Click here to download your 2005 North Alabama Conference Journal from the online Journal Library.
by Danette Clifton, Director of Communication, and Jacqulyn Hall, R.E.M. Fellow
If you hear God’s voice calling. . .
Listen and take heart in God’s presence.
If you hear God’s voice calling. . .
Leave your fishing boat, your nets and follow.
If you hear God’s voice calling. . .
Receive the living water, and thirst no more.
If you hear God’s voice calling. . .
Rejoice! You have been claimed and called!?
"If you hear God's voice" was the theme of the North Alabama Annual Conference, which met on the campus of Birmingham-Southern College June 5-7, 2005.
Bishop William H. Willimon presided and served as the conference preacher and the Rev. Joy Moore, assistant professor of preaching at Asbury Theological Seminary, Wilmore, Ky., was the Bible study leader. Throughout the conference both shared reflections on John 6:66-69 focusing on hard teachings of Jesus and Christians' response to them.
Throughout the three days, Annual Conference had an intentional feel of worshipful work as songs and stories of disciple-making were interwoven with team reports, discussions and votes.
Prior to the opening of the annual session, hundreds of youth gathered on the campus for a day of music, games and fellowship. During the evening, Bishop Willimon shared a message urging the crowd to remember that Jesus is not about making people obey the rules, but instead Jesus is "about breaking free and following a different set of rules." The evening concluded with a high-energy concert by the band Superchic[k].
At 3 p.m. on Sunday the Conference began its worshipful work with the traditional singing of the hymn And Are We Yet Alive? Following the call to worship, Bishop Willimon called the 136th session of the North Alabama Annual Conference to order. The Conference heard greetings from Birmingham-Southern College president Dr. David Pollick and Conference Secretary Rev. Mark Lacey led members through the organization of the Conference. The members then divided to go to the Clergy Executive and the Lay Orientation sessions.
Almost every seat was full in Bill Battle Coliseum as worshippers gathered Sunday night for the Service of Ordination. Bishop Willimon preached reminding hearers that Jesus’ teaching are hard but that as Christians we believe those teachings also bring life. During the service 17 new elders were ordained. During the service 13 retiring elders and deacons were also recognized. As a sign of the passing down the call to ministry from one generation to a new generation those retiring placed the stoles on the new elders. As a first act of their ordained ministry, the new elders then served the congregation as Bishop Willimon led a service of Holy Communion. To conclude the service, Bishop Robert Morgan urged pastors and congregations to encourage their bright young people to answer the call God has put on their heart. As the congregation sang the last hymn Bishop Willimon opened the altar for anyone who is currently hearing God’s voice calling them to ministry.
Annual Conference members gathered in Bill Battle Coliseum for a full day of worshipful work beginning at 8:30 a.m. Rev. Kay Mutert and other song leaders led the conference in music. These music leaders were scattered throughout the Coliseum and used the floor discussion mikes. Rev. Mutert noted that this was a sign of worshipful work. That the very microphones that would be used for discussion were also used to invited in the Holy Spirit during the morning’s opening songs.
As Bishop Willimon called the session to order. Members approved the consent calendar and also voted on constitutional amendments. These amendments are changes to the United Methodist Church’s Constitution (found in the Book of Discipline) that were recommended by the 2004 General Conference. Each Annual Conference (within the United States) and Central Conference (outside the United States) will vote on these amendments. If passed, the Council of Bishops will have the final step in the ratification process. North Alabama Annual Conference members approved each amendment by an overwhelming majority.
As the morning’s business began, Rev. Dale Cohen presented the Connectional Minsitries report saying God is “calling us to a future very different than our current reality.” He shared the plans the Connectional Ministries area is undertaking to help local churches turn around the Conference’s 30 years of decline and its “losing ground in disciple-making.” These include reducing and realigning staff to focus more on new church development and congregational revitalization; creating a new staff position to focus on African American and other ethnic groups congregational development; training coaches in Natural Church Development that is appropriate for any size church in any environment; moving summer camp responsibilities to the staff of Camp Sumatanga who are planning new innovations to increase participation; and hiring a new children’s coordinator who will build upon the work already in place in North Alabama.
After hearing some inspiring stories from local churches - including the Hispanic Ministries of Cullman First UMC and a special home building project of Calera First UMC, the Conference then was introduced to Sherri Ferguson who is becoming the Executive Director of United Methodist Pastoral Care and Counseling upon the retirement this summer of Charles Alexander. Conference members also heard a report from the District Study Committee which was appointed after last year’s Annual Conference. Rev. Barbara Harper explained the work the committee had undertaken in the last year - concluding they did not want to simply redraw district lines as a way to save money, but to redraw the lines to better help empower local churches. She said the committee will bring their recommendation to next year’s Annual Conference.
