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2009 Alabama-West Florida Annual Conference

Alabama-West Florida Annual Conference
June 7-10, 2009, Montgomery, Ala.

The 2009 Alabama-West Florida Annual Conference was held in Montgomery, Ala., with the theme "Partnership in the Gospel: Celebrating Together." Bishop Paul L. Leeland, presiding over his first annual conference session since becoming the resident bishop, set the tone for the conference during the opening worship service on June 7. Speaking to those gathered, he reminded them of one of the central questions facing the conference: "Are we looking forward or are we looking backward?" He invited the conference to share his vision for the Alabama - West Florida Conference, where "the spirit of God dwells in the people of God."

Prior to this year's conference, Bishop Leeland urged the churches of the conference to fully participate in the "Campaign for Blue Lake," which set out to raise $3 million for the conference's camp and assembly grounds. The people of conference overwhelmingly responded by contributing over $244,000.

Jason Borders, professor of religion at Huntingdon College, led the conference in morning Bible study, and the Rev. Jim Harnish, senior pastor of Hyde Park United Methodist Church in Tampa, Fla., provided two teaching sessions focusing on "Transformed Leadership for Transforming Congregations."

Two deacons and 10 elders were ordained as members in full connection; three provisional deacons, and 11 provisional elders were commissioned; and one associate member was recognized during a service of ordination & commissioning on June 8 at First United Methodist Church of Montgomery, Ala. Bishop Joe Pennel (retired) delivered the sermon.

Fifteen clergy retiring this conference year were honored at a special time of recognition; together they represent 415 years of service to the United Methodist Church. Thirty-four clergy and clergy spouses who died in the past year were remembered during a service of Commemoration and Holy Communion, where Rev. Robert Spicer, pastor at Frazer United Methodist Church, Asbury campus in Montgomery, Ala., delivered the sermon.

In business matters, the conference voted to adopt a proposal from the Conference Board of Pension and Health Benefits to move the conference to a method of directly billing churches for health insurance and pension costs beginning in January 2011. This action will significantly reduce the conference budget in coming years.

Conference members voted on 32 proposed constitutional amendments, only four of which received affirmative support from Alabama-West Florida representatives: VIII, IX, XIX, XXII

In other business, the conference:

  • Established a $17.6 million budget for mission and ministry for 2010, up 3.9 percent from 2009;
  • Celebrated the ministry of the laity at the annual Laity Banquet, which this year established the Mary Ellen Bullard Leadership Address;
  • Adopted a resolution dealing with tax fairness issues in Alabama;
  • Received an impromptu offering of more than $5,700 for the Central Conference Pension Initiative; and
  • Witnessed Caitlin Beidler paint a live interpretation of Bishop Leeland's opening sermon. That artwork, along with three others, was auctioned to raise $1,600 to be divided among Alabama Rural Ministries and the Blue Lake Campaign.

Membership stands at 149,868, down 63 from the previous year. Worship attendance stands at 69,163 up 836 from the previous year. Average Church School attendance stands at 30,829 down 914 from the previous year.

-Meredyth Earnest