The 2015 North Alabama Conference began on Sunday afternoon, May 31, on the campus of Birmingham-Southern College.
The Conference, designed to be a 48-hour worship experience during which participants heard reports, conducted business, experienced times of learning and shared testimonies of ministry, began with an Opening Celebration during which participants not only organized the Conference, but, through prayer and worship, set the tone for a time of Christian Conferencing under the theme of Nurture: Growing in Christ
. A mass choir formed by members of church choirs from across North Alabama led the music.
Annual Conference members and guests were welcomed to campus and introduced to the incoming President of BSC, Dr. Edward Leonard III. After a dance by the Glen Addie UMC Praise Dancers, special guest Bishop B. Michael Watson, Resident Bishop of the North Georgia Episcopal Area, preached. During the sermon he focused on the Conference Mission of Discover, Develop and Deploy Spiritual Leaders to make Disciples of Jesus Christ for the Transformation of the World telling the Conference, “Good news! You have got absolutely everything it takes to grow in Christ into the Church God is calling you to be. … You’ve got a future. You’ve got what it takes. …You’ve got the power of the Holy Spirit. … Nurture it and grow in Christ.”
Bishop Debra Wallace-Padgett then led the Conference in a time of remembering their baptism. During this holy time, chalices of water were passed, and participants shared with each other by making the sign of the cross and saying “Remember that you are baptized, and rejoice!”
Following a dinner break, the clergy gathered in Munger Auditorium for the Clergy Executive Session. Laity reconvened in Battle Coliseum for the Laity Session. During this time Conference Lay Leader Steve Lyles introduced them to the Lay Ministry Team, and they heard from Craig W. Robertson, founding member and Development Partner of Spiritual Leadership, Inc., who explained the L3: Loving, Learning and Leading process which the North Alabama Conference is adopting in its ministry work.
Monday began with music led by the St. Junia UMC Band. Bishop Wallace-Padgett led Conference members and guests in sharing Holy Communion. With the help of Conference emcee Chris Greene, Bishop Wallace-Padgett shared the Conference mission and vision that was guiding not only this year’s “mission-driven” Annual Conference, but also the ministries of the North Alabama Conference.
Dr. Paul W. Chilcote, Academic Dean, Professor of Historical Theology & Wesleyan Studies, and Director of United Methodist Studies at Ashland Theological Seminary in Ohio, led a session called Leadership in the Wesleyan Tradition. He focused the morning teaching time on Foundations noting what he called holistic spirituality of the Wesleyan Tradition which includes both works of piety and works of mercy. He noted spiritual practices – such as prayer, silence, Biblical engagement and Eucharist –
and why they are important to Methodist leaders.
As Conference members used their worshipful time to begin hearing reports, they adopted the consent agenda and then heard from the Church Health Operational Team. Rev. Robin Scott and Rev. Nancy Cole described resources the team is developing to help congregations of all sizes grow healthier.
Conference Statistician Rev. Amy DeWitte shared the Statistician Report. She noted that although membership and worship attendance showed a decline, not only in 2014, but for a number of years, there are bright spots to be seen in North Alabama. She noted 25 percent of the churches in the Conference are growing. Sixty-five percent of the congregations in decline are in what is categorized as low decline, which means there is hope for a turn toward growth. She also noted that payment of Conference apportionments as well as overall giving to ministries outside local church walls has increased.
Emcee Chris Green then interviewed Rev. Chris Harbert, pastor of Union Chapel UMC in the Mountain Lakes District to share a Glory Sighting of how God is at work in that congregation and community. Although Union Chapel is a small congregation with only a part-time local pastor as its only staff member, it has reached out to its community, has almost tripled its attendance and has seen dozens of new people make professions of faith in Jesus Christ.
