2022 North Alabama Annual Conference

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The North Alabama Conference gathered at the Von Braun Center in Huntsville, Alabama, on June 22-24. Bishop Debra Wallace-Padgett presided as clergy and laity from all parts of the conference gathered in one place for the first time in three years.

The conference began on Wednesday evening with the Service of Licensing, Commissioning, Recognition, Restoration and Ordination. During the service, the conference celebrated 18 newly licensed local pastors, one commissioned provisional deacon, three commissioned provisional elders, two ordained deacons, one ordained elder, two elders whose orders were recognized and one elder whose orders were restored. The newly commissioned and ordained class has an average age of 34.

During the ordination sermon, Bishop Wallace-Padgett acknowledged that The United Methodist Church is in a “challenging, ever-changing, stormy, tumultuous, uncertain, difficult season.” She noted that those who have answered God’s call to ministry during this time are signs of hope. She encouraged all in the conference to recommit to prayer, community, generosity, service and worship. She reminded the new clergy and all those gathered in worship, “It is always the right season to make disciples.”

Throughout the annual conference, the worship, teaching and business occurred under the theme of “Disciples Celebrating Discipleship.” Bishop David Graves, resident bishop of the Alabama-West Florida and South Georgia conferences, was the guest preacher. During his morning messages, he shared stories of his ministry of evangelism and disciple-making and encouraged those gathered “don’t give up on anybody.” He said, “You have received power to be a light in Huntsville, Alabama … and throughout Alabama … and remember people are watching us.”

During Thursday morning’s Holy Communion, clergy and lay members presented their individual and congregations’ contributions to this year’s annual conference special offering “Love and Support for Ukrainian Refugees.” The offering will be sent through The Advance to support United Methodist churches in Baltic countries providing care and assistance for Ukrainian refugees. The North Alabama Conference has partnered with United Methodists in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania on many ministry projects since the early 1990s. The offering collected Thursday morning was more than $57,000. This is in addition to approximately $100,000 already contributed by North Alabama United Methodists to the United Methodist Committee on Relief to help Ukrainian refugees.

Bishop Wallace-Padgett opened Thursday morning business with a “State of the Church” address. She addressed how the community of the North Alabama Conference will navigate upcoming months and years together saying, “What we do is of critical importance. How we do it is of equal importance.” 

She noted that while the conference will do its best to put in place grace-filled ways for churches who discern to disaffiliate with The United Methodist Church, the conference is also committed to being a place where diverse people — traditionalists, centrists and progressives — can remain in ministry together in The United Methodist Church. She emphasized that North Alabama’s ministry will focus on discipleship. She added, “We will also emphasize what we have in common instead of our differences because we all know we have way more commonality than dissimilarity.”

During business sessions the conference:

