Nick and Laura Ruxton

Conference Videographer:

Nick Ruxton

Award-winning videographer Nick Ruxton joined the Virginia Conference staff in October 2014. In his role, he is responsible for creating and sharing videos about conference, district and local church activities throughout the Virginia Annual Conference.

 A graduate of Shenandoah University's Class of 2014, Nick majored in Mass Communication, with a Certificate in the Faith Seeking Justice Christian Leadership Program (formerly known as the JustFaith Christian Leadership Program), and a concentration in Outdoor Leadership and Education. He is a member of Omicron Delta Kappa National Leadership Honor Society.

Nick is Shenandoah University's Class of 2014 recipient of the Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award, which recognizes one male student who has exemplified excellence in character and service to humanity. 

Nick was born and raised in Chesterfield, Va., and is a member of Boulevard UMC. He has served both his local church and the district in a variety of roles. 

Stand-up paddleboarding, mission work, adventures with his wife Laura, food, family and his Newfoundland dog Izzy, are just a few of the things Nick is most passionate about. 

Nick Ruxton can be reached for video inquiries, an encouraging word or a good joke at (804) 521-1112 or

RSS Feed
Through the lens of a General Conference communicator

With General Conference behind us and Annual Conference quickly approaching, I have not fully reflected on what happened in St. Louis. I have never been in an environment where the tension was so high that it seemed to thicken the air. 

Generally, when I am covering an event, most of my attention is on capturing the perfect shot or framing a video and not focusing on what is happening on stage. This conference was different. I knew this conference would forever change the church I was raised in and love dearly. While trying to focus and doing my job to the fullest, I felt myself forgetting why I was there and paying more attention to the speakers. 

A communicator from South Carolina, Matt Brodie, said it perfectly the day following General Conference. Communicators could hide behind their cameras or computers while the conference was happening. It was only after the event, when we were editing our content, that we fully reflected and felt the effects. I cannot tell you how true this statement is. 

  Picture of Nick Ruxton taken by Matt Brodie.

I have found myself working through photos from St. Louis and reflecting on the Special Called General Conference. The photos show the pain of the LGBTQIA+ community during protests. The photos show the determination of delegates trying to work through legislation. They also show a sense of unity when all came to the center to pray before voting. Each photo tells a story that I can vividly remember. The aftermath of General Conference has left mixed emotions. Some churches around the world held services of thanksgiving and praise because of the results. Other churches felt like hospitals after a disaster with pastors doing triage care. 

As a communicator, our work involving this General Conference is far from over. While others may move on and forget the events, we will still be covering this major event in church history. During the upcoming days and months, I will keep reminding myself that I grew up in a church of love. No matter what happens in the upcoming months, it is important to remember that we are better together. 

Capture each moment,

Through the lens of an Aspiring Encourager

Author J. K. Rowling once said, “Words are, in my not-so-humble opinion, our most inexhaustible source of magic. Capable of both inflicting injury, and remedying it.”

Recently, I have started to consider more closely how I talk to others and the words I choose to use. As J.K. Rowling said in the quote above, the words we use on a daily basis can either cause injury or bring healing to others. In a society where we are inundated with news reports about a person’s words injuring their reputation, their credibility, or even worse, another person’s reputation or credibility, we should seriously consider how we can provide words of remedy.

The small group that my wife, Laura, and I lead has been studying courage in the Bible and in our daily life over the last few weeks. Our latest discussion caused us to reflect on encouragement as ministry — is encouragement part of what we are called to do as Christians? 

The group considered times when it was easy to encourage but also situations and conversations where it takes some courage to have tough conversations of encouragement. We mentioned how choosing our words and tone of voice during the tough conversations is also important. When encouragement has to be given through tough love, it is important to remember it is possible to have a hard conversation using life-giving words. We must make sure that words of encouragement and building up are the focus and not words that will tear down.

Ephesians 4:29 says, “Let no unwholesome word proceed out of your mouth, but only that which is good for building up, that it may give grace to the listeners.” 

I encourage you to reflect on this Scripture. How can we have the courage to use words that build up individuals around us instead inflicting injury during tough situations? What would the world around us would look like?

Capture each moment,


Unplugging during the Christmas season

With 2018 behind us, many are reflective of the past year while eagerly waiting to see what 2019 has in store. I use this time of year to set goals (not resolutions) for the upcoming year. They may be as simple as trying a new recipe once a month to something requiring a little more motivation like running a 5K. I will keep you updated on my progress on both of those goals! 

At the end of 2018, I put a special focus on resting and recharging during the holidays.  Knowing that in the next six months I will be assisting Madeline Pillow to report on the Special Session of General Conference and preparing for Annual Conference, I knew I needed to take some time off – really off.

The Christmas holiday season is one of my favorite times of the year. I spend ample time with those I love and eat my body weight in delicious dishes. Laura and I get to create new family traditions while carrying on those that were shared with us as kids. This year, while on vacation, I tried something different. Instead of keeping my work and email notifications on my phone, I turned them all off. I promised myself that I would check everything once a day right before I went to sleep. It was very refreshing to silence my phone and focus on what is most important, celebrating the birth of our Savior, and spending quality time with family and friends. During the holiday season, I visited family I had not seen for months and some since last Christmas. We were able to enjoy each other’s company and celebrate the season without the noise of a phone.  Having this time with everyone helped me realize how blessed I truly am and how supportive my family is of my work. 

After having the week off, I feel rejuvenated and ready to tackle this busy season of work. How did you spend the holiday season? Were you able to unplug from work and enjoy those around you? I would love to hear how you recharge and get ready for a busy season in your life.

Capture each moment.

Through the lens of a thankful person


   Nick's Granddaddy Charlie Ruxton

This is the time of year where we are encouraged to reflect on everything we are thankful for.  While most years I find myself grateful for many of the same things – God’s sufficient grace, my family, friends, and the many gifts I am given daily – there are two things I am especially thankful for this season:  the life and legacy of my Granddaddy, Charlie, and for a renewed sense of community.

About a month ago, my grandfather passed away. He taught me many valuable life lessons that I will always carry with me. He showed me the importance of family and taught me how to treat people all by his example.

  Nick and family.

Granddaddy also taught me about the finer things in life like desserts. From homemade ice cream to my grandma’s fresh apple pie, there is always room for dessert and you always need a sample.

Anytime I saw him I would say, “Granddaddy, it’s great to see you!” His reply was always the same, “Shug, it’s great to see anyone!” He helped shape me into the person I am today. I am truly blessed and thankful for his life and the impact he made on so many people.

Recently my wife, Laura, and I have started a small group at our house. It is made up of some people we go to church with, some we don’t, some who we were close with before, and others who we did not know as well. During our weekly gatherings, we share a meal around our kitchen table and discuss what it means to be in community, and specifically, in Christian community.

When we first started this group, some were strangers to each other.  But after just a few short weeks together, we have been able to get to know each other and have meaningful discussions about community, while forming one of our own. After college, I felt like I had been uprooted from my community and was a bit lost. I have friends around the Richmond area, but not a tight-knit community like I had at school. My spiritual life had a void that I was struggling to fill. Because of this group, that void has been filled and a community has been created. I am truly thankful for each person in our small group and the conversations we have shared.

What are you truly thankful for this holiday season? I invite you to stop for a moment and reflect on the past year, or just the past few weeks. What are some moments that you will remember and be thankful for?

Capture each moment,

Where do you place your hope?

You are more likely to get struck by lightning or killed by an asteroid then win the lottery. So why do people play so religiously? Is it the small high one gets imagining what to do with $1.6 billion? Or never having to work again? To me, it is unfathomable to think about how much hope some people have in six simple numbers.

 According to The United Methodist Book of Resolutions, “Gambling is a menace to society, deadly to the best interests of moral, social, economic, and spiritual life. . .  As an act of faith and concern, Christians should abstain from gambling and should strive to minister to those victimized by the practice.” What makes gambling so addictive, giving people a false sense of hope? How is the church reaching out to those stuck in a vicious cycle of relying on six numbers to change their life? 

Imagine if everyone who purchased a lottery ticket for the $1.6 billion drawing came to church and had the same hope in Christ as they did in their ticket numbers. With that many people coming to church to be filled with hope and love, it could create a movement of change. 

Our churches should be catalysts for this change.  People should be eager to come and hear the Good News. What are we as a church doing to help promote an open place where people are being spiritually-filled and encouraged? 

According to LendEDU, a financial website, $72 billion was spent on lotteries in the United States.  The average Virginian spends approximately $223 on lottery tickets a year. (1)

Imagine what the church could do with that amount of giving. The church could make a radical change with just one-quarter of that total. We could continue to support our mission partners locally and abroad. Homelessness in America or food insecurity could be drastically reduced. As a church, we could also start new initiatives and programs that can better equip individuals for their daily lives. 

