The Conscience of the Conference Award is given periodically to lay and clergy who have distinguished records of serving their respective colleagues and conferences in ways that had at times to be going against the wishes of conferences leaders of their times.
The primary criteria for the award is to have shown courage to stand up on behalf of clergy and laity facing allegations about their character or behavior. That courage is shown over many years of service. That courage is recognized toward the end of their ability to serve but before they are too old to appreciate the recognition. The ones who have been listed below are those whose service has stood out but were usually unknown outside the jurisdiction though well known within their own annual conferences.
The award is a wall plaque which states the following:
“In Recognition Of A Lifetime Ministry Of Integrity, Compassion, and Courage In Upholding And Defending The Covenant Of The Clergy”
Let me briefly introduce the ones who have previously been given the Conscience of the Conference Award.
1997 - The Rev. Dr. Frank Williams – Dr. Williams was the first president of Associates in Advocacy (AIA) when it organized in the late 1980s. He was widely respected in the Baltimore Washington Annual Conference, called the dean of the African American United Methodists. His support of an African American pastor accused of sexual harassment by a young white woman was crucial in keeping the pressure on the white bishop to handle the case by the book. That led to the eventual reinstatement of the pastor to ministry. As with all the people listed below, this was only one of many of his efforts on behalf of ministers and the conference.
1997 - The Rev. Dr. Andrew Turnipseed* – Dr. Turnipseed was the first vice president of AIA He served in both the Alabama-West Florida and the New York Annual Conferences. His courage and fairness were known in both places. When his colleague Dr. T. L. Butts was falsely accused by conference leaders of allegedly chargeable offenses, he not only helped with the advocacy but later led a group of retired pastors to pursue significant changes in trial procedures for the 1984 Discipline.
1997 - The Rev. Harvey Walker – Iowa is a huge annual conference, one of the largest in the denomination in the United States. If pastors in trouble constitute about 2% of the total number of pastors, you can believe Iowa always had a case going somewhere. One of those most frequently called on to help was Rev. Walker. A four time delegate to General Conference and Conference Secretary, involved in working on the mergers of the various conferences in Iowa to become one, his stature was not a barrier to helping pastors in trouble.
1997 - The Rev. Everett Burham – Rev. Burham, a long time advocate for pastors in the Iowa Conference, was one of the very few pastors who succeeded in saving a pastor’s career before the Judicial Council during a period of time that the Council tended to ignore clergy appeals and simply ruled in favor of the bishops. While he was not as dynamic as most of our other awardees, his persistence and solid understanding of the Discipline and its personnel processes were enough to be effective.
1998 -The Rev. L. E. Crowson - Rev. Crowson had the reputation of making bishops tremble when he stood on the conference floor of the West Virginia Conference. No one doubted his knowledge of the Discipline and he rarely was overruled by the house or by the bishop. I was present at a Judicial Council hearing when the president called for a recess, which most of us took to mean a brief break. Rev. Crowson recognized it as the end of the public hearing and stood to present himself and the pastor for whom he was advocating. The members of the Council sat back down.
1999 - The Rev. Dr. Thomas Lane Butts* – Sometimes a pastor who has gone through unfair treatment understands the system and the personal dynamics another pastor faces when confronted by a complaint. In Dr. Butt’s case, a perennial delegate to General Conference from Alabama-West Florida, he had been a superintendent, had worked with Andrew and Alan during the civil rights fight, and had withstood much enmity for being for integration. On the verge of possible election to episcopacy, he was attacked with false charges and survived when his trial was overturned upon appeal. He has been doubly prepared and stepped forward whenever asked to help a pastor in trouble. He provides sermons on advocacy and on surviving in times of trouble such as “The University of Adversity” that pepper AIA’s website.
1999 - The Rev. Earl Black – Rev. Black grew up in a large, strong, but poor family during the Depression, caring for “underdogs.” As a young Elder in the then Southern Illinois Conference, he took on the Cabinet by moving that nominations for conference offices be from the floor rather than from the Cabinet. After every superintendent spoke against it, his speech for it obtained a large majority. With that success and after helping others with their motions, Rev. Black was asked to be defense counsel for a colleague. It was the first of the many church trials that began in the 1980s and continue to this day. His work took him before the Judicial Council where one of its members commended him for the thoroughness of his legal arguments. Back before AIA incorporated, he was getting calls to help pastors from annual conferences in Illinois, Indiana, Missouri, and New York.
2000 - The Rev. Dr. Duncan Hunter – Dr. Hunter, having twice been a superintendent, an alternate on the Judicial Council, elected five times to General Conference, and on the General Commission on Religion and Race, was well known in the North Alabama Conference as the one to go to when a pastor was under the gun. His compassion for ministry was a counter balance to the culture of seeking power that predominated his conference. As a pastor concluding his ministry in Tuscaloosa, his obituary of 2009 described him this way: “He served on and led many of the agencies that seek to empower and improve life. He served Focus, the Salvation Army, Red Cross, TARC, Hospice of West Alabama, the Food Bank, the Soup Bowl, Temporary Emergency Service, RSVP, the Phoenix House, and the AIDS Council. His love for people was demonstrated as he managed the Matthew 25 Fund for First Methodist. He always treated everyone with dignity and sought to help if he could. He respected everyone as individuals of sacred worth.”
