Director of Communications and Advocate Editor:
Madeline Pillow

Madeline Pillow started as editor of the Virginia United Methodist Advocate and News Associate working in the conference Communications office in June 2015. She was named conference Director of Communications in January 2017.

She is responsible for production of the conference monthly magazine, The Virginia United Methodist Advocate, in both its printed and digital formats as well as producing weekly Sunday Advocate bulletin inserts for local churches, the annual Book of Reports and assumes editorial responsibility and coordinates production of the Annual Conference Journal. She serves on the Annual Conference Minutes Committee, the Virginia United Methodist Credit Union Board and the Board of Communications. At Annual Conference, she produces The Daily Advocate, a daily print digest of news during Annual Conference sessions. Madeline also helps manage the conference’s social media presence and website content.

She graduated in May 2015 from American University in Washington, D.C., with a Master’s Degree in Creative Writing. She received a BA in English from Bridgewater College in May 2011 where she served as Editor-in-Chief of Veritas, the Bridgewater College newspaper, managing an editorial team, expanding the volunteer staff, implementing a brand campaign and helping develop new content for the re-brand.

Madeline has been an active member of The United Methodist Church her entire life and is granddaughter of the Rev. C. Douglas Pillow, Virginia Conference Elder who retired in 2013 after more than 55 years of active ministry. Her brother, Patrick Pillow, serves as associate pastor at Chester UMC, James River District.

An avid singer and bibliophile, Madeline is always looking for the next adventure around the corner.

You can reach Madeline at (804) 521-1113 or MadelinePillow@vaumc.org.

 


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The Bibles are covered
Wednesday, November 15, 2017

I find it fascinating to think back that, at one time, our access to information, let alone the Bible, was not always guaranteed.

When Martin Luther co-opted the printing press in order to mass produce the Bible, this action completely changed the former structure of power held by clergy in the church.

Prior to this the laity may have never even held a Bible, and it took precious time for a monk to painstakingly hand copy one copy of the Bible. Mass production of the Bible allowed knowledge of the Gospel
to become available to all.

It’s something that I hardly pay attention to as I can easily access several Bibles as I write—an archaeological Bible, a CEB version, a NIV version. I can also find an online version quickly.

Can you imagine not being able to maintain and learn more in your spiritual life whenever you wished? What if you had to wait until Sunday and depend on solely listening to your pastor to get the Word of God?
So at this point, we have the Bibles covered. Walk into any hotel room and you should also be able to grab a copy. What don’t we have covered?

Think about your local church — what commodity may not be accessible by all persons?

In today’s technology-rich society, it might take you a minute to come up with it.

What comes to my mind is the rich community that can be created through churches and Christian life. It can simply be knowing what it means to be in relationship with God.

So while the structure of traditional church may be changing, and changing in ways that you don’t agree with, today’s society requires us to meet new needs.

Some ways that I see churches trying to meet these needs is through the live streaming of services, providing online small groups and more.

But just like the proliferation of the Bible and the lack of trained spiritual guides to help with Scripture interpretation, so too do we have to analyze the things that we do to create community and to make sure it is real, authentic and is being the church.

Technology and looking at new ways to be the church provides us new opportunities to spread the Gospel. Are we finding and taking advantage of all those opportunities?

Until the next issue,
Madeline Pillow

Time to pause and reflect
Thursday, October 12, 2017

I find myself reflective this month. Now whether this will make for a coherent editorial this month, we shall see.

Mark Twain said, “Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect.”

In a time when quick information and small snippets of what someone said is the popular mode on which to base one’s opinion, we deny ourselves the longer and more meaningful process of reflection.

I see regular people, even our clergy, trying to make heads or tails or both of where we find ourselves as a country today, politically and morally.

Recently, I started watching Ken Burns’ new documentary on the Vietnam War. I haven’t gotten far into it yet, but my overwhelming sense so far is the number of times information or intel did not reach persons that it needed to, that there wasn’t adequate communication between groups, or there was little to no research into persons or different cultures.
It applies still. It’s something I’m trying to be mindful of. I find myself waking up in the morning now asking, “What’s happened already today?” I find myself wondering, “Can I stand to look at the news or look online for fear of more horrible events?” “Can I stand even looking at social media to see how much further my friends, family and acquaintances attack each other politically or morally?”

We should be asking ourselves basic questions especially in times of high fear, uncertainty and anger. We should be reflective: Do I have all the facts? Am I open to hearing other’s viewpoints and experiences? Am I loving toward people? Are my biases keeping me from hearing others? Do I understand this situation fully enough to have a strong opinion?
We can do real harm to people and situations when we act from places of little information or an unwillingness to love or learn from other people. In our positions, we have the influence to show others how to be Christian, how to love others. We have the opportunity to learn from past mistakes.

What is happening now wherever you look politically or morally is not working. And it’s because people are not willing to say they’re wrong, don’t have enough information or are unwilling to listen to others. We can work from a place of love to reach the places we need to be.

Are we willing to change ourselves through reflection of our own biases and positions to reach those places?

Good left to be done
Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Some months I feel that I have a lot to say. Other months not so much. What’s on my heart this month is something short but a meaningful reminder for our lives.

