Methodist institution of higher education and the only UM fully residential college in East Africa, focuses on educating first-generation college students to be servant leaders in the church and community.
 
Wesley College has graduated over 50 students in the 3 years that it has been in operation and has been blessed with support from the AWFC.
 
In 2019 alone, the following was given to support the ministry of Wesley College, much of which came through the 2019 AWFC Annual Conference Offering:
  • Wesley College choir - $3,000
  • Scholarships - $15,480
  • Bibles - $2,481
  • Construction and outfitting - $57,734
  • Total = $78,695
 
Wesley College graduates have gone on to be ordained as United Methodist pastors, taken jobs and volunteered with community-based non-profits, and been accepted to the Global Mission Fellows program of Global Ministries. The fruit is already being seen and this is just the beginning.
 
2020 and 2021 will see even more being done through this partnership. It is expected that three to four conference mission teams will be going to Tanzania in 2021. There is a need for more churches to partner with faith communities in Tanzania to see land purchased for church plants, church buildings constructed, and parsonages built. Wesley College is also looking at ways to move forward in expanding programs and starting construction on permanent facilities.
 
All of this will be possible through God’s provision and the partnership of steadfast and faithful Christians in both conferences.
 
Contact your area champion if your church wants to get involved. Click here for video
 

Bishops call on church to act to end racism

published 6/8/2020
WASHINGTON, D.C. – In the aftermath of police killings of unarmed Black people, the bishops of The United Methodist Church today called on all United Methodists to act now by using their voices, pens, feet and hearts to end racism.
 
In a statement released by Council of Bishops President Bishop Cynthia Fierro Harvey, the bishops are urging every United Methodist to reclaim their baptismal vows to resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves.
 
“We ask every United Methodist to name the egregious sin of racism and white supremacy and join together to take a stand against the oppression and injustice that is killing persons of color,” the statement said.
 
The bishops said they are joining with other church leaders and boards and agencies of the United Methodist Church to add strength to the message that “we will no longer remain silent nor complicit but must act now!”   
 
As part of the that pledge, for at least the next 30 day, all United Methodists everywhere are asked to join in prayer at 8:46 a.m. and p.m. for 8 minutes and 46 seconds, the time the officer held his knee on George Floyd’s neck.  “Pray for all persons of color who suffer at the hands of injustice and oppression.  Pray for our church as we take a stand against racism.”
 
Click here to read the full statement from the Council of Bishops.
 

A Pastoral Letter to United Methodists of the Southeastern Jurisdiction

published 6/5/2020

Brothers and Sisters:

As president of the Southeastern Jurisdiction College of Bishops my heart rejoices over the bold, courageous, and compassionate offering of confession, lament, and call to action by our white brothers and sisters of the SEJ College and the gracious acceptance of this act of truth telling as we journey toward the Beloved Community. It is our belief that such actions enhance our work and witness to a hurting community seeking moral leadership in this time of racial upheaval.

We see this statement as a reversal of the sentiments of the letter sent to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. by a group of clergymen that caused him to write the eloquent and brutally honest “Letter From a Birmingham Jail.”

We have longed for white voices of power and influence to stand with us. It is an amazing gift to hear and work with colleagues joining voices in solidarity with African Americans who have been both prophet and victim. It is only when the privileged who have benefited from the evils of racism take a stand that real change happens. It is our prayer that the church, the nation, and our world will no longer place the burden on the oppressed to liberate themselves. It is impossible to free yourself when the power of systemic injustice has its knee on your neck.

We pray that what follows will serve as a model for our brothers and sisters who have lived a life of white privilege to speak a gracious yet painful word of truth as we journey together toward real transformation, hope, and love in this racially charged atmosphere. We share this work of solidarity with these words from our fellow White Bishops with thanksgiving and hope that others will join us.

Bishop Leonard Fairley

We, the White Bishops of the Southeastern Jurisdiction of The United Methodist Church, call upon all United Methodists to stand with and see our Black brothers and sisters.

As White American Bishops, we stand up and stand with our Black Bishops in the Church who have consistently named and called out the systemic and sinful practice of discrimination that has been pervasive in the United States since the first slaves walked the shores of this land. For our failure to join our sisters and brothers we ask forgiveness.