Maybe you are not totally ready to give up the lottery cold turkey. What about a small change? Imagine if instead of buying five lottery tickets a week (each ticket costing $2), buy five a month and give the other $30 to the church.  That amount a month quickly adds up to meaningful change in people’s lives and helps support the mission of the church. 

As the lottery saga has unfolded and the winner has now been announced, I challenge you to see where your hope comes from. Is it when you are at church during the sermon? Maybe your hope comes after a long hike when you see a mountain range with fall foliage. If you are one of those lucky people who played the lottery and won something, don’t forget about the church and its mission.

Capture each moment,

(1)Brown, M. (2018, June 30). What Do Americans Spend on the Lottery in 2018? Retrieved from

Through the Lens of a Mozambican Traveler

It has been almost a month since I returned from Mozambique, Africa. From the city lights of Maputo, to the starlight nights in the bush, this trip was one I will never forget. Mozambique, a country with a population of about 30.5 million, sits on the east coast of Africa bordered by South Africa, Zimbabwe, Malawi and Tanzania. 

To share more from my trip, I will use a method that a good friend of mine uses: What was the high, low and “uh-oh” of my trip? 

The High
According to Business Insider, Mozambique is the sixth poorest country in the world, but nonetheless I found their people are deeply rich in spirit and faith. I watched as kids played soccer with an old mosquito net balled up as the soccer ball, laughing infectiously and enjoying life. They are rich—focusing on the blessings God has provided, not the hardships.

I visited a community for widows in which some women were cast out by their families because conventional wisdom in some African cultures characterizes widows as bad luck, or even as witches.

One widow said, “Our family may not love us and want to get rid of us, but we have formed our own family here. We love each other and have faith that God will watch over us.” A large lump formed in my throat as I fought back tears. In this moment I realized these people have a much stronger faith than I do. These widows focus on the future we are promised, not the challenges faced here on Earth – because they know fully that God continues to provide. 

The Low 
You can place this low in the category of “first world problems.” After five nights in the town of Maputo, the capitol city, we traveled to Cambine, about six hours north in the bush, where we stayed at the guest house that Annandale UMC helped restore. 

On the third day in the bush, we lost power. Feeling pure defeat, I hit a low point after being away from home for close to a month. The creature comfort of power meant so much to me at the time:  my phone was almost dead (barring me from talking to my wife or others), the room fan was not working (foreshadowing a stuffy, sweaty night) and my flashlight had ironically broken. During this dark time, literally and metaphorically, I came to realize how blessed I am. People in Africa and in the United States live without power every day. In this darkness, I saw the light and, after some prayer, I was reminded of my call. I needed to be a light for others, to bring their stories out of the darkness and share how we can be a blessing to those in need – in need of God’s light, or some electricity.

The Uh-oh
Tribal languages are spoken throughout the country, but Portuguese is the national language of Mozambique. Because I did not learn any Portuguese, I was unable to communicate even a thank you. Relying heavily on Glenn Rowley, conference director of Justice and Missional Excellence, for the first few days, I did pick up on simple words to get by. In retrospect, I would have learned simple phrases and words to better communicate. Sharing language is something that I take for granted in everyday life, and the ability to communicate is powerful.

This trip was an experience that helped open my mind and eyes to better see the world around me. I challenge you to use the ‘high, low and uh-oh” method to look back on your experiences. 

Capture each moment,

Find your joy

A sermon recently challenged me to savor the joys and gifts that God gives on a daily basis – no matter how small. The sermon stuck with me by making me more aware of the joys I encounter in a day. 

Just this past week, there were three times where I stopped to savor that joy. Laura and I are huge “foodies.” We enjoy cooking and trying new restaurants wherever we travel. We are also passionate about sharing our foodie experiences with others. So we decided to launch a food blog and Instagram page with the hope of sharing our passion with others so they can enjoy new things. 

I am full of joy, when I am outside. Last week I shared my passion of paddleboarding with some members of the Virginia Conference Cabinet. The air was cool with a little breeze and the sun was setting behind the clouds. The sunset looked like an oil painting. After we had been paddling for a while, I gave the group some challenges to try on the board. While they were practicing their skills and enjoying time on the water, I sat back and savored the moment. I had so much joy sharing my love for the sport and water with people who were new to paddleboarding. 

Laura and I also enjoy travel. While most of our trips are not too far from home, our bucket list item is to visit all seven continents. At the end of this month, we will be one step closer. We have the opportunity to visit South Africa where we will enjoy the sights, sounds and food of Cape Town. As we are in the cumbersome process of packing for the trip, I find myself savoring even these moments, imagining what we will experience during our trip. 

Stop and think about what brings you joy. When you are in a situation where you see joy, I challenge you to take a moment and savor it. 

Capture each moment,

Following in the Footsteps:

By Emily Howdyshell, Guest Blogger

I recently traveled with the Rev. Shinwoo Hong and 27 others to South Korea for a spiritual pilgrimage. I had many expectations about what I would experience, including an opportunity to re-create some moments my grandfather experienced during the Korean War.

Although I was able to re-create a photo that meant so much to my grandfather, it wasn’t his footsteps that were the most important to fill.

As we traveled we heard stories of missionaries and prayer warriors who had come before us, and are still very present in South Korea. We heard stories of families being torn apart and the seams and how prayer, and devotion has begun to mend those wounds and I quickly realized it was God’s footsteps we were following in.

God had gone before us to do the work to prepare the way, the words of Jesus had already filled those who we would encounter and the Holy Spirit was there waiting to catch us as we fell to our knees in prayer.

Korea taught me that we need to pray more, pray longer and, more surprisingly, pray louder. We need not be afraid to center our lives in Christ and see what happens. Lastly, we need to willing to serve whenever and wherever God calls us.

Following in footsteps is messy business. Sometimes the steps are easy to find. Sometimes they are deep in the mud and ministry is mess. But follow and God will lead you.

Through the lens of Annual Conference prep

The conference office is currently filled with the sound of copiers printing material, feet scampering back and forth to ask and question and packing done with deep breaths. This all means that Annual Conference is quickly approaching. So I decided to put a list together of Annual Conference by the numbers and some of these numbers may surprise you:

•    Number of people attending Annual Conference: approximately 3,000
•    Number of pages printed for packets: approximately 42,000
•    Number of packets prepared: 2,800
•    Number of person hours spent preparing packets: 216 hours
•    Number of people on the Annual Conference planning committee: 31
o    The local Hampton-area Annual Conference committee has an additional 13
•    Amount of time needed to set up Annual Conference:  3 days with a large crew working between 10-12 hours per day
•    Number of hours I work during Annual Conference from Tuesday to Sunday: approximately 70 hours
•    Number of tractor trailers and box trucks used for conference supplies and equipment:  8
•    Amount of time that is Livestreamed:  approximately 18 hours and 30 minutes
•    Number of times the tech crew sees the light of day during Annual Conference:  0
•    Number of cups of coffee consumed:  impossible to count
•    Feeling the Holy Spirit during conference: priceless

Annual Conference takes a yearlong process to plan and execute. Next time you see someone from the Annual Conference planning committee or the conference staff, I encourage you to thank them for their service. See you at Annual Conference.

Capture each moment,

Through the lens of a “thin place”

Have you ever been in nature or surrounded by family (or close friends who are like family) and thought of it as a spiritual moment?

George MacLeod, founder of the Iona Community in Scotland, describes those places and experiences as “thin places.” He says, “A thin place [is] where only tissue paper separates the material from the spiritual.” I first learned about the phrase when I was on a pilgrimage in Iona and I considered my entire time there as one. From hiking up the mountain to worshipping in the original abbey on the island, I was in a “thin place.”

Sometimes I feel more connected with God when I am not in a church building. I see that “thin place” when I am helping someone in need or when I look out over the beautiful sunset across a lake as I am paddling. Don’t get me wrong, I see the “thin places” when I am worshipping at church or listening to the great message that the pastor brings every Sunday, but I am a lover of church outside the walls.

As the weather gets nicer (hopefully winter is over!) and the pollen calms down, you will find me outside where I feel most comfortable and connected with God. I may be mountain biking with my dad or paddling with my wife, but wherever I am, I will be in a “thin place.” I always take time to stop and say, “Thank you, God.” My cup overflows taking in the beauty of what God has created and I am able to enjoy on a daily basis.

A good friend of mine who is a worship leader at a local church once told me that because of his duties on a Sunday morning he is not able to truly worship. I then asked him how he worships. Instead of telling me, he showed me. We went to a local state park where we paddled about a mile and a half upstream to this beautiful spot where the trees created a canopy over the creek and the birds were singing. In that moment all you could hear were the animals and the sound of trickling water. He looked at me and said, “This is my church. This is my worship.” In that moment I knew I was in a “thin place.” To this day when I need to clear my head or feel the presence of God, I will get my kayak and travel to that “thin place.”