As I write this, it’s been just about a week since Hurricane Harvey began the terrible events we’ve seen and witnessed from Texas. In the midst of the horrifying damage and the long journey ahead toward recovery for the state and people of Texas, I’m reminded of the good.

We’ve seen and heard stories of humans being extraordinary in their goodness. From churches to individuals far and wide. It’s a reminder to us that while any number of bad things can happen, there is no limit to the amount of good we can do. Our smallest ounce of goodness can have far-reaching effects.

Check the conference website for continued updates for how you can help survivors in Hurricane Harvey. Currently what’s needed is UMCOR donations to “United States Disaster Response Advance #901670” or “Material Resources Advance #901440” or the creation of cleaning buckets.

There’s nothing stopping us from performing an exponential amount of good acts into the world in spite of the bad that arise.

After all, as United Methodists, it’s sort of part of our faith description.

Try a little empathy
Friday, August 18, 2017

I was driving to work one morning and I saw two birds in the road. One had been hit by a car and the other was standing over it. I drove past feeling bad and wondering about the emotions of that witness—that bird who was still alive trying to assess what had happened to the other. I’ve seen similar behavior with turkeys. It’s also something that crows are known to do. Researchers have studied this behavior, and while it could be somewhat of a funeral service for a dead bird, research also suggests it could be an investigation. These birds could be figuring out how the bird died to avoid a similar fate. Either way, I wish humans displayed more birdlike behavior. How often do we feel bad for someone and their situation and do nothing?

How often do we see something terrible in the news and think “how awful?” But we don’t do any investigation into the incident, why it happened or how it could be avoided.

Recently on our Facebook page, we shared the journey of the Rev. James Brigman from the North Carolina Conference who walked all the way from North Carolina to Washington D.C. to bring awareness to the
effects of Medicaid cuts to adults and children like his daughter Faith who is considered medically fragile and depends on 24-hour care.

As expected some negative comments showed up on our page. One commenter asked Brigman to have some respect for himself and go home and take care of his daughter. While I wasn’t surprised, I did wonder, are we no longer capable of being an empathetic people?

Empathy according to Merriam-Webster is “the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another of either the past or present without having the feelings, thoughts, and experience fully communicated in an objectively explicit manner.”

Personally I know very little about people who need Medicaid; Brigman’s journey and his daughter’s story helped explain how dependent the family is upon it. Without it, Brigman said he and his wife would not be able to keep their store running let alone keep his job as a pastor. Ultimately Brigman is acting as a witness for his daughter.

When we forget to practice empathy, we act as if we know it all—everyone’s personal story and struggles. In practicing empathy; however, we recognize we have not been in everyone else’s shoes. We
don’t know what certain things feel like. We don’t know it all.

That doesn’t mean we can’t question the veracity of stories or experiences. But today it seems more popular to immediately state that someone is wrong before hearing the whole story or after only hearing one side.

Empathy means listening to the whole story and more than one side. It also doesn’t mean being in agreement. But you can show love and compassion even to those with whom you disagree.

What a novel idea. Loving our neighbor. Wonder who said that?

From prayer to vision
Tuesday, July 18, 2017

“Vision is the art of seeing things invisible.”
--Jonathan Swift

I hope if you were not able to attend Annual Conference that you have viewed it through the archived live stream at https://livestream.com/VAUMC/AC2017. (Due to some Internet issues we encountered, every session is there except the Laity Session).

At the time of writing this, AC 2017 is two weeks in my rearview mirror but I’m still having a hard time articulating my feelings. It was that powerful. Bishop Lewis shared her vision for the conference with us: for the Virginia Conference to be Disciples of Jesus Christ who are lifelong learners who influence others to serve.

Bishop Lewis said this vision was a nine-month-long process as she held her “Chat and Chew” sessions with clergy and laity in our 16 districts. Ironically, over the last two months, I have been reading a book entitled Visioneering in my own journey of professional and personal growth. (Never stop learning!)

Through this book, I have been learning about vision-making, how dreamers differ from visionaries and how vision-making is a long process. In the book, author Andy Stanley shares that God is using your circumstances to position and prepare you. You have no idea how God is working behind the scenes of your life. “You don’t know how close you are to a breakthrough.”

This idea was highlighted for me when Bishop Lewis said during her Friday Episcopal Address, “Bishop Cho had you praying for four years. You didn't know he was preparing you for me!"

Part of what made Annual Conference so powerful was Bishop Lewis’ passion. I sensed her excitement of being there and being present. When she spoke, she was engaged, and when she walked off the podium to the floor of AC, it was because she wanted to be with her annual conference — she wanted to bring her vision to her sheep.

She was the shepherd who was going to find the one sheep who especially needed to hear her words. During one of the altar calls, she stated that she felt there were still some people who needed to come forward.

In the Book of Nehemiah, Nehemiah’s vision started as a concern, which author Andy Stanley shares in his book is how a vision starts. As Stanley said, “Every significant nonprofit organization that has positively impacted this world began with a brokenhearted leader.”

Bishop Lewis has a heart and a concern for disciple-making in our world today. If you missed her passion and heart for this conference after barely a year, then you weren’t/haven’t been paying attention.

Over the next few years, my office will be helping to share resources and the bishop’s vision with our conference. My hope and prayer is that you take an active role in joining Bishop Lewis and her vision.

