Bishop Sharma D. Lewis officially called the 240th session of the Virginia Annual Conference to order at 2 p.m., June 16, 2022, under the theme, “United as One in Worship.”
After the opening hymn, Are We Ye Alive,” prayers were brought by the Rev. James B. Godwin who is observing his 73rd year as a member of the annual conference. He is 93 years old. A prayer was also given by Luke Batarseh who is attending his first annual conference. He is a member of Dulin UMC on the Arlington District.
Bishop Sharma D. Lewis called the 240th session of the Virginia Annual Conference to order at 2 p.m. on June 16, 2022, under the theme “United as One in Worship.”
Following the traditional singing of “Are we Yet Alive,” the Rev. James B. Godwin, 93, who is attending his 73rd annual conference, gave the opening prayer along with Luke Batarseh, a member of Dulin UMC, Arlington District, who is attending his first annual conference.
Bishop Lewis delivered the opening Sermon using Scripture from John 4:23-24 (CEB).
But the time is coming – and is here! – when true worshippers will worship in spirit and truth. The Father looks for those who worship Him this way. God is spirit and it is necessary to worship God in spirit and truth.
She said, “I believe if there is ever a time to bring believers together to worship during these difficult times – the time is now!
“I believe if there is ever a time to recenter the Church on worshipping God – the time is now!
“I do not have to call the roll – on the unsettling events happening around the world; from mass shootings, the Jan. 6 Insurrection Committee hearings, the war between Russia and Ukraine, the hatred that plagues our country now and our denominations finds itself in a phase of disaffiliations.”
The bishop said she started studying the words worship and necessary.
Dr. Melva Costen, Professor Emeritus of Worship at the ITC, in Atlanta, GA taught the bishop that Christian worship is an acknowledgment of and response to the presence and power of God as revealed in Jesus the Christ through the work of the Holy Spirit. “She further emphasized that worship is the celebration of all that God has done, is doing and will do. Descriptive words that are associated with the understanding of worship include praise, adoration, thanksgiving, reverence, gratitude, and submission.
She said that “worship” in Latin is translated as “worth-ship” or “worthiness.” It is the feeling or expression of reverence and adoration for God and its purpose is to honor and exalt our Lord and Savior.
Bishop Lewis reminded the gathering that it was Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. who stated in 1963; “It is appalling that the most segregated hour of Christian America is 11 o’clock on Sunday mornings and unfortunately that assertion remains true today.” True worship is more than a cerebral exercise, she said. “We must surrender and submit to God in worship. When you surrender; you get out of the way of God, and God’s presence becomes more real. You cannot worship in truth and control. The truth comes in the surrendering.”
True worship is a lifestyle, she said. “I firmly believe you cannot worship; who you do not know. I do not have to wait for Sunday morning to be ‘pumped up’ by the praise band or the adult choir. We are created to worship the Creator; instead, we worship the ‘created.’”
Finally, she said, “I believe that true worship happens in the most powerful and experiential way is when we as believers worship together. Worshipping together teaches us to submit and surrender all of our cares/concerns to God.”
The bishop called out the problems still confronting the Virginia Conference including racism, sexism, clergy having problems with laity, and laity having problems with clergy. She issued an altar call and said we are doing this because “we need to get ourselves right with God.”
Dr. Charles Ledlum-Bates, host district superintendent, brought greetings on behalf of the York River District. He recognized the retired bishops from Virginia. Dr. Bates established the bar of the conference and approval of the agenda.
The Rev. Joshua King, conference secretary, presented the election of assistant secretaries, editor of the Journal, and annual conference committees.
The Rev. Claire Miller and Ms. Beverly Myers were elected assistant secretaries for this annual conference and Ms. Madeline Pillow White was elected editor of the Journal.
Laity Address by Conference Lay Leader Martha Stokes
Conference Lay Leader Martha Stokes addressed the conference.
She shared the following story:
It was December of 1977 or ‘78 in the sanctuary of Ridgeway United Methodist Church. By my guess, Ridgeway is the southernmost United Methodist Church in the Danville District, sitting about 4 miles from the Virginia/North Carolina state lines. A quiet teenager was asked to sing a solo as part of a special Advent worship series. The song came before the sermon offered by the preacher from her home church. This teenager, a few years older than Parson Lutz (Loots) – also a child of the Danville District who is filling the Lay Leader’s seat for this address, had never heard the song she was asked to sing. She practiced for weeks – trying to learn the precise notes and rhythms, to become familiar with the words of this old Advent hymn. This was a special worship service and the song had to be perfect.
