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North Alabama Annual Conference 2008 Updates
by Danette Clifton, Director of Communication
Saturday, June 7
On Saturday morning members of the North Alabama Conference gathered as Song Leader Dedric Cowser led music.
Rev. Sheri Ferguson Executive Director of United Methodist Pastoral Care and Counseling led the opening prayer for the morning session.
Presenter Lovett Weems then addressed the Conference focusing on the Conference vision of growing more disciples of Jesus Christ in light of the priority of empowering a new generation of Christians. He told those gathered that “There is no future for United Methodism in America unless we can figure how to reach more people, younger people and more diverse people.”
The Conference heard a mission moment on the connection North Alabama has had in Boliva through several missionaries. Rev. Dale Clem introduced Missionary Kay Twilley who has served faithfully in Bolivia.
Following the mission moment Bishop Willimon announced that the offering received for Nothing But Nets during Friday nights ordination service was more than $17,000
Next, Anne Wheeler presented for the Committee on Procedure and Petitions. She began by explaining that the resolution on the War in Iraq in the PreConference Book had been pulled off the agenda and instead there would be talking sessions during August so that North Alabama Conference could enter into times of discussion and listening to each other on this important issue instead of limited discussion constrained by Roberts Rules of Order during the Annual Conference session. She also noted that Bishop Willimon would host these sessions.
As the Committee’s Report Continued the Conference voted to pass
Bishop Willimon then took a moment to introduce special guest Bishop Robert Fannin. Bishop Fannin served the North Alabama Conference for 12 years before he retired. Bishop Fannin addressed the Conference and led members in a prayer for its disciple-making work.
Dean of the Cabinet Rev. Hal Noble then presented the property resolutions. He noted that this is always a difficult report, but pointed to scripture in Ecclesiastes 3 which says for everything there is a season. He then announced the 16 churches which are being closed.
The Conference then heard the report of the Conference Council on Finance. Conference Treasurer Scott Selman and Chairperson Bob Boyce presented the reports of the Council. Conference members voted to approve all reports including the Conference budget of $10, 861,055 for 2009. Boyce noted that this budget was just over 1% of the 2008 budget – one of the smallest increases in many years.
As the report concluded, Selman thanked the 487 congregations which paid 100% of their connectional askings in 2007. He noted that this was an increase in the total number of 100% congregations from the year before.
Lovett Weems then addressed the Conference again saying, “If we reach more people…they will be younger and more diverse people.” He then explained how the United Methodist church membership and clergy are much older on average than the general population. He said that was not always so. In fact, United Methodists were generally younger than the general population until the year 1975. He encouraged clergy, members and congregations to make an effort to listen and reach out to younger people.
The Conference then heard a report from the Conference Board of Pensions presented by Terry Greer & Scott Selman. They also heard a report of the Central Conference Pension Initiative presented by Dr. Neal Berte & Thomas Muhomba. During this report members heard of how pastors serving in the Central Conferences (those regional conferences outside the United States) did not have a pension system and as they are reaching retirement they have no support. The Conference was urged to contribute to this initiative. Rev. Ken Dunivant made a motion from the floor that the North Alabama Conference set a goal to raise $1.5 million dollars. This motion was supported by Conference members and referred to the Council on Finance.
The Stewardship Team then presented a report. Zac Riddle, Convener of the Conference Stewardship Team; Warren Nash, a newly ordained deacon in our Conference and Executive Pastor at Canterbury and Kathryn Fickling, a lay member of the Stewardship Team presented a new conference stewardship and connectional giving. The team proposed that the North Alabama Conference change its budgeting and apportionment process from the current method of establishing a budget and then apportioning it to each local church to a strategy of a tithe. In this method each congregation would contribute 10% of its income (excluding capital giving) to the Conference. The team showed how this strategy would keep the Conference budget and funding for ministry in the same range as it currently is, but be a more Biblical model. They also noted that this would help North Alabama live out of a mindset of abundance instead of scarcity as it is when less than 100% of apportionments are paid. Congregations were asked to pray about this over the next year and it would be proposed next Annual Conference.
Next, Conference Statistician Lori Carden presented the Statistician’s Report. The report noted that the Conference membership dropped in 2007 to a total of 150,348. However, Carden pointed out two facts of the report. The first was that the number of participants in small groups who became profession members grew in 2007. She encouraged churches to start more small groups. She also noted that during 2007 the North Alabama Conference celebrated 2,567 professions of faith – individuals claiming Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. Carden invited the Conference to stand and sing the Doxology as a thanks giving to God for these new Christian disciples in our Churches.
Following the Statistician’s Report, Conference Director of Communication Danette Clifton announced the new Weekly Benchmark Reporting system which will allow local churches to report their benchmark statistics (worship attendance, membership, baptisms, professions of faith and connectional giving) on a weekly basis through an online reporting system. The system will go through final testing with test churches this summer and all congregations will be asked to use the system by the fall. Connectional Ministries Coordinator Kathy Clements then told the Conference about a training event for church office staffs that will occur in the fall. The Keeping It Together retreat will be in September and will help train staff in this new Weekly Benchmark reporting system as well as other important information each church needs to know.
