EF-4 is the designation used to describe a storm whose winds reach 200 miles an hour. Yesterday, May 20, 2013, such a storm devastated Oklahoma. This will be an epic disaster, a tornado that at one point was two miles wide, scorched twenty miles in length, and continued for at least 45 minutes.
What has happened is hard to put into words. It is truly an unspeakable, horrific, tragedy. We are once again thrust into a nightmare where the natural forces of nature remind us how vulnerable we really are. The pictures themselves are a shock to our senses, creating a surreal picture of life the day after EF-4.
The exact number of deaths and those who were injured by this storm will be determined by the officials. As of Monday evening, news services report 51 deaths, at least 20 of them children. Now it becomes urgent for trained personnel to get into these areas. Families looking for family, hoping against hope.
In this storm we can see our fears – it is possible to literally lose everything. Nothing is left. Still, we live in anticipation some will be rescued.
Now is the time:
To offer prayers
Wait for the shock to wear off
Give thanks for those with special training for search, rescue, and recovery
Begin the clean-up of massive debris.
When we are in shock and grief it is difficult to hear the words of God’s Presence and Love. We must act out of Christian compassion first, remembering God is present with us no matter how horrific our circumstances. In time we pray others will see God’s compassion through our spontaneous response. A special account is available for immediate gifts. You may send to our conference office or directly to UMCOR.
Alabama-West Florida Conference
100 Interstate Park, Suite 106
Montgomery, AL 36109
(please label checks for UMCOR Oklahoma disaster)
Or, you may make a direct donation to UMCOR by using this link. 100% of your donation goes to those in need.
Now, let the Church come forward with deep compassion to manifest the deep love of the God, the God who also suffered and died that we might have life. Our feeble efforts, joined with thousands of others, will emerge as the signs of hope and new life.
One young girl, speaking to MSNBC News Service, said, “I had to hold onto a wall to keep me safe.” Let us send Oklahoma “Walls of Love” through our support.
When we are in shock and grief we cannot find the words that need to be spoken; we have no voice; we cannot pray. This week, many families will gather in our churches, sharing relationships with those who live in Oklahoma. They will look to us as their minister to express the words they need to hear. With no words, no voice, and uncertainty, we allow the Church to pray in our place. Here is my prayer:
“O God, our help in ages past, our hope for years to come, our shelter from the stormy blast, and our eternal home!
Under the shadow of thy throne, still may we dwell secure; sufficient is thine arm alone, and our defense is sure.
Before the hills in order stood, or earth received her frame, from everlasting, thou art God, to endless years the same.
A thousand ages, in thy sight, are like an evening gone; short as the watch that ends the night, before the rising sun.
Time, like an ever rolling stream, bears all who breathe away; they fly forgotten, as a dream dies at the opening day.
O God, our help in ages past, our hope for years to come; be thou our guide while life shall last, and our eternal home.” UMH 117.
Bishop Paul L. Leeland
Alabama-West Florida Conference
The United Methodist Church
(Bishop Paul L. Leeland) - In preparation for making appointments of clergy to serve our 640 plus congregations, I received an invitation from a student at Huntingdon College asking me to participate in his research paper by responding to some questions he had regarding “guaranteed appointments” within The United Methodist Church. This student is taking a class on United Methodist Doctrine and Church Polity, and during this specific time of the year, he became interested in the conversation taking shape throughout our denomination regarding “guaranteed appointments.”
I thought you might be interested in his questions, and in my responses. Here are his questions:
“The specific questions I would like to hear from you about are:
• Do you agree or disagree with the Judicial Council’s decision that guaranteed appointments are protected by our constitution?
• Do you think morally we should have guaranteed appointments in the United Methodist Church?
• Do you think having the assurance of a guaranteed appointment helps or hurts the morale of an Elder/the conference?
• Do you think if guaranteed appointments were removed that would help or hurt the morale of an Elder/the conference?”
Now this is a promising student.
The following insights were offered from my perspective as the Bishop of our Alabama-West Florida Conference of The United Methodist Church.
First, no appointment is “guaranteed.” This is a popular term used by clergy to identify the right of every ordained clergy member in good standing to be appointed if they meet the authority and responsibilities of an ordained elder within our United Methodist denomination.
