Hurricane Michael Tour Exemplifies Strength of Connection

published 10/17/2019
October 10, 2018, will be a day not easily forgotten for thousands of people along the Gulf Coast. As with any traumatic event, the first year can be the hardest. For Hurricane Michael survivors, the first anniversary was an opportunity to remember the devastation caused by the category five storm and look ahead to better days.
The Alabama-West Florida Conference remembered this historic event in multiple ways and provided video and print resources for local churches to use the weekend prior to the anniversary. In addition to the local church participation, Bishop David Graves spent four weekends over the course of September and October visiting with AWF churches who sustained damage and who helped their communities in the days after the storm.
Bishop Graves visited the following areas:
September 15: Gulf Breeze UMC
September 22: Good News UMC
October 6: Lynn Haven UMC
October 13: Port St. Joe UMC and Apalachicola UMC
Each of these churches ministered to their communities in unique ways. Gulf Breeze UMC and Good News UMC immediately served as supply collection hubs and exhausted their resources and contacts to get supplies where they were most needed. Lynn Haven UMC and Port St. Joe UMC received significant structural damage; yet both congregations have found creative ways to continue ministry. Lynn Haven UMC has met in a parking lot and charter school to ensure that their church family can continue to worship together. Port St. Joe UMC had recently completed a community life center that withstood the strong winds and fared much better than their traditional sanctuary. Although Apalachicola UMC is part of the Florida Conference by a few miles, this congregation continues to help house volunteers and were able to access and provide relief to the Port St. Joe area immediately after the storm. 
“Sometimes, the greatest gift you can give a person is your presence,” stated Bishop David Graves. “It was important for me to personally thank these pastors and congregations for the tireless efforts they have given since October 10, 2018. These pastors have made their churches a priority and some of them still have a long road ahead of them. I wanted to give thanks for their servant hearts. I look forward to spending time on the second anniversary with other churches who also share this burden.”
Rev. Chris Ackerman, who serves as the Hurricane Michael Recovery Director, was a full-time associate pastor at Lynn Haven UMC when the storm hit. “Fifty-three weeks ago I could have never dreamed that I would be dedicating my ministry to the relief efforts,” said Ackerman. “In the days that followed, we didn’t know if we would even have a church, where our paychecks would come from or what the next day would look like. I am forever grateful to a Bishop who showed up days after the storm to assure us we were not alone and one year later to continue to encourage us. He exemplified his continued commitment in the past few weeks by simply being present with us.”
The common thread through the recovery process has been the United Methodist Connection. Through global financial donations, to UMCOR grants, to relief teams, to conference support, the survivors have hope that one day, life might begin to look a little more stable. Until then, the Alabama-West Florida Conference has pledged to walk alongside these communities through the long-term recovery process.
For more information visit

Alabama-West Florida Conference Awarded Grant for Hurricane Michael Recovery Efforts

published 10/10/2019
On the one-year anniversary of Hurricane Michael, the Alabama-West Florida Conference was awarded a $1.125 million-dollar grant from Volunteer Florida Foundation dedicated to repair and rebuild at least 73 homes.

"We are truly humbled to be the recipient of this grant as only four organizations were chosen related to Hurricane Michael," stated AWF Grant Writer, Kristi McClellan. "This grant is a reflection of the strength of our organization, volunteer support and the infrastructure established with the help of UMCOR and their financial support," she explained.

The full press release about today's news is below. 

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Today, the Volunteer Florida Foundation announced that $8 million in Florida Disaster Fund long-term recovery grants will be awarded to organizations engaged in Hurricane Michael and Hurricane Irma long-term recovery efforts. The Volunteer Florida Foundation will distribute $3 million to four organizations engaged in Hurricane Michael recovery efforts and $5 million to ten organizations engaged in Hurricane Irma recovery efforts.

“As we recognize the one-year anniversary of Hurricane Michael, I am pleased to announce that the Volunteer Florida Foundation will be releasing $8 million in long-term recovery grants to support Hurricane Michael and Hurricane Irma recovery efforts,” said Governor Ron DeSantis. “We are committed to ensuring our communities receive the support necessary as we rebuild stronger than ever before. Thank you to the generous individuals who donated to the Florida Disaster Fund and made this support possible.”