The Prophetic Ministries Team them reported the winner and recognized an honored nominee of the Louise Barrier Breaker Award which is presented to a person who has done significant ministry in breaking down barriers among people. The winner was Rev. Doreen Duley and the honored nominee was Rev. Elise Moss-Simmons. As the report continued, Debbie Wade encouraged churches to begin and focus on ministries with persons with disabilities. She told stories and gave suggestions to how local churches can reach out to this group with such a high percentage not involved in faith communities.
The Hispanic Ministries team them presented an exciting story of a new disciple of Jesus Christ. Jamie Torres shared his experience of receiving the Holy Spirit and being baptized. He said the change in his life was so dramatic and his joy was so full that when he returned to work they gave him a drug test!
Pat Meadows presented the report of the Conference trustees regarding the new United Methodist Center. He called members attention to the finical statement and also invited everyone to an open house of the new Center during the lunch break.
Anne Wheeler presented the report of petitions and resolutions. During this time to Conference voted to have Volunteers in Mission Sunday in the fall and also to observe Hunger Awareness Day.?
Bishop Willimon then shared with Conference members two letter telling exciting stories of North Alabama Churches. First, he shared a letter telling the story of how Morningstar UMC sent money to build a church building in Africa as they were raising money and building their own building. He also shared the story of Bangor UMC by reading a letter from pastor Hilda Walker describing the congregation that is made up of people with drug problems, in recovery and in trouble with the law. Albertville District Superintendent Don Neal added to the story sharing how Albertville District churches are raising money to build the Bangor congregation a new, and much needed, building.?
The Conference then moved on the report of the Council of Finance and Administration. Bishop Willimon challenged this team to make the discussion of the budget as filled with good news as the two stories we just heard. The Conference began discussing Report 1 - the proposed 2006 budget. There was an amendment from the floor from Rev. Ken Dunivant to adapt the budget to restore the same level of funding to Birmingham-Southern College and Huntingdon College as the 2005 level. After much discussion and recounting a covenant that the North Alabama Conference and the Alabama-West Florida Conference made to help support the United Methodist related colleges of both Conferences. The funding was restored at 2005 levels ($422,000 to Birmingham-Southern College and $82,000 to Huntingdon College.) During the discussion another motion was brought to the floor for the Bishop to appoint a study committee, including the convenors of the Prophetic Ministries and Servant Ministries Team, to study the decision to dissolve the Connectional Ministries staff positions related to each area. This motion was passed. The Conference then voted on and approved Report No.1.
The conference's pivotal moment came when members walked off the college campus to the site of the McCoy United Methodist Church, which was closed in 1993. They participated in a "Service of Confession and Recommitment to Disciple-making." During the prayer service, the story of the McCoy church was told, from the numbers of people brought to Christ and sent into ministry, to its days of racism, to its last days during which the congregation tried to reach out to its transitional community. Members confessed the conference's unfaithfulness to remain in some transitional communities and grow as multicultural as God calls them to be. Then forgiveness was proclaimed.
Conference goals for the next year were read as signs of the recommitment the North Alabama Conference is making to not repeat its same mistakes. These goals include starting six new congregations including an intentionally multicultural congregation, a Korean ministry, a Hispanic ministry and an African-American ministry.
Despite the continuing rain on Monday, many Annual Conference members had the opportunity to tour the new United Methodist Center and also the Mission Fair during Open House. Worshipful work continued throughout the afternoon session with reports given by Equitable Compensation, and the Dean of the Cabinet Rev. Bill Bostick presented the Property Resolutions on behalf of all the District Superintendents. Ten churches were closed during this report. As the Council on Finance and Administration report continued an amendment was approved to reduce the salaries of the District Superintendents and Director of Connectional Ministries to 2004 levels.
Joy Moore, whose plan had been delayed in Detroit, then arrived and led the Conference in Bible Study. She challenged listeners with her lesson taken from the book of John. “I want your imagination to be changed. This is not human observation, this is divine revelation.” Moore added that like a good movie we are to enter into the story of God. “We have been invited to join the ongoing event of what God has going on in the Earth. The life Jesus lived is the life we ought to live.”
Reports continued after Bible study with the Board of Pensions presenting their report which included a recommendation to join the United Methodist’s Church’s national Healthflex Insurance plan. The committee explained that this option had the most benefits and was the most cost effective of all the insurance options they had explored. A motion was made by Rev. Robin Scott, expressing concern of the increase of the premium’s for family coverage. He proposed to split the percent of increase between the church (which pays for the clergy’s individual coverage) and clergy families (who are responsible for their family coverage). This ammedment did not pass. The Confernece voted to accept the recommentdation to join the Healthflex plan beginning in January of 2006.