  • Recognized the 16 clergy retiring with a combined 449 years of service.
  • Heard the conference Commission on the Status and Role of Women give an update on the 2018 resolution for parity in appointment making, which called for the conference to appoint women clergy to equal representation in higher-salaried positions. The 2021 data shows an improvement in the percentage of women earning the highest salaries.
  • Introduced the 2022 recipient of the Louise Branscomb Barrier Breaker Award, Brittany Green. Green is a member of Center Grove United Methodist Church, a healthcare worker and is active in the National Coalition of Black Women. Part of her work with that coalition is eliminating healthcare disparities among Black women.
  • Adopted four resolutions: Resolution on Climate Change; Resolution on Supporting, Recognizing, and Honoring the Services of Law Enforcement Officers; Resolution on Strengthening the Representation of Young People, and Resolution on Support of the Protocol of Reconciliation and Grace Through Separation. As each resolution was presented, conference members were invited to surround each resolution with an intentional liturgy of prayer and silence to bring their best selves to the table and hear God’s voice in the process.
  • Heard an update from Daniel Coleman, the president of Birmingham-Southern College. 
  • Participated in an interactive report from the Adult Discipleship Team. In addition to highlighting tools and opportunities that the team provides for individual and group discipleship, the team chair led the conference in a time of concert prayer and a prayer using a finger labyrinth.
  • Received the report from the Ministry with the Poor Team that included a memorable video that humorously demonstrated how sometimes churches’ attempts to help people in their communities miss opportunities to build relationships and truly address the issues and situations people face. The Ministry with the Poor Team provides resources and training opportunities to help congregations in their ministries.
  • Approved the church closings of 10 churches under the Book of Discipline paragraph 2549 and observed a time of prayer and remembrance of their ministries.
  • Received an update from Embrace Alabama’s Kids on its various ministries including a live presentation by one of the first graduates of its higher education program.
  • Learned how the conference Board of Higher Education and Campus Ministry is focusing on how it can better partner with local churches to support their local campus ministry.
  • Heard from the NAC3 team, a team created by Bishop Wallace-Padgett and made up of diverse clergy and laity from across North Alabama to help envision who we will be as a North Alabama. The three Cs of the team name describe a commitment to Christ, Community and Clarity. The team’s purpose is “finding a way for our diverse population to navigate this season together (to have space for grace-filled ministry to happen without compromising values) and become generative in the work of making disciples.”
  • Received an update from the Conference Chancellor Lynn Hare on the pending settlement of the Boy Scouts of America regarding its bankruptcy and the numerous claims of abuse of former Scouts. 
  • Learned how United Counseling is playing its role of being present and being a safe place for individuals, families and congregations to “become.” This ministry has been a part of the North Alabama Conference for more than 50 years.
  • Heard a report from the Conference Evangelism Team and celebrated the recipients of both the 2020 and the 2022 Harry Denman Evangelism Awards. Those recipients are 2020 Clergy: The Rev. John Hill; 2020 Laity: Billy Coleman; 2022 Clergy: The Rev. Ian Conerly; and 2022 Laity: Kim Woodin.
  • Adopted a revision to the standing rules to align the standing rules with existing structures and procedures, create flexibility to better adapt to a changing context in the future, create greater clarity in the event of future disruptions to the usual ways of doing business and to “fill in the gaps” and address issues that either were not anticipated in the current Standing Rules or that have arisen since their adoption.
  • Received an update on Camp Sumatanga including the work of the Sumatanga Action Team and the many capital improvements and facility updates that have happened in the last several years. The Rev. Tony Jones, executive director, noted that while Sumatanga is not fully where it needs to be, much progress has been made.
  • Celebrated with the Missions Team that in 2021 North Alabama Conference individuals, churches and organizations gave a total of $438,637.74 to missions of The United Methodist Church through The Advance. The conference has also contributed $24,902 to support missionaries around the world. The report concluded with Bishop Wallace-Padgett and the conference pausing for a time of prayer for North Alabama’s newest missionaries. The Rev. Joe Riddle and his family will be serving with the Southern Congo/Zambia Episcopal Area beginning in July 2022.
  • Heard a report on the work of the North Alabama Methodist Foundation that since 1984 has worked with local churches to provide resources to help them grow and expand vital ministries for their communities.
  • Received the report of the conference statistician noting the following:
    • Membership stands at 118,963, down 2,476 from the previous year. This includes 1,671 member deaths during 2021.
    • Worship attendance stands at 80,632, down 20,929.
    • The conference celebrated 373 professions of faith for 2021, down by 260 from 2020.
    • The conference also celebrated 813 baptisms, an increase of 189 over 2020. 
    • The conference includes six missional churches, 17 new churches, four satellite churches and 60 Celebrate Recovery units (an increase of 10 Celebrate Recovery units over 2020.)
  • Heard an update from the Society of St. Andrew and learned of ways — such as gleaning and crop drops — individuals and congregations could partner with them to help hungry people in their community.
  • Received an update from Methodist Homes of Alabama and Northwest Florida noting two distinctive features of Methodist Homes. 1.) It was the first organization in Alabama to implement the revolutionary household model of resident care for assisted living and nursing services. 2.) Thanks to its Fountain of Love Fund, no resident of a Methodist Home has ever been asked to leave due to their inability to pay since Methodist Homes began.
  • Welcomed special guest Bishop Francis Asbury who, during the Archives and History report, noted that 2020 marked the 150th year of Methodism in North Alabama.

On Friday, Conference Lay Leader Dr. Lisa Keys-Mathews presented the laity address. During the address, she introduced herself with 50 facts. She asked those gathered to make a tally of any statement that also applied to them. As she asked everyone to add up their tallies, she noted, “We are more alike than we are different in the ways that count to God.” 

She concluded the address by encouraging the conference to honor, respect, love and support those who discern they will leave The United Methodist Church and those who discern to stay a part of the denomination. She added, “We can continue to serve God, worship God and expand the Kingdom of God together, being ourselves, living our theology, focusing on our numerous, important similarities as children of God in the United Methodist Church.”

The conference closed with the Celebration of Life Service. The Revs. Terry Bentley and Kelly Clem, retiring district superintendents, preached a joint sermon based on Hebrew 11 and 12. During the service, the 23 clergy and 19 clergy spouses who have died in the last year were remembered. As worship continued, district superintendents read appointment changes, and all clergy appointments scrolled across the screen. District Lay leaders offered a prayer for the ministry of clergy and congregations over the next year.

The annual conference will gather later this year for a called special session on Dec. 10.

More Information:

Danette Clifton, director of communications

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