The Book of Discipline 2012, which identifies our doctrine and polity, outlines these particular responsibilities in ¶334. It says, “Every effective elder in full connection who is in good standing shall be continued under appointment by the bishop…” Please note it says “who are in good standing.” What constitutes good standing? For one thing, there are no complaints or charges against the clergy person regarding their conduct or performance of pastoral responsibilities.
The professional responsibilities “that elders are expected to fulfill and that represent a fundamental part of their accountability and a primary basis of their continued eligibility for annual appointment shall include:
a) Continuing availability for appointment.
b) Annual participation in a process of evaluation with committees on pastor-parish relations or comparable authority as well as annual participation in a process of evaluation with the district superintendent or comparable authority.
c) Evidence of continuing effectiveness reflected in annual evaluations by the pastor-parish relations committee and by the district superintendent or comparable authorities.
d) Growth in professional competence and effectiveness through continuing education and formation. The Board of Ordained Ministry may set the minimum standards and specific guidelines for continuing education and formation for conference members;
e) Willingness to assume supervisory and mentoring responsibilities within the connection.”
Further, the same paragraph (No.4) says, “If an elder fails to demonstrate vocational competence or effectiveness as defined by the annual conference through the Board of Ordained Ministry and cabinet, then the bishop may begin the administrative location process as outlined in ¶360.”
This simply means when clergy are unable or unwilling to fulfill their responsibilities steps may be taken to change their “status” or to dismiss them from their responsibilities. Yes, there is process to do this.
In this sense there are no “guaranteed appointments.” One must meet the expected responsibilities in order to be recognized in “good standing.”
Now for his specific questions:
First, I do agree with the Judicial Council decision that appointments are protected by our Constitution and Church polity. These appointments are protected as long as the clergy are in good standing. When they are no longer in good standing, appropriate steps may be taken to change their relationship to the Church.
Second, this is not a “morale” issue. This is an issue of responsible accountability. The willingness to accept the appointment offered; the willingness to be supervised; the willingness to give evidence of fruitfulness; the demonstration of personal, spiritual, and professional growth; and the willingness to be mentored within the connection. Only when these behavioral responsibilities are met are clergy considered to be in good standing.
The third and last question, makes the assumption that clergy are “guaranteed” an appointment regardless of their personal or professional conduct. If this were the case, it would certainly hurt the morale of the Church. Yet, this is not the case. There are no guaranteed appointments without responsibility and personal fruitfulness.
In a sense, appointments may be expected and received as long as clergy fulfill these responsibilities. Only then are they considered to be in good standing.
One additional thought would be that from my perspective the primary issue around appointments is not whether we are demonstrating responsible ministry. The larger issue is whether we can find a quicker and more humane way of helping people to exit ministry who are unable or unwilling to perform their responsibilities. If we could affirm the work of those who are responsible, effective, and fruitful we would be serving the Church in a greater capacity. If we could, at the same time, help those who are not truly suited for fruitful ministry to leave in a manner that helped focus their attention in areas where they might be more productive and satisfied, we would also be benefiting the Church. This is always the creative tension in our appointment process – to identify those who are fruitful and affirm them, while identifying those who find it difficult to be fruitful and aid them in refocusing their energies into other areas.
Personally, for me, itinerancy is not about moving or appointments, it is a unique promise I have embraced through ordination to get my personal interests and desires out of the way, while saying to the Church, “I am willing to be appointed wherever the Church needs me," even in Alabama or West Florida. Itinerancy is not about moving; it is about obedience to the Church. This best captures my ordination; to make myself available wherever the Church feels I can best serve.
To God be the Glory.
"A voice is heard in Ramah,
weeping and great mourning,
Rachel weeping for her children
and refusing to be comforted,
because they are no more." (Jer. 31:15)
Unbelievable. Unspeakable. Shock.
Our nation prays with the families of Newtown, Connecticut, in response to the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School. The unanswerable questions of "why", "how", and "could it have been prevented", do nothing to alleviate the sudden horror unleashed upon these innocent children. No attempt on our part will help to explain the evil in our world. Once more we see the spirit of Herod and the Death of Innocents. In this moment, we know our world is broken and far outside the Love and Will of God.