In deep blue waters
Sunday, June 18, 2017



Stephen Jones was homeless. Sleeping near England’s Manchester Arena on the night of May 22, he was awakened by the sound of a blast and screams.

What followed the terror attack at an Ariana Grande concert was concert goers fleeing from the stadium, hurt, trying to get some¬where safe. It was then that Jones came to their aid, removing things like glass from the survivors’ faces and arms.

Hours later he would tell a reporter, “Just because I’m homeless doesn’t mean that I haven’t got a heart and I’m not human still. They need the help. I’d like to think that someone would come and help me if I needed the help.”

His story was shared quickly around the world which led to an on¬line fundraiser to give him housing. A chairman with a London soccer team tracked him down to give him six month’s rent and provide an opportunity to help find him work.

In Psalm 107: 23-24, we read: “Some went out on the sea in ships; they were merchants on the mighty waters. They saw the works of the Lord, his wonderful deeds in the deep.”

Unfortunately, the violence we saw at the Manchester Arena is becoming all too familiar. As wave upon wave of horrible news falls on us, we run the risk of becoming numb.

But in the midst of some deep, blue, frigid water, Stephen Jones ran into the middle of horror to help. He aided when he could have run the other way. He brought meaning to the verse above because it is in deep waters that God does miracles through ordinary people.

And Stephen did none of this for recognition. He has stated that the kind words were good enough for him. He felt it was a chance to counterbalance the things in his life, like being imprisoned and his prior drug use that he was trying to move away from.

With every day and every new bit of bad news, we run the risk of becoming numb to it all. We run the risk of shutting ourselves up to the outside word.

We are in some deep waters in our world right now. Will you trust God in the deep waters or will they overtake you and your faith?

Taking a break
Tuesday, May 16, 2017

I’ll be honest, folks, trying to write my editorial this month was hard. It wasn’t writer’s block or a fatigue of the written word, so I took a moment to process.

I’ve been learning recently that it’s good to check in with yourself for self-care purposes. It’s good to take sanity breaks. It’s okay to have days where your productivity is nonexistent and you can’t focus.

When we find ourselves in these places, we need to take notice and try something else. Give yourself room to take a break. Find a day for yourself. Whatever you need.

So maybe I’m overwhelmed by our world right now, our politics or the onslaught of stories of hate in the world. Maybe it’s because it’s Annual Conference crunch time!

But I know what to do. I have to try something different.

So for this month’s editorial, I would like to share one of my top Bible verses that has seen me through some trying times. I pray peace for you today and this month. I hope you will take time for yourself in your stressful and busy moments. Take a breath.

You have searched me, Lord, and you know me.
You know when I sit and when I rise;
you perceive my thoughts from afar.
You discern my going out and my lying down;
you are familiar with all my ways.
Before a word is on my tongue you, Lord, know it completely.
You hem me in behind and before, and you lay your hand upon me.  
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain.
Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast. If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me
and the light become night around me,” even the darkness will not be dark to you;
the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you.
For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful, I know that full well.
My frame was not hidden from you
when I was made in the secret place,
when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.
How precious to me are your thoughts, God!
How vast is the sum of them!
Were I to count them they would outnumber the grains of sand— when I awake, I am still with you.
--Psalm 139:1-18

Taking pointers from opossums
Monday, April 17, 2017

Opossums are the only North American marsupial, carrying their young in an external pouch after birth.

Opossums walked the earth with dinosaurs over 70 million years ago.

They are beneficial to eliminate rodents, snakes, insects and carrion; they are known as groundskeepers. Opossums have partial or total immunity to the venom found in snakes such as rattlesnakes and cottonmouths.

It is extremely rare for an opossum to contract rabies and it is uncertain what role, if any, they may have in carrying diseases of concern to humans.

When left alone, the opossum does not attack pets or wildlife, spread disease, chew through wires or dig through your garden.

The opossum has opposable "thumbs." Primates and opossums are the only mammals with opposable first toes.

Now you may be asking, “Madeline, while I find these opossum facts quite interesting, why are you sharing them with us?” The answer to that is opossums can teach us something about communication which is the feature for this month’s Virginia Advocate.

I think we can agree that it is through knowledge, whether learned ourselves or shared by others, that we make decisions. Now in thinking about opossums as a species, what are some of your inherent beliefs about them? What were you taught to believe or facts that you know?

Now I don’t really remember learning about opossums specifically in school, but I heard people say they carried rabies and they hung out in trashcans.

In the last several years, I have seen concerted efforts by many groups to better communicate to the public true facts about these creatures. Some of them are listed above.
I don’t know that there is a consensus yet about how this effort to educate the public is having an effect on the opossum species, but I am a firm believer that education can curb harmful behavior and behavior assumed because of fear.

Don’t let anyone ever tell you that communication is not important. I tell participants in my training sessions often that if a church is doing great mission, but not communicating that to anyone, it’s almost as if it’s not happening. If a local church takes the time to share news and events with their congregations and outside communities: 1. the outside community gains a larger awareness of their church, and 2. there also may be a jump in participation from individuals and community partners to 3. an increase in
aid and giving.