Once the music began, nervousness and insecurity set in. What was sung didn’t sound anything like what had been practiced. The teenager lost her VOICE, but as she moved to sit down, totally shaken and embarrassed, she was met with words of appreciation that she knew were not deserved and a hug from her pastor that seemed to last forever. That cringeworthy moment was suddenly no longer troubling. In the days that followed, the conversation always started with “The next time you sing…” or “When you do this again….” There was never a question that there would be a next time, a new invitation, a new opportunity – hope for a better future.
Stokes was telling this story about herself. She recounted all the different times throughout the years that she felt she had lost her voice.
“Last September, the now 60-something went back to choir practice for the first time in a different church,” she said, “not just a new faith community for her personally, but a worldwide church that had gone through a global pandemic, a denomination still waiting for a General Conference gathering to answer difficult questions, a church trying to make a difference in individual lives and in communities that are hurting and divided on many fronts, a church that has changed drastically and struggles with distractions that move us away from a focus on our mission to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.
“The song stirring in her heart had to speak to new realities of being the Body of Christ in a world that is in a state of constant change, sometimes what seems to be a state of constant chaos.”
She concluded, “VOICE is my word of intention for 2022…. And yes, if you don’t know by now that old teenager is standing before you doing her best to sing a new song. One thing she knows for certain: though we don’t all sing the same notes or move to the same rhythm, though we don’t look the same or experience life the same way, though we may not see eye-to-eye on any variety subjects – we are capable of so much more together than we are when we are divided. Whether it is in a small church on the farthest boundary of the Virginia Conference or gathered together for the first time in three years, we are called to use all that is within each of us to lift our voices unto God ‘with a fresh new accent’ to ‘meet the need of the untried morrow.’ Sometimes that means we have to shake off the cringe, give honor to the past but step out in faith, trusting that the Holy Spirit is equipping us for the work ahead.”
Stokes then joined the choir on stage for the singing of “Lo, How a Rose…”
Left, Danielle Cloud, a youth member of annual conference, asks a question during the District Initiative presentation.
Mr. Scott Diamond presented proposals from the Committee on Rules. The proposals were accepted.
The Rev. Mary Dadisman brought the report of the Commission on the Status and Role of Women (COSROW). She shared how important it is that God’s holy spirit pours out over ALL of us. She said COSROW and CEMCA monitor and report how well we listen. The demographics are monitored. Unity does not mean uniformity.
The Rev. Denise Bates, dean of the Cabinet, brought the report of the Cabinet. The district superintendents shared information about the churches that are closing in 2022. That information can be found here (pdf).
The three churches that disaffiliated from the conference are Etlan UMC, Charlottesville District, March 15, 2022; Drummondtown on the Eastern Shore District, effective May 10, 2022; and Lebanon UMC, Farmville District, effective, Nov. 29, 2021. The disaffiliations were approved by the conference body.
The Cabinet and district lay leaders presented the District Initiative report.
The new proposed district names are:
Northern Virginia District – Alexandria and Arlington
Three Notch’d District – Richmond and Charlottesville
Mountain View District – Danville and Lynchburg
Coastal Virginia District – Eastern Shore and Elizabeth River
Living Waters District – Farmville and James River
Shenandoah River District – Harrisonburg and Winchester
Mission Rivers District – Rappahannock River and York River
Valley Ridge District – Roanoke and Staunton
After questions and speeches for and against the new districts, a motion was brought to postpone the discussion until 9:15 a.m. on Friday, June 17.
New Faith Communities
Dwayne Stinson shared with the conference that some 58 new faith communities since 2008 when All Things New was approved. More than 70 percent remain active and result in more professions of faith and reach more diverse people.
The Alexandria District, under the leadership of the Rev. Dr. Sarah Calvert, and Ghana Wesley United Methodist Church, under the leadership of the Rev. Emmanuel Nkrumah, will launch Hope United Methodist Church on July 1, 2022. The Rev. Sammy Addo-Donkoh is the planter.
Also on the Alexandria District, Sydenstricker United Methodist Church, under the leadership of the Rev. Don Jamison, will launch a satellite campus in Lorton on July 1, 2022. The Rev. Bob Riggles is the planter.
Stinston said, “We give thanks for these new faith communities and for the movement of the Holy Spirit who is constantly reaching out in new and creative ways to those who need the love of Christ but may not know it. Please keep these planters and congregations in your prayers as God works in and through them.”
Videos were shared with the conference members highlighting relationships partners of the conference Pinnacle Living and UMFS. Chris Henderson, president and CEO of Pinnacle Living; and Nancy Toscano, president and CEO of United Methodist Family Services (UMFS) brought greetings to the conference.