Any attempt to speak of the mystery of suffering and evil will prove to be unsatisfying. Personally, I wish Jesus had said, "Come unto me and I will spare you from these things." But He didn't. Instead He said, "I am with you always." How we need the assurance of His presence now! How we need to hear him say once more, "Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted; Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God."
My mind races to all the people impacted at this moment: parents, grandparents, family members, those who served these children lunch at school every day, bus drivers, neighbors, and the list goes on. I find myself praying for them. And I find myself praying for the young man who committed this atrocity and his family. They also need our prayers.
I can't help but hear the words of Romans 5 that keep coming to my mind: "suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces courage, and courage produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us because God's love has been shed into our hearts by the Holy Spirit." It is far too early to understand the words of the Apostle Paul when he reminded us, "All things work together for good to those who love him and are called according to his purpose." How can this be? Can this moment be transformed by God? Perhaps it is enough to know GOD IS WITH US even in these unspeakable moments.
I certainly know God does not desire evil and hurt. Yet when it comes He knew we needed to be guided in what to do. And so I continue to think about His Sermon on the Mount – “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted; Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God; Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.”
I will think on these things for a long time.
But first we cry.
This Christmas letter is written specifically to all who, for whatever reasons, have been pushed to the periphery of life; to those who deeply desire their lives to be better - filled with more joy; to those who long for the safety and happiness of loved ones; and to those who wish to love and be loved by others.
In the stark reality of our world, the words of Psalm 96 capture our hope: The Presence of The Lord comes, God comes to rule the earth. For this reason we can "Proclaim to the nations: 'God is King.'" This is a powerful word to all the nations of our world.
With the assurance of His coming, we also have the absolute certainty of His promises:
Perhaps our Christmas could be an expression of our daily prayer that God might come to rule the earth, that God's will be done on earth just as it is in heaven, and that our lives reflect the Kingdom of God now because we act in faithful obedience as if we were already in heaven.
In the Presence of this Divine Shepherd, Emmanuel, God with us, we "shall not want." This is the one who "restores and renews our soul." In the Presence of this One we do not fear, no matter how dark the valley. The promises and blessings are given with such love - it is as if our "cup overflows" with thanksgiving.
St. Paul pointed out, "The Lord is near. Have no anxiety at all." (Phil. 4:5,6). The Psalmist also sings, "Cry out with joy and gladness: for among you is the great and Holy One." (Psalm 12:6).
These Christmas Holy days will be celebrated in many ways: some families will be together; some individuals will be alone; and some hope to connect with loved ones across long distances. There is a yearning within each of us to be connected. This internal longing reflects the same desire God has toward us - to be connected. While the days approaching Christmas are properly moments set aside to reflect on our anticipation and waiting, it is also a time when God waits for us. God waits for us to change our hurtful habits. God waits for us to offer sincere acts of contrition. God waits for us to recognize the hunger we have for the Divine, for the Words of Life, for The Word made Flesh.
Our prayer for you is that this Christmas season offer a "time out" from the busyness of our personal routines so the Mystery of God's Spirit may fill us with newfound wisdom, compassion, generosity, forgiveness and gentleness. We truly seek the kingship of God over every decision of our lives and to walk in the way of holiness.
The Prince of Peace is among us! "In the tender compassion of our God the dawn from on high shall break upon us, to shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death, and to guide our feet into the way of peace (Luke 1:78,79)."
"You, my child, shall be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before The Lord to prepare his way, to give his people knowledge of salvation by the forgiveness of their sins." Luke 1:76
Jesus Christ is born. God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God. Come! Let us adore him.
Paul and Janet Leeland
(Bishop Paul L. Leeland) - Coming home is always a great feeling. My appointment as the resident Bishop of The Alabama-West Florida Conference of The United Methodist Church felt like coming home. Janet and I certainly express our gratitude to Dr. Steve Furr, MD, and Dr. John Ed Mathison, who served on the Southeastern Jurisdictional Episcopal Committee and made the appointments for every Annual Conference within the jurisdiction. There were several surprises when this committee assigned three bishops to serve their home conference, but is certainly within their ability to do so when two-thirds of the jurisdictional committee agrees to make such a request to the entire jurisdiction. From my perspective, I was reminded once more that ordained clergy, including bishops, are certainly itinerant and are appointed at the discretion of the church to serve where the church believes they will best serve the needs of larger faith community. For my family, this meant we would be returning to Montgomery, AL., to continue the work we have been building upon for the last four years. God is good.