My question for you is, where have you seen a “thin place?” Maybe it is with family or alone. Maybe it is in nature or as you are painting. There is no right or wrong answer.
I challenge you to find that “thin place” in your life. Once you have found it, take some time to be with God in that moment and worship him without interruption.

Capture each moment,

Through the lens of a Holy Land traveler

The Rev. Joshua McCauley  on the top of the Mount of Olives overlooking Jerusalem.

By the Rev. Joshua McCauley

I never thought I would get to travel to the Holy Land. It is one of those far-off places we read about in the Bible but can never really picture. The Holy Land comes to us on maps and diagrams and the occasional news story, but seeing the Holy Land in real life completely changes that image. It is true what they say, that the Holy Land serves as the Fifth Gospel and that it brings the Bible to life. If John Wesley’s heart was strangely warmed at Aldersgate, it would have been ablaze after following in the footsteps of Jesus.  

  The Garden of Gethsemane.

It still feels unreal to me that I went to the Holy Land, and I am only in my first appointment as a pastor. All of the places I visited on this trip influenced me in some way, but the Garden of Gethsemane struck me the most. 

It was a spirit-filling place. It was a place of pain and a place of comfort. As I sat and prayed in the garden my eyes were fixed on the trees.  These trees were there when Jesus prayed for the hour to pass. These trees were there when Jesus said, “Not my will, but yours.” This was the last place that Jesus walked freely before the Resurrection, the place where Jesus was betrayed and the place where Jesus was abandoned. My heart was heavy in this place but it was also comforted because I know the rest of the story. I know that this garden was not the end of Jesus’ ministry. While on my journey to the Holy Land, I also learned that there is still much work to be done to find peace. Many times, we drove close to fences covered in barbed wire and on those fences (and sometimes walls) were signs that read “Danger, land mines.” These fences and walls were all around the border between Israel and Palestine. It brought tears to my eyes to only be able to see from the bus the place that is believed to be where Jesus was baptized. We could only see it from the bus because it was surrounded by land mines on all sides. Unfortunately, the site of Jesus’ baptism is only one example of the many holy sites that are plagued by the division and hostility in the land. 

  Church of All Nations

Even with the fences, land mines and walls, there is still room for hope. There is still laughter and joy to be found. God was still there in that place.  I hope and pray that peace can be found in the Holy Land, and I encourage you to take time to pray for peace. 

--The Rev. Joshua McCauley is the associate pastor at Duncan Memorial UMC in Ashland Va. He holds a B.A. in Religious Studies, and a graduate of Faith Seeking Justice Christian Leadership Program from Shenandoah University. He also holds a Master of Divinity from Wesley Theological Seminary.

Through the lens of true blessings

Earlier this month my wife, Laura, and I honeymooned in the U.S. and British Virgin Islands. The trip had been planned for over a year and were looking forward to escaping a Virginia winter. If you recall, a terrible set of hurricanes ravaged the Virgin Islands in September. Winds ripped at 150-plus miles per hour and tornadoes formed causing mass destruction to the area. After the storms, the first thing on our minds was contacting our hosts, Karen and Nigel, to ensure their safety. They let us know everyone was okay and the island was already rebuilding. 

With some months before our scheduled vacation, Laura and I still wanted to go but did not want to be a burden to the Virgin Islands in rebuilding. We gave it some time, but when we checked back in with Karen and Nigel to see the possibility of still coming, their response was a resounding “YES, please come and visit!” Both Laura and I agreed that we still wanted to go and support their economy. 

Upon arriving it was heartbreaking to see the destruction firsthand. Buildings were completely blown out, all of the palm trees were gone and the coral reefs were destroyed. Five months after the storm, only 75 percent of St. John has power and there is little Internet and no cable. It was uplifting to see disaster organizations’ materials proudly used and displayed around the islands. Our host in St. John said, “People can never say that the continental United States didn’t do anything, because they did a lot.” Even though the islands were devastated, the people’s spirits were high. All around, people would leave inspirational signs and notes to one another. They always had a positive attitude and were so happy so see visitors return. I have never felt more welcomed while traveling than I did here. 

No matter who we met, sometimes without prompting, they would share their experiences about surviving the hurricane or the rebuilding. Individuals would share how they had to hide in their bathtub with a mattress over them to survive. Or how one taxi driver watched as his roof was torn off his house and blown away. This taxi driver said, “I am not always nice to God, but God is always nice to me.” He went on to say that it was his faith is what got him through. What a beautiful testimony to faithfulness through any storm (literally). No matter the story or how bad it was, they all spoke with hope about rebuilding.  

Infrastructure and buildings are being rebuilt and the green is starting to come back. Everyone is getting used to the new normal while they rebuild to become the beautiful islands that we know and love.  I think we can all learn from their attitude in the midst of and following a horrific storm. They focus on the blessings that God has given them daily – not the challenges that also come with recovery. My challenge for you is to focus on the blessings God has given you and not the challenges that fog our blessings. 

Capture each moment,

Through the lens of a habit breaker

Have you thought about how weird habits are? Why are bad habits so easy to keep, and good habits so easy to break?

I’m sure we have all been guilty of trying a new resolution or habit at the beginning of a year, and dropping it in the first three weeks of January.  

Over the past couple years, I have tried to live a healthier lifestyle. I have been successful so far, but I wanted to add something else to the mix this year. I decided to start doing sit-ups and other exercises to strengthen my core three times a week. That habit lasted a total of few days before I gave up; I found every excuse not to do the exercises.  

On a positive note, my wife and I also decided to do a daily devotion together to start the New Year. We have found this time together to be something that we both look forward and we hold each other accountable to keep this habit. When one of us is “too tired,” the other is there to encourage and lead the devotion. Having someone else be involved in a new habit helps make sure you stick to it. 

Then there are those dreaded bad habits. I have never been a smoker, but it is a notorious bad habit that is difficult to break. We know it is bad for us and there are proven facts to say so, but why is it so hard to quit? Sure, there are chemicals that you get addicted to, but why is it so hard to stop? If a good habit is so easy to stop, why can’t this be just as easy? What can we do to help each other break our bad habits?

In this New Year, I challenge you to start a good habit. Start small and work up towards a larger goal. This could be to taking on Bishop’s Bible reading challenge, taking a five-minute walk around the neighborhood or writing a handwritten letter each week to send to someone. Invite others to join you so that you have people to hold you accountable. If there is a bad habit that you are trying to break, I am in your corner rooting for you! 

Capture each moment,

The true meaning of Christmas and the Advent season

Christmas is my favorite time of the year; I enjoy spending time with family and carrying on the traditions passed down to me. It is a season that I appreciate until the moment we take the tree down in January (after Epiphany is celebrated, of course!).

  Every year it seems like Christmas gets more and more commercialized as companies start to advertise the day after Halloween. I have a strong opinion when it comes to the correct time to start decorating and preparing ourselves for the holiday. It’s my belief, we should wait until after Thanksgiving (i.e. the forgotten holiday).

As a society, we seem to forget about certain aspects of some holidays. Instead of spending all of Thanksgiving Day with our loved ones talking about all we are thankful for, some of us are standing outside of big-box stores waiting for the “doorbuster” deals starting at 6 p.m. on Thanksgiving.

The same could be said about Christmas and Advent. With all of the hustle and bustle of the busy Christmas season, we sometimes forget what Christmas is truly about. Advent is a time to eagerly wait for the birth of our Savior. In today’s world, it seems like marketing has pushed religion and the true meaning to the side in order to show you the new, exciting and flashy products of the moment. Marketing is in front of us from the moment we wake up until we go to sleep. Consciously or unconsciously, we are shaped by what we see.

What can we do as a conference and within our local churches to help promote the true meaning of Christmas and the Advent season?

Maybe we put information on our social media or go to a public place to share what Christmas is all about. Sometimes it is as simple as your actions.

During this season of waiting, I invite you in join me in pausing each day to refocus on what the season is about. As the season gets busier with shopping, baking and preparing for family, remember to think about Advent and the birth of Jesus. I wish you all a Happy Advent and Merry Christmas.

 “You keep us waiting. You, the God of all time, want us to wait. For the right time in which to discover who we are, where we are to go, who will be with us, and what we must do. So thank you… for the waiting time.”   -John Bell

Capture each moment,

Recognizing people

Imagine yourself in your car on a brisk fall morning. Inside the car, you enjoy your heater or heated seats that cuts out the cold. On the sidewalk, you notice a homeless woman in shorts, a T-shirt and no shoes, pacing to keep herself warm. 

