By Steve Lyles
Conference Lay Leader
On behalf of the Lay Ministry team, we welcome each of you, the Laity and especially the Clergy, and bring you greetings and make a simple statement.
we are all in God’s work together.
from the General Church down to the smallest Local church in ours or any Conference.
Welcome Bishop Wallace-Padgett: The Lay Ministry team welcomes you to North Alabama.
Thank you for the many times you have been out into the Conference visiting the Churches and their members giving them support and encouragement to stay the Course for Jesus Christ.
And our constant prayer for you: is that God will always be with you in your work for the United Methodist Church.
We welcome your family Lee, Leanndra, and Andrew to North Alabama and hope they find Alabama their home for a long time.
At this time I wish to introduce the District Lay Leaders: please stand as I call your name and District.
What have you Cultivated New in Christ for your Church and for yourself?
The Past-----The Present------The Future
Past- Let’s first talk about our history
The timeline of our History-is that of Expansion-Building churches-Evangelism-and then Getting comfortable in our own skin and in the pews of our churches—We moved across Frontier America like wild fire, living our religion as we went, for in those early days the church was the guiding light for our social wellbeing and the rock of our society in a new America.
We went like crazy building churches, invading communities with our Methodist methods and thus by the end of World War II we were the largest denomination of protestants in the world.
Somewhere along the line we turned frenzy for evangelism in our denomination, from wildfire into a slow burning flame and for some churches no flame at all.
Unfortunately, we lost our passion for Transversing the new frontier with our Methodism and settled into a very comfortable way of life, with bigger churches and very little need for Evangelism.
Many said, why do we need more members? our churches are full.
Well the time is up, to be on autopilot, for you see or churches are no longer full, someone needs fly the plane of evangelism and church renewal again.
It’s time to ask: “What have you done for God and for the Local Church lately in finding new members?”
Now let’s touch on the Present:
And see how we miss view the Present sometimes.
We just said the Church is on autopilot, yet some United Methodist Christians in North Alabama didn’t get that message, and they of all things are still trying to do everything they can in making the Ministry of the church viable. The ministry of Bringing people to Christ, and thus forming or transforming present Congregations into Vital Congregations.
So many times we see only the half empty part of the glass, especially in ministry.
We can turn the church and its membership loss around, if we want to badly enough, by again becoming a Missional church.
You ask, Steve where is this Missional work that’s needed to be done to turn membership loss around?
The work to be done is literally, just outside of the Local church doors, in plain view, there are thousands of people just outside our doors that are hungry for what we celebrate inside of our churches, The grace of God.
Again: What have you done for God lately? In your Local Commnity?
Who are some of God’s pilots that fly the Mission planes of the North Alabama Conference? In present time?
The first Pilot that comes to mind is:
A new Bishop being sent to North Alabama, Bishop Wallace-Padgett, with new ideas, new plans and a passion for the church and it’s future wellbeing.
The next pilots I recognize are College Presidents, Dr. Cam West and General Charles Krulac and the work they do for Huntingdon and Birmingham Southern.
And for our Children, Dr. Blake Horne and the success of the United Methodist Children Homes.
And the work in finances for the Conference of Scott Selman and his Department.
And Paulette West and her work with UMVIM
Judy Poole, a Deaconess and the work she is doing, Just under our nose, across the street from this Conference at the McCoy Adult Day Care Center
There are a lot of pilots at Camp Sumatanga.
Scott Gilpin and interim Director Jan Thomas and a dedicated Board of Directors trying to give Camp Sumatanga a new lease on life, and save a Holy place for the next Generation of Christians.
Christian pilot: Chris Tomlin- Executive Director of The United Methodist Homes, who is leading a dedicated Board-- Clergy and Lay, with a $41 million project at Fair Haven, here in Birmingham, so they can be on the cutting edge in Senior care, especially for Methodist.
How about the work Debbie Wade is doing in “Disability Ministries”? The seminars and workshops she holds all over the Conference. She carries a tall and lonely flag for these Christians and the church.
How about the many programs the Conference offers through Connectional Ministries under the leadership of Linda Holland.
Or again on the College setting, the work by Jack Hinnen and Creighton Alexander and Campus Ministry? Countless college students are given a change to visit with
Jesus, on the College Campus, at probably the most critical time of their lives.
A group that works in present time for God, are the Denman award winners at the Conference and District Levels, both Clergy and Lay, for their work in Evangelism.
The work of Reverend Robert Sparkman, who is the Denman Award Chairman, and his burning desire to help a group of Nigerian Clergy and Lay, build a Secondary school in Nigeria. The Nigerian Partnership was formed in North Alabama for individual partners and church partners to help those that need our help. Many Clergy and Laity stand in present time alongside Robert to keep this dream alive.
