I had the honor of again representing Community of Faith as a lay-delegate at the Virginia Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church. This year, the Conference was held from June 13-16 at the Hampton Coliseum in Hampton, Virginia.
Many of you have never been to an Annual Conference, which makes it difficult for me to explain it adequately. Conference is a strange and wonderful mix of worship and business that kept us awake from early in the morning until late each night, and although it only lasted four short days, I could easily rattle on and on about everything that went on.
But don’t worry; I won’t.
What might surprise many of you is that Annual Conference is not merely a bunch of Methodist clergy and lay-members sitting around and voting on motions and resolutions—although that is surely a part of it. We spent much of the time in worship, and much of it doing God’s work.
Reverend Stephen Bauman, senior pastor of Christ Church United Methodist in New York city, was this year’s Conference preacher. His energetic and humorous style helped to wake us up on Monday morning and keep us awake and Christ-focused through the rest of the week.
There was a wonderful “Africa Now!” service and celebration on Tuesday evening where we learned about the positive influence the United Methodist Church is having on that continent—like Africa University, a Methodist institution that is making a difference in peoples’ lives.
We also celebrated ordinations, as well as retirements—including that of Bishop Joe Pennel, who is retiring after serving the Virginia Conference for eight years. We had Bible studies and took communion. We recognized the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Society of Saint Andrew, and bagged almost 50,000 pounds of potatoes for the hungry at one of their potato drops. We raised about $272,000 through the conference offering for a woman’s training center in Mozambique, a ministry to orphans in Russia, a medical clinic in Uganda, and many projects right here in Virginia. We collected 46,276 Health Kits, School Kits, and Baby Kits for distribution through Church World Service to those in need.
But despite the overwhelming amount of worship, mission, and celebration, this year’s Annual Conference did not skimp on business. We had tons of reports from various committees on the activities of the church, including a report from our delegation to the General Conference, which occurred earlier this year.
Perhaps most importantly, the Conference considered the report of the Common Table Task Force, which was charged with devising a new organizational plan for the church in Virginia based on our Conference Vision Statement: We envision churches where all God’s people are welcomed at table, nurtured and transformed to be Christ to others in the world.
The plan presented by the task force would create a Common Table for Church Vitality—a board of nineteen people with specific areas of responsibility who would take a leadership role in the Virginia Conference and replace the Conference Council on Ministries. The plan would also improve the method by which church leaders are discovered and developed, and would reconfigure—without expanding—the Conference program staff.
With only minor changes, the plan presented by the task force was accepted by the Annual Conference. The new structure is expected to be in place by January 1, 2006.
In addition, we considered thirteen resolutions dealing with everything from the Virginia Marriage Affirmation Act, to worker justice, to policy for clergy reporting of child abuse and neglect. The Conference ended on Wednesday with a Service of Holy Communion and the fixing of appointments. I am very happy to report that both Pastor Rob Vaughn and Pastor Rocky Shoemaker have been reappointed to Community of Faith for another year.
The United Methodist Church—like many religious institutions, governments, and other organizations—grapples with social, ethical, and political issues for which there are seldom easy answers or clear paths. Some of these issues came up for discussion last week.
But despite the differences of opinions that many delegates and clergy may have had with one another, I was struck by the unity that I witnessed at Annual Conference. There was no anger in our disagreements, and after the voting was done we all broke bread together. I have no doubt that God was with us in the Hampton Coliseum last week.
As I mentioned at the beginning, there is no way that I could possibly cover everything in sufficient detail without taking up way too much of your time. If you have any questions about Annual Conference or would like to know more, you can check out the website at www.vaumc.org, and please feel free to talk to me or any of the rest of the Community of Faith delegation when you get the chance.
Again, it was a true honor to represent this congregation and I thank you very much for the opportunity.