I don’t know about you, but my heart aches every time I see something like this around Richmond. I do not know their stories or situations, but they are humans too and should be respected. There are plenty of programs and shelters around, but some individuals may not feel comfortable there or certain shelters may not allow pets. 

Recently a county outside of Richmond put signs up to prevent begging at intersections. Are we as Christians doing the same thing when we turn our head to look the other way? I may not give every homeless individual money or food, but I do look them in the eye and say hello. One even thanked me for talking to him. He said that people always ignore him or walk on the other side of the road, dehumanizing him. This gentleman later went on to say that the simple hello made his day, just by being acknowledged. What can we do to acknowledge the least, last and lost? How can you make a difference? 

Sometimes you may not feel led to give homeless people money. So what can we do for our homeless sisters and brothers? We can make a homeless kit, partner with a community organization that works with homeless individuals or offer to buy them drink or food. Making a homeless kit is simple and could mean the world to someone. To make: Take a gallon size Ziploc bag and add some necessary items in it such as: 
• Hand warmers
• ChapStick
• Tissues
• High protein chewy bars
• Cough drops
• Directions and instructions to all local shelters
• Emergency blanket

One of the most important items I add to the bag is a handwritten note. This note could be as simple as, “You are loved” or “Be safe.” Let the person that you give this bag to know  they are valued.  This is a mission opportunity that both young and seasoned can do together. Once you have assembled these bags, leave a couple in your car and hand them out when you see a person in need. 

As we approach the colder months, I challenge you to get uncomfortable and step outside of your safe space. Engage with our brothers and sisters who are homeless. Donate some time or money to an organization who helps this community. Or, make a kit to hand out. How will you care for the least of these?

Capture each moment,



Through the lens of a newly-married man

I recently married my best friend and partner in crime. After our first amazing month of marriage, we have already learned some valuable lessons. A major one is that marriage is all about give and take. As a couple, we have had to communicate what is most important to us and what compromises we are willing to make. I am a newbie to this whole marriage thing, but lessons we have learned already will only make our marriage grow stronger.

This basic lesson could be related to what our church is going through at the moment. As society is ever changing around us, the church has to adapt with it. Within the church, we need to figure out what is important to us and what can we compromise on with each other. I am not only talking about the elephant in the room, human sexuality, but also the small things like installing audio visuals in a historic church, how to serve communion or what fundraiser to do for the church. If we want to become a vibrant and growing church, sometimes we must make compromises from “how it has always been done.” 

Take for example the church where I grew up. Years ago, a group of people wanted to start a contemporary worship service. There was push back from members in the church, saying that was not how worship should be, but all agreed to give the service a try during the summer in a large Sunday school room. If it was successful, the service would continue and become a permanent service held in the sanctuary. At the end of the summer it was decide that this service was fruitful as it had attracted new families and should be continued. That was over 10 years ago and the service is still happening. This service was possible because everyone involved made compromises and came to the table for discussion.   

There will always be something happening in the church that people are not going to agree on, but can we find a happy medium where both sides compromise and agree on a middle of the road decision? Changes and compromises are healthy. It means that new voices are coming to the table, new ideas are forming and there is a possibility for something new to take place. Where have you seen compromises within your church? How can we as a whole church come together to make compromises and understand both sides of an issue?

Capture each moment,



Through the eyes of an artist

By Alex Carney

Guest blogger is Alex Carney who recently graduated from Shenandoah University with a degree in religion. She is currently pursuing a Master’s of Divinity at Drew University. This past summer, Alex worked as an intern with the VAUMC Office of Communications and Office of Justice and Missional Excellence.

Alex grew up at Brown’s Chapel, Farmville District, and was a member of their district youth program for six years.

Alex enjoys makeup, knitting, Marvel film, and Washington Nationals baseball.  She also loves her dog, Sasha, and cats, Lokitty and Luna. 

Do you ever feel like you’re doing everything right, yet nothing comes out the way it’s supposed to?  I think that’s very common, especially for artists. You have this beautiful image in your head of what you want to create, but what comes out of your hands is nothing like what it was supposed to be.

I’ve recently been experiencing this in my life. I enjoy doing makeup, and I have a YouTube channel where I post tutorials and connect with my fellow makeup lovers. I’ve been doing that for about two years now, and I’ve learned so many new things and I feel like I’ve really grown as a makeup artist.

However, even though I felt like I was doing well, I also thought that the effort I was putting in wasn’t reflected well in any of the photos or videos of my final result. I was frustrated because everything looked fine in the mirror, but something was always off when I showed my work in any other medium.

Sometimes it’s because something that works for everyone else doesn’t work for you. Other times, you just haven’t mastered a certain technique yet. Maybe it’s even because what you want to do requires more experience than you currently have. But sometimes it feels like you’re doing exactly what you’re supposed to be doing, but your work just isn’t right.
I decided to invest in a new camera, seeing as the one I was previously using had gotten to the point where I would try to connect it to my computer and it would shut down, leaving me wondering if each time I used it would be the last. Once I got a new camera, it helped me change my perspective and I was able to see that I was actually doing well. I finally felt like the hard work that I had put in was paying off, that I was good at the art I love.

Isn’t it amazing how clearer things look when we see them through a new (in this case, literal) lens?  I feel like this is what happens when we look with our own eyes versus when we look through God’s eyes. We look at ourselves through our same old lens, wondering if each time we mess up will finally be our irredeemable mistake. When we look with our eyes, we see our flaws, failings and frustrations, but when we look through God’s eyes we might see those things, but we also see the beauty and gifts in ourselves and those around us. We see what we think we are capable of, but God sees that we are so much more than that.  



Through the lens of a clergy member

By the Rev. Barbara Lewis

Guest blogger is the Rev. Barbara Lewis. She is pastor of the Greenwood-Laurel Park Charge in the Richmond District. Lewis is also a member of the conference Board of Communications.

The gathering of the Annual Conference is always a wonderful time for catching up with friends and colleagues from around the district and conference. This is, in part, what John Wesley wanted when he ordered the annual meeting. He also declared there should be an agenda to the meeting that would organize what needed to be done and in a logical order. He called this agenda “Minute Questions” and to this day every conference in the denomination spends a significant part of this annual meeting answering the “Minute Questions,” taking care of other business, worshipping together and sharing reports.

Ordination Class of 2017 stands for recognition at the Clergy Session.

Approximately 30 of the questions are initially dealt with in the Clergy Session while the laity meet elsewhere. We might refer to them as personnel matters. They have to do with the standing of the current laity, who may retire, who is being licensed, consecrated or ordained for ministry and similar questions. Some of these are then dealt with in more detail with the participation of the laity and visitors when we celebrate and worship together in the Retirement Service, the Memorial Service (remembering the clergy, retired clergy, widows of clergy, spouses of clergy and last year’s lay members who have died since we last gathered), the Service of Ordination and the Setting of the Appointments which is the last item of business before the adjournment of the Conference. This year, my sister-in-law was remembered in the Memorial Service, many friends were recognized as they moved into retirement status, and I was able to celebrate with friends like Anita Mays who was ordained an elder in the conference this year.

Conference felt different this year, as it always does with a new bishop. She put her own personality on the worship and how she presided as bishop over the business. 

Bishop Sharma D. Lewis preaches for the Sunday Closing Worship.

Worship didn’t quite end on time, but we were reminded that the Spirit moves among us and shakes things up occasionally!

Mr. Jarvis Wilson, here pictured at the organ, and the Rev. Robert McMichael III, seated at keyboard, provided music through Annual Conference 2017. The pair are from the North Georgia Conference.

The theme was “A New Thing” and we did some new things at conference but were encouraged to do even more as we return to our homes and churches.  We were encouraged to feel the Spirit but also to listen to the Spirit as we live out the Great Commission to make disciples of all people.

Annual Conference ended with “Let the Church Say Amen.”

Through the lens of a photographer at Annual Conference

While sorting through hundreds of photos from Annual Conference, I decided to pick out my top five photos. Enjoy!

5: During the Service of Ordering, there was an altar call for those who felt the call to ministry. It was such a holy moment to see dozens of individuals come up, young and not so young, to answer to call to serve.  

4: The Service of Remembrance and Holy Communion honored those conference clergy and laity that have died within the last year. A candle was lit to honor these individuals.  

3: The Service for the Ordering of Ministry is full of holy and powerful moments. Here, there is a touching moment between the Rev. Jae Yong Song and Bishop Lewis as he is ordained.

2: Bishop James E. Swanson Sr. enthusiastically preached at the mission service on Saturday. He left the stage to preach amongst the congregation telling them that you are never too old or young to serve in mission.  

1: This was a historic Annual Conference for the Southeastern Jurisdiction of The United Methodist Church. It was the first time that an African-American female has presided over a conference. Here, Bishop Lewis prays conference members during an altar call.  



