For the last 26 years United Methodist Annual Conferences have recognized outstanding ministries of reaching others for Christ by annually presenting one clergy person and one lay person the Denman Evangelism Award. The North Alabama Conference recognized its nominees from each district and announced its 2006 winners at a banquet sponsored by the Conference Evangelism Team on May 25 at Vestavia Hills UMC. During the celebration, the clergy award was presented to Rev. Robert Sparkman, pastor of Hartselle First UMC, and the laity award was presented to Paul Wieger, who serves as Director of Outreach at Gardendale-Mt. Vernon UMC.
Rev. Robert Sparkman was recognized for his work as pastor of Hartselle First UMC which last year showed a 9.5% increase in worship attendance, an 8.5% increase in church school attendance and received 95 new church members, 35 of those by profession of faith.
Decatur District Superintendent Bill Bostick says, "Rev. Sparkman's deep commitment to winning disciples to Jesus Christ is evident in both his personal evangelism and in his development of programming support to evangelistic efforts. He is energetic and visionary in his approach to discipling new converts".
Some of these efforts have been to help Hartselle First UMC focus on assimilating new members into the life of the church in order to close the back door through which many churches lose new disciples. Rev. Sparkman has also encouraged the Hartselle congregation to use its new family life center to benefit the greater community and be a tool of evangelism for the congregation. The church has also shown a connectional spirit by becoming "one of the major teaching churches in the Decatur District" including sponsoring a district-wide prayer workshop led by Dr. Terry Teykl.
Paul Wieger was recognized for his both his personal evangelism efforts and for establishing new ideas and programs within Gardendale-Mt. Vernon UMC to help the congregation reach those in its community for Christ.
Senior Pastor of Gardendale-Mt.Vernon UMC Rudy Guess says, "Paul models evangelism for our congregation. Most weeks Paul will make around 12 visits with the unchurched and those who have expressed some interest in our church. He is presently coaching a children's soccer team in order to build a bridge with some undiscipled persons."
During the past few years at Gardenale-Mt. Vernon UMC, Paul has helped establish a Welcome Wagon Ministry in the church that welcomes new residents to North Jefferson County. He has led a Community Service Day that featured church members participating in servant evangelism with focus on helping the elderly and homebound in the community. A spin off of this service day has been the development of the church's Home Repair Team. Paul also brought an idea to the Council on Ministries to begin using sports as a way to connect kids to Christ. Last summer the church held it's first Mega Sports Camp which led to 19 children making a commitment to Jesus Christ. Paul has also and the outreach team also follow up with those people helped by the Greater Gardendale Ministerial Association's Good Samaritan fund as a way to provide more than assistance, but also the gospel message to those not connected to a church family. Paul has also challenged the church to become more involved with mission projects not only locally, but throughout the world as a way to share the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Bishop Will Willimon was the keynote speaker for the banquet and he reminded those gathered that evangelism is pointing others to the cross and to what God is trying to do in the world today.
During the Celebration all the district nominees were recognized and received a plaque. These 2006 nominees are
Lay - Jim Elliott, Guntersville First UMC
Clergy - Sam Huffstutler, Arab First UMC
Lay - Rachel Brock, Jacksonville First UMC
Clergy - Joseph C. Jones, Ohatchee UMC
Lay - Sandy O'Kelley, Trussville First UMC
Clergy - Andy Wolfe, Trinity UMC
Lay - Paul Wiegert, Gardendale-Mt. Vernon UMC
Clergy - Rudy Guess, Gardendale-Mt. Vernon UMC
Lay - Deborah Wade, Somerville UMC
Clergy - Robert Sparkman, Hartselle First UMC
Lay - Larry Young, Pleasant Hill UMC
Clergy - Alan Beasley, Russellville UMC
Lay - Hank Hendrix, Springville First UMC
Clergy - Chris Denson, Fort Payne First UMC
Lay - Jack and Ina Hucks, Epworth UMC
Clergy - Dennis Jones, Wesley Stevenson UMC
Clergy - Kennith Bishop, Zion/Oakman UMCs
Lay - Polly McGehee, Bethlehem (Ashland) UMC
Clergy - Michael Densmomre, Fairfax UMC
Lay - Linda Lawley, Montevallo First UMC
Clergy - Jonathan Todd, Union UMC
Lay - Jim Jayne, Druid Hills UMC
Clergy - Mary Bendall, Tuscaloosa First UMC
Director of Congregational Development Dick Freeman spoke of how special it is to have a separate dinner to set aside evangelism. The celebration dinner, which includes the District Superintendents, District Lay Leaders, current nominees and previous winners, previously had been one of the special meals during Annual Conference. Dr. Freeman shared his reflection of how great it was for the celebration to be "more than, just an opportunity for a meal at Annual Conference" but instead be a special time set aside just to celebrate the work of evangelism.
The Denman Evangelism awards are named after the late Dr. Harry Denman, a layperson from Birmingham whom Dr. Billy Graham called my mentor in evangelism. Dr. Denman was tireless in his work of evangelism and never missed an opportunity to share the gospel story with others.
The Foundation for Evangelism, which was founded by Dr. Denman in 1949, is an affiliate of the General Board of Discipleship and sponsors the Denman Evangelism Awards as on of thirteen programs in evangelism. Since 1980, 1894 people throughout the world have received Denman Evangelism Awards.
Those eligible for these prestigious awards are persons who are effective in developing true disciples of Jesus Christ. In North Alabama, each year District Superintendents and District Lay Leaders present a clergy and lay nominee from their district to the Conference Evangelism Team. A Denman Award Committee considers each person's story and recommendations from those who work with the nominee to choose the Conference winners. If you know a United Methodist in North Alabama doing an outstanding job of reaching others in the name of Christ., contact your District Superintendent or District Lay Leader to nominate that person for the Denman Evangelism Award.