Each jurisdictional conference creates a natural framework for our work together. This has been a time of reflecting upon personal needs of our family, the momentum and ministry that has been building in Alabama-West Florida, and listening carefully to the voice of the Church as expressed by this committee after careful consultation with each bishop to be assigned with the jurisdiction. Once again, Janet and I believe God desires us to be in Alabama-West Florida, and that God indeed has a plan for the entire Church. With joyful obedience we have returned home. God is good.
What exactly have we been doing to create fruitful leaders, clergy and congregations? Why is it an exciting place to serve? What is God saying to us to do and what are we doing about it?
My quick response would be embraced by the following expressions of our work:
Wow. God is good.
As this quadrennium begins I have already set dates to meet with clergy who counsel me and guide my perceptions of this great conference. We are engaged in multiple conversations about providing practical steps for “Turn Around” pastors and “Turn Around Churches” – those who can step into an existing environment and help them fulfill all that God would have us do. I encourage each leader within our churches to go to the Vital Congregations web page for The United Methodist Church. There you can find any conference with the United States, any district, and look at the vital statistics for that church over the past five years. If you need help with this, simply call Rev. Neil McDavid, our Director of Connectional Ministries, who has been working closely with the larger church in strengthening Vital Congregations. I personally want to applaud our district superintendents for their covenant to reward fruitfulness when we see it both in our clergy and in our congregations. It is our hope the Alabama-West Florida Conference will produce the best clergy and lay leadership found anywhere within The United Methodist Church. God is good.
While Janet and I were eating supper just before receiving our appointment for the next four years, I asked her, “Janet, we might be assigned anywhere within the jurisdiction, but would you like to see happen?” Janet replied, “I’d like to be returned to the Alabama-West Florida Conference.” And so it was. And so it is. God is good!
The storms that have damaged areas across 10 states passed through our Alabama-West Florida Conference. Let us be in prayer for our congregations and families as we continue to receive news regarding the impact of these storms.
The Montgomery-Opelika District reports the storms were north of the district, although Ron Ball is checking with his district disaster coordinator as he monitors the fallout of last night's storm.
Dothan District reports no damage at this time.
Marianna-Panama City District reports no damage although they are in communication with their churches.
Pensacola District is in conversation with Alan Gantzhorn, their district disaster coordinator. At this time, there is no damage to report.
Mobile District reports no damage although they continue to check with churches in their district.
Demopolis District reports all is well and they are monitoring the district process of reporting damage.
Baypines District has a report from Amelia Fletcher, our Conference Disaster Response Coordinator, saying, "Have monitored storms all afternoon. There have been no reports in the Baypines District which was under the gun this afternoon. Tim Trent in the Andalusia area, Rob Haynes in Baldwin County, and Charles Walters in the western area report an 'All Clear' as of 8:30 last night."
I have been in touch with some of the Bishops from other conferences that have been hurt by the storms and continue to receive word of the damage to churches and towns. Some ministers in areas that were damaged have not been reached. Let us remain in prayer and hope.
Almighty and Loving God, You are always present. Fulfill Your promise that You will not leave us comfortless but will come to us. Since we do not know what a day will bring forth, we place our faith in You asking that the storms of life may be calmed and we may offer ourselves in compassion and mercy to those most in need at this time. May Your mercy and Love be our light and our salvation in every difficult and overwhelming moment. Reform our compassionate service to others into obedience to You. We ask for the grace this week to be imitators of Christ as we stand firm in the Lord. Amen.
Paul L. Leeland
Sometimes “thank you” is not enough. It doesn’t always capture the depth of our gratitude and we don’t always recognize the sacrifice that has been made by others. However, I did think about the sacrifices made by congregations in our Alabama-West Florida Conference when I looked at the large stack of certificates awaiting my signature in gratitude for the acknowledgement of paying 100% of their Missional Giving. As United Methodists, we truly represent a Movement within the world. Thank you!