Through the Lens of a guy in a museum

Have you ever been in a place where you overheard a conversation between two people and you chime in with an “Amen” or laugh? This may be called eavesdropping but it recently happened to me in close quarters in front of an exhibit in a museum. 

My fiancé and I recently visited the Virginia Historical Society in Richmond. We were standing at an exhibit that featured the American Civil War, through the lens of Virginia’s experience. There were artifacts ranging from military uniforms to children’s toys. The specific artifact that was in front of us was a pole where slaves were beaten in Virginia. I had a sick feeling in my stomach looking at it. 

There were two older African-American gentlemen beside me reading the description about the pole. One of them said, “It just makes me sick looking at this. How could anyone think this is humane?” 

This is when I opened my mouth and blurted out “AMEN!” I thought to myself, “That was an inside thought, not an outside one!” To my surprise, the man turned and started talking to me. He noticed that I was wearing a Virginia United Methodist Conference shirt and praised the United Methodist Church for the amount of reconciliation we are pursuing surrounding race and culture issues. We continued to have a conversation about our churches and Bishop Sharma Lewis, and next thing you know, I invited him to church.

The Rev. Mark Ogren, director of Congregational Excellence for the Virginia Conference, shared a shocking statistic with me: the average person invites someone to church only once every 20 years. I don’t know about you, but that is another thing that makes me sick to my stomach. Why aren’t we inviting people more often? I know I don’t want to go door knocking, but we can find other organic and authentic ways to show people the love of Christ and invite them to church. Sometimes it’s as simple as wearing a T-shirt and saying “Amen” in a museum. Whatever it is, I challenge you to invite someone to the place we love to go, church. How you go about doing it is up to you. Don’t fall into that statistic, let’s make a new one.

Capture each moment,



Through the lens of a sanctuary for all

Last month I had the honor of visiting First Grace UMC while in New Orleans for the annual United Methodist Association of Communicators (UMAC) conference. First Grace is a diverse and lively church with a very rich history.

  First Grace UMC

Before Hurricane Katrina ravaged New Orleans, First Grace UMC was nonexistent. This church was formed when two churches, First UMC and Grace UMC, noticed its membership decline after the storm and they wanted to do something about it. It all sounds like a smooth transition complete with butterflies and flowers, but it wasn’t. The two churches were polar opposites. One was more traditional and predominantly white, while the other was more contemporary and predominantly African American. There were a lot of questions going into the merge like, “What is our worship going to look like?” “Who is going to be serving in leadership roles?” 

  First Grace sanctuary

During the first joint worship, the sanctuary was divided – Grace sat on one side and First was on the other. Seeing that this would not work, one member commented after the service, “We’re supposed to be united, well next Sunday prove it.” This marked an internal shift. From then on, the church has been a vital part of the community.

First Grace UMC has many programs to help its community members from a Hispanic ministry that helps immigrants with legal issues and job opportunities, to a homeless shelter that welcomes people of all genders and ages. One of the most striking things to me was how inclusive they are to those from the LGBTQ+ community. 

The whole time I was at First Grace, I just kept thinking, “What if all our churches were like this?”. They had so much pride for the work they were doing and loved to share it with others. They welcomed everyone into their church without question and treated them like family. To see the love and respect the congregation had for each other was a breath of fresh air. Some may say the church is divided and in decline, but if you look in the right places you can see the exact opposite. 

These were two churches that had two different congregations and worshiping styles, but in a time of crisis, came together to be one. Because of that merger, individuals and the community have support and the knowledge that the Lord is with them.

I strive to be like the members of First Grace every day – to always have radical hospitality and meet people where they are. My challenge to you is to do the same. 

Capture each moment,

Through the lens of a videographer in Cambodia

Have you even been sick as a dog boarding a 14.5 hour flight and thought, “What am I about to get myself into?” This was my exact thought stepping onto the plane heading to Cambodia in January.

I did my research about Cambodia and their Methodist Church, but there is nothing to prepare you for actually being there. When traveling you should be flexible and have an open mind, but Cambodia has a relaxed culture that made traveling both eye-opening and comfortable. By far my favorite thing about the Cambodian lifestyle is the afternoon naps! I think we should adopt them in the States.

There are thousands of things I want to share from my trip. I have been processing the experience for over a month, and I still struggled writing this blog. How do I talk about some of the stories I heard? Do I talk about the struggles I had? 

I Liked:

Cambodia’s predominate religion is Buddhism. The growing Cambodian Methodist Church (CMC) is roughly 30 years old and most members are first-generation Christians. We had the opportunity to worship and be in conversation with members of the CMC and their passion and desire to learn was a joy to see. While worshiping with them, these Christians sang at the top of their lungs. They did not care how well they sang—they were making a joyful noise! One of my favorite parts of worship was the prayer. With everyone praying aloud in their native tongue, it was so beautiful to hear their passionate praying, lifting their prayers to the heavens. It was a holy moment.

I Learned:

There are many lessons to learn while traveling internationally, like wearing compression socks on a long flight to keep the swelling down (thank you, Granddaddy for your diabetic socks!).

Another lesson I learned was gratefulness for the small things and putting trust in God. I met an older gentleman who lost both of his legs to a land mine. After some conversation through a translator, I asked him if he would mind sharing about the loss of his legs. He told me that it happened when he stepped on a mine while fighting in guerilla warfare against the Khmer Rouge. The only thing that kept him alive, he said, was knowing that God was watching out for him and would get him through this situation. Throughout his recovery, he prayed to God asking for guidance and strength. After recovering from this injury, he felt the call to ministry and is now a pastor in the CMC. He put his trust in God and did not dwell on the small things. This man could have easily given up on life, but he decided to become a pastor and use his injury as an example of how God blessed him with a second chance. 

I Wish:

Seventy percent of the population in Cambodia is under the age of 30 and 50 percent is under the age of 20. The same can be said about the CMC congregation. It was a beautiful sight to see a whole building packed with over 150 kids worshiping. Some churches have separate services because they cannot fit everyone in at one time (even without having the fire codes we have here in the United States) The CMC is reaching out into the community for example by hosting soccer leagues, after school programs, traditional dance lessons all to introduce individuals to Christ. They are reaching outside of the church walls to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. My wish is for others to travel to Cambodia to see The United Methodist Church connection in action and to learn from our brothers and sisters in Cambodia and bring that knowledge back to help the churches in Virginia and beyond. 

Even though our trip was providing knowledge to the leaders of the CMC, we learned just as much from them, if not more. We are a connectional church that grows by gleaning ideas from each other. 

Capture each moment,




Through the lens of a waitress

Every Monday, a group of us from the Conference office goes out for lunch. Normally we try to support the local small businesses when we eat. On a recent Monday, we had a rather large group so they put us at this huge circular table. Because we were at this large table we were able to talk to each other and not really have small side conversations. This also meant we got a little loud and energetic. When the waitress came by to take our orders, she made a comment on how much fun it looked like we were having and said it was nice to see a group like that going out to eat. 

As the meal went on we continued our lively conversation and enjoyed our lunch together. When our waitress came around to refill the drinks, she stood and talked with us for a few minutes. She asked if we were teachers or something from a nearby school. When we told her we all worked for the United Methodist Church you would have thought she had seen a ghost. Our waitress said she did not know church people could have this much fun. That small comment led to us telling her how much fun our work environment is and how our churches are energetic and welcoming of everyone. 

Later we found out she grew up in a very strict religious family, and that experience turned her away from organized religion. We invited her to try out one of our churches and shared a little about what the United Methodist Church is all about. 

This encounter made me really think about how I carry myself as a Christian or, better yet, a United Methodist. I know I have flaws and make mistakes, but I hope people see how welcoming and friendly I am and want to come to church. Not the other way around. 
My challenge for you is to go and show God’s love. Show those who do not go to church what a Christian/United Methodist truly is. Go make disciples of Jesus Christ through the transformation of the world. Or just grab a meal out and maybe someone will ask you about church…. Hey it could happen!

Capture each moment,

Through the Lens of a Small Town

By the Rev. Kendra Grimes
Guest blogger is the Rev. Kendra Grimes. She is chaplain and director of Church Relations at Randolph-Macon College. She holds a B.A. in Religion and Psychology from Berry College in Rome, Ga., and a Master of Divinity from Candler School of Theology, Emory University. She transferred from the North Georgia Conference in 2006. She enjoys writing, cooking and gardening.

There’s something about growing up in a small town. Just ask John Cougar Mellencamp, right? No matter where life takes me nor how far I’ve travelled, my roots in the small south Georgia town of Statesboro still matter to me. I haven’t lived there in 26 years, but I still sometimes accidentally call it “home” in conversation.

