The meeting was organized by Bishop David Graves, SEJ College of Bishops President, and Claire Bowen, a layperson from North Georgia who has implemented the on-boarding process in this jurisdiction. Each day provided an opportunity to express ideas, collaborate with the whole group while also seeing world-renowned sights in Montgomery. “Our goal for this meeting was to understand one another, celebrate our collective journey and help one another lead our conference, jurisdiction and denomination in the best way possible,” said Bishop David Graves. “I could not be more pleased with the outcome of the meeting and it is indicative that the Holy Spirit was at the epicenter of the entire week.”
The latest United Methodist proposal, released just days prior to the meeting, provided ample discussion. Bowen was able to quickly shift and provide a framework for each of the four subgroups to discuss this new legislation in their respective groups. At the conclusion of the meeting on Thursday, with input from all four groups, the SEJ Committee on Episcopacy provided a statement that will guide their work at the upcoming SEJ Conference in July 2020 at Lake Junaluska.
Numerous members of the conference support staff played an instrumental part in organizing and executing the event. Celeste Eubanks, Director of Leadership Strategies, was instrumental in planning this outing as well as many other key segments of the week. Perhaps the most moving part of the meeting was the trip to the National Memorial for Peace and Justice (informally referred to as the lynching memorial) and the Legacy Museum. “Montgomery is often called the birthplace of the civil rights movement,” Eubanks said. “We felt it important to take our guests to one of the most poignant sites in Montgomery. People have come from all over the world to see the memorial and museum. Both are a sobering reminder of where we have been and what we as church leaders must insure is not repeated in the future.”
Bishop Sharma D. Lewis, Resident Bishop of the Virginia Conference was in attendance and found the visit to the Equal Justice Initiative Memorial moving. “I could not predict the emotions it stirred within me as an African American woman. The displays and images of hatred and violence in many counties across the Southeast including Bulloch, my birth county, was a reminder of our turbulent history.” The spouses in attendance were also treated to a backstage tour of the highly acclaimed Alabama Shakespeare Festival as well as a visit to the Rosa Parks Museum.
First United Methodist Church Montgomery, under the leadership of Rev. Jay Cooper, hosted a celebration of ministry dinner on Tuesday night and displayed outstanding hospitality. Dr. James Seay directed the cathedral choir, which provided entertainment during dinner. The dinner focused on four ministry spotlights of the Alabama-West Florida Conference:
Rev. Chris Ackerman spoke about the Hurricane Michael recovery efforts;
Celeste Eubanks spoke about “AWF Then and Now” focused on racial reconciliation and the efforts within AWF on that topic;
Daphne Johnston, layperson and now founder and director of Respite for All Foundation, presented on the nationally recognized adult respite dementia program that started as a mere dream and vision in the local church;
and Katy Wrona, Director of Communities of Transformation, presented about this ministry that was launched out of the AWF Conference and how it walks alongside families to move them from poverty to independence.
Bishop Ken Carter of the Florida Conference presented a check on behalf of the Florida Conference to Bishop Graves for hurricane relief efforts in the amount of $100,234.
The next meeting of this group will be held in January 2021 in the Kentucky Conference.
Click here to see photos by Luke Lucas.