This Movement, of which we are a part, represents 340 United Methodist missionaries who share the word of God and the love of Jesus Christ in more than 60 nations. Seven of these missionaries are directly related to our Alabama-West Florida Conference. What a Movement of Christ being proclaimed throughout the world. Thank you.
As I signed the certificates of a vast majority of our local churches completing 100% of their Missional Giving, I thought about the United Methodist students attending Huntingdon College, all of whom receive a 50% reduction in their tuition. What a gift from our United Methodist churches and an investment in our future leadership representing an amazing Movement of the Holy Spirit as we prepare for the years to come. Thank you.
We could record a significant list of communities and people directly impacted by our local congregations. Such a list would include:
• Women who do not have to spend the night on the streets in Mobile, AL, because of our support for Mobile Inner City Mission
• Alleviating the fatal disease of malaria throughout the world
• Breaking the cycles of poverty because of our CIRCLES of Transformation initiative
• Creating new congregations to make disciples of Jesus Christ
• Conference staff who work with congregations of small membership churches who cannot afford additional church staff
• Offering retreats and events in our camping ministry where many of our current clergy leadership experienced the Presence of Jesus Christ in their lives.
What a movement. Thank you.
For all who completed their goal of 100%, I want to say thank you. And for those congregations who came close but did not quite make 100% this year, let me thank you as I encourage you to remain faithful to the covenant shaped by our sisters and brothers who work on our conference budget to represent these missional priorities. If we can contribute to other meaningful missional initiatives in our community and around the world while still remaining faithful to our covenant, then I say, “Thanks be to God.”
Gil Rendle, in his book, Back To Zero, acknowledges the great Movement our United Methodist Church has become and reminds us, “Ours is a church that would be a movement. We cannot dismantle our institutional side because we do, in fact, need some form of infrastructure to organize and align us. But if enough of us shift from self-interest to missional purpose, we have the capacity to birth a movement within our institutional self” (p.67). Gil Rendle acknowledges there are different types of movements and his primary question is “what kind of movement are we seeking?" I would encourage all congregational leaders to read this insightful resource in our search to rediscover the Methodist Movement. I believe the covenant set by our sisters and brothers expresses a major movement impacting our annual conference, our denomination and our world. So, I say once again, “thank you.”
Each person representing a local church can find a complete list of all churches who were faithful to the covenant set by our sisters and brothers, many who sacrificed to remain faithful, completing 100% of their apportionments, allowing us to be a presence, a witness for Jesus Christ, a United Methodist Movement throughout our world. This complete list of 2011 Missional Giving is found here.
Sometimes “thank you” is never enough. It isn’t enough for the wonderful work you have accomplished this year. Still, there is no other word that captures the depth of my appreciation. Thank you.
Paul L. Leeland
To all who Share in the Ministry of our Alabama-West Florida Conference of The United Methodist Church: It was another uncomfortable conversation. I had heard it before, both as a complaint and as a plea. The complaint was the lack of pastoral training, dedication and leadership needed to lead their congregation forward. The plea was, “Please send us a spiritual leader.” Phrases such as: “no one knows where they are;” “they are not accountable to anyone for their time or work;” “they don’t preach the scriptures;” “we’re not being spiritually fed;” and “you can’t tell the difference between our minister and anyone else in the community” peppered our conversation. After listening carefully and praying sincerely, one individual of this congregational committee asked, “What do you (meaning our conference) look for in a minister when you decide they are ready to be ordained?” A fair question. When John Wesley wrote “An Address To The Clergy” in 1756, he identified the following criteria as being essential for those “whom God has called to watch over the souls of others, as they that must give account.” Wesley then suggests something that is even greater: the Grace God offers to “govern the whole intention, affection, and practice of a Minister of Christ!” Briefly, Wesley reminds us the primary execution of our office as clergy is solely “to glorify God and to save souls from death.” Secondly, he acknowledges that clergy are “stewards of the mysteries of God, a shepherd of the souls for whom Christ died, to be endued with an eminent measure of love to God, and love to all others.” Finally, he asks, “What is a Minister of Christ, a shepherd of souls, unless one is fully devoted to God and abstains from every evil word and work; from all appearance of evil; yes, from even the most innocent things, whereby any might be offended." When Wesley explores the character of clergy, he is asking to what degree we serve as a pattern to our flock, in word, behavior, love, spirit, faith and purity. Every conversation and every act are done “always in grace.” Perhaps Wesley’s final thoughts in his address to clergy should become the mantra of every clergy within the Alabama-West Florida Conference: “Let us continue in all the ordinances of God, particularly in meditating on his word, ‘in denying ourselves, and taking up our cross daily,’ and, ‘as we have time, doing good to all persons;’ and then assuredly ‘the great Shepherd’ of us and our flocks will ‘make us perfect in every good work to do his will, and work in us all that is well pleasing in his sight!’ This is the desire and prayer of Your Brother and Servant, in our common Lord, JOHN WESLEY.” (Wesley’s Works, 1872 Jackson ed., vol. 10). John Wesley understood how to feed the flock. He knew the expectations of “the Shepherd.” While every congregation may not have “the Shepherd” they desire, they know what fruitful spiritual leadership looks like. And so do we. Let us model what we know to be true. Bishop Paul L. Leeland
• Knowledge of the office of minister. If one does not understand the demands of the office, that one cannot finish it well.
