Making a Difference: Reaching out to Local Schools

published 4/29/2013

(Susan Hunt) - Churches frequently ask me for ideas on how to reach out into their local community. I am becoming more and more convinced that one of the best ways our churches can reach out is through the local schools. Many public schools are seeing lower test scores, inadequate staffing, decreased funding, and overall decline. Parents work two and three jobs and cannot spend the time at the school during the day like my own mother did.

The quality of education for all children affects us all, and should concern us all. While it is an urban myth that US prison planners use third-grade reading scores to predict future inmate populations, studies do show that a student who cannot read on grade level by 3rd grade is much less likely to graduate by age 19. In turn, too many high school dropouts do end up in jail or juvenile detention.* **

Isn’t being salt and light to the world part of our calling as a Church? What better place to start than in the schools! It is a great way to show a loving presence to children – to show that someone cares for them and they are not forgotten.

I saw firsthand the positive effect a church can have in a local school when I was working in Oklahoma a few years ago. My church went into partnership with a lower-income public elementary school. Volunteers were mentors and tutors, and classroom and test monitors. Other volunteers helped improve the school building itself with painting, light construction/repair work, landscaping, and more. Church members donated school supplies and equipment and some uniforms. Our volunteers went before the school board to request they address a leaky roof that had been neglected and was creating safety concerns. They found a small grant to purchase a special science experiment. Volunteers provided homeroom parties with treats on special holidays. We invited the teachers to attend a worship service at our church early in the school year in which they were prayed for. The list can go on and on.

Our volunteers didn’t hold religious services, or compel any of the children to attend church. The church was careful not to violate any of the issues related to the separation of church and state. But the volunteers were not shy about who they represented. It was clear they shared their love with the students and faculty and loved unconditionally just as Jesus did.

The volunteers were fondly known as the “church people” by the students. When the volunteers would arrive to help tutor, monitor a test, or bring cupcakes for a homeroom party, the children were always excited and happy to see the smiling and loving faces of these special “church people”. What a positive image they had of our volunteers, who were quick with a hug and a smile or an encouraging word, which in turn gave them such a positive image of Jesus Christ and the Church.

And the prayers – oh, the prayers. Each child and adult in that school was prayed for by name every day by a member of our church. The die-cut figurine with the first name of the child I was praying for still remains in my Bible, even these many years later. This may have been the most impactful part of the ministry.

In the three years our church partnered with that school, it became one of the most improved schools in the state. It showed an incredible turnaround with test scores, attendance, and many other markers. In fact, because of the great improvement in the school, it received special recognition and each teacher was awarded a substantial gift card from the state to purchase supplies for their classroom.

So instead of being frustrated at how so many of our public schools are struggling, let’s do something about it together and share the love of Jesus at the same time. Find a way for your church to partner with a local school. Ask your neighboring churches to join you. Your methods may not be all the same as my church in Oklahoma used; needs and opportunities to serve vary from school to school. A good place to start when developing new partnerships is for the church to simply ask, “How can we serve you?” I’m sure the school’s number one need is prayer!

*An Urban Myth That Should be Truth

**Study: Third Grade Reading Predicts Later High School Graduation

Pennington Named by Bishop to AWF Cabinet

published 4/18/2013

(Montgomery, AL) - Bishop Paul L. Leeland announces that Dr. Doug Pennington has been appointed as the District Superintendent of the Mobile District of the Alabama-West Florida (AWF) Conference, effective July 1, 2013.

Currently serving as the senior pastor of Lynn Haven United Methodist Church of Lynn Haven, Florida, Pennington was ordained as an elder in the AWF Conference in 1984. Pennington’s previous appointments in the conference include pastor at Grand Bay FUMC, conference evangelist, and pastor at St. Paul UMC Midway. He was also a reserve delegate to the 2012 General and Jurisdictional Conferences.

“We are excited to announce Doug to our conference cabinet. He has been a fruitful and effective leader on the local church and conference levels and will be an outstanding addition to our cabinet and the Mobile District,” Leeland stated.

Pennington is a graduate of Middle Tennessee State University and Asbury Theological Seminary and also did post-graduate studies at the University of Florida and Carolina University of Theology. He and his wife, Sandy, have been married for 36 years and have two children, Lindsay and Nate. They are the proud grandparents to three grandchildren with one on the way.

Rev. Tonya Elmore, current Mobile District Superintendent, has faithfully served six years on the cabinet. “Tonya has been such a blessing and a devoted leader to the Mobile District and the conference cabinet. I know you will join me in thanking her for her dedication. We celebrate her ministry and acknowledge her desire to be appointed to a congregation within our conference,” said Leeland. Rev. Elmore’s appointment will be announced at a later date.

For more information about the AWF Conference, visit


A Word from Bishop Leeland: Guaranteed Appointments?

published 4/9/2013

(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.


Bishop Names Sims to AWF Cabinet

published 4/9/2013

(Montgomery, AL) - Bishop Paul L. Leeland announces that Dr. Robbins Sims has been appointed as the District Superintendent of the Montgomery-Opelika District of the Alabama-West Florida (AWF) Conference, effective July 1, 2013.