The Florida Disaster Fund is the State of Florida’s official private fund established to assist Florida’s communities as they respond to and recover after emergencies or disasters.

“As we reflect on the one year anniversary of Hurricane Michael, the Volunteer Florida Foundation is pleased to announce the award of Florida Disaster Fund grants that will support long-term recovery efforts in the panhandle and areas still recovering from Hurricane Irma,” said Volunteer Florida CEO Clay Ingram. “With the support of Governor DeSantis, Volunteer Florida has been able to continue to assist communities as they rebuild and recover through our Florida Disaster Fund grants and Disaster Case Management Programs.”

The following organizations were awarded Florida Disaster Fund long-term recovery grants to support existing projects that are helping individuals recover from Hurricane Michael:

Alabama-West Florida Conference of the United Methodist Church ($1,125,000)
Alabama-West Florida Conference of the United Methodist Church will repair and/or rebuild at least 73 Hurricane Michael-damaged homes.

Gulf District Schools ($1,125,000)
Gulf District Schools will complete repairs and upgrade existing HVAC units in schools to ensure the health and well-being of staff and students.

The Salvation Army ($600,000)
The Salvation Army will provide resources to those affected by Hurricane Michael who have exhausted all other sources of funding for personal unmet needs, such as rebuild/repair materials, household goods and furniture. The Salvation Army will be able to increase the number of unmet needs cases served from 400 to 600.

Town of Alford, Florida ($150,000)
The Town of Alford will rebuild its volunteer fire station facility. The station was located next to the Town Hall building, which was also severely damaged. The equipment and trucks are being temporarily housed in an open pole barn until the facility can be rebuilt.

The following organizations were awarded Florida Disaster Fund long-term recovery grants to support existing projects that are helping individuals recover from Hurricane Irma:

Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Miami, Inc. ($925,000)
Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Miami, Inc. will provide financial assistance to residents experiencing disaster-caused needs, including rent/mortgage assistance to 60 families throughout Monroe County and infrastructure support to assist an additional 37 units of affordable housing in Monroe County.

Cento Campesino Farmworker Center, Inc. ($750,000)
Centro Campesino Farmworker Center, Inc. will provide comprehensive recovery services to Floridians affected by Hurricane Irma through home repairs and financial assistance.

Florida Presbyterian Disaster Assistance Network, Inc. ($25,000)
Florida Presbyterian Disaster Assistance Network, Inc. will assist Long Term Recovery Groups by connecting them with grants and other resources.

Metropolitan Ministries, Inc. ($100,000)
Metropolitan Ministries, Inc. will prevent families impacted by Hurricane Irma from becoming homeless through prevention assistance programs, such as utility, rental, mortgage and other financial assistance.

Rebuilding Together Broward County, Inc. ($225,000)
Rebuilding Together Broward County, Inc. will serve Irma affected clients by providing utilities assistance, rent support, income replacement, food, clothing, transportation, medical supplies and household items.

Rebuilding Together of Central Florida, Inc. ($225,000)
Rebuilding Together of Central Florida, Inc. will direct/implement critically needed roof replacement projects at the homes of low and very low-income residents/households at no cost to the homeowner. Those served will include qualifying veterans, seniors, single mothers and the disabled, among others.

Star of the Sea Foundation, Inc. ($225,000)
Star of the Sea Foundation, Inc. will purchase and distribute food, primarily locally sourced produce and proteins, to those still recovering from Hurricane Irma.

St. Lucie Habitat for Humanity ($525,000)
St. Lucie Habitat for Humanity will rebuild, repair and fortify Hurricane Irma damaged homes. This will be accomplished by repairing or replacing critically damaged roofs, installing impact windows or hurricane shutters, and repairing or replacing exterior damage.

The Salvation Army ($1,000,000)
The Salvation Army will provide resources to those affected by Hurricane Irma who have exhausted all other sources of funding for personal unmet needs, such as rebuild/repair materials, household goods and furniture. The Salvation Army will be able to increase the number of unmet need cases served from 250 to 500.

Young Adult Missional Movement of the Florida Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church ($1,000,000)
Young Adult Missional Movement of the Florida Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church will support staff delivering holistic disaster services in Hurricane Irma-affected areas, including construction coordination, volunteer management, funding contractual costs and materials/products.