I also have another reason that communication is so valuable. As a united body in Christ, we are united in that Spirit, but we are unique individuals. This means different perspectives. No matter what we are doing whether in our church roles or in other professions and in our personal lives, if we are not clearly communicating to each other we cannot be sure that we have a shared understanding of meaning.

As we continue our ministries in an age of changing technologies, the ways in which we communicate are important for us to analyze and constantly reevaluate to consider our effective in mission and ministry.

Until our next issue,
Madeline Pillow

A season of learning
Friday, March 10, 2017

The season of Lent will be in full swing by the time the April Advocate is off to print and into your hands. It is personally my favorite because it is a season that lasts. I feel that there is enough time to learn lessons, push yourself and find some way to grow.

It’s a season where we usually give something up, but it is also a time where we can add something to reflect on and ponder what it means that we are dust and to that we shall return.

Lent is a time of repentance in preparation for the coming of Easter.

Wouldn’t it be interesting this season as Christians to deny ourselves. I’m not talking about denying ourselves sweets or meat (which may really work in self-reflection, in which case I applaud you!), but I mean to deny our self.

What if this season we used this time to learn more about those we don’t know? What if we read books about those from different races and creeds than ourselves?

What if we found a way whether through our churches or local organizations to be in ministry with those who are different? What if we think of things that scare us and do them throughout the season whether that’s talking to the homeless you encounter or trusting in the path God has given you even if you can’t see the path in front of you?

There are plenty of ways to deny ourselves this Lent, but let’s also for the sake of our world and for its transformation see what denying our normal self can do.

The Stranger
Friday, February 10, 2017

I think in the months to come there will be a lot of soul searching and identity crises with the election of President Trump, as his election has been both lauded and denounced by equally vocal sides of our nation and even now as he moves ahead on promises made in his campaign. 

This election has highlighted divides against Trump supporters, liberals, immigrants...and the list goes on and on. 

The news coverage and our current society has made me think often of this Bible passage: 
“For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty 
and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not 
invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick 
and in prison and you did not look after me.’
“They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’
“He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’ 
Matthew25:42-45

What Jesus called us to and still calls us to is radical love (see above). Nothing about his ministry was safe — remember his death, think about the ministry of Peter and of Paul. Our faith is covered with the bodies of martyrs — of blood given in God’s name — scenes of fire and blood and death. 

Maybe we as Christians need a reminder in radical love. As 21st century people of faith, are we willing to sacrifice and enter the life of the stranger? But no, God couldn’t be calling us to that kind of faith. Why would he call us into the fear, uncertainty and uncomfortableness of a radical faith? Best to leave that to the prophets, to the Peters and Pauls. 

Radical love is not easy. In Paul’s case, it didn’t always offer the best accommodations (see; jail cells). But in this world, in this political climate, it is time to be church. It’s time to welcome the stranger.

I would caution us from becoming Christians who close themselves off. After all, what purpose is a Christian who has boundaries? What good is a heart for God that is only willing to be faithful so long as the journey is easy, safe and clear? The world is looking at those of faith and finding us wanting. Believe me, that makes me take pause when a secular world is wondering about our morality — and that should make us all take pause. I implore Christians to a radical direction that will lead you past your politics. No matter who you are or your political affiliation, there is a stranger to be welcomed. That stranger, as Jesus says in Matthew 25, is also him. Will you open the door?

Finding Plenty
Wednesday, January 11, 2017

One of the conference’s pastors recently shared on Facebook, a great passage from the book, Reasons to Stay Alive by Matt Haig. 

While the book is a memoir about a major depressive disorder, I think it can also speak to people in other places in our society. Haig talks about how the world is designed to depress because as he says, “happiness isn’t good for the economy.”

He goes on to say, “If we were happy with what we had, why would we need more? How do you sell anti-ageing moisturizers? You make someone worry about ageing. How do you get them to buy insurance? By making them worry about everything.”

Haig mentions that being calm and being happy with what you have becomes a revolutionary act. This is very accurate when I think about how products are marketed toward society and the emphasis on buying goods.

Anyone who knows me knows that I have a slight addiction to the website Wayfair which claims, “Wayfair, you have just what I need.” And yes, in my case, this claim is true.What worries me though is when I try to fill holes within myself with the perfect pillow for my living room couch or that vintage inspired bread holder for my kitchen. The initial thrill of hitting the purchase button and then opening the box to place it in my space is soon dampened by the need for something else. “Oh, the new bread holder has made me realize I need…”

Fill in the gap.

It makes me wonder if I had an infinite amount of money to create the perfect apartment, would I feel the hole inside me fill? Would it somehow magically disappear?

Our lives are comprised of these holes, of trying to find ways to fill them in whatever ways we think will help. But those holes never fill because we are using sub-par material. The real fix is on a harder and longer path. It will require all of our attention, skills and heart. It will require us to be vulnerable, uncomfortable and afraid. It will not always have a pat on the back or a gold star at the end of the day, making us take comfort in our decision.

Philippians 4:12 tells us, “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.”

I want to challenge myself in the coming year to know what plenty feels like. To find it in the non-material places, to find it in people, places and experiences.

Here’s to 2017. To helping each other, no matter clergy or laity, to finding plenty. Let’s put into practice finding plenty in things with substance.