2000 - The Rev. Dr. Alan Montgomery* - Dr. Montgomery was a quiet southern gentleman. As clergy, he was another one who went about his caring of fellow clergy in quiet ways. However, even though it was not in his own North Alabama Conference facing the politics and unfairness of the handling of the Butts case, it was his bishop who also led Alabama-West Florida. At real risk to his ministry, he stood up with Dr. Turnipseed and organized retired clergy in support of the Butts team during his trial. Following the trial, heedless of the animosity of his bishop, Dr. Montgomery helped those retired clergy to develop legislation for General Conference addressing the flaws in the system.
2006 - Dr. Leigh Roberts – A psychiatrist and professor of psychiatry at the University of Wisconsin, Dr. Roberts was lay leader of the conference, perennial delegate to General Conference, very active at every level of the denomination, and helped persuade the jurisdiction to assign the first woman bishop elected in our denomination to Wisconsin. Out of nowhere came allegations from two young women that destroyed his university career and caused his resignation from denominational leadership roles. One of those who stood by him met with him afterward discussing the state of the church and how it was evolving. Dr. Roberts encouraged his friend to form an ad hoc association for advocates for mutual instruction and up-building. He continues to this day taking his turn as an officer and board member of Associates in Advocacy. The church he attends also has supported him and he once again is active on the conference level. He was an active part of a church trial of a homosexual clergy person that was successful in clearing away the charges against her. Update: As of this writing, Dr. Roberts lies immobilized but alert, still interested in the happenings of AIA particularly and the world as he has aways been.
2011 - The Rev. Dr. William James – Dr. James is well known in New York City as well as in the New York Conference. He had served its largest African American church with distinction. He was consistently elected as a delegate to General Conference. He played a major role in the Methodist/E U B merger, and in the elimination of the Central Jurisdiction in the United States. He worked with NYC mayors and congressional members; he defended the independence of and then led the United Methodist City Society of New York, a non-profit agency that helped with economic and social development in minority communities; he brought in younger people to learn and take leadership roles, some to go on to be bishops. In 1998, he undertook advocacy for a Korean woman pastor whom he saw was being mistreated by the Cabinet and helped her at conference to be reinstated from involuntary leave of absence. He persisted in that role with her as her battle to remain a minister was continued over the next six years, taking her case all the way to the Judicial Council. At age 96, he continues to serve on her advocacy team as she seeks readmission to the conference. Update: Dr. James passed away January 18, 2013.
2013 - The Rev. John Grenfell, Jr. – The Detroit Annual Conference knew Rev. Grenfell very well. As a District Superintendent, delegate to General and Jurisdictional Conferences, and ready to advocate for any clergy in trouble, upon his retirement Good News offered to pay his expenses at least into 2008 to be advocate for pastors and churches across the country, in every Jurisdiction of our denomination. Even without that support, he has continued advocating, gaining most experience in administrative complaints. Willing to go nose-to-nose with any bishop, his success led to the 2012 General Conference (responding to a petition indirectly from the Council of Bishops) now requires that advocates may only be from the annual conference of the pastor under administrative complaint. Despite that, he consults regularly with advocates and with AIA colleagues in order to continue to help pastors in trouble.
2015 - The Rev. Thomas Griffith — In the mid-1980s, Tomwas called in to takeover being defense counsel in church trial when the presiding bishop rued the respondent could not be allowed to defend himself. As advocate, Tom stayed with the case through appeals all the way to the Judicial Council (JCDs 563 and 565). With that experience he was called to help other pastors, mainly by the cabinet. From those experiences, he added observing and lobbying at General Conference, cooperating with his friend Richard Bentley on a variety of social and judicial issues and programs related to advocacy, finding his base among Methodist Federation of Social Action though he worked with AIA as well. Tom’s effectiveness came because he was seen as a resource by his cabinet and various bishops and not as an “antagonist.” He also knows tax law, an extremely valuable resource to his conference’s pastors, including some of those officials.
2019 - The Rev. Michael Brown - Michael is a retired member of the California-Nevada conference who has assisted many clergy there. He has been an active member of AIA for about 20 years, willing to take on administrative tasks and contribute lively insights to group discussions. He single-handedly created a set of indexes to Judicial Council Decisions, a much needed tool that nobody else had worked on since the decisions ceased being published as bound volumes a few decades ago. He has updated the discs which contain his indexes many times. He has been a man of consistent integrity, willing to confront denominational officials when necessary.
There are other pastors who have distinguished themselves by their availability to help pastors and laity in distress. Some have spent many years, serving people outside their conferences because their experience and skills have become known. Though some have been retired, their energy and motivation keeps them going. They are also deserving of recognition and will be honored in due course.
Associates in Advocacy is well aware it is not the only source of help for advocacy. We are always glad to hear of pastors like Williams, Crowson, and James who have spent their lives helping their colleagues and their conferences by being the embodiment of God’s conscience.
When I asked for his history, Earl Black added a note that exemplifies what these Awardees sought. “There are a number of ministers who are serving honorably and well because I was able to help them.”
*During the civil rights era up through the Butts trial, the Alabama area had two conferences, both served by the same bishop. Five years after the trial, North Alabama in which Rev. Montgomery was a member and Alabama-West Florida in which Drs. Turnipseed and Butts were members each got their own bishop.
Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
Associates in Advocacy
Associates in Advocacy
Reconciliation and Restoration Where Possible