The Florida Disaster Fund long-term recovery grants are awarded through a competitive application process. An additional long-term recovery grant opportunity will be made available by the Volunteer Florida Foundation soon. To learn more about this funding opportunity and others, please sign up for the Volunteer Florida newsletter by clicking here.

Established in accordance with Section 14.29 (9), Florida Statutes, the Volunteer Florida Foundation is a 501(c)(3) organization. The Florida Disaster Fund, administered by the Volunteer Florida Foundation, was established in 2004 to fulfill needs unmet by other disaster relief organizations.

New no-cost benefits for AWF eligible clergy and conference staff

published 10/2/2019

The Alabama-West Florida Conference Board of Pension and Health Benefits is pleased to announce new benefits at no cost to you starting January 1, 2020, for eligible clergy and conference staff. Rev. Steve Reneau, Pension and Health Board President and BeLinda Carnegie, Conference Benefits Officer, offer initial details in this video. Click here to view.

Great! So what do I need to do to take advantage of this?

  1. You do not need to do anything. Eligible clergy and staff will automatically be enrolled in both plans at no additional cost. Clergy spouses will be enrolled in the CHC Wellness Program. 
  2. If you would like to learn more about these new benefits, plans for upcoming Webinars and trainings will be announced soon.
  3. Please check the BOPH Website for brochures related to the Employee Assistance Program (EAP) and the CHC Wellness Program. Click here for additional information

Conference Grant Helps Congregation Serve Local School

published 10/2/2019
(Kara Witherow for the AWF Conference) - A few loads of laundry, dozens of bags of groceries, and a lot of love have helped revitalize and invigorate Metropolitan United Methodist Church.

They’ve also helped meet some tangible needs of Davis Elementary School’s students and families.

The congregation has long had a desire to serve its Montgomery neighborhood, and when Rev. Richard Williams was appointed to the church in July, they told him as much.

“They shared with me that they want to help children and those in need,” Rev. Williams said of the Metropolitan UMC congregation. “I was told that the congregation wanted me out in the community and that they wanted people to know that the congregation loves them. They want to be the church, to be the hands and feet of Jesus.”

After meeting with Davis Elementary School principal Tori Infinger, Rev. Williams and the congregation got to work. As they learn of needs, they aren’t content just to pray, he said.

Before teachers, staff, and students returned to school this August, a group got together to pull weeds, plant flowers, lay mulch, fix a flagpole, and paint the school’s sign. Since such beautification projects are not part of the school district’s regular budget, the congregation will be out again this month to plant new flowers for the winter. 

The congregation has also prayed over the school, painted a bathroom and directional signage in the hallways, and made emergency buckets for each classroom.

And when they learned that the school needed a washer and dryer to be able to launder clothing for children who didn’t have clean clothes and those who needed fresh clothing while at school, they knew they had to help.

The $1,100 cost was outside the small church’s budget, but it didn’t deter them.

While in conversation with June Jernigan, Director of Ministerial Services and Assistant to the Bishop, and Ashley Davis, Director of Connectional Ministries, Rev. Williams shared the opportunity to serve the school but that the congregation was unable to meet the need.

The two saw the ministry that was being done in the community and the relationship the congregation had forged with the school and were able to facilitate a $1,000 grant from the Alabama-West Florida Conference.

With the new washer and dryer, the school’s guidance counselor and parent liaison are able to launder clothing regularly. And on an upcoming Sunday, Metropolitan UMC will partner with several other area churches to collect and donate 1,000 pair of socks and underwear to the school.

“I really believe that’s what it takes for churches to be what God calls us to be,” Rev. Williams said of Jernigan’s, Davis’, and the Conference’s support. “It takes those who are in leadership to invest, to step out in faith, and partner with us and support us.”

The support the congregation is showing the teachers, staff, and students has made an impact, Infinger said.

“Anything that I ask or say we have a need for, we get it. The support of Metropolitan Church has been outstanding,” she said. “It makes such a difference.”