As business continued Conference members voted to donate the annual check presented by the United Methodist Publishing House (Cokesbury) to the Central Conference pension fund. The Conference Nominations Team report was presented and accepted.
On Monday night, newly licensed local pastors and retiring associate members and local pastors were recognized during the Service of Commissioning. Bishop Willimon continued his gospel lesson on John 6:66-69. The service concluded with the examination of the 24 Probationary Elders and Deacons who were presented for commissioning.
Rev. Al and Sister Pashion Lewis welcomed members in to the morning session with the sounds of music. The Conference rejoiced to hear that the total of the mission offering for Camp Wesley, a camp purchased and being built by the conference to serve the United Methodists of Lativa, Lithuania and Belarus, was over $42, 000.
Tuesday morning business began with inspiring stories as the Evangelism team announced the winners of the Denman Evangelism Award and showed videos featured each winners ministry. The lay winner was John David Crowe who served as a youth director at Edgewood in the Florence district and grew the youth group from 4 teenagers to more than 90. The clergy award was presented to Rev. Fernando del Castillo, who started a Hispanic Congregation in Riverchase. The two year old congregation now has participants from 12 countries and has celebrated many professions of faith. Bishop Willimon congratulated Rev. del Castillo in Spanish.
The Statistician’s Report was brought before the Conference. The report noted that Membership stands at 155,683, down 2,179 from the previous year. Conference statistician Rev. Kenny Baskins noted much of this decrease came from church’c going through the process to clean their roles. He encouraged all congregations to go through the process so the numbers would more accurately represent the people who are part of North Alabama churches. Following the report Conference members voted to accept a challenge from the cabinet to work toward a 5 percent increase in each local church's worship attendance over the next year.
The New and Renewing Communities of Faith report featured a video highlighting the work of Innerchange UMC, a new community of faith started by the Confernece three years ago. The Innerchange’s mission has focused on teenagers and they have found a creative way to reach their community by providing skateboard ramps and other youth friendly activities. During the report it was noted that six new congregations have been started in North Alabama including churches in the Sylacauga District, Huntsville District, Jasper District, a Korean ministry in Birmingham, a Hispanic ministry in Oxford and an African American ministry in McCalla.
Joy Moore continued her Bible study lesson from the book of John 6:66-69 and focused on ‘the words of eternal life.’ “To know God, this is life- to be able to say God is bigger than the brokenness of this world, to be in the presence of the power of love- this is eternal life.” Moore said that we, [as Christians] should preach, live and be the foretaste of God. “Is your life a testimony to the life of God so that those who recognize you recognize God? He is looking for people who recognize that to know God is enough- God is eternal life.”
Thirty-three of North Alabama’s “Memorable Disciples” were recognized during the annual memorial service. Bishop Willimon spoke of the love and commitment they had to the Conference. “This day we gratefully repeat their names and as I do, I know that you will recall their witness. We knew them and loved them. They’ve got no great buildings named after them but yet there is no way the church could’ve survived and thrived without their fidelity.”
The afternoon session opened with more reports including Servants Like Jesus featuring the minsitistries of United Methodist Residential Alternatives, United Methodist Women, United Methodist Children’s Home and North Alabama Conference Disaster Response Team.
Rev. Sara Cameron made a motion, which was passed, to keep a clergy person on the Conference staff in the Servant Ministries position.
During the Ethnic Minsitries report Rev. Cameron and Raphael Gray presented the report. Derrick Byars, a youth member of Lakeside UMC, closed the report by playing “When We All Get to Heaven” on the piano.
Gloria Holt, who has been the Conference lay leader for the past eight years, presented the Laity Address. She asked whose job is it to make disciples. “What is the best way that we can reach people for Jesus Christ? Isn’t that the business that we’re in?” Holt said that people have to be willing to let go of personal preference, personal privileges and personal habits in order to make disciples. “We are here to reach this generation and the next generation, not our generation and not our parent’s generation.”
The Children’s Discipleship and the Youth Discipleship reports were presented in video format. The Children’s Discipleship Team also commended Conference churches that completed Safe Sanctuaries Training and Dale Cohen introduced the new Coordinator to the Conference, Danette Schader.
Scott Selman announced that the proposed changes that had been approved by the Conference since the 2006 budget was approved on Monday made the new 2006 budget total $13,148,958.
As the 2005 session of the North Alabama Annual Conference came to a close, United Methodist clergy were given letters announcing their appointments for the next year. Bishop William H. Willimon declared the appointments fixed as the clergy and lay representatives from the 848 United Methodist Churches in the North Alabama area celebrated a service of a sending forth and shared the sacrament of Holy Communion.