I had the honor of again attending the Virginia Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church as a lay delegate from this congregation. The Conference was held two weeks ago—from June 11th through the 14th—in Hampton, Virginia and was presided over by our bishop, Bishop Kammerer.
This is the third time I’ve been a delegate, and each time I’ve had to tackle an insurmountable challenge upon my return: encapsulating three solid days of worship, singing, Bible study, celebration, reporting, discussing, and voting into a five minute talk without missing anything important.
I’ll do the best I can.
We arrived in Hampton on Sunday evening and the Conference began on a bit of a somber note with a Memorial Service celebrating those clergy who have passed away over the last year, and our own Arlington District Superintendent—Young Jin Cho—gave the message with the theme of “Well done, good and faithful servant.”
We got right to business on Monday morning with a number of committee reports, including those from the statistician and evangelism committee which showed that membership has remained relatively steady after a spike that followed the Sept. 11 attacks in 2001. This was followed by a spirited debate over how to encourage stagnated churches to gain new membership.
After a shortened lunch break, we returned for the Laity address, followed by reports from the United Methodist Women, United Methodist Men, and United Methodist Youth about what their respective groups have been up to over the last year.
That evening, we held a service in which new pastors were ordained.
On Tuesday morning, Melissa and I were up at 5:30 for the Society of Saint Andrew potato drop. The two of us, plus about 150 other volunteers, bagged over 40,000 pounds of sweet potatoes for Virginia food banks.
After a quick shower to wash away the stench of sweet potatoes, we were back to conference business with a Bible study and another series of reports, followed by an energetic morning worship service lead by Bishop Gregory Palmer of the Iowa Conference. After lunch we collected the conference offering for mission projects in Brazil, Mozambique, Russia, and right here in Virginia—as of the report Tuesday evening, the offering stood over $225,000. Then we reviewed the wonderful work our conference has done to provide relief for areas affected by last year’s hurricanes.
We also began discussing the first of nineteen resolutions. I had the opportunity to address the conference for the first time to present an amendment Pastor Rob and I drafted for Resolution #1 which would have encouraged discussion of accepted conference resolutions in the churches. Our amendment was accepted, but the resolution itself ultimately failed.
We finished out the day with a service for retiring clergy, discussion and voting on a couple more resolutions, and finally a lively service led by Bishop Sharon Rader celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of full clergy rights for women in the United Methodist Church.
On Wednesday we returned for morning Bible study before continuing with discussion of the resolutions before the conference. Time ran short and we were only able to discuss and vote on seven of the nineteen resolutions. A floor motion was made and passed to defer the remaining twelve resolutions to the Conference’s Common Table to find a way to continue the discussion. The conference closed with a final worship service and the fixing of appointments.
I’m very happy to report that Pastor Rob Vaughn and Pastor Rocky Shoemaker have both been reappointed to Community of Faith for another year.
In closing, I want to go back to something I said a moment ago—twelve of the resolutions that we all went to Conference expecting to vote on never ended up getting voted on. Some were upset by this—one woman addressed the conference and said she felt she had wasted her time. But I felt a bit differently.
Many of the resolutions that were deferred were extremely controversial and were brought before the conference, I believe, with the primary intent of being divisive. There were resolutions that you would call ‘pro-Palestinian’ and resolutions that you would call ‘pro-Israeli.’ There were resolutions supporting Virginia’s proposed Marriage Amendment and resolutions opposing it. There were resolutions on the War in Iraq, and whether United Methodist agencies should participate in the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice.
These issues and others like them are among the most difficult that Christians face today. They are difficult because honest, faithful followers of Christ can come to different Biblical understandings of how to handle them. What became very clear to me before and during the Conference was that we are not ready to take stances on many of these issues because we have not yet taken the time to build consensus between—if I may use a pair of dirty words—the more ‘liberal’ and the more ‘conservative’ individuals who faithfully participate in our church and our denomination.
It is my hope that the Annual Conference’s deferral of these resolutions will give us an opportunity to talk about these and other controversial issues and endeavor to find common ground, to find compromise, and to determine the most Christ-like path—which on many of these subjects isn’t always crystal clear. Had we voted on those twelve resolutions, it’s very possible that narrow majorities in Hampton would have unnecessarily alienated many church-goers in the Virginia conference. That’s why I believe their deferral was, in many ways, a blessing from God.
Anyway, this is just a very quick overview of what went on at Conference. There’s a lot more detail available on the Virginia Conference web site—vaumc.org—and please feel free to speak to me or any other members of the Community of Faith delegation if you have any questions.
Thanks very much for again giving me the opportunity to participate as a Conference delegate, and thank you for your time.