 

 

Try a little kindness
Tuesday, December 20, 2016

There was a picture that I came across on the Internet a few months ago that has stuck with me. The picture was of a simple message board and it said, “Be the person who you needed when you were younger.” I reposted it and I was shocked by the response I received from it: people sharing stories about how it was something they needed to hear, others agreeing with the statement.

 I guess I shouldn’t be so shocked. If age has taught me anything it's that life’s lessons as well as God’s messages will keep hitting you over the head until you finally smack your head and understand how the whole thing has been puzzle pieces fitting together.

What I responded to so strongly with that statement was thinking about my younger self. Thinking back to the times of hurt, of loneliness, of insecurity and fear.

I look back on that girl and I want to give her a hug. I want to remind her to keep her head up and to keep pushing. To see in her eyes that she believes me when I say this will only last so long, that it will pass.Now I’m lucky in friendships and family. I have always had those people in my corner who never let me give up and who believed in me and told me to silence the disbelievers.

But, nonetheless, no matter if we had that support or not, our experiences and feelings have shaped us. They have created and informed who we are today.

Try a little kindness.

What I am still reflecting on when I think about the above statement is about kindness. I have always tried to be kind whenever possible. Being kind makes me happy and most of the time I see no reason to veer from that path. Even in a heated exchange, I’ve always felt better afterwards if I kept to the path of kindness.

If we all think back to our younger selves, I would think we want to be kind to those people. We want them to know we are emphatic and understand.

Today, and for much of my entire life, kindness feels like an act that gets a bad rap. It’s seen as weak or naïve. It’s something to use against someone. It makes you less powerful.I don’t view it that way at all. I view it as a strength and, if you wield it for the right purposes, it has enormous power.

I wonder if we all tried to view others around us as their younger selves if we might not also lean more towards kindness, wanting to understanding.

If I can encourage anything in such a time as this, in a new year, I would ask for kindness. I would ask that people view it as a strength, with an enormous power that could affect those around you in the most beautiful and far-reaching ways possible.

Until our next issue,

 

 

Such a small thing
Monday, October 24, 2016

I want you to try something with me.

Look at your hands.

We’ve all done it before — looked at our fingerprints, wondered about how ours are unique from every other person’s.

Fingerprints are formed in the mother’s womb, when developing babies touch around their surroundings. The pressure of this action creates what is known as “friction ridges” that stay with us through the rest of our lives. Scientists don’t know exactly when they form — sometime around the 10th week, and they are completed by the end of the fourth month.
Such a tiny little thing. A part of your mother. A part of your Creator. “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.” (Psalm 139:13, NIV)

These tiny little things, this small detail is just another connection to the Creator who imagined and formed us. In our society, these markers identify us as individuals, especially in a court of law.

At the recent 5 Talent Academy event, keynote speaker Andy Crouch called those assembled to remember their role as imagebearers of Christ and to also, as leaders, allow others around them to live into their roles as image-bearers.Now more than ever, we need to be image-bearers. We need to be the “right” kind of Christians: loving, nonjudgmental and light-bearing.

The squabbling for supposed power in our churches, issues between pastors and committees and the calls for society to meet our “standards” are just holding us back.
While our fingerprints remind us of our individuality, they are also visual reminders of a creative, innovative and all-encompassing God who made us in similar likeness.

Shouldn’t they remind us that we are called to something greater? Greater than pettiness, church politics and the exhausting need to be right? Wouldn’t we rather call all (and I mean all people) to their fullest and most wonderful selves?

Bear your light. We are not called to the same course of life, and we are not called to an exclusive “church club.”

Our church is around us, and we are image-bearers wherever we go. 

Fingerprints. Such a little reminder that our purpose and mission is so much bigger than where our focus usually is. Be where God has placed you to be an image, to emulate what we really believe.

 

 

Over our heads
Tuesday, September 20, 2016

I was recently doing research and I came across a great thought: If someone from the 1950s suddenly appeared today, what would be the most difficult thing to explain about life now? 

One possible answer: I possess a device, in my pocket, that is ca¬pable of accessing the entirety of information known to humans, and I use it to look at pictures of cats and argue with strangers. 

Imagine the dreams of people centuries ago who looked to the stars and wondered, who stared out at the oceans and wanted to know what was beyond. It’s a sobering thought that we might not be using the gifts, graces and knowledge available to us to surge us ahead, to open up the world for the next generation of dreamers. 

That’s what happens with burnout as well. It’s too easy to get bogged down in stress and to take our attention away from the significant in our lives like investing in ourselves, our families and our ministries. 

I often try to remind myself of enjoying the small moments, the important moments. In years to come, I won’t remember the board meeting that I was stressed about. I will remember the special dinner where I celebrated my mother’s birthday with family. 

As Maya Angelou said, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” 
When we invest into ourselves, families and our ministries, we affect people. We have impact. 
By maintaining the important things and my stress, I make a better impact. And I would rather be known for having a positive impact than being a ball full of stress that brings down someone in their ministry or negatively affects change they are attempting in their lives. 
Don’t let the significant go over your head. Don’t miss the chance to have impact.

