On June 26, Bishop William H. Willimon and several members of the cabinet met with some of the clergy members who entered into ministry and into leadership in the conference within the past eight years. About fifty clergy gathered together at the Conference Center at Birmingham-Southern College and discussed the state of the Annual Conference at the close of Bishop Willimon’s tenure in North Alabama.
As the group reflected upon the changes in the last two quadrennia, many acknowledged that the major shift in how our annual conference operates changed from maintenance to mission. Recognizing that the Conference Dashboard is viewed by some as an inaccurate measure of clergy effectiveness, one attendee remarked that at least we have a method of holding us accountable to the mission of the United Methodist Church: “to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.” The Dashboard, he said, guides our conference and local churches to be more focused upon mission instead of only maintaining our institution.
Another change hailed by the group was the requirement of The 90 Day Plan for all newly appointed clergy. Members of the group reported that they were thankful for having a plan that includes guidelines for building a healthy partnership with their new congregations. Bishop Willimon reported that the cabinet and he have received positive feedback from many churches thankful that their new pastors have a plan that takes into account their particular context.
Additional highlights from the past eight years include the higher expectations for candidates interviewing before the Board of Ordained Ministry, the response of our conference and churches to the tornadoes over the past two years, the response of our clergy and conference to immigration reform, and the new Clinical Pastoral Education Program offered by Rev. Sheri Ferguson and United Counseling.
At the close of the meeting, Bishop Willimon challenged the group to take on leadership for further changes that are needed in our conference to better fulfill our mission. In the spirit of this year’s Annual Conference theme, “One,” members of the group committed to work together in a spirit of unity, to care for one another in the demanding work of ministry, to mentor one another with our gifts and graces, and to call new people into ministry.
Bishop Willimon’s final charge to this gathering was to call for an even greater effort in taking risks to lead the United Methodist Church and the North Alabama Conference in responding faithfully and passionately to God's call to make MORE disciples of Jesus Christ.