• Knowledge of the Scriptures, understanding “scripture interprets scripture” and knowing the “literal meaning of every word, verse, and chapter.”
• Knowledge of Greek and Hebrew; the original tongues in which scripture was written.
• Knowledge of history, ancient customs, chronology of world events and geography.
• Knowledge of the sciences, especially logic.
• Knowledge of the Fathers who are “the most authentic commentators of Scripture, chiefly those who wrote before the Council of Nice.”
• Knowledge of humankind, their character, tempers and manners.
• Common sense
• Some sense of “good breeding, including a musical voice and good delivery.”
To all who Share in the Ministry of our Alabama-West Florida Conference of The United Methodist Church:
It was another uncomfortable conversation. I had heard it before, both as a complaint and as a plea. The complaint was the lack of pastoral training, dedication and leadership needed to lead their congregation forward. The plea was, “Please send us a spiritual leader.”
Phrases such as: “no one knows where they are;” “they are not accountable to anyone for their time or work;” “they don’t preach the scriptures;” “we’re not being spiritually fed;” and “you can’t tell the difference between our minister and anyone else in the community” peppered our conversation.
After listening carefully and praying sincerely, one individual of this congregational committee asked, “What do you (meaning our conference) look for in a minister when you decide they are ready to be ordained?” A fair question.
When John Wesley wrote “An Address To The Clergy” in 1756, he identified the following criteria as being essential for those “whom God has called to watch over the souls of others, as they that must give account.”
Wesley then suggests something that is even greater: the Grace God offers to “govern the whole intention, affection, and practice of a Minister of Christ!”
Briefly, Wesley reminds us the primary execution of our office as clergy is solely “to glorify God and to save souls from death.” Secondly, he acknowledges that clergy are “stewards of the mysteries of God, a shepherd of the souls for whom Christ died, to be endued with an eminent measure of love to God, and love to all others.” Finally, he asks, “What is a Minister of Christ, a shepherd of souls, unless one is fully devoted to God and abstains from every evil word and work; from all appearance of evil; yes, from even the most innocent things, whereby any might be offended."
When Wesley explores the character of clergy, he is asking to what degree we serve as a pattern to our flock, in word, behavior, love, spirit, faith and purity. Every conversation and every act are done “always in grace.”
Perhaps Wesley’s final thoughts in his address to clergy should become the mantra of every clergy within the Alabama-West Florida Conference: “Let us continue in all the ordinances of God, particularly in meditating on his word, ‘in denying ourselves, and taking up our cross daily,’ and, ‘as we have time, doing good to all persons;’ and then assuredly ‘the great Shepherd’ of us and our flocks will ‘make us perfect in every good work to do his will, and work in us all that is well pleasing in his sight!’ This is the desire and prayer of Your Brother and Servant, in our common Lord, JOHN WESLEY.” (Wesley’s Works, 1872 Jackson ed., vol. 10).
John Wesley understood how to feed the flock. He knew the expectations of “the Shepherd.” While every congregation may not have “the Shepherd” they desire, they know what fruitful spiritual leadership looks like. And so do we.
Let us model what we know to be true.
Bishop Paul L. Leeland
GOD WITH US
“Joy to the world, the Lord is come!