Wish you were here
Tuesday, August 23, 2016

I wish the entire Virginia Conference could have been at Southeastern Jurisdictional Conference... specifically when the Rev. Sharma Lewis was elected on the first ballot, when she was assigned to Virginia and when the Virginia delegation and guests welcomed her to Virginia with an ice cream social. Her election was a historic one —whether it had been on the first ballot or not. But because it was on the first ballot, it made that experience much more affirming about the state of the Southeastern jurisdiction (SEJ). 

Going into the conference, I was fairly sure Bishop Lewis would be elected. I heard her speak at General Conference and had read about her on the SEJ website. She seemed strong, capable and assured in her ministry.

Sitting with my coworkers Linda Rhodes and Nick Ruxton in the press room, there was an initial silence after the announcement (a pronounced change from the usual when you get a bunch of commu-nicators together in a room).

We were definitely not expecting it. I looked around the room for verification. Had I heard right? There was an election? 

Bishop Lewis spoke with such eloquence following her election; her quotes quickly filled articles around the denomination with historic words for a historic moment. It says a lot about her character that in that moment she spoke about the women who had come before her and about the men who supported women clergy. 

I wish you could have been there when we all waited expectantly to learn who would be assigned to Virginia. At the front of the stage with my other communicators, we all perched back on our heels waiting to swoop in for the perfect shot of the bishop assigned to us. 

It was one of those moments where I found it hard to both do my job and be United Methodist. 

The Virginia delegation erupted with applause and joy when Bishop Lewis’ name was announced. I had to remind myself not to jump in excitement in order to take pictures of our jumping delegation. 

I wish you could have heard the screams of happiness when Bishop Lewis entered the room at the ice cream social and seen some of our women clergy dance, and I mean dance, around. 

I look forward to seeing more of this joy as our entire conference gets to know Bishop Lewis and envision where this joy can take us.

Big Shoes
Thursday, July 28, 2016


Big shoes

I don’t know who will follow in Bishop Cho’s footsteps, but somebody has to. People say this often and flippantly, but I mean it—big shoes to fill.

I think everybody has their own “Bishop Cho” story or maybe even multiple. He is just one of those people who inspires goodness and mirrors holiness in a time when it is harder and harder to be holy let alone know how to live it.

Personally, Bishop Cho has gone from someone I would just hear about at the local church level, a figurehead, to a real person who has affected my spiritual life in just a year.

I guess I have my own Bishop Cho stories that I will carry with me. But probably my favorite was during my first week at the conference office. I was walking back to the kitchen as the bishop walked up the front hall steps. I smiled as we greeted one another, and I heard him say my name.

He continued up the stairs but I was frozen at a stop. He knew my name, and I had only been at the office for a few days. This may not seem like much, but for someone so busy and meeting new people each and every day, it’s a lot. I know many people who rarely take time to do such a small act with such a big impact.

But that’s who the bishop is. He is personable. He is genuine. His care and concern are not forced.

I know we are all praying as we get closer to the Southeastern Jurisdictional Conference when our episcopal leaders are assigned as bishops. We are waiting for our next figurehead.

I pray, too, for this new leader who will guide our conference. But I also take time to remember Bishop Cho and the tremendous impact he has had on our conference through his quiet, passionate ministry.

To Bishop Cho, thank you for leaving such large footsteps behind. It makes our journey that much harder to carry on, but it's a great reminder of what can and should be accomplished.

It is Well with My Soul
Tuesday, July 05, 2016

In the middle of the second week of General Conference, at a daily morning prayer service of the Virginia delegation, Pete Geoffrion, clergy in the Charlottesville district and Spiritual Director at General Conference, asked some of the delegates, “How is it with your soul today?”

I don’t know about my readers’ knowledge of hymnal history but the song, “It is Well with My Soul” is about a trial of the spirit and the giving in to God whether in peace or trials.

Horatio Spafford was a Presbyterian layman from Chicago. After the family experienced financial misfortune and the death of a son, Spafford planned a trip to Europe for his wife and four daughters. But with some last minute business matters arising, Spafford sent his family ahead and he was to follow behind in a few days.

But during the family’s voyage, the ship carrying Spafford’s wife and daughters was struck by another vessel and sank. Days later the survivors made their way to Cardiff, Wales. The lone survivor from the Spafford family was Horatio’s wife. She cabled back to her husband, “Saved alone.”

Spafford wrote this hymn on his voyage across to England in the spot where the ship carrying his family was believed to have sunk (Discipleship Ministries).

When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like a sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say,
It is well, it is well with my soul.

Having made it through General Conference and being there first hand, I found myself thinking often about this hymn.

It was written from a place of loss yet gain.

There is still division within our church after General Conference especially with the human sexuality debate. On both sides there is a feeling of hurt: a hurt from being shunned in the past or the hurt from being cut from the future of the church.

But it is about learning to wade into the midst of the division and waiting with assurance for God moments.

Is this where God needs us to be? Do we need to be this broken, angry and hurt in order to find the way out without acting upon that which we think is best?

In the middle of the debris, can’t we find that IT is still well with our souls?

Until our next issue,

General Conference: The world in one room
Thursday, May 12, 2016

“Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn.”
Benjamin Franklin

As a local church member, I never felt as connected to the larger, global church as I do in my current position. Instead, I was extremely connected to my church family with our district superintendent serving as our connection to everything outside those walls.

