Photos are available at www.umcna.org/eventdetail/16543375/item/17463498
The 2023 North Alabama Annual Conference gathered at the Von Braun Center in Huntsville on June 21-24. The four high-energy days featured the theme of “Offer Christ Every Day” and were filled with powerful worship, inspiring and practical teaching, reports of how God is at work in the North Alabama Conference, fellowship, laughter and connection among North Alabama United Methodists.
Bishop Debra Wallace-Padgett presided over her 11th regular session of annual conference in North Alabama. During her Friday morning state of the church address she proclaimed to those gathered, “All is well.” She noted that while the last year had been challenging in the conference and in the United Methodist denomination, North Alabama has come through “with grace and strength” and “a recalibrated perspective.” She explained to conference members and guests that the conference’s focus is on discipleship. “We have a mission to discover, develop and deploy passionate spiritual leaders to make passionate spiritual disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.” She added, “That is a life-changing mission! And that is who we are in North Alabama. And that is who we will be even more moving into the future.”
She highlighted many ways God is working in North Alabama, including local and connectional ministries for all age groups — cradle to grave, baptisms and professions of faith in local churches, our United Methodist mission agencies, our work on college campuses throughout North Alabama, and 10 new churches and 12 Fresh Expressions in the works.
Throughout annual conference, members, visitors and livestream viewers were equipped to live out the Conference theme of “Offer Christ Every Day” through the teaching of guest speakers the Rev. Dr. Priscilla Pope-Levison and Dr. Jack Levison. Their teachings focused on testimony — why, how, where and to whom. Each session provided biblical examples and current examples from congregations throughout the United States. They also offered practical exercises for participants, including developing your seven-word testimony, practicing your one-minute testimony, thinking of ways congregations can incorporate testimony in corporate worship and specific ideas for how churches could move from “huddled communities” to offering inviting messages to their community. They ended the final teaching session with participants joining in a prayer for the Holy Spirit to bring to each person’s mind one specific person with whom they can share a word about God in the next several days.
Annual conference began on Wednesday evening with the Service of Ordination, Commissioning and Licensing, during which the Conference celebrated new clergy. Bishop Debra Wallace-Padgett preached a sermon titled “Making a Difference by Offering Christ Every Day.” Throughout the sermon, she asked those being credentialed, as well as all clergy and laity gathered, “What is your offer?” encouraging each person to find ways to offer Christ where ever they find themselves.
During the service, one elder was ordained, one provisional deacon and four provisional elders were commissioned and six new local pastors were licensed.
On Friday morning, the conference paused to remember the 14 clergy and 12 clergy spouses who died in the last year during the Celebration of Life Service. The Rev. Dr. Clinton Hubbard preached the sermon “The Blessing in Remembrance” based on Philippians 1:3.
Throughout the conference, members heard reports — many in interview format — from various groups and teams testifying to how God is at work in North Alabama. Business included the following:
- Adopting the consent agenda as presented by the Rev. Dr. Dedric Cowser, conference secretary.
- Bishop Debra Wallace-Padgett and Dr. Lisa Keys-Mathews, conference lay leader, tag-teamed to bring a message of encouragement to the Conference. They focused on the North Alabama Conference moving into the future with joy, courage and a determination to continue and re-focus on making passionate spiritual disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. They reflected on the Apostles Creed to highlight our common basic theological convictions. The Conference responded by reciting the historic creed together.
- Co-chairs of the NAC3 Team Gail Hiett and the Rev. Brian Erickson presented words of encouragement. During the report Hiett said, “My friends, it’s time for us to get back in the streets, to follow the example of John Wesley and go where ever the people are. It’s time to share Christ. It’s time for us to pray like we have never prayed before. Not for our churches to be preserved but for our churches to give themselves away. It’s time for us to pray for boldness.”
- President Daniel Coleman and Board chair the Rev. Keith Thompson presented the Birmingham-Southern College report. They shared an update on the college and shared stories of Birmingham-Southern College’s impact on young adults, the United Methodist Church and Alabama. The conference celebrated the school’s future, which was uncertain until earlier this year.
- Bishop Wallace-Padgett interviewed the Director of Connectional Ministries the Rev. Dr. Adlene Kufarimai and Conference United Methodist Volunteers in Mission Coordinator Paulette West. They shared ways that United Methodist Volunteers in Mission allows participants to connect with people, build relationships and show Christian love in action.
- Bishop Wallace-Padgett and the Rev. Suzanne Katschke, executive director of New and Renewing Churches, discussed exciting new things happening throughout the conference. Katschke shared about exciting work being done by the district developers commissioned in December. She also encouraged each congregation to try something new to reach new people for Jesus Christ, and reminded them that the New and Renewing Churches team is there to help. She suggested each congregation to stop and ask themselves two questions: Who is not in church? And what are we prepared to do about that?
- The conference approved property resolutions closing six congregations under the Book of Discipline Paragraph 2549:
- The conference approved the Council on Finance reports presented by the Rev. Joy Morgan, including adopting a budget for 2024 of $5,867,368. This amount is a 6.44% reduction in the prorated 2023 conference budget.