Conference Treasurer Scott Selman and Rev. Kenny Baskins then presented the Council on Finance Report. During this time they introduced Rev. Warren Nash and Rev. Ken Dunivant who were part of a Conference Budget Task Force. The two explained the task force is proposing to change the Conference apportionment formula from a top down asking of the Conference to an upward flowing spiritual giving model from local churches. The goal is for each church to model for their members the discipline of the tithe (giving 10 percent to the Conference). The goal is for this to result in joyful and generous connectional giving. They noted that the Mountain Lakes District has used this model for five years and has seen an increase in connectional giving in the time. The year 2016 will be a transitional year and District Superintendents will be the point person working with each congregation on this transition. The Council on Finance then proposed the 2016 Conference budget of $10,155,717, a zero percent increase over the 2015 budget. In presenting the Conference Budget, Baskins noted that 33 percent of the Conference budget was comprised of General Church apportionments, which by Discipline
must fully be a part of the Conference budget.
Sheri Altland from United Methodist Communications, then celebrated with the North Alabama Conference for reaching its goal to raise $1 million for Imagine No Malaria. She presented the Bishop with a gift of appreciation and recognized Rev. Adlene Kufarimai who served as the Conference coordinator for the effort.
Bishop Wallace-Padgett introduced Dr. Richard Hunter who is returning to North Alabama from North Georgia to serve as the Director of New Church Development. He addressed the Conference and shared his vision for New Church Development.
During a Glory Sighting moment Rev. Alan Beasley shared how Jasper First UMC’s intentional outreach to the community has resulted in members of the Walker County Work Release and Drug Court programs becoming a part of their congregation and additionally inviting their families to be a part of Sunday worship.
The Sumatanga Trustees then shared a celebration of the work of Sumatanga and presented additions to their Board of Trustees for election. Interim Executive Director of Sumatanga, Rev. Lee Padgett led the Conference in a camp version of "Jesus Loves Me."
Rev. Brian Erickson, chair of the Board of Higher Education and Campus Ministry, then introduced Rev. Wade Langer as the new Conference Director of Campus Ministries. Langer invited the Conference to support our campus ministries noting the goal was not simply to make campus ministry youth group 2.0, but to make it a pipeline of spiritual leaders to and from local churches, as well as, being ministries to reach people for Jesus Christ. He said, “We want to make baptisms on campus the norm.”
Cabinet Secretary Rev. Sherill Clontz presented the Property Resolutions and announced nine churches to be closed. Those included the following:
South Central District
- Riser’s Chapel
- St. John’s – will close 6/27/16
- Glenn Hills
- Morning Star, Bessemer
- Chapel Hill
- New Chapel
Bob Bentley closed the morning session with prayer and noted the Conference Prayer Team had two prayer chapels open during Conference and invited participants to visit them.
Following lunch, the Conference gathered for the Memorial Service during which time the Conference remembered those Clergy and Clergy Spouses who died in the last year. During the service the Conference also said a litany of thanksgiving for the churches that were closing. Dr. Andy Wolfe preached a sermon entitled “Remember.”
Those clergy and spouses who were remembered included
- Rev. Samuel Allen Balch Jr.
- Rev. Kenneth A. Byrum
- Rev. Robert L. Caufield
- Rev. John W. Clotfelter
- Mrs. Anthonetta Eddleman
- Rev. Hubert Woodrow Franklin Jr.
