December 10 Special Session of Annual Conference Wrap Up
On Saturday, Dec. 10, 2022, the North Alabama Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church held a called special session to ratify local church disaffiliations under ¶2553 of the United Methodist Book of Discipline and to share in a time of encouragement and visioning about the future disciple-making ministry of the Conference.
Bishop Debra Wallace-Padgett presided over the special session which was held at the Birmingham Jefferson Convention Complex in downtown Birmingham.
The opening hour featured a time of worship and sharing in holy communion. As participants arrived to the BJCC East Hall Ballrooms they were handed a rough-edged rock. As they came forward to receive communion they we invited to lay the rocks down in a basket as a physical sign of laying down the grief and sadness they each carry as a result of this painful season.
As Holy Communion concluded, Bishop Wallace-Padgett reflected, “It was a beautiful sght seeing all of us come to the same table, receiving the same bread, and drinking from the same cup that is offered to us through Jesus Christ our Savior.”
The Conference then moved into a time of business. Conference Secretary Rev. Dr. Dedric Cowser presented the Report of the Annual Conference Planning Team and set the voting bar of the Conference.
President of the Conference Board of Trustees Harlan Prater shared about the terms for disaffiliation under Book of Disciple paragraph 2553 developed by the North Alabama Conference Board of Trustees. He concluded his remarks saying, “Like most everyone here, this is a day that I hope and prayed would never come, and yet here we are. And we will face other days that we hope and pray will never come. And Christ will be there.”
Dean of the Cabinet Rev. Sherill Clontz then presented the remainder of the report saying, “The District Superintendents affirm that the 198 churches listed on Report of Disaffliaiting Churches December 10, 2022. . . have completed the requirements for disaffiliation from the United Methodist Church under the authority of paragraph 2553 of the Book of Discipline. The report is properly before us and we recommend the ratification of their disaffiliation by this body.”
The Conference then voted to ratify the 198 church disaffiliation with a hand vote. The report was overwhelmingly approved with just a few “no” votes. Click here for the list of the 198 disaffiliating churches.
Following the vote the District Lay Leaders lead the Conference in a responsive prayer that expressed gratitude for a shared history and offered a blessing as churches take different paths forward.
During the morning Bishop Wallace-Padgett reflected, “Grief takes all kinds of forms, including sadness, anger, hurt and disappointment. On one hand we grieve today as 198 of our North Alabama Conference congregations are disaffiliating from the United Methodist Church. Some of these churches will join another Methodist expression and others will be independent. Though we are sad to see them go, we wish the very best to the disaffiliating churches and withdrawing clergy as they move into a new future.
“On the other hand, we rejoice at the 440 churches that are continuing on the journey together as United Methodists. The leadership team and I look forward to joining these churches in a renewed focus on discipleship and engagement in our communities in the weeks, months and years ahead.”
Following a 10-minute break, those clergy and laity who are continuing as United Methodists gathered for the second portion of the morning which highlighted this renewed focus on discipleship.
As the Conference reconvened, Bishop Wallace-Padgett expressed her gratitude to everyone for the way they are walking through this difficult time together. She said the Conference is truly embodying one of the principles of The North Alabama Way “What we do is of critical importance. How we do it is of equal importance.”
She then introduced Executive Director of New and Renewing Churches Rev. Suzanne Katschke to come and share about the exciting work that she and the new and renewing church team are doing.
Rev. Katschke offered insight as to how church planting landscape has changed. She noted in the past the goal of church planting was to create bigger and better but in the future things are gong to be smaller, and more contextual. She then shared stories of ministries already happening throughout the North Alabama Conference - such as restaurant churches, athletic ministries, house churches and specialized ministries.
“We have a God that recognizes and remembers everyone. And the work of the North Alabama Conference moving forward is for us to open our eyes and to recognize and remember the people around us. There is one thing I know. It is not going to look the way it did in the past.”
She told the Conference that post-pandemic we are all church planters. “No one can do this alone. It’s going to take all of us to meet the needs of the world around us.” She added that instead of asking ourselves “how do we grow our church” she suggests asking the powerful question “Who is missing?”
She also introduced “Moving Forward Together" a new hub of resources available at www.umcna.org/moving-forward-together. She also shared about newly deployed District Developers who will discover needs and help churches reach new people in new ways.
She concluded saying, “We have much work to do as United Methodists in the North Alabama Conference. But I firmly believe with all of my heart that the best is yet to come. Because God is not done and neither are we!”
Co-chair of the NAC3 Team Rev. Brian Erickson then shared. Noting how difficult the day had been he said, “We need to be honest with each other, especially on a day like today, that something this traumatic may be the only thing that could have woken us up as a church. I take it as an alarm and an invitation.”
He reminded the Conference that discipleship is our birthright as Wesleyans and encouraged those gathered saying, “it is time to remember and reclaim our heritage. What we need to be asking ourselves is ‘What difference God wants us to make in each of our communities.’”
“Stop waiting for people to come into your building that is not our mission,” he added.“We have to start measuring our discipleship not by how many people are in our pews but the willingness of our people to leave the building and go be the Church.”
We also encouraged the Conference to rethink its connection to one another and to take this opportunity to love each other better and to do a better job of loving their communities in the name of Christ.
He concluded with an invitation for each person to heal from the hurt of this difficult season and to turn focus to the community in which God has placed their church.
The Special Session concluded with the commissioning of the newly deployed District Developers who include the following:
- Rev. Clay Farrington (Central & South Central Districts)
- Rev. Deborah Epley (Cheaha District)
- Rev. Carol Gullatt (Mountain Lakes District)
- Lisa Keys-Mathews (Northwest District)
- Mary Beth Ashley (Southeast District)
- Rev. Patrick Gunn (Southwest District)
Bishop Wallace-Padgett commissioned each person and prayed for their ministry. The District Superintendents then prayed for pastors who will be moving to new appointments on January 1.
The North Alabama Conference is entering the year 2023 with almost 70% of its congregations and membership continuing as United Methodists. There continues to be a United Methodist presence in every county within the bounds of the North Alabama Conference.