Last year, when I started as Advocate editor, I attended Annual Conference for the first time as a United Methodist. By beginning my job in the month of June, I entered at a time when activity in the conference office was very similar to that of a frenzied beehive.

It was “learn as you go,” which I very much enjoy. Witnessing the voting procedure, presentation of petitions and resolutions and, overall, the coming together of United Methodists worshipping and praising God, I saw more of the church that I claim as my own.

I find myself in a similar position here at General Conference.

Singers and musicians lead singing during opening worship at 2016 General Conference in Portland, Ore. Photo by Paul Jeffrey, UMNS.

At opening worship on Monday, May 10, I was amazed and warmed by the number of people gathered here in Oregon for the same purpose.

General Conference worship was something I had never experienced before. Voices raised in many different languages, not just in music but also in prayer, was a beautiful clunk to my head, once and for all reminding me that The United Methodist Church is a global one.

I grew up in a region where any shift in style of worship arts or language has been done with dragging heels and hollow hearts. Sometimes as inclusive as we want to be, change can feel like taking away a piece of our own identity. It can be hard.

But maybe resisting change is also refusing to admit who the church really is.

I added the Benjamin Franklin quote above because I think it speaks to where our church, especially in the Virginia Conference, needs to be. We can say over and over again that we are a global church, but that won’t make people believe it or feel it.

Virginia Conference churches need to be involved in the global church. Local churches in the Virginia Conference need to be in connection with this larger church made up of diverse people, different experiences and a variety of languages.

If we are involved, from there we will learn.

If you missed General Conference opening worship, go check it out at this link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EU9EvP5-bts.

'God equips the called.'
Thursday, May 12, 2016

“God doesn’t call the equipped, God equips the called.”

I was really shy growing up. The kind of shy that had me running behind my mom every time I saw a stranger — or the organist at my church.

Joel was a young guy who was both the organist and choir director at Amelon UMC in Madison Heights.

At a Wednesday night dinner, I peeked around my mom at Joel and heard them talking about singing lessons. I had no idea what singing at home in my hairbrush had to do with him.
Now my mom was never one to push me into anything just to rid me of my shyness, but I guess she figured we could start small.

It became a first for Joel and me: he had never given voice lessons, and I did not understand the concept of voice lessons.

At first those weekly lessons were terrifying. But through Joel’s humor (blonde jokes were his specialty) and the wonderful music (especially of Broadway) that he introduced me to, it became something really special.

When Joel talked to my mom about me offering a solo during church service, she was wary. But I was adamant and ready. Looking back, it still shocks me how quickly fear had turned into strength.

What led to the first of many solos, roles in musicals, plays and more, was the first time I realized I had confidence in something — that I trusted myself to be skilled in something.
It was later in middle school, during an award ceremony for achievements, that I learned something else about myself. When I won an award, what was impressed upon me more than the award was what my teacher said about me while presenting. She said I had a “quiet strength.”

It was between these two events that I realized leadership doesn’t always look like I imagined with people who are naturally outspoken, secure and ready to lead the charge.

Then and now, I realize that I had the confidence to be a leader on my own terms.
In the Virginia Conference, developing leaders for ministry is integral to the future of the church. Programs like Calling 21, which is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year, is a way for young people to explore their call and understand, just like I did, that their minis¬tries and leadership can look different in a number of ways.

It’s a good and hard reminder that God doesn’t call us when we have everything figured out: neat and tidy. God calls us and gives us the tools along the way.

God hasn’t created one direction for leadership — God has many kinds for a variety of purposes.

Worth
Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Our society is very driven by fame, success and the beautiful people.

Our celebrities, who contain all of these qualities, are more accessible than ever. Hop onto Instagram and you can catch what the “hottest” celeb is doing on their vacation. Check out their latest spread in OK! Magazine or tune into E! News tonight to learn a celebrity’s secret on how they got back their pre-baby body in two weeks.
 
Now I won’t lie. I’ve got my list of “celebrities” who I think are interesting or wonderful actors and stop to read articles about them when I see them (RIP Alan Rickman).

But in this celebrity-focused world, I have yet to find one that makes me stop whatever I am doing and follow their every movement. I have yet to find one that makes me say I would “die” to meet them. I might really, really enjoy meeting them but not pass away over it. 

I have yet to find one that makes me base my worth up against theirs. And that’s one problem I have with our created culture. Celebrities are dangerous illusions. A line from a good movie sums it up, “Illusions are dangerous people. They have no flaws.” (“Sabrina”, 1995)

And they don’t. They are perfection. They are beautiful, successful, charismatic, caring, good people. And in our culture, when we lift people onto pedestals, we are forgetting that we are all the same fundamentally.

We are all made of the same stuff. We will all return to dust. And there’s where I find the challenge and the beauty of humans.

While some of us start richer, or more attractive or more charismatic, that holds no flame to the dreams we can have, the goals we can achieve or the impact we can have on people and the world around us.

It’s all about worth. What do you think you are worth?

I believe in the cost that Christ paid for me, the worth he placed in freeing me of the burden of sin, of his promises for my life. When you stop bettering yourself or taking that leap of faith because of comparisons to others, you are telling yourself that you aren’t worth it.

When we surround ourselves with a culture so focused on looks and material wealth, we are setting ourselves up to doubt our own worth, especially if it doesn’t match what we see in society.