- Mrs. Joan Marie Gilbreath
- Rev. William Lowell Gunn
- Mrs. Mary Farr Stone Hamby
- Mrs. Ann Harbin
- Rev. Sadie L. Henderson
- Deaconess Vera Nell Krueger
- Mrs. Margaret Frances Long
- Mrs. Frances M. McDonald
- Rev. Leamon Paul McWhorter
- Mrs. Bina E. Merriweather
- Mrs. Agnes Louise Morgan
- Mrs. Joan Lee Napp
- Mrs. Janice Smith Noble
- Rev. Gene Brown O’Quinn
- Rev. Marvin H. Porter
- Deaconess Sarah Pauline Precise
- Rev. Thomas Leon Precise
- Mrs. Linda Raper
- Mrs. Betty Jean Reding
- Mrs. Sandra G. Romberg
- Rev. Danette Ann Schader
- Rev. Henry Jackson Segars
- Mrs. Mary Jim Shockley
- Rev. Dr. Sammy M. Stabler
The afternoon continued with the Board of Pension and Health Benefits Report presented by Brant Sanders and Scott Selman. During the report, the Board noted that there will be no increase in premium cost for 2016. However, the Board does anticipate using approximately $265,000 in reserve funds to partially fund the cost of health insurance in 2016, primarily due to the defined contribution HRA funding. Premiums will remain individual insurance: $698 per month and dependent insurance: $698 per month. Sanders then presented the Board’s proposal to move to the HealthFlex Exchange
which will offer participants a choice of five plans, including three gold plans, which are more generous, and two silver plans, which are less generous. The Conference adopted this proposal.
The Evangelism Team report was given by Rev. Michael Miller. He mentioned resources the team is developing for local churches to promote and resource evangelism. He then presented the Denman Evangelism Awards. The lay recipient was Neal Fuller, Jr. Fuller is the Celebrate Recovery Coordinator for the Southwest District and has helped begin nine Celebrate Recovery programs throughout the District. The clergy recipient was Rev. Gresh Harbuck, the pastor of ONEeighty UMC in Springville. During the month of April, ONEeighty celebrated more than 100 professions of faith. Miller noted that next year in addition to the Lay and Clergy Denman Awards, the team would also begin presenting a Youth Denman Award.
Bishop Wallace-Padgett was then joined by Bishop Watson for a time of Conversations with the Bishops during which they discussed spiritual leadership.
Rick Owen presented the Board of Ordained Ministry Report. During the report he recognized outgoing Executive Director Rev. Don Neal and introduced incoming Executive Director Rev. Ron Schultz. He also recognized the clergy who are retiring this Annual Conference. They include the following:
- Rev. Eric Bagwell
- Rev. Michael Brinkman
- Rev. Richard Cassis
- Rev. Michael Chafin
- Rev. Robert Harold Champion
- Rev. Chris Denson
- Rev. Edgar Gibson Grooms Sr.
- Rev. Sam Harton
- Rev. Jerry Hooper
- Rev. Michael Irons
- Rev. Stewart Jackson
- Rev. Frankie Jones
- Rev. David Lee
- Rev. Don Mauldin
- Rev. John Pace III
- Rev. Judy Shepherd
- Rev. John Simmons
- Rev. Bryan Spiller
- Rev. Doyle Spinks
- Rev. Jim Stringfellow
- Rev. James Twitty
- Rev. Roger Watkins
- Rev. Andy Wolfe
Archives and History then presented. Rev. George Cobb recognized the living members of the 1965 Ordination Class and announced Rev. Wylheme Ragland was this year’s recipient of the Wheeler Award. Carolyn Thompson recognized Huffman UMC and Fayette First UMC as Charter Churches.
On Monday evening, the Conference gathered at Canterbury UMC for the Service of Ordination, Commissioning and Licensing
. Bishop Wallace-Padgett preached a sermon noting that encountering Jesus is the life changing call to ministry. She reminded the new clergy that Jesus loves them. During the service five elders were ordained, ten provisional elders and one provisional deacon were commissioned and 11 local pastors received their license.