As White American Bishops, we stand up and stand with the Black Communities across our Episcopal Areas recognizing that we who have been in positions of power and privilege have been silent. In our silence we have and do sin. We implore all United Methodists across the Southeastern Jurisdiction of The United Methodist Church to exercise influence and power to be agents of repentance, reconciliation, reformation, and restoration in a system that has failed to bring hope to all God’s children of color.

As White American Bishops, we stand up and stand with all persons who live in fear of the very systems designed to protect them. As White American Bishops, we stand up and stand with all persons whose anger has reached the point of intolerance due to failure after failure to change systemic racial injustice which has created the climate where black lives can be snuffed out without consequence.

As White American Bishops, we stand up, stand with, and stand against any systems of injustice that treat people differently because of the color of their skin. We call on the people called Methodist to live fully into our baptismal vows to renounce the spiritual forces of wickedness, reject the evil powers of this world, and repent of our sin.

We believe that the soul of our nation needs to be examined which means that each person, individually, needs to engage in self-examination. Self-examination includes educating oneself about the roots of racism from slavery to lynching to racial segregation and Jim Crow to contemporary presumptions of guilt, incarceration, and police violence. Self-examination means scrutinizing one’s beliefs, attitudes, and actions. A beginning place is for each of us to read “Letter From a Birmingham Jail” written by Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1963. [See link above.]

God calls us individually and collectively to take action.

In our Baptism we are called to accept the freedom and power given by God to resist evil, injustice, and oppression however, wherever, and whenever they are present.

We, the White American Bishops of the Southeastern Jurisdiction United Methodist Church, cry out to the people of The United Methodist Church to unite our hearts, our minds, our souls, and our strength now to step into this present brokenness by seeing those we have chosen not to see. We do so believing that out of the pain of the tragic deaths of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, Eric Garner, Philando Castile, Trayvon Martin, and countless others whose names have faded, that these senseless killings will stop and healing can begin.

Let us now, this day, stand up and stand with our Black brothers and sisters so that we will be united as one body in Christ, redeemed by his blood. May we be one in Christ, one with each other, and one in ministry to all the world until Christ comes in final victory.

This is our deepest prayer.
The Holy Work Before Us
We now ask you to join us in recommitting ourselves to non-violently exposing and opposing injustice, racism, and violence even when it resides in our own hearts. We must not allow our righteous indignation and prophetic calls for justice to become spiritually hollow with no moral integrity to speak into a world that is in desperate need of the fresh bread of hope.

We hear and see it in the protests. The world grows weary of injustice where the marginalized become voiceless and invisible living at the mercy of power. If we are unwilling to walk the path of Jesus Christ and truly acknowledge white privilege, then all our statements simply become high sounding pontificated documents joining other statements gathering dust on the shelves of empty promises.

With your prayers and actions joined with ours, we can answer the cries we hear in the midst of protests—cries of injustice, fear, and anger, that when gone unanswered turn violent. If Jesus is indeed the answer let us dare to see one another as beloved children of the living God deserving of love, mercy, and justice.

We offer our example to the church. In the name of Jesus Christ this is our work and we dare not abandon it or the world because we desire privilege and power over what the Lord requires of us.

Please join us in this holy work of dismantling racism in its subtle and overt forms. If not us, who? If not now, when?

Christ have mercy.
Lord have mercy.
Christ have mercy.

Bishop Lawson Bryan
Bishop Kenneth L. Carder
Bishop Kenneth H. Carter
Bishop Ray Chamberlain
Bishop Young Jin Cho
Bishop Charles Crutchfield
Bishop Lindsey Davis
Bishop Leonard Fairley
Bishop Bob Fannin
Bishop David Graves
Bishop Larry Goodpaster
Bishop Al Gwinn
Bishop Jonathan Holston
Bishop Sue Haupert-Johnson
Bishop Hasbrouck Hughes, Jr.
Bishop Charlene Kammerer
Bishop James King
Bishop Clay Lee
Bishop Paul Leeland
Bishop Sharma Lewis
Bishop Richard Looney
Bishop William T. McAlilly
Bishop Lawrence McCleskey
Bishop Jack Meadors
Bishop C. P. Minnick, Jr.
Bishop Joe Pennel
Bishop Bob Spain
Bishop Thomas B. Stockton
Bishop James Swanson
Bishop Mary Virginia Taylor
Bishop Debra Wallace-Padgett
Bishop Hope Morgan Ward
Bishop Mike Watson
Bishop William Willimon
Bishop Dick Wills