Also listed as God’s Pilots are The District Lay Leaders, and especially,
Dr. Leigh Murphy from the Cheaha District and the Missions work he does on the Mission front. Which is where he is today in Honduras.
Charlie Carlton and the work he does with the Methodist Foundation and also being District Lay Leader of the South Central District
The work District Lay Leader Keith Russell from North West does with the incarcerated, taking them Bibles and teaching them Sunday school.
The work of June Wilson, Director of Conference Lay Servant Ministry does especially in Lay Speaking.
The remaining District Lay Leaders, The Cabinet, The Emmaus Community, Kiaros, The Administrative Assistants and Secretaries at the Conference Office and the District Offices and many other ministries I have not called by name, that contribute to the Ministry and Mission work of the Conference.
I could go on and on and your Pre Conference Journal is full of success stories of Ministry in the present time. Take time to celebrate all of these ministries that come from the full half part of the Glass in present time,
And join in with them, as there is plenty for everyone in this room to do in Missions
All of these glasses are half full on both ends. All of these are well established cultivated gardens of Christ.
Just as the Past blends into the Present- we know the Present blends into the Future-
For the Future we should say,
What have you planted for God lately? Or Cultivated in Christ for the Future of the Youth and Children>>>>> who will eventually take our place?
Many times our attitudes involving evangelism and Mission work for the children, youth and adults is so limited in scope, our work resembles a present catch word “Silo”
We try to do our work from within a silo.
In the Church, the word silo takes a meaning of singular work or existence, cut off from others and sometimes cut off from God as well. don’t think for a minute God doesn’t know what’s going on, for you see……. all of God’s Silos are transparent, you can see out, but he also can see in.
There are no secrets we keep from God.
I mentioned several of God’s mission pilots especially for our Conference.
Well, let’s’ see where the rest of the pilots in United Methodist Kingdom are, that can fly the Mission plane for the future of our Church.
Where do these pilots live?
The General Conference- No, it more resembled the way Congress does its work, than a Christian Conference.
John Wesley probably would not have given up on us, after seeing the disconnect at General Conference, but he probably would have given us a very stern reprimand,
that we are in the world for Mission work, not to argue over Church structure.
The Jurisdictional Conference? A great job in electing Bishops, we and South Carolina are benefactors of this process, and celebrating our Jurisdiction, but not a lot of Mission work done at Jurisdictional Conference.
The Annual Conference? We are getting closer, many pilots are here, but primarily to worship, celebrate and to get their flight plan for future mission work for the next year.
The Districts? Same as the Annual Conference
The Local Church? Ah ha now, this is where Gods pilots live, and also the rich gardens that need tending.
Yes, I’m afraid it’s down to you and me who attend a local church somewhere in North Alabama, who took some vows to support the United Methodist Church with our Prayers, Presence, Gifts, Service and Witness to make new Christians for Jesus Christ.
You know we really don’t like the question,
“What have you done for God lately? Have you cared for my garden?”
Because it reminds us that we are accountable to God in everything we do, and sometimes that’s uncomfortable even to Christians.
I will close by telling you about a scene you may remember from the movie entitled Jurassic park.
At the end of the movie when the remaining of the Group that had not perished, were leaving Jurassic park, having made it through the encounters with the pre-historic dinosaurs and other creatures.
When they got on the plane to fly home, as they were gaining altitude, flying away from this unreal place called Jurassic park, some in the plane looked down on where they come from, and expressed the feeling of relief, that they were leaving this make believe world and returning to a world of safety.
I tell you the world this group was returning to, was and is a far more dangerous place than the Jurassic park they encountered and left behind. In Jurassic Park, they lived in a Silo cut off from the rest of the world and had to deal with only their physical wellbeing, now they would return to the world, we know, where physical survival with modern technology is almost for granted, yet, the real danger, in our world is the accountability to other humans and the accountability we have to God.
Accountability to God for humans never goes away!!!!
The lack of Accountability to God can be much more dangerous than the Jurassic Parks of the world.
We can do nothing about the past,
we can enjoy the present and join in,
and we must embrace the future.
We have no other choice!!!!!
and what it can mean today in Ministry for the work of Jesus Christ,
We must work in teams and work to build Community, not silos, Concrete or Glass.
Thanks to each member of this Conference Lay and Clergy,
for your dedication to the Church, and taking your time to be here for these days.
God bless each of you, as we build and rebuild our Great United Methodist Church.
The future is counting on you and me….and God’s garden will not grow, unless we cultivate it….
Thanks to all who read this Laity Blog each month? I would love to hear your comments.
We live in exciting times for the North Alabama United Methodist Church, as the Mission field is very fertile just under our nose in our local communities.
I look forward to a new Conference Year under the leadership of Bishop Debra Wallace-Padgett, and we ask God to bless her in her leadership of North Alabama for the next Conference year.
God be with you in your Local Church, let’s plant, water and cultivate much for Jesus Christ this next year.