I had the honor of representing Community of Faith as a lay-delegate to the Virginia Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church, which was held this past week at the Roanoke Civic Center in Roanoke. I remember at the orientation that was held several weeks before the conference itself, I met a gentleman who asked if I was going to conference. I said “Yes”, and he responded, “You’re a brave man.”
Lots of words had been used to describe annual conference to me before I went, but most people said I wouldn’t really understand what it was like until I’d been there. I think they were right, and that just makes it that much more difficult to report it all to you this morning. I hope you’ll forgive me if I leave anything out.
The bulk of the Conference, which began Sunday evening a week ago and ended mid-afternoon on Thursday, was business. Different committees would present reports—for example, The Council on Ministries showed us how they are doing God’s work in the world by presenting videos and PowerPoint presentations relating to their projects—and we at the conference voted on issues relating to Clergy pensions, petitions to the General Conference next year, and lots more. This was all presided over by our Bishop, Bishop Joe Pennel.
We also spent a lot of time filling out ballots. This year, the Annual Conference elected delegates to the General Conference and Jurisdictional Conference which both occur next year. The election process takes place on paper ballots and is quite, well, unique. It took the laity 17 ballot cycles over the four days to select all of our delegates.
But aside from all that business, the most touching moments happened in between conference sessions. Each morning, Dr. David McAlliser-Wilson—president of Wesley Theological Seminary—led a Bible study. There was a service of remembrance on Sunday night for some 68 persons associated with the Virginia Conference who passed away over the past year. Bishop Janice Huie from Arkansas preached an incredible sermon on Tuesday about focusing on unity rather than all our differences. Later on Tuesday, there was a celebration of the 300th anniversary of John Wesley’s birth—the man who started the Methodist movement.
Then, there was an emotional Service of Repentance and Reconciliation for the past wrongs of us as individuals and as a church, and on Wednesday evening there was an absolutely amazing service celebrating 100 years of Korean Methodism in America featuring a Korean choir in traditional clothes, informative videos, a Korean language anthem, and a breathtaking children’s show choir from First Korean Church in our own Arlington District.
In the Civic Center, with well over three thousand people present, you have no idea how powerful God’s presence was when we sang hymns before and during the services. But God’s presence was powerful in other ways too. The Conference collected over 35 thousand kits for distribution through Church World Service, including those donated by Community of Faith. The conference offering was nearing $400,000 and donations were still being received as the conference ended. A Society of Saint Andrew Potato Drop bagged over thirty thousand pounds of potatoes which have already started making it into the mouths of hungry people, I happy to be was among the 150 volunteers who gathered for the drop at 5:30 on Tuesday morning. You’ll hear more about the Society of Saint Andrew when my father—who works there—speaks here a week from today.
Finally, on Thursday, the conference came to an end. The final service included a message from Reverend J. Denise Honeycutt who spoke about how we—as branches—need to stay connected to the vine. In other words, we need to get and stay excited about our lives in Jesus Christ. The service ended with a massive communion for the thousands of attendees, and then the fixing of appointments.
I am happy to report that both Pastor Rob Vaughn and Pastor Rocky Shoemaker have been appointed to Community of Faith for another year. (pause for applause)
This report is a quick overview which really only scratches the surface. I could go on an on for the entire length of this service and beyond, but—like I said at the beginning—It’s almost impossible to get the whole picture without being there. You can read a more detailed report than what I’ve given here on the Virginia Conference website at www.vaumc.org or feel free to come talk to me about it when you get the chance. Again, I was honored to represent you at the conference, and look forward to having the opportunity again in the future. Thank you.