The Bishops of the Southeastern Jurisdiction of The United Methodist Church

A Word from Bishop Graves: 24 Hours, 24 Days: Listen!!!!

published 6/4/2020
Dear Alabama-West Florida Church Family,
 
In recent days following the tragic murder of yet another black male, George Floyd, there have been numerous statements written and reports of protests. Most of these were peaceful, yet some turned violent. Images of the officer’s knee suffocating the life from Mr. Floyd and the emotion that has followed leads to haunting cries that enough is enough. I am outraged at the actions I continue to see against people of color. During these times, it is our instinct to write or post on social media. Perhaps some of you have been asking when I would make a statement.
 
Over the last few days and weeks, the stirring in my spirit has been to listen! I have listened to the feelings of anger, hurt, and pain of my brothers and sisters of color. Some of their anger lies with white people who continue to talk while they need to listen. I have listened to protestors who desperately beg for the generational trauma of persecution and killing to stop. To my dismay, I have listened to the theological rhetoric and the defensive posture of many. I have listened to those who are frustrated with those who abuse their positions of power. I have heard that we need to give space for forgiveness, acknowledge that racism is a sin, and that we need to acknowledge it when we hear it. I have listened to the lack of support for the black church here in Alabama-West Florida. I have listened to white clergy and laity who ask, “Bishop what can we do? I have so many questions and feel paralyzed to know how to appropriately act.” 
 
As I listen, I hear a consistent theme with COVID-19 and the events of the last week: weariness. Yes Lord, we are weary living in a weary land. We have moved from being tired to weary. It is a hard place to be. As I have listened, these words from 2 Chronicles 7:14 resonate within me, “If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, pray, seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear and will forgive their sin and heal their land.” Many are calling on God to heal our land, yet it will begin when God’s people turn to what we celebrated this past Pentecost Sunday in Acts 2:21, “Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” For God has poured out God’s Holy Spirit on all people for their choosing. 
 
I am asking all people in the Alabama-West Florida Conference to listen and stand in solidarity with people of color! Make no mistake that all lives will in fact matter when black lives matter. This coming Sunday, June 7, is observed as Peace With Justice Sunday in the United Methodist Church. What timing! For as I listen, I hear the cry of where there is no justice there is no peace. I am calling us to listen as we begin this Sunday at 12:00 midnight with a 24-hour prayer vigil, followed by 24 days of prayer.
 
For the 24-hour prayer vigil, there is an online sign-up with 15-minute prayer slots. Up to five people may register during each time slot. However, as many people who want to pray during a specific time may do so. God will hear our prayers! Please click here to sign up now. I would hope that we would have hundreds of people across this conference to participate and pray over the 24 hours this Sunday.
 
The remaining days will have focused prayers as you can see on this calendar. During these 24 days of prayer, we are asking people to do virtual prayer walks on their own or with a small group. Additionally, we will be posting daily prayers on social media. Download the prayer sheet so that you can incorporate this focused time of prayer in your daily devotional life.
 
Next, I would ask us to listen to one another during this time. To be frank with white people, you need to listen much more. Just listen, even when listening is hard. In these remaining days of June, I would ask all of us to talk with one another and to take the posture of listening more than talking. As we listen, God is calling all of us to be a part of ending systemic racism and injustice.
 
24-hours of prayer and 24 days of prayer are what God has placed on my heart as we listen to what God is calling us to do next. The Holy Spirit is stirring within my heart to take action steps in the coming days. I plan to share that soon, but for now, there is this urging within me that we need to continuously pray and listen. Yes, it will take much more than prayer and listening, as prayer without action leads to death. For today in this Holy Spirit moment, speak Lord, speak!
 
In loving kindness,
Bishop David Graves
Resident Bishop
Alabama-West Florida Conference

 


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