Let earth receive her King;
Let every heart prepare Him room,
And heaven and nature sing,
And heaven and nature sing,
And heaven, and heaven, and nature sing.” (UMH 246)
The JOY of God’s Presence is overwhelming when a great light shines in our darkness. Our dark thoughts are so easily pulled toward worry and fear. Our attention is on the frailty and limitations of life rather than on the One who gives life, the One who is “the image of the invisible God, the first-born of all creation; for in him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible – all things were created through him and for him. He is before all things and in him all things hold together.”
Janet and I pray you will prepare Him room in your thoughts, desires and decisions giving a visible sign that the Light of God, Christ our Lord, is indeed present. The reign of God is now at work in you, and through you into the world. Through the birth of Jesus, God has become the visible image by which our lives are filled with God’s glory and peace. God loves you!
It would be our prayer that every congregation will express this Christmas joy by praying and singing, “Come, let us adore him!” We choose to live in the light of God’s hope. We pray for this war-weary world, that the Prince of Peace, Jesus Christ, will grant the peace of God proclaimed by the angels. We pray for those who have made themselves available for service in public life and leadership will find the presence of God to be the value and virtue that inspires them to govern with mercy and fairness. We pray those who have been baptized will find strength, meaning and renewal by recommitting themselves to prayer, worship, sacraments, and the reading of scripture.
Advent is the time of preparation; a time of expectation. May this holiday – Holy Day – become the first step in a new journey traveled in the companionship of God which will create a new expectation for your personal life, your loved ones and your church family. This regeneration and renewal is the source of a life that is the light of the human race; a light that shines in the darkness of this world (even though the darkness has not – and cannot – overcome it).
St. John has reminded us that Jesus was in the world, and “the world came to be through him, but the world did not know him.” This is still true today. “But to those who did accept him he gave power to become children of God, to those who believe in his name, who were born not by natural generation nor by human choice nor by one’s own decision, but of God.” (Jn. 1:5,10-13).
Here is the promise of this new life, “For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray – but when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of deeds done by us in righteousness, but in virtue of his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal in the Holy Spirit, which he poured out upon us rightly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that we might be justified by his grace and become heirs in hope of eternal life.” (Titus 3:3-7).
Almighty God, Prince of Peace, may your peace abide in the hearts of every soul within our Alabama-West Florida Conference and throughout the world. Amen.
Bishop Paul L. Leeland
Resident Bishop, Alabama-West Florida Conference
While we share the great sadness and disappointment of the most recent tornados that destroyed our state, we would like to ask the churches to take a special offering on Sunday, May 8, to help with the response to the communities that need our help. Parts of our own conference, and much of the North Alabama Conference, received significant damage.
I would like to extend my sincere thanks to Amelia Fletcher, our conference disaster response coordinator, for organizing work teams and working with UMCOR in receiving support from the general church. Their help was immediately forthcoming and we are grateful for their connectional support.
If there are congregations that can form work teams, please contact your respective district coordinator, or Amelia Fletcher at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Please pray for all of our churches and communities that have been affected by this disaster. A complete update from our conference will be sent this afternoon.
Bishop Paul L. Leeland
Alabama-West Florida Conference
I want to pass along information I received from the General Board of Global Ministries (GBGM) in regards to the response concerning the earthquake/tsunami in Japan. This information was made available to the Council of Bishops and Leaders and Members of the United Methodist Asian American Community.
GBGM expresses its sincere appreciation for the many messages of concern sent to them and continues to ask for prayers for the families of so many in the country of Japan.
GBGM is in touch with mission partners and their own personnel as the response begins. As of March 13, all personnel were successfully contacted and they continue to monitor the threat from the damaged nuclear reactors.
The new Wesley Center in Tokyo, related to United Methodist Women, was not damaged and is able to provide care to those now homeless in Japan. The Asian Rural Institute sustained considerable damage.
As many of you read through our news release on Friday, March 11, a new advance was specifically setup for this disaster response. The Pacific Emergency Advance number is 3021317.
Information can be found at www.gbgm-umc.org as it becomes available and we will notify the conference of significant updates. Today's update can be found here.
Please continue with me in prayer for the thousands of people affected by this tremendous disaster.