  Statesboro, GA

Imagine my surprise as I read our new Virginia Conference Bishop Sharma Lewis’s biography and realized that she grew up in the same small town and attended the same high school as I did. I can’t wait to meet her. She will know about things like Claxton Fruitcake and Vidalia Onions. She will know about the Rattlesnake Roundup, Eagle Creek and Sweetheart Circle. There’s nothing like shared language and experience to spark a connection!

What happens next is confessional: I thought to myself, “We are both from Statesboro, but I don’t know her.” I looked at the year she graduated from college, did the math and realized that she would have graduated from Statesboro High School before my older brother even began 9th grade. “So, of course I don’t know her,” I said to myself, “She is much older than me.”

  Pittman Park UMC

Then I immediately wondered, “But she’s United Methodist… so I wonder where she went to church?” And that’s when the trouble started, when I saw a part of myself I thought I had left behind. I never considered that Bishop Lewis’ family might have gone to the same church my family went to. Because they are black and we are white. I hope things are different now back home, but I worry that they are not. Because miles north of where I grew up, our churches still tend to be racially segregated for the most part. I know that Bishop Lewis will have shared the same small town traditions, but she won’t have the same church family traditions… the mission trips and “Come to Christmas” events, the huge Easter Egg Hunts and Vacation Bible School, the intimate connection with the GSU Wesley Foundation. Those memories are for those of us who were members at Pittman Park UMC.

  Brannen Chapel UMC

So where did she go to church as young person, I wondered? If not my church, then probably not First UMC either. I searched online a bit more and came across Brannen Chapel UMC. I had no idea we had an African American Methodist Church in our small town. I… had… no… idea… that… there… was… an… African… American… Methodist… Church… in… Statesboro. Let that sink in. Statesboro is a small town, one middle school and one high school when I was growing up. How could I not know that there was another Methodist congregation so close by? I was the kid who went to Epworth-by-the-Sea every February and November for Youth Weekends along with a week of Youth Annual Conference and a week of camp every summer. I was connectional before I knew what that word meant. But I wasn’t connected to Methodist brothers and sisters in my own town who were African American.

Brannen Chapel UMC. It sounds vaguely familiar, maybe I was aware of it years ago and have forgotten over time. “Brannen” is a common name in Bulloch County. I looked online and found a photo and a map of its location. It’s located in the one part of town that I don’t know well, that I can’t name the streets and businesses. The only time I was in that part of town was when I had a softball game at the old “Blitch Street fields.” There were nice new fields on Fair Road where I grew up playing ball, and there was another, older park on Blitch Street in the part of town I did not know. The two facilities were a prime example of “separate but not equal” in the South.

The more I dug around online, the more I thought and remembered, and the more my mood shifted. I had been so excited to be welcoming this new sister in faith who shares my roots. But I realized gloomily: we share a town name, but our experiences growing up must have been dramatically different. It’s almost certainly not because she’s 10 years older than I that I didn’t know Sharma Lewis or her family.

It is painful to look at a memory you treasure and to notice for the first time — or if not for the first time, at least in a bright new light — that your memory has a giant, glaring broken place right through the middle of it.

Having lost my dad to an early death and losing my mom still year-by-year to growing dementia, those Statesboro roots are precious to me. My hometown memories of the kind and generous people and the warm town spirit — those memories sustain me when I’m lonely and feeling orphaned. I am crying as I write, not wanting to look at my idealized childhood thorough the lens I just saw it.

But there’s no turning back. And just as I caught a glimpse of my childhood home, I immediately began thinking of my current home, the small town I so treasure today. Sure, there’s progress in race relations compared to the realities of a generation ago. But there is so, so, so far to go. My beloved home church in Statesboro just celebrated its 60th anniversary. To mark the occasion, I wrote a letter of gratitude to my home church family. I would never be the person I am, the minister that I am, without Pittman Park UMC. I am forever grateful.

Now, I am writing this as a letter of gratitude to Brannen Chapel UMC. I am confessing and mourning that I did not know your church family when I was growing up in Statesboro. I regret that mutual invitations to share a van ride to Epworth, to serve together in missions, to worship together on special occasions never happened. But I am grateful to you because you faithfully nurtured a young woman who is about to become my bishop, the spiritual leader of the conference where I serve.

Recognizing the brokenness of our past is key to bring healing to our future. I can’t wait to meet Bishop Lewis. I am eager to see where she feels called to lead the Virginia Conference. I also want to learn about where she has come from. I want to hear about my hometown from her experience.

Bishop Lewis, I have a jar of Braswell’s Preserves on my pantry shelf at home. I’ll save it for when we can get together to work for the future of the church and share stories about the past. Welcome to Virginia!

Through the Lens of a fly on the wall

Recently at the Southeastern Jurisdictional (SEJ) Conference, I was able to attend a clergywomen celebration for the two newly elected female bishops. Walking into the room, I did not know what to expect.  What I found was a room full of excited women, both clergy and lay, with a few males. It was an honor to witness history and celebrate with this group of individuals.

  From left, Bishop Kammerer, Bishop Haupert-Johnson, Bishop Lewis.

Before the group prayed for Bishop Sharma Lewis and Bishop Sue Haupert-Johnson, Bishop Charlene Kammerer, the first female bishop elected in the SEJ, told a very interesting story. This story was the history of female bishops in the SEJ. The first to be chosen as an episcopal candidate was the Rev. Helen Crotwell in the 1980s. The SEJ clergywomen bought the Rev. Crotwell a pottery bowl and pitcher to celebrate her nomination. Sadly, she was not elected a bishop. Little did the clergywomen know, the pottery broke while it was shipped to her. 

The Rev. Crotwell said she would not fix the pottery until a female was elected as bishop in the SEJ. In 1996, history was made when Bishop Kammerer was elected. Bishop Kammerer and the Rev. Crotwell then sat down and restored this pottery in celebration of a great milestone. This pottery is now kept in the North Carolina Conference in honor of the Rev. Crotwell’s legacy.

After hearing this story I looked around me at all the women, lay and clergy, and realized what they have had to go through to shatter the glass ceiling and prove to others that they are capable of ministry. It hit me standing there surrounded by these women how sad it is that these women had, and continue to have, to prove themselves in a way that is different from their male colleagues. Why can’t we live in a world of acceptance and encouragement where anyone can foster his or her call, whether it be to ordained ministry or lay ministry? History was made at this year’s SEJ, but why did it take so long? This should not be a problem that we are facing in 2016.

Bishop Kammerer and other clergywomen blazed a path for women in ministry. It was an honor to be in the room with these individuals as they celebrated five active women bishops in the SEJ. I encourage you to look around and help foster each other’s calls to whatever it may be. Be there for one another, lift each other up, don’t put others down.

Capture each moment,


What happened to John Wesley's Three Simple Rules?

By Meghan Clouspy

Guest blogger is Meghan Clouspy, a rising senior at Shenandoah University majoring in Exercise Science. She is a student in the Faith Seeking Justice program. As part of that program, she is attending her first United Methodist General Conference.

It has been a wonderful opportunity being here in Portland, experiencing my very first General Conference. As a non-United Methodist student from Shenandoah University, I had absolutely no idea what to expect when walking through the doors of the Oregon Convention Center.

While sitting in the plenary over the past two days, I have been overwhelmed in a state of confusion trying to understand who was who, where I stood on each position being debated, and the fact that there is a strong potential of the church experiencing a schism. This is supposed to be the UNITED Methodist Church and I am seeing a strong lack of unity. Alongside of seeing a lack of unity, I have seen this conference bring a lot of confusion, growth, heartache, hostility, challenges, exhaustion and division within The United Methodist Church.

As a Christian insider and a United Methodist outsider… what frustrates me most about this conference is the fact that the three simple rules are overlooked here at General Conference. We learn in our Christian Leadership classes that John Wesley created the three simple rules of do no harm, do good and stay in love with God. The first of the three rules is being overlooked here at General Conference. If we are harming people on the way to doing good, we aren’t living the life that God intended for us. Our job as Christians is to love others in the way that Christ did.

I understand that we will always disagree with people. Families disagree daily, but they don’t stop loving each other because of their disagreement. So why would we harm others with our words and actions? We are the body of Christ and a family. We are one in Christ. We need to accept other people’s different beliefs. At the end of the day, I am not most passionate about sexuality issues. I am most passionate about having honest and just relationships; treating others with love, respect and humility.

On the ride to the airport, members of the Faith Seeking Justice Christian Leadership Program at Shenandoah were asked whether we expected to experience a situation similar to the tower of Babel or the day of Pentecost. Would we see a division or unity as a result of this conference and the discussions it brings to light? The Bible shows us how God can work not only through Pentecost but through Babel as well.

Through my studies at Shenandoah University with Faith Seeking Justice classes, I learned about Phyllis Tickle’s concept of a 500-year rummage sale. The 500-year rummage sale is a time when the Church periodically goes through its beliefs and practices, re-evaluates and makes changes. 499 years ago, the Protestant Reformation occurred. This was the division from the Roman Catholic Church, which produced the Protestant denominations we have today.