It can be a daily struggle when we compare ourselves to others, celebrities included. But in the end, we are all the same. All the same cracked, flawed beings trying to figure it out.

Something that can be a good refresher is a break from social media or entertainment news (guilty pleasure). When you stop finding and defining your worth within society, you remember where you should really be looking for it.

Here’s to celebrating your worth,

 

Being right or doing the right thing
Friday, March 18, 2016

Kirk Nave, senior pastor of Braddock Street UMC in Winchester, wrote a moving blog about the death of an African-American man on March 1. With an investigation now being conducted, it still isn’t clear if it was suicide or if he was shot by police. This led to peaceful protests and, more negatively, an incident of racial targeting at neighboring Shenandoah University. 

In his blog, Nave said, “Black lives matter is a statement that needs to be affirmed until we have rebuilt trust in one another.” These words gave me pause because of their stark truth. 

Forming in 2012, the Black Lives Matter movement has united and divided people. When I first heard the name, I asked myself, “Don’t all lives matter?” Even in recent weeks, many people all over the Internet are still divided over the message of this group. Some even stating that it is adding to the racial divide in America. Alicia Garza, a founding member of the movement, says the hashtag that started it all is not meant as a divide. “We’re not saying Black lives are more important than other lives, or that other lives are not criminalized and oppressed in various ways.  We remain in active solidarity with all oppressed people who are fighting for their liberation, and we know that our destinies are intertwined.” 

Amongst all of this dialogue, I finally felt the click of understanding.  As humans there is something innate in the way we interact that becomes a contest about who is right at the expense of others. The ultimate grown-up edition of “I win.” But, in the end, is it really worth it to be right rather than do the right thing?

Yes, ALL lives do matter! It’s a shame we have to say it. But if we continually shout that over the heads of the Black Lives Matter movement what we lose is acknowledgement. Who are we to deny people who feel pain and hurt caused by this society? If we, as Christians, have faith in a God who reaches the lost, the least and the last, then what we do on this earth should reflect that belief. In this case, noticing that something is wrong. As a white person, in this country, I haven’t had to experience prejudice because of my race. This doesn’t come from a place of “white shame” but from a place of simple truth. So if I keep rolling my eyes and saying, “All lives matter” and covering my ears to others saying “Black lives matter,” I am failing to hear the experience of other people, other Americans, other followers of faith. For the black community today in many places, there is still widespread racism, prejudice and violence. Even if we would like to believe we have improved since the days of the Civil War (I know I do) we can’t pretend that we don’t have more improving to do.  

Acknowledging that Black lives matter, isn’t a slight against other races, it’s the recognition, the opening of our ears to experiences that we may not be aware of—as painful as that can be. Maybe if we try to stop keeping score or feeling as if it is one race against another, it could simply be one race for another, as Kirk Nave said, until trust is rebuilt once more. 

 

 

Missing the Landmarks
Wednesday, February 17, 2016

“I have to try, but I do not have to succeed. Following Christ has nothing to do with success as the world sees it. It has to do with love.” — Madeleine L’Engle, Walking on Water 

At the end of January, I, along with our Communications director and videographer, traveled to Portland, Ore., for the United Methodist Association of Communicators meeting as well as the Pre-General Conference Briefing. It was a good time to meet people in the communications industry, learn more about what to expect at General Conference and  explore Portland. 

I admit that in planning for this trip, I knew that visiting Voodoo Doughnut was high on the priority list. But I also wanted to go where the locals were, to see the places they have carved out for themselves. Something I wasn’t prepared for were the number of homeless that we saw on the streets. 

In talking with a pastor from the Pacific Northwest Conference, she said that this is due in part to the lack of churches and shelters in the city. But it is also because Portland is a large hub for victims of human trafficking. 

Clutching my bag of doughnuts (you can’t have just one) and being asked by person after person for money, I told myself not to forget the faces. There’s a part of me that wants to. The part that wants to pretend that we don’t live in a world where people are homeless, hungry and taken against their will. The part that reminds me that no matter where I am, there is hurt all around. 

But it’s true. It’s such a common way of life for many people that it seems too overwhelming to resolve. In 2014, Seattle, Wash.; Los Angeles, Calif.; and Portland each declared a state of emergency in terms of homelessness. According to the Portland Housing Bureau, around 4,000 persons spend the night in shelters or on the street every night. And while I’m left with the sweet thought of doughnuts in Portland or the great food and fellowship we experienced, I also brought back other landmarks. For me these landmarks weren’t just statues. They are real people. People living in tents under bridges or standing on street corners by food trucks with their children and pets. 

It makes me think about my own, relatively new home of Richmond. What people and situations do I pass by on a regular basis because I just get used to their presence? What do visitors who come to the city see as landmarks that maybe aren’t so pretty?

This is present in every town and city, state and country. Things we think are too big to overcome or we don’t know how we can help, or we’re tired and just trying to make it through the day or our problems are about all we can deal with. So it’s not just a problem for Portland. I saw homeless persons every day when I lived in D.C. and now in Richmond. But, sometimes, by going to see the “sights” in another city, I see the true landmarks of city landscapes that we may forget about. 

Here’s to not missing the landmarks but finding a way to meet them head-on. 

Until our next issue, 


 

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