Grace and Peace,
Paul L. Leeland
The heart and passion of our Alabama-West Florida Conference was reflected recently during the Catapult Conference in Mobile, Ala. For three days, participants engaged Reggie McNeal, Brian Russell, Alan & Deb Hirsch, and Mike Slaughter around the idea of a truly missional church. As one who was present, I was delighted to see the passion surrounding a call to mission and am grateful for the leadership team from the Mobile District that made this time of learning together a reality. This conference clearly placed the emphasis on every congregation’s ability to be a missional, evangelistic church - regardless of church size or location.
Recently, public education has moved into the forefront of the national debate circuit as many network stations have highlighted the local conversations taking place. The national debate has focused on the criteria of what makes a teacher effective and how the number of effective teachers may increase. Obviously, parents want, and deserve, excellent, qualified, effective teachers to educate their children. Yet, not surprisingly, the debate has drawn great criticism from some teachers, who may fear they will be seen as less than effective when local boards of education begin to identify clearly defined criteria for effective teaching.
On March 15, 1808, Asbury Methodist Church in Wilmington, Del. wrote to Bishop Francis Asbury in regard to their minister, John McClaskey. In anticipation of the Philadelphia conference, the congregation did not expect their minister to be reappointed and wrote, “neither do we wish it.” Bishop Asbury noted that among his correspondence, he increasingly heard from preachers who were “unhappy with their appointments and societies unhappy with their preachers.” (John Wigger, American Saint, Oxford University Press, 2009, p. 369).
It was a small gesture; a small gesture that hopefully encouraged others.
My family and I recently vacationed on the Gulf Coast, and it was wonderful. We deliberately chose to vacation here to show our support for the families who live and work among these beaches. My children and grandchildren all came from North Carolina to join my wife, Janet, and I to experience some of the most beautiful beaches in the world. Our grandchildren, while excited and thrilled to be enjoying the surf and sand, learned a valuable lesson: we are much more dependent upon one another than we realize.
Our hearts are greatly saddened for those who lost their lives and for those who sustained injuries in the explosion on the Deepwater Horizon rig in the Gulf of Mexico on April 20. We continue to pray for their families and friends.
Lately, our homes have been bombarded with information, actions and tension surrounding the issue of gambling. Whether this comes to us through local television, newspapers, the Internet or even casual conversation with friends, the question is the same, “should we legalize gambling in Alabama?”
United Methodists offer a prayerful conversation regarding a number of issues that impact our life with others because we understand the way in which we live in community with others is a spiritual issue. We do not react defensively, but out of prayerful concern that reflects the practice of our faith in Jesus Christ.
As I prepare for the annual session of making pastoral appointments for our Alabama-West Florida Conference, I am reminded of how this appointment making season may allow our anxiety and fear to increase in the face of an uncertain future. Like so many others, I, too, want to hear the angelic words: “Fear not.” I want to recall God’s loving gift of the One who can deliver me from all anxiety and fear. The hymns and praise of Christmas have all too quickly faded into the background of this Lenten season. Yet, was it not just a few weeks ago that choirs, children, and congregations were singing:
I, along with our entire church, was stunned to hear the disappointing news that Dr. Sam Dixon, Director of the United Methodist Committee On Relief (UMCOR), did not survive the Jan. 12 earthquake in Haiti. Personally, I experienced the unexpected grief of his death as my mind immediately recalled how years ago we began our shared ministry in the North Carolina Conference. While serving in the same district, we visited in each other’s parsonages, shared more meals together than I could recall, participated in conference youth events and worked on conference missions. Our friendship was merged in our common desire to serve Jesus Christ. I will miss him and his valiant heart for the poor,
Holiness of heart. Holiness of life. These are the expressions of God’s Spirit at work within us. What often escapes our attention is the simple way in which this process of molding our hearts and lives into the image of Jesus takes place. While this is clearly the work of God, it often takes place in the local church. The church is our spiritual director, reminding us through the people of God, where to place our attention, energy and resources. Spiritual growth rarely takes place in a vacuum. More likely, it is shaped by those who have immersed themselves into the means or channels of God’s grace - prayer, scripture, worship, sacraments, and small groups - where we watch over one another in love. These are the traditional means by which God begins to shape us into the image of Christ.