June 2-4, in Huntsville, Alabama
The North Alabama Annual Conference gathered on June 2-4, 2019, at the Von Braun Center in Huntsville under the theme “Singing God’s Song in New Places with New Faces.” The Conference priority focus was New Faith Communities. Bishop Debra Wallace-Padgett officiated her seventh Annual Conference in North Alabama.
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June 2 began with an opening celebration which featured music from a mass choir and Bishop Wallace-Padgett leading conference members and visitors through a Baptismal Remembrance as members prepared for their work together over the next two days.
Throughout annual conference, executive director of New Church Dr. Robin Scott and the Conference New Church Team shared stories of new congregations and fresh expressions throughout North Alabama. These stories included the following:
• The story of Hope United Methodist Church in Albertville — a thriving new congregation that was created when two congregations that were barely surviving dared to work together to create something new in order to reach their community.
• The story of a fresh expression of Houston Memorial United Methodist Church — a new service on the shore of Smith Lake called Worship on the Water.
• The story of St. Junia United Methodist Church — a network of house churches that is seeking to reach the “nones and dones” who do not want to be a part of traditional churches.
• The story of Oxford United Methodist Church, who started English as a second language classes for their community.
This year’s Conference also featured two guest preachers: the Rev. Candace Lewis, superintendent of the Gulf Center Area of the Florida Conference, and Bishop Bob Farr of the Missouri Conference. Both of whom are former church planters and have held roles to coach and resource other new church starts.
Lewis, former executive director of Path1 New Church Starts at Discipleship Ministries, focused on the Conference theme of “New Places with New Faces.” She asked, “Do we see people for who they really are or do we see them through our own biases?” Explaining how people’s connection with the church is changing, she asked, “How much space does your church have on someone’s home screen of their phone?” She then encouraged North Alabama United Methodists to seek those new places to welcome new people by reminding them, “Church can happen anywhere!”
Guest Bishop Bob Farr told those present we must be more diverse and more missional. He described missional as, “You are discipling, mentoring and investing in somebody you didn’t know this time last year.” He added, “This is not about church growth. This is about bringing people to Jesus Christ. You focus on bringing people to Jesus Christ, your church will be fine.”
During the June 3 memorial service, the conference remembered 23 clergy, 12 clergy spouses and one deaconess. During the service, Bishop Wallace-Padgett lead those gathered in a Service of Holy Communion as they remembered the great cloud of witnesses.
On Monday evening, the Service of Ordination, Commissioning and Licensing was at Trinity United Methodist Church. Bishop Wallace-Padgett preached the sermon “Remember.” Bishop Robert Farr and Bishop Teresa E. Jefferson-Snorton, presiding bishop of the 5th Episcopal District of the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church, assisted in the service.
The service celebrated seven new full connection elders, one new full connection deacon, eight provisional clergy members, nine newly licensed and appointed local pastors and two professional certifications. The average age of those newly ordained is 41, and the average age of those newly commissioned is 37.
Business included the following actions:
• COSROW introduced the Rev. Lucy Morales as the 2019 recipient of the Louise Branscomb Barrier Breaker Award. Morales is an associate pastor of Trinity United Methodist Church in Huntsville and serves as the Conference Hispanic-Latino Ministries Strategist.
• The Evangelism Team introduced this year’s recipients of the Harry Denman Evangelism Awards. They are clergy: Vaughn Stafford; laity: Tina Eure; and youth: Mary Calloway Rogers.
• Bishop Wallace-Padgett announced that Conference Director of Campus Ministries the Rev. Dr. Wade Langer was the 2019 recipient of the Francis Asbury Award given by the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry.
• The conference approved the proposed 2020 conference budget of $10,155,717. There has been no increase in the conference budget for five years. The 2020 budget includes the seven General Conference apportioned funds, which total 33.95% of the budget. This is an increase of 3.15% over the 2019 General Conference apportionment.
• The Board of Pension and Health Benefits announced 5.7% higher insurance premium rates for 2020.
• The conference recognized the 2019 class of retiring clergy, which included 20 elders and local pastors.
• The Board of Ordained Ministry offered a special recognition of the Rev. Walter Cash, who retired as director of the Alabama Course of Study School after 24 years of service.
• The Commission on Archives and History announced that Frankie Hayes and Jane Landers of Saint Mark United Methodist Church in Birmingham are the 2019 co-recipients of the Glynn and Annie Ford Wheeler Award.
• The United Methodist Children’s Home announced that Huntsville First United Methodist Church was the new North Alabama “Guardian of the Bell,” a recognition of a church that demonstrates superior support for The United Methodist Church’s mission.
• The Rev. Woody Woodin presented the report from the Upper Sand Mountain Parish, which is celebrating 50 years of ministry on Sand Mountain.
• The conference approved property resolutions from the cabinet that included five closing churches.
• Steve Lyles presented the annual laity address.
• The conference enjoyed a musical performance by Kids Camp participants
• The conference adopted the following resolutions:
o Representation of Young People in the North Alabama Annual Conference
o Resolution for Pilgrimage to the National Memorial for Peace and Justice
• The conference tabled the Resolution on Climate Change until 2020.
For the first time, North Alabama Conference members used electronic voting devices to cast votes for their General Conference and Southeastern Jurisdictional Conference delegation. Clergy elected delegates in a total of 13 ballots. Laity elected delegates in a total of nine ballots.
The 2020 Delegation includes the following people:
• Clergy - Glenn Conner (Huntsville First United Methodist Church)
• Laity - Steve Lyles (Alexander City First United Methodist Church, Conference Lay Leader)
• Clergy - Dedric Cowser (New Beginnings United Methodist Church)
• Laity - Pat Meadows (Pleasant Hill United Methodist Church - Bessemer)
• Clergy - Kelly Clem (Northwest District Superintendent)
• Laity - Precious Kufarimai (St. Paul-Triana United Methodist Church)
• Clergy - Robin Scott (New Church Development & Palmerdale United Methodist Church)
• Laity - Ann Lee (Guntersville First United Methodist Church)
Southeastern Jurisdictional Conference
• Clergy - Sherri Reynolds (Southwest District Superintendent)
• Laity - Michael Wilder (Guntersville First United Methodist Church)
• Clergy - Tiwirai Kufarimai (St. Paul Triana)
• Laity - Gail Hiett (Geraldine First United Methodist Church)
• Clergy - Vaughn Stafford (Clearbranch United Methodist Church)
• Laity - Liz Bowlin (Sheffield First United Methodist Church)
• Clergy - Mary Henley (Helena United Methodist Church)
• Laity -Randall Ham (Fort Payne First United Methodist Church)
• Clergy - Sheri Ferguson (Ministry Health Coordinator, Board of Ordained Ministry)
• Laity - Scott Selman (Canterbury United Methodist Church; Conference Treasurer)
• Clergy - Paul Lawler (Christ Church)
• Laity - Howard Rew (Athens First United Methodist Church)
• Clergy - Brian Erickson (Trinity United Methodist Church - Homewood)
• Laity - Jacqueline Riggs (Christ Harbor United Methodist Church)
The delegation includes three people under 35 years old – Dr. Dedric Cowser (clergy), Precious Kufarimai (laity) and Michael Wilder (laity).
Membership stands at 127,717, down 1,941 from the previous year. Professions or reaffirmations of faith for 2018 were 1,696, down from 2017 by 175. Worship attendance stands at 69,108, up 4,865.
— Danette Clifton, director of communication