Currently serving as the senior pastor of Eufaula First United Methodist Church of Eufaula, Alabama, Sims was ordained as an elder in the AWF Conference in 1996. Sims’ previous appointments in the conference include senior pastor at Whitfield Memorial United Methodist Church of Montgomery, pastor at Grace United Methodist Church of Auburn, pastor at Livingston United Methodist Church and associate at Fairhope United Methodist Church.

“We are pleased to announce Robbins to our conference cabinet. He has effectively served his previous appointments across the conference and will be a valuable asset to our cabinet and the Montgomery-Opelika District,” Leeland stated.

Sims is a graduate of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and Troy University and also studied at Candler School of Theology at Emory University. He and his wife, Nell, have been married for 36 years and have two children, Will and Anna.

Rev. Ron Ball, current Montgomery-Opelika District Superintendent, announced his retirement effective July 1, 2013. “Ron has done a wonderful job in the Montgomery-Opelika District and throughout the AWF conference. I know you will join me in thanking him and praising God for his many years of service and ministry to us. We joyfully anticipate his continued service to our conference as he assumes the position as Director of the Academy for Congregational Excellence,” said Leeland.

For more information about the AWF Conference, visit


Appointive Cabinet Holds Scheduled March Session

published 3/25/2013

(Dr. Jeremy Pridgeon) - The Appointive Cabinet of the Alabama-West Florida Conference met in regular session last week in Montgomery. Bishop Leeland and the district superintendents reviewed several aspects of the ministry of the annual conference and our local congregations through the course of the meeting.

Dr. Herb Sadler, Director of the Academy for Congregational Excellence (ACE), provided an update to the Cabinet. 2012 marked the first full year of ACE, as it seeks to fulfill a vision of Effective Leaders, Fruitful Churches. Among the initiatives discussed were developing leadership skills through a monthly program on "Becoming a More Effective Leader." This course has 39 participants and is meeting at Frazer UMC on the third Thursday of January - November in 2013. Three classes on Excellence in Preaching are being held in the conference in Montgomery, Dothan and Pensacola. Self-Care for clergy has also been an area of focus, where participants commit to working with a personal trainer, improving personal nutrition, spending time in centering prayer, and taking part in a covenant group.

Pastors and key laity representing all eight districts have been trained in Dr. John Maxwell's biblically based leadership development program called EQUIP, with plans for a prayer walk from Atlanta to Montgomery. Additionally, an effort to encourage congregations to focus on becoming missional communities is being developed through quarterly intensive training events, with the next training scheduled for the Catapult Conference at Christ UMC, Mobile on April 29-May 1, 2013. And the Academy for Ministries with Children continues to provide a two-year paraprofessional certification program for local church workers, under the direction of Reverend Leigh Meekins.

The Cabinet affirmed Dr. Sadler and his leadership of ACE and celebrates the ways we are developing Effective Leaders and Fruitful Churches.

The remainder of the session focused primarily on preparatory work related to the upcoming appointment making session that will be held in April. The Cabinet reviewed the Board of Ministry policy with regard to the transfer of clergy from other annual conferences. Such clergy must serve two years in the bounds of the conference, complete psychological and background checks, sign a release of their supervisory files, and receive joint recommendation of the Cabinet and Board of Ordained Ministry to become a member of the Alabama-West Florida Conference. The consultation process for Staff (Pastor) Parish Relations Committees was reviewed as well, giving attention to the profiles of local congregations providing the Cabinet an accurate representation of the church for use during the appointment making session. Additionally, there was conversation regarding the expectations for district superintendents to be available, accessible, and visible, connected to the pastors and laity through teaching and preaching in congregations, relating to clergy and churches, mentoring and coaching leaders in the district, and casting a vision of ministry for the district.

As we move into our 2013 appointment season, the cabinet finds this to be a perfect time to point out that we, as United Methodists, are a “sent” people. The long and careful process of becoming ordained affirms that as ordained or licensed clergy we join our sisters and brothers who are also ordained or licensed to go where we are sent. This is our unique way of affirming a desire to live in God to serve the world, rather than to live in the world to serve God. We expect all who are licensed or ordained will live into this covenant. The very act of seeking ordination or licensing is an expression of our desire to be obedient to the church. This Wesleyan tradition of becoming a “sent”people allows us to remove our personal preferences, desires and interests, to serving where the church needs us.

Therefore, the district superintendents affirmed our cabinet policy to recognize those who are sent and appointed by the Bishop as the clergy of our annual conference. When local churches invite persons to serve on their church staff, we simply recognize them as lay employees and will not license them as clergy since they were not appointed by the Bishop. The cabinet affirms that when lay employees seek to become candidates and are licensed or ordained, they make themselves available at that time to become a sent clergy and are then available to be appointed where the church needs them.

The dates for the last Sunday in the current appointment, moving day, and the first Sunday in a new appointment for pastors that will be moving was set. Those dates are as follows:
Last Sunday in Current Appointment: June 23
Moving Day: June 25
First Sunday in New Appointment: July 7.
Further information pertaining to the moves will be shared with pastors and congregations in the upcoming weeks.

Please be in prayer for the Cabinet, the clergy and the congregations of the Alabama-West Florida Conference in this season of discernment as we prepare for the appointment making session next month. And as we journey toward Holy Week, may we all sense the passion of our Lord Jesus Christ, remember his death, and celebrate with joy, the Resurrection that gives us certain hope that God is with us! Thank you for your leadership and for your work in the Kingdom!



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