- Rebecca Morris presented a report from Embrace Alabama Kids. She shared how last year the ministry served 1,564 individuals — mainly through foster care and group homes.
- The Rev. Ron Schultz shared the Board of Ordained Ministry, which included celebrating those newly credentialed clergy and that many more people are contacting the Ordained Ministry office each week to answer God’s call to ministry. The conference also recognized the 31 clergy retiring this year. Together their ministry represents more than 700 years of service.
- Conference Lay Leader Lisa Keys-Mathews presented the annual laity address. She focused on the theme “I am because we are.” She encouraged North Alabama United Methodists to strengthen their connection for the sake of ministry.
- The conference respectfully discussed and adopted the one resolution submitted to this year’s conference, “A Resolution Supporting the Revision of the Book of Discipline and the Honoring of Differing Convictions.”
- The Rev. Matt Lacey, Southeastern Jurisdiction UMVIM Director, shared about the history of United Methodist Volunteers in Mission. He also shared current resources United Methodist Volunteers in Mission offers local churches and plans that are in the works to further resource churches, such as working with the Commission on Religion and Race to create a pilot program to offer scholarships and training for new leaders from ethnic minority churches.
- The Rev. Sarah Smoot, Commission on Status and Role of Women chair, told stories of the commission’s work toward the full inclusion of women in the ministry of the conference.
- Stephanie Sparks, Adult Discipleship chair, shared resources the team offers individuals and congregations, such as podcasts, Bible studies and a prayer labyrinth.
- The Rev. Wade Lander, Higher Education chair, shared about the work of the Conference’s five campus ministries. He also introduced Charles Irving, a recent Alabama graduate, who shared his testimony of how his experience at Bama Wesley helped him hear and answer a call to ministry.
- The Rev. Adam Burns shared on behalf of the Ministry with the Poor Team. He explained the team tries to equip local church outreach ministries to do more than crisis intervention. They equip churches to go care for their community and build relationships. He also announced two training opportunities the team will offer in the fall.
- Executive Director of the Methodist Foundation Michael O’Kelley shared about the services the Foundation offers local congregations, such as financial investment opportunities, administrative policies and procedure education, and will and estate planning.
- The conference collected a mission offering of over $12,000 that will serve as seed money for North Alabama local congregations that begin a new ministry of evangelism in the next year and also will support the evangelism ministries of missionaries from North Alabama serving in other parts of the world.
The conference elected delegates to fill the one clergy vacancy and four lay vacancies on the General and Southeastern Jurisdictional Conference delegation. The North Alabama Conference delegation to General and Jurisdictional Conference now includes:
- The Rev. Dedric Cowser
- The Rev. Kelly Clem
- The Rev. Sherri Reynolds
- The Rev. Tiwirai Kufarimai
- The Rev. Mary Henley
- The Rev. Sheri Ferguson
- The Rev. Brian Erickson
- The Rev. Steve West
- Steve Lyles
- Pat Meadows
- Precious Kufarimai (Young Adult)
- Gail Hiett
- Lisa Keys-Mathews
- Laura Ellis
- Rachel McKelvy Boggs (Young Adult)
- Hal Riddle
Thursday evening featured the annual conference’s first Awards Dinner, during which some special annual recognitions took place. The Commission on the Status and Role of Women presented the Louise Barrier Breaker Award to two people: Breakout Leader Avery Rhodes and Lifetime of Service Award to Joan Boothe. The Evangelism Team also presented the Annual Harry Denman Evangelism Awards to clergy The Rev. Ted Amey and laity to Joan Boothe. In a surprise recognition, the Rev. Gary Henderson, chief relationship officer at United Methodist Communications presented Director of Communication Danette Clifton with United Methodist Communication’s Epi Award for excellence in communication ministry. Five recipients are selected annually for this special recognition.
On Friday evening, conference participants had a choice of two fun activities. One large group shared a time of fellowship by attending the Rocket City Trash Pandas baseball game together. Others gathered for a Dinner Church experience and had an opportunity to learn from the Rev. Charles Dirico from the Western North Carolina Conference.
On Saturday, the conference concluded with the Sending Forth Service and the Fixing of Appointments. During the service, District Superintendents the Revs. Rick Owen, Vicki Cater, Jeff Davis and Sherill Clontz shared a homily highlighting individuals and congregations offering Christ every day in unique ways. They then announced the clergy appointments for the next year as district lay leaders prayed for clergy and congregations.
- The 305 churches that now make up the North Alabama Conference have a membership of 67,685 down from 118,963 for the previous year when the conference included 639 congregations.
- Worship attendance stands at 32,435.
- Church school attendance stands at 8,319.
- These United Methodist congregations celebrated 325 professions or reaffirmations of faith in 2022.
- Adults and young adults in small groups for 2022 totaled 13,955.
- Worshippers engaged in mission for 2022 totaled 14,909 or 46% of average worship attendance.
— Danette Clifton, North Alabama Conference director of communications.
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