Commissioned Provisional Elders
- Joshua Aaron Hickman
- Adlene Rutendo Kufarimai
- Gary Joseph Liederbach
- Christopher Ervin Martin
- John Michael Ryberg
Commissioned Provisional Deacon
Licensed Local Pastors
- James Kevin Barrett
- Namon Andrew Curtis
- Caitlin Elizabeth Harper
- Garrett Lee Harper
- Tyler Byrant Hopkins
- Roger Ryan Karr
- Brandon Robert Lazarre
- Rebecca Lynn Williams Lowery
- Christy Ann Noren-Hentz
- David Teel
- Kevin Asbury
- Joshua Clayton
- Henry Gibson
- Carol S. Gullatt
- Christopher M. Jones
- Seth Moon
- David Norton
- Scott R. Reeves
- Robert A. Sturdivant
- Holly J. Woodall
- Alison Zajcek
On Tuesday, the morning began with worship led by the Sylacauga First Youth Band, the winner of Battle of the Bands in Munger Auditorium on Monday. Rev. Minnie Bailey then shared a Glory Sighting from Talladega First UMC. The congregation has welcomed the men of Truth Recovery Ministries into the congregation. This has brought transformation and a lesson in truly loving other people that has helped revitalized the congregation.
Dr. Chilcote then led the second session of Leadership in the Wesleyan Tradition focusing on Character. He asked and answered the question “What is the character of the leader that is shaped by Wesleyan Heritage?”
Keith Russell then presented the report from the Committee of Petitions and Resolutions. He noted that three items, A Resolution Calling for Prison Reform in Alabama, A Resolution Concerning Healthcare for the Poor in Alabama, and A Resolution to Ban Capital Punishment were adopted as part of the consent agenda at the Committee's recommendation. He also noted that the item Resolution to Amend Pastor-Parish Relations Process was rejected at the committee’s recommendation per the adoption of the consent agenda.
He then presented the two items that had been pulled from the consent agenda for discussion and vote. First, was A Petition to the 2016 General Conference requesting the United Methodist Church officially withdraw the one seat it has on the board of the organization called “The Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice.” He explained that this Resolution was referred to the Conference Advocacy and Justice Committee who researched and made a recommendation. Rev. RG Wilson-Lyons, chair of the Justice and Advocacy Committee, explained they contacted the General Board of Church and Society who explained they have a staff member who sits on this board, just as other staff sit on the boards of other organizations, with the purpose to advocate for the Social Principles of the United Methodist Church. Therefore, the Justice and Advocacy Committee recommended nonconcurrance
on this Petition. Russell noted the Committee of Petitions and Resolutions also recommended nonconcurrance
on this Petition. The floor was then open for discussion. Those supporting the Petition and urging Conference members to vote against the Committee’s recommendation discussed the history and work of “The Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice” especially regarding abortion. Those who supported the Committee’s recommendation of nonconcurrance
expressed a belief that it was important to have a voice from the UMC advocating for its Social Principles. After a voice vote was inconclusive, Conference members voted by standing vote. The Committee’s recommendation of nonconcurrance was approved by a vote of 297 to 270.
Russell then presented the next item removed from the consent agenda, a Resolution Supporting Harm Reduction for LGBTQ Teens. He then recognized Rev. Dave Barnhart, author of the resolution, and Rev. John Kearns. The two explained they had spent several days in holy conversation and wished to recommend an amendment to the Resolution. The amendment changed the wording in several places. While presenting the amendment they noted that most everyone in the room fit somewhere in the theological spectrum between Kearns and Barnhart, and if they could agree on the Resolution they urged everyone to support it. The Amendment was adopted. The amended Resolution was then adopted by an almost unanimous voice vote.
Conference Secretary Rev. Clauzell Williams then presented two potential changes to the Conference Standing Rules. The first change sought to move the deadline for petitions and resolutions from February 1 to December 1 to allow the committee more time to process petitions and resolutions before the PreConference Book printing deadline. After discussion raised concerns that this could prevent petitions and resolutions from dealing with timely issues and noting that electronic communications allows a viable alternative to get information to Conference members, the proposed change was rejected. The second change sought to change the wording of the standing rule regarding the PreConference Journal. The change sought to change the word “mail” to “distribute.” After discussion raised concerns that this would be an end to printing the PreConference book, it was explained, the plan is to still provide the book in both print and electronic versions, but the change is a way to allow the Conference to have freedom in the future to find effective and creative means of getting the book to members, in the format they choose, while being the best stewards of Conference resources as possible. That rule change was adopted by more than a two-thirds vote.