News about the church and school’s partnership spread. A photo of the washer and dryer was posted on an online public-school portal for others to see and celebrate. After seeing it, the Montgomery Food Bank gave Metropolitan UMC a grant to partner with Davis Elementary School to provide the school with a food bank.

Two weeks ago, the congregation served 45 families at the food bank’s launch. Another 45 families were served the next week. The 90 families will rotate, each group taking home several bags of nutritious food every other week.

Church members shop for the food, store it in the provided refrigerator, freezer, and pantry area at the school, and distribute it. Fresh meats, vegetables, fruits, cheeses, cereals, crackers, and other items were given to families chosen by the school.

“It was wonderful to see people who are really in need come in and get food,” said Robert “Bob” Clayton, a member of Metropolitan UMC and chair of the church’s benevolence ministry.

The church’s partnership with the school has given the congregation new life, Clayton said, and has given them the opportunity to put their faith into action.

“We have always been interested in doing something in the community,” he said. “This has been very worthwhile for us and worthwhile for our community. It’s given us something of substance that we’ve been able to do. I really feel like I’m doing something that is really helping, that’s really beneficial.”

The partnership has brought joy to Metropolitan UMC and Rev. Williams, and it’s shown them that when they’re willing to step out in faith, they can do anything.

“I believe that anyone can do ministry,” Rev. Williams said. “It just has to meet the capacity of the body of believers. No matter the size of the church, we can do big ministry because God is big.”

AWF Clergy Trained on Ways to Resist Racism

published 10/1/2019
Racism. It’s a word many do not seek to learn more about. Whether it is how a person was raised, cultural influences or simply not having resources to properly ask the tough questions, these necessary conversations are not always a top priority for clergy and congregations.
Three days of the busy September calendar in the Alabama-West Florida Conference were dedicated to training hundreds of clergy about this sensitive topic. Rev. Michelle Ledder was asked to lead the training called, “Resisting Racism: A Required Diversity Training for AWF Clergy.” Ledder is the General Commission on Race and Religion (GCORR) Director of Diversity and Anti-racism.
Ledder brought energy, enthusiasm and extensive knowledge to the room. Her online profile states, “She works to help all levels of the connection create the beloved community with systems, policies, and processes that level the playing field for everyone.” According to many attendees, she did just that.
“I am grateful for my day apart with fellow clergy,” stated Dr. Cory Smith of Auburn United Methodist Church. “Rev. Ledder delivered a helpful approach to allow me to better understand my personal implicit biases that we all have. She also equipped me with tools to have helpful and heartfelt race conversations in my congregation. I am thankful to serve a church that welcomes the difficult topics and seeks to be better members, citizens, neighbors and friends.”
These tools included videos that better explained racism and a thorough handout for pastors to use in their congregation, as Smith referenced. For some churches, these conversations will be unlike any they have ever had, for others, it will be a continuation of ongoing efforts. Ledder addressed that by saying, “There is a contextual wisdom that you bring in this space that I cannot bring.”
She also discouraged the use of phrases such as, “I didn’t mean that” or using “but” and “because” to explain one’s self. “Say I’m sorry. No but and, etc. Never expect grace from someone we’ve harmed,” she continued. Ledder explained that oftentimes we are asking people of color to tell their story in an uninvited way, which inflicts more pain.
“I am glad that we are taking the first steps to address the issue of racism in our annual conference,” stated Celeste Eubanks, Deaconess and AWF Director of Leadership Strategies. “I am aware some came into these days thinking it was another requirement to check off of their list, but I was encouraged to see a number of clergy genuinely interested in this topic of resisting racism. We will always have room for improvement, especially being in the deep south. I am grateful to Bishop Graves for acknowledging this issue and making this training a priority. My hope is that this is just the beginning of strategically understanding how hurtful generations of deeply rooted racism extends.”
Rev. Ledder explored in detail three big ideas:
1. Implicit Bias=Thought Shortcuts sometimes infected with stereotypes, Isms, or Fear;
2. Resisting Racism requires shifts;
3. Intercultural Competency.
The Alabama-West Florida Conference is continuing this conversation with the laity. As a start, three Vital Conversation Sessions are scheduled in October to continue this work. The facilitated discussion will focus on race, culture and justice. Click here to learn more.

Click here to see photos by Luke Lucas

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