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.
In the Alabama-West Florida Conference, every year we designate a Sunday to celebrate the gifts and graces of persons with disabilities. Sunday, October 20, 2019 was the date selected for this year, but churches
may choose to do so on a different date.
This special Sunday allows our local churches to acknowledge and show appreciation to those with disabilities. Often times these members are overlooked in our congregations because they are perceived to have limitations. We want to bring awareness that many of these members with disabilities bring a unique perspective to our congregations and can be leaders and contributing members to the United Methodist Church and our communities.
For ideas about how you might celebrate this, click here.
To read about how one church celebrated Disability Awareness Sunday, click here.
Your church may be unable to include a specific Sunday this year, but we encourage you to plan ahead to observe Disability Sunday in 2020.
Representative for AWFUMC Disability Ministries
If you receive an email that strikes you as unusual, confirm that it's legitimate before you reply. Refrain from forwarding the email to others. Instead, make a quick phone call to the church or write a new email to your pastor or a staff person. If the email is fraudulent, report it as phishing to your email provider and delete the email. Pay careful attention to the sender's address (not just name) as that will help you to identify if the email is legitimate. All AWF staff emails use @awfumc.org.
The issue isn't unique to AWF. A recent article in The Christian Post shared that churches nationwide are the target of these scams. The Federal Trade Commission shares tips on how to recognize and avoid phishing scams at https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/how-recognize-and-avoid-phishing-scams.
The issue is also not unique to email but extends to text and phone calls. As with email, remember that clergy and churches do not ask for personal or financial information by text. Don't be rushed, instead, be cautious and confirm the legitimacy of a communication before you respond.
The charge conference is defined as the basic governing body of each United Methodist local church and is composed of all members of the church council. All members of the charge conference must be members of the local church. The charge conference must meet at least once per year. The charge conference directs the work of the church and gives general oversight to the church council, reviews and evaluates the mission and ministry of the church, sets salaries for the pastor and staff, elects the members of the church council, and recommends candidates for ordained ministry.
It's understandable how such yearly events can become just another task on the calendar. But thanks to pastors like Seevers, these conferences can become a transformational celebration.
"Charge conference gives the local church the fabulous opportunity to celebrate all that God has done, is doing, and will continue to do as we profess our calling to 'make Disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world," said Seevers. "It allows a time of reflection as we answer the question 'Who are we called to love?' It provides a time of remembrance of the Saints who have gone before us in the past year. Yes, business is conducted, but when you are celebrating the business of the church, there is much to be thankful for and excited about."
In addition to the required reports, Seevers used this valuable time to honor her staff, share a meal and welcome Greystone UMC's new District Superintendent, Dr. Ed Glaize. She also enlisted various speakers to educate those at the conference about the special ministries that they support outside of the church.
Seevers concluded, "I look forward to Charge Conference every year because we turn the page forward with hearts of thanksgiving to the One that unites us in our faith. When the reports are complete and the votes are cast, we rest in the presence of God and simply say, 'Thank you, Lord, for loving us so that we can love one another.' "
Lynn Haven UMC (LHUMC), located in the heart of the Hurricane Michael devastation, knows the pain and heartache of losing everything. On October 10, 2018, Michael was relentless with its power. Many members of Lynn Haven UMC lost their homes, business, jobs and their church home. Since last fall, the church has met in the parking lot and now meets at Bay Haven Charter Academy to continue ministry in the best way they can. Just days after the storm made landfall, the church was distributing supplies and meals to their neighbors.
After seeing the complete devastation Hurricane Dorian left behind in the Bahamas, the LHUMC family immediately mobilized and identified Bahamas Methodist Habitat as the best way to help.
On Sunday, September 8, 2019, LHUMC collected a special offering during communion designated for the Bahamas Methodist Habitat. The church communicated to the members that they would use church mission funds to match their individual contributions up to $2,500. The initial offering was over $8,800; meaning at least $11,300 will be sent to the relief effort. To date, the congregation has collected over $10,000 and anticipates even more money to be collected through online and text efforts.
"I am amazed by God's providence and the faithfulness of His people called Methodists," stated Rev. Craig Carter, lead pastor at Lynn Haven UMC. "He has provided for us so generously over the past eleven months and He led us to dedicate the offering to Bahamas Methodist Habitat even before we heard that would be our conference's partner. Perhaps someday soon we can even send a team to help them so we can 'pay forward' the help we've received."
Despite not having a physical church home, Lynn Haven UMC continues to look beyond the "walls" of the church to serve others.
Carter continued, "We've already contacted the Bahamas Methodist Habitat to let them know assistance is on the way and to testify that the Lord will provide for them even as He has provided for us. Hurricane Michael took a lot away from us but it also gave us a compassionate and generous spirit that we believe mirrors our Father's heart. To God be the glory!"