Rev. Kevin Payne then requested a moment of personal privilege and offered a challenge to the Conference to raise $10,000 for the ministry priority of Ministry with the Poor then retiring Executive Director of Ordained Ministry Rev. Don Neal would parachute out of an airplane. Neal then explained he would be wiling to live up to his end of the challenge if the Conference raised $20,000. The challenge was accepted by the Conference.
COSROW then gave its report. Chair Eula Thompson presented the Louise Branscomb Barrier Breaker Award to Tajuan McCarty, founder of The Wellhouse, an organization that works to end sex trafficking of women. McCarty addressed the Conference and urged pastors and churches to not be silent on the issue of sexual slavery and to speak against issues such as pornography and strip clubs which are problems that add to the sexual victimization of women.
Sarah Smoot, a General Board of Global Ministries US-2 missionary, then spoke about her work and the mission opportunities the Board has for young adults.
The Ethnic Ministries Operational Team then shared. Rev. Richard Stryker shared highlights and stories from the team and introduced Rev. Clinton Hubbard as the Conference’s next Director of Ethnic Ministries.
Following lunch, the Conference gathered and heard another Glory Sighting from Woodlawn UMC. Rev. Emily Freeman Penfield and Mason Boyd shared the story of the partnership which has formed between Woodlawn UMC and Mountain Chapel UMC in Vestavia Hills. One of the many ministries that has developed is the Food Co-Op. The former food bank at the church was transformed from staff members handing out food to members of the community to a co-op where Woodlawn, Mountain Chapel and other churches purchase the food, but co-op members do the rest -- from ordering to packing to delivering the food to each other. This has helped the churches bring hope to the community and to improve their ministry with neighbors.
Rev. Dale Cohen presented the report of the New Church Operational Team. He people who are helping to start six new faith communities. He also invited everyone in the Conference to become a church planter and help the effort either through prayer, funding, inviting others to a new congregation or using their spiritual gifts to help start new ministries.
Rev. RG Wilson-Lyons reported that the Justice and Advocacy Team in partnership with several congregations is seeking to revive and expand an effort first begun by Nina Reeves – the UN Washington Citizenship Tour. This new effort will be named to honor Ms. Reeves and will consist of more than just a one-week trip. It is intended to be a year-long effort to introduce students to issues of justice and advocacy.
Linda Holland presented the Disability Ministries report on behalf of Chair Deb Wade, who was ill. She recognized the Northwest District as the Bridge Builder for their work in Disability Ministries. She also encourage local churches to work and become Bridge Builders.
Rev. Lewis Archer then presented the report from the Ministry with the Poor Operational Team. He offered a vision of how congregations can work toward this Conference ministry priority. He noted, “People of means cannot practice Methodist Christianity without engaging with people with needs.”
As the Conference moved toward a time of Sending Forth, Conference Lay Leader Steve Lyles presented the Laity Report encouraging churches to be in ministry outside their walls.
Linda Holland made a motion that due to scheduling conflicts with Birmingham-Southern College, the 2016 North Alabama Conference will be held in Huntsville and the Von Braun Center on June 5-7. The motion was approved by the Annual Conference.
She then presented the Nominations Report. After those leaders were elected, Bishop Wallace-Padgett led the Conference in a time of prayer to commission those elected, members of Operational Teams in the Conference and the General and Jurisdictional Conference Delegations.
United Methodist Children’s Home then offered a testimony of their ministry. During this time, President and CEO Blake Horne introduced an alumni of UMCH who shared her heartfelt testimony of what the ministry had meant to her life.
District Superintendents then read the names of new appointments in their Districts as Bishop Wallace-Padgett fixed the appointments.
Bishop Watson preached the closing sermon encouraging the Conference to go and bear fruit.
Conference members were asked to make a next steps commitment for ministry as they were sent forth to their church and community.