Approaching General Conference, my hope was that The United Methodist Church would be unified through this conference. My perspective is changing. Now, I don’t see the division as a necessarily bad thing in order to eliminate hostility. Feeling excluded and unwelcome is a terrible feeling that no one should feel as a child of God. I feel as though this division would eliminate hostility because people would be able to worship where they wanted to and to feel welcome without harm.

So maybe we are experiencing the 500-year rummage sale this week. Maybe this is also a scattering from the tower of Babel. Or maybe we will see another Pentecost in which we see the Holy Spirit binding us together through our differences in the name of Jesus. God’s plan is perfect and just, and I believe that sometimes God has to wreck us in order to help us see that a change needs to occur. Whatever the result may be that comes from General Conference. It is difficult because this impacts so many people. But change can be good, we just have to be open minded and not lose sight of John Wesley’s simple rules.

Through the Lens of an official member of the General Conference press team

Have you ever thought about what goes into reporting on General Conference? Have you wanted to see what the Press Room looks like? Well lucky for you and all UMC nerds, I will give you the inside look.

During General Conference, just as our delegates do, members of the press come from around the world. Members of the press include communicators from United Methodist annual conferences, boards and agencies, caucuses and special interest groups as well as secular local news media. These communicators have special rooms and access to the floor. The Press Room is set up like a little city. There are interview rooms, editing rooms, a dining area, and an area where the conference is being broadcast live on two large screens. One thing is for sure – it is a well-oiled machine!

Coming into my first General Conference as a member of the communications team, I did not know what to expect in this area or how to report on such a huge conference. I was like a deer in headlights: What do I take video and pictures of? Who do I interview? Will they take time out of their day for me? Where do I set up my shot so I don’t get run over by an enthusiastic conference participant?

Luckily, the Virginia Conference delegates are awesome, well-spoken, and always volunteer for an interview. This has been a great experience and has really tested my editing skills. I never thought I could film, interview, edit and publish in less than an hour. Below are some pictures from behind the scenes.

Capture each moment,



Through the lens of a “Richmonder”

You know you’re a Richmonder if:

  • You remember Ukrop’s before it was Martin’s.
  • You know any time is a good time for a Sugar Shack doughnut.
  • You know all about the random festivals that seem to pop up weekly and attend them.
  • You take an Uber to church.

Before I go on, let me explain what an Uber is to those of you who do not know. Uber is a taxi service used in cities around the world. A user will use their smartphone to call the car. All money exchanges and feedback are through the phone, which means you do not have to carry cash. These cars are much safer and cleaner than your average taxi. (In my not so humble opinion!)

My fiancé and I walk to Boulevard UMC on Sunday mornings from her apartment in Richmond. It is normally a pretty mile walk to church, but on this day it was far from pretty. While eating breakfast before church, we noticed it was cold and windy. Add spring’s pollen into that mixture, and no one wants to be outside. Because of our horrible spring allergies and the not-so-warm day outside, we decided to Uber to church. Just the thought of Ubering to church made me feel like such a city-dweller.

We called for the Uber and went downstairs to wait for it. When we got in the car a very nice older gentleman welcomed us and asked where we were going. We told him we were going to church. He looked amazed that younger people were dressed and ready to go to church on a Sunday morning. He told us that we were the first people ever that he has dropped off at a church. Later, he said, “Normally I am picking up people your age that look rough from overindulging the night before. It is nice to have someone your age in the car that knows what’s important.” This gentleman was very nice and got us to church quickly - one of the best drivers I have ever had!

Since we took an Uber to church we arrived about 10 minutes early. We took a seat, and shortly after, the Rev. Rachel May walked up and greeted us. She was surprised to see us there so early, especially the Sunday after Easter. We explained how we were lazy and did not want to walk in the cold wind and got a ride. She seemed really excited that one of her parishioners took an Uber to church. I must admit this is another time where I felt like a Richmonder!

After these reactions from both a stranger and a clergy person, I really started thinking, “What is so crazy about taking an Uber to church?” Is it the fact that a young person got in an Uber and was so eager to go to church that he told the driver all about it? Is it the fact that a young person paid for transportation to go to church? Is this what Christ was talking about when he said we should be making Disciples? Are Uber rides just the newest form of evangelism? 
Have you ever gotten a strange reaction when telling people you were going to church? I would love to hear about how you used it as a way to connect with someone and serve as a witness to them.

Capture each moment,

Through the Lens of a tired Video Editor

 Having fun with
Pam Culler's 60th

With General Conference, Annual Conference and Jurisdictional Conference all coming up in the next few months, to say the conference office is busy is an understatement. We all have our projects and presentations we are starting to work on to prepare for these conferences in May, June and July respectively. Yes, I know it is only March 3! Normally, it is somewhat quiet as we are working. But sometimes, we like to have fun.

When I create a video I normally like to sit back and let my creative juices flow before diving into the nitty gritty. Sometimes these juices do not flow right away, or in the midst of hammering out the edits, I just need to get my mind off a video. It is at these times that I find myself tired and lose concentration. It is hard to stare at a computer screen for eight hours a day and stay on task. If you are like me, you know that mental breaks make all the difference. Having a mental break lets me recharge my mind while I think of new avenues to start or finish a video. These mental breaks could be as easy as a quick Google search of something interesting, a time where I tinker with videos mindlessly, or play a practical joke on someone in the office. Yes, even the employees here at the conference office take breaks to mess with each other. 

  Paulo Lopes, Bishop (Santa) Cho, Nick.

Having a mental break can be beneficial to multiple parties. Normally when I take a break, I like to walk around the building and talk to people. During this time I can see what others are working on in the building and get new video ideas, and even help with some of their projects. 

Maddie Pillow, Advocate editor, has a huge dry erase board in her office that she uses to brainstorm. I like to see what’s on the board and see if I can help her find a story or give her ideas on subjects. I believe this is where the most fruitful work comes from. We are collaborating together and looking at the big picture. This big picture can then be broken down into smaller projects and articles. 

  Was it 2-ply?

My challenge for you is to think about mental breaks at work.  How can they help you? What can you do during your break that can help others do their work? I would love to hear from you about how you take mental breaks at work. What do you do? Any fun office pranks that you have pulled on someone?

Through the lens of a weary traveler

Two weeks ago Madeline Pillow (Advocate editor), Linda Rhodes (Director of Communications), and I traveled to Portland, Oregon, for two conferences. One was the United Methodist Association of Communicators, where some 100 communicators from around the United States came together to network, share wisdom about the field, and gain new insight into effective ways to communicate. 

The second conference we attended was the Pre-General Conference gathering. This is where communicators and General Conference delegates can come and get a preview of what is going to happen in May. We caught up with Martha Stokes, Rob Vaughn and Denise Honeycutt, all of whom are delegates from the Virginia Conference. This conference was really insightful for me because I have never seen this side of General Conference. 

Enough with all the serious stuff! Between the meetings and busy schedules we were able to have fun. Brenda Capen (Database Manager/Webmaster) was unable to come with us to this conference, but hated to miss the Portland experience. So Madeline had a very ingenious idea – a flat Brenda! Yes, kind of like a flat Stanley, but instead it was Brenda. We decided that throughout our adventure, we would take pictures of flat Brenda enjoying the trip with us, and share them on Facebook. 

We arrived in Portland a day early, so we decided to explore the city, taking flat Brenda wherever we went. We sampled plenty of the fine cuisine that Portland had to offer, as well as the sights around the river. Portland reminds me of a larger version of Richmond. If you took Richmond, put it on the West Coast, and stretched it some, you would have Portland. 

The group of Virginians attending the conferences gathered for a meal at one of the most interesting restaurants I have ever been to, Oregon Public House.  What made it so interesting was that it is 100% non-profit. Not only did you get to choose your meal, you also had the opportunity to choose a charity to which your meal’s proceeds would be donated. Oregon Public House was opened by a pastor who wanted to do something for the community while providing education on non-profits. I would highly recommend checking out their website for more information. Who wants to start one of these in Virginia? You have the support of both my time, money and taste buds! 

Courtesy of Winter Storm Jonas, we were given more time to explore Portland while waiting on the East Coast to dig itself out. By this point, I was ready to be home playing in the snow with my Newfie, but no ... we were STUCK! I had to think of the positive in this situation. Because of the storm, I was able to get to know Martha, Rob and Denise much better than I did before the trip. I was also able to see another part of the country that I had not seen before. But the best part about being stuck in Portland, was NOT being stuck in an airport.

This weary traveler finally made it home and in bed around 2 a.m. Monday.