Conference Youth Coordinator and Connectional Ministries Consultant Rev. Robert Mercer then introduced the youth and young adult members to the Annual Conference. He also recognized the president of the Council on Youth Ministry Tom Webster.
Following lunch, the afternoon session began with the Children’s Choir from Ministerio Metodista Hispano “El Puente” de Albertville (Methodist Hispanic Ministry “The Bridge” of Albertville directed by Esperanza Baltazar-Ramirez.
Conference Children’s Coordinator and Connectional Ministries Consultant Danette Schader then introduced two young girls from Bluff Park Untied Methodist Church who talked about their active children’s ministry program and how they are growing in discipleship of Jesus Christ.
The Conference also heard a mission moment from the Conference Disaster Response Team. Rev. John Hassell, Disaster Response Coordinator for the North Alabama Conference introduced Rev. Marvin McCormick, associate pastor at Helena UMC who shared that congregation’s work with a congregation in Louisiana still recovering from the devastation of Hurricane Katrina.
In his final address of the Conference, Dr. Lovett Weems and Bishop Willimon had a public conversation about the ministry of the North Alabama Conference. Weems said he thought one of the biggest challenges of the conference was the aging of the membership and clergy of the Conference. He said the Conference’s commitment to new congregations is one of its greatest strengths. He also encouraged the Bishop and leaders of all ministries in the Conference and local churches to develop “so that” statements for all things they do in ministry. The “so that” statements help define the purpose of every ministry effort.
The Conference also heard the report of Higher Education presented by Rev. Ken Dunivant. During the report Dr. David Pollick, President of Birmingham-Southern College and Dr. Mark LaBranch, Vice-President of Huntingdon College also greeted the Conference. Then Megan Cotton representing the Black College Fund shared how the money we contribute to the Black College Fund is empowering a new generation of students throughout the United States.
Dick Freeman, the Director of the Center for Congregational Development, presented the winners of the Denman Evangelism Award for 2008. He announced the three winners and showed a brief video of each. This year’s winners are Don Barham; Rev. Glenn Keedy and Rev. Calvin Havens.
Then Rev. Tommy Gray then introduced a video featuring one of North Alabama’s new congregations – Community Church without Walls. This congregation is in the West End area of Birmingham. Rev. R.G. Lyons is the pastor.
As the afternoon drew to a close Rev. Deb Welsh Convener for the North Alabama United Methodist Volunteers in Mission shared about the work many North Alabama congregations has done Panama.
Bishop Willimon then announced that the 2009 session of the North Alabama Annual Conference will be held on June 4th through 6th next year, Robin Scott, the newly appointed pastor of ClearBranch UMC, invited the Conference to once again meet at ClearBranch. The invitation was accepted.
Bishop Willimon then invited Conference members and visitors to take a moment of prayer and reflection to think about the 2008 Session of the North Alabama Conference. He invited people to reflect on how God has spoken to them and challenged them and their congregation during the two days. As members took time to reflect, a slide who from the conference was projected as the song “A Time to Grow” written by Rev. Keith Elder was played.
Bishop Willimon then officially fixed the clergy appointments and accepted a motion to dismiss. The Conference Business sessions closed as those gathered sang the hymn “Lift High the Cross”.
The 2008 Annual Conference will continue as the Commissioning Service will take place on Sunday, June 22 at 5 p.m., at Huntsville First United Methodist Church in Huntsville, AL.
Friday Afternoon and Evening, June 6
Following lunch Conference members gathered as the Song Leader Dedric Cowser led them in hymns. Bishop Willimon announced that Dedric is a resent graduate of Birmingham-Southern College and will be a student at Candler School of Theology this fall.
Patsy Willimon then took a moment of personal privilege to announce that during the clergy spouse gathering on Friday morning the spouses turned in money they had been collecting to support Babies First, a new ministry of the United Methodist Children’s Home in Birmingham. They collected more than $4000 for this Conference ministry.
The Conference then continued to focus on its ministry together by taking time to hear a mission moment. The Servants Like Jesus team convener Sammy Hayes explained how the North Alabama Conference supports ministries called Conference Advance Specials. Then Pashion Lewis introduced the Conference to one of the Advanced Specials called DreamGarden. Children and youth who are participants in this ministry sang a song and told stories of their experiences at DreamGarden.
As the Mission Moment concluded Bishop Willimon asked those who are part of congregations paying 100% of their connectional giving (apportionments) to stand. He thanked these congregations for supporting the ministry of the North Alabama Conference and worldwide United Methodist connection.
As reports began Director of Connectional Ministries Dale Cohen presented a presentation on the Conference Priorities. These priorities are
Friday Morning, June 6
Thursday, June 5. Memorial Service