2017 North Alabama Conference
The North Alabama Annual Conference gathered at the Von Braun Center in Huntsville, Alabama, on June 4-6. Presiding Bishop Debra Wallace-Padgett called the conference to order under the theme of “Singing God’s Song in Tune and Rhythm.”
The conference opened with a celebration of Pentecost. Reflecting the story of Pentecost, worship began with a variety of languages sharing the good news. A mass choir made up of members from many local church choirs led music, and liturgical dancers helped tell the story of the coming of the Holy Spirit. Bishop Robert Schnase, who leads the Rio Texas Conference, preached a message titled “Nibbling Our Way Lost” based on the parable found in Luke 15:1-7. Worship ended with conference members and guests sharing in the sacrament of Holy Communion. Young adult and youth members joined retiring clergy to serve the elements.
Throughout the three days together, North Alabama United Methodists focused on the conference ministry priority of Healthy Congregations. Guest speakers Bishops Schnase and James R. King Jr. offered teachings and sermons focusing on church health.
Throughout, the conference executive director of Healthy Congregations, the Rev. Bob Alford, introduced tools for church health available to local congregations. Local church leaders offered stories and testimonies from their congregations currently working with these tools. These tools include the L3 (loving, learning, leading) group model of leadership, relational evangelism and the Antioch Project. The tools also include a process for aligning the vision, mission and accountability in context toward church health and growth. There’s also MissionInsite, an online system to help learn about a congregation’s local community, its needs and ministry opportunities; Abide, an L3 process especially for the small membership church; and Fresh Expressions, a way to move outside the walls of the church to reach those who do not know Jesus Christ.
The conference also received a special offering of $40,000 for the conference priority of Ministry with the Poor. This offering was designated to support Exploration summer internships for those discerning a call to ministry with the poor and other Ministry with the Poor initiatives.
On Tuesday, the conference closed just as it began with members, visitors and guests joining together for worship. During the service, district superintendents read the names of clergy and churches involved in appointment changes and each district lay leader offered a prayer for all the churches in their district. Bishop King preached a sermon “From Best to Better,” encouraging each person and each congregation to grow better in discipleship and ministry.
During business, the conference:
- Elected the Rev. Dedric Cowser as conference secretary.
- Adopted a budget for 2018 of $10,155,717. This recommended budget is the same total budget as the conference has had since 2015. The recommended 2018 budget includes seven general church apportioned funds comprising 33.6 percent of the total budget and also includes significantly higher reserves.
- Once again adopted a proportional giving based funding model — each local church to remit 10 percent (a tithe) of its unrestricted receipts on a monthly basis in support of the conference budget and the applicable district budget.
- Celebrated the 37 new faith communities formed over the last year. People who have started or will start a new faith community in the next year were introduced. Bishop Wallace-Padgett led the conference in praying over these church planters.
- Ordained 12 elders and recognized the elder orders of one person
- Commissioned eight provisional elders
- Presented local pastor licenses to 12 people.
- Recognized 26 retiring clergy.
- Recognized the recipients of the Harry Denman Evangelism Award. The 2017 winners are Youth: Tamya DeWitt; Clergy: the Rev. Terry Bentley; and Laity: Stephen Stroud.
- Recognized the recipient of the annual Louise Branscomb Barrier Breaker Award Allison Dearing. She is a member of Birmingham First United Methodist Church, and creator of One Place, a collaboration between the Jefferson County District Attorney’s Office, City of Birmingham-Birmingham Police Department, YWCA-Central Alabama, and the Crisis Center, Inc. to provide coordinated services to victims of domestic violence and sexual assault.
- Recognized 30 clergy and clergy spouses who have died in the last year during the annual Memorial Service. The Rev. Sherry Harris preached a sermon titled, “Don’t Miss the Miracle,” based on John 13:34-35.
- Adopted a Planned Parenthood Resolution Follow-Up.
- Adopted a Resolution Concerning Ban the Box.
- Adopted a Resolution Concerning Domestic Violence.
- Did not adopt a Resolution Concerning Medicare Supplemental Health Insurance Premium.
- Voted on five amendments to The United Methodist Church’s Constitution.
- Gave thanks for the ministry of the 10 congregations that had closed in the last year.
- Recognized three charter churches (active United Methodist churches in the North Alabama Conference that were founded before the annual conference came into existence) — Bethlehem United Methodist Church in Dolomite, New Hope United Methodist in New Hope and Hopewell United Methodist Church in Valley.
- Heard an address from young-adult members Marian Royston (Southeast District) and Micah Shelton (South Central District) sharing three ways local congregations can help discover, develop and deploy young adult leaders — “teach us, involve us and invest in us.”
- Adopted an updated disaster-response plan and learned of new resources that will be available to local congregations during times of disaster.
- Affirmed that its 2016 General Conference delegation will represent North Alabama at the special session of General Conference in February 2019 in St. Louis, Missouri.
- Celebrated Sumatanga’s Executive Director Lee Padgett receiving the Legacy of Leadership award from the United Methodist Camp and Retreat Ministries Association earlier this year.
- Heard Conference Lay Leader Steve Lyles presented the Laity Address encouraging those gathered to sing God’s song and share the gospel of Jesus Christ with their community.
Membership stands at 131,088, down 141 from the previous year.
Worship attendance stands at 62,227, down 2,452
Christian formation group participation stands at 74,412, up 1,853 to the highest level in recent memory.
Professions or reaffirmations of faith for 2016 are 1,960, down from 2015’s 2,294.
Worshippers engaged in mission for 2016 was 42,666, up 2015 by 3,618. This number is also the highest in recent memory.
For a complete wrap-up
To see the annual conference photo gallery
— Danette Clifton, director of communication