When is a time when you have had to find the good in a bad situation? I would love to hear about it in the comments below! I would also love to hear any Portland travel and dining tips for our trip back in May. 

Capture each moment, 

The Reality of Human Trafficking

Susan Pullin is our guest blogger for this post. She is an intern in the Communications Office and is a senior at Randolph-Macon College.

Through the Lens of an Intern

True or False:

1. Human trafficking requires moving foreigners across national borders or at least involves some form of travel or transportation.

2. A trafficking victim might be free to go places, appear happy, and even advertise for more customers.

3. A woman who comes to your hotel cannot be a victim of human trafficking because she is obviously not being held against her will.

4. A woman who agrees to engage in prostitution can still be a victim of human trafficking.

5. Pimp-controlled prostitution is a form of human trafficking.

6. If a girl is 16 and she has willingly decided to work for a pimp that does not use force, fraud or coercion in any way, she is a child prostitute and cannot be considered a victim of human trafficking.

7. Only girls who are brought in from foreign countries to perform prostitution can be considered victims of human trafficking.

8. A person can’t be considered a trafficking victim unless there is evidence of physical violence or kidnapping.

9. A person who is paid for their work in the commercial sex industry can’t be considered a victim of human trafficking.

10. Victims of human trafficking are desperate to escape and will immediately identify themselves as victims to potential rescuers.

Before last Thursday I’m not sure if I could answer some of these questions correctly. I can freely admit that I had no idea what human trafficking really was and how often it occurred right here in the United States. My name is Susan, and I am the one responsible for the media blitz on human trafficking yesterday (Monday, Jan. 11, Human Trafficking Awareness Day) on the conference Facebook page. I am an intern with the conference Communications Department. Part of my job as an intern is to help maintain the conference’s social media pages. So I was excited to be able to handle this assignment by myself.

There were two things that I never knew about human trafficking. The first was that human trafficking is the second largest crime industry in the world. In 2015, the United States had over 4,000 reported human trafficking cases. Human trafficking is a form of modern-day slavery in which traffickers use force, fraud or coercion to control victims for the purpose of commercial sex acts or labor services.

Human trafficking is broken down into two specific types of trafficking. Sex trafficking has been found in a wide variety of venues within the sex industry,including residential brothels, escort services, fake massage businesses, strip clubs and street prostitution. Sex trafficking generates $9.5 billion in revenue every single year in the U.S. Labor trafficking has been found in diverse labor settings, including domestic work, small businesses, large farms and factories. Men, women and children are affected by human trafficking.

The second thing I learned is that Virginia is ranked ninth out of all 50 states in the number of trafficking cases reported to the National Human Trafficking Resource Center. In 2015, there were 112 cases. Of the 112 cases, 91 were female, 14 were male, 71 were adults and 23 were minors.

There is a positive side to all of this negativity. There are two groups that are very prominent groups in Virginia that are advocating for human trafficking victims. The first is the Northern Virginia Human Trafficking Initiative. The second is Richmond Justice Initiative. Both of these groups are advocates for educating people about what human trafficking is and what steps we as a community can take to help eradicate human trafficking in Virginia. The largest step that Virginia has taken in the past five years is getting a law passed that clearly states that human trafficking is illegal. In April 2015, Gov. Terry McAuliffe signed a law making human trafficking a Class 3 felony in Virginia.

Human trafficking can be stopped, we just need to be there to help out. Some of the things we can do are: get educated about what human trafficking is and what the signs are, host a fundraiser, donate to/volunteer with an established rescue movement, and, finally, pray. Pray for healing and hope that one day soon we can say that human trafficking is no longer a problem in our nation and around the world. Together we can help end human trafficking.

Go back and look at those true or false questions. How do you think you did? Check out the answers below, and let us know how you did.

Grace and Peace,
Susan Pullin

1. False. Under the federal trafficking statutes, the crime of human trafficking does not require transportation.

2. True. Human trafficking is about exploitation, not movement and not restraint.

3. False. A person can be a victim of human trafficking even if there are no elements of physical restraint, physical force or physical bondage.

4. False. It is impossible to consent to being trafficked.

5. True. Any woman whose actions are controlled and coerced by a pimp can be considered a victim of human trafficking.

6. False. Anyone under 18 is a child. Any child that is being sexually exploited is automatically considered a victim of human trafficking, even if there is no force, fraud or coercion. Consent is irrelevant.

7. False. It can also happen to boys, men and women.

8. False. In many cases, traffickers use a combination of direct violence and mental abuse.

9. False. Paying a victim does not invalidate the crime of human trafficking if there is evidence of exploitation, force, fraud, deception, abuse of power or coercion

10. False. Often victims do not identify themselves as trafficking victims. Victims frequently blame themselves and feel shame when they shouldn’t.

The Top Five in 2015

The Communications office decided to compile a list of our top five most viewed videos on Facebook and the top five conference news stories of 2015 as we look back on the past year.

The Five Most Viewed Videos: 

To View the videos click on the hyper link 

1. The United Methodist Day at General Assembly with 2,459 views. This video was created when over 200 VAUMC Members joined together in Richmond. They spoke with their representatives and shared their concerns on bills and leglislative matters. 

2. Warsaw UMC: How to Reach New People with 2,108 views. The Rev. Emily Moore and her congregation have embraced this training and have thrived because of it. This video was created to highlight the accomplishments that they have had in reaching new people. 

3. "Did You Know?" Clergy Facts with 1,909 views. "Did you know" is a video series created to provide viewers with facts about different parts of our conference. This series covers anything from clergy facts to different missions that are happening around the conference.

4. All God's Children Camp   with 1,868 views. This camp is "a place where kids can be kids." The conference helps sponsor a camp where inner-city children with an incerated parent can come and have no worries. They participate in a wide range of activities while also taking classes to help with their future. 

5. Fieldstone UMC Celebrates 15 years of Worship with 1,861 views. Fieldstone was a new church start that has flourished over the past 15 years in the New River Valley. This worshipping community focuses on mission outside of the church walls while bringing others closer to Christ. 

The Editor's Choice: 

1. The Imagine No Malaria Initiative
This  initiative was introduced by Bishop Young Jin Cho with the support of clergy and 
laity at the 2014 Annual Conference with the goal of raising $1 million dollars to save at 
least 100,000 lives from malaria. As of Sept. 30, 2015, the goal was met and surpassed 
and continues to be supported by the conference. In 2008, the United Methodist Church 
as a denomination committed to join the global fight against malaria, pledging to raise 
$75 million dollars for the campaign. 
Learn more: 

2. Discipleship Circles gained momentum
Discipleship Circles is a new movement with a new purpose: new opportunities that 
will help leaders throughout the Virginia Conference support each other spiritually, 
collaborate with each other for increased fruitfulness and hold each other accountable 
for constant improvement. 
For additional information about Discipleship Circles, contact the Center for Lay 
Leadership Excellence at (800) 768-6040 or (804) 521-1154 
Visit the conference page at   

3. Delegates voted on at Annual Conference, Petition 14 moves to General Conference 
Delegates for General Conference, Southeastern Jurisdictional and alternates were 
voted on at Annual Conference. For a full list, visit: 
By a 989-868 vote, the Virginia Annual Conference session approved a petition to 
General Conference to remove the following language from the Book of Discipline: “The 
United Methodist Church does not condone the practice of homosexuality and 
considers this practice incompatible with Christian teaching.” Read Bishop Cho’s letter 
about the vote and Petition 14:

4. ‘A Day of Holy Conversation’ Advocate issue one of the most popular issues
Following the ‘A Day of Holy Conversation’ on Nov. 22, 2014, the January 2015 issue of 
the Advocate brought together in-depth reaction and coverage of the event for its 
readership, making the issue one of 2015’s most popular Advocate issues. 
The event took place as a result of Bishop Cho's request that the Virginia 
Conference Common Table for Church Vitality facilitate conversation around the 
conference on the subject of human sexuality. 
Learn more about the event, here:

5. Bishop Young Jin Cho expresses solidarity with Richmond area faith leaders
Joining nearly 100 other Richmond area faith leaders on Thursday, Dec. 17, 2015, Bishop Cho expressed solidarity with the Muslim community and condemned recent public expressions of religious discrimination. Learn more about this story:


The Cross and Flame is a registered trademark, and the use is supervised by the General Council on Finance and Administration (GCFA) of The United Methodist Church. Permission to use the Cross and Flame must be obtained from the GCFA, Attn: Legal Department, PO Box 340029, Nashville, TN 37203-0029; phone 615-369-2334; fax 615-369-2330

Background photos courtesy of VDOT.

The Virginia Conference of The United Methodist Church
10330 Staples Mill Road, Glen Allen, VA 23060
PO Box 5606, Glen Allen, VA 23058-5606
(804) 521-1100
Click here for directions to the Center