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Dear Virginia Annual Conference,

On April 14, 2018, more than 225 people from the north, south, east and west areas of Virginia and beyond came to dialogue about the most crucial conversation of our lives — the conversation on race and reconciliation.

As we gathered at Annandale United Methodist Church, I noticed the excitement in the area as we exchanged polite greetings. However, as I moved around the church and experienced brief exchanges, I could feel a sense of uncertainty in the air. The topic of race and reconciliation is a hot topic but can scare the average individual.

When I hosted the first Bishop’s Chat and Chew, several individuals shared unapologetically that the Virginia Conference needed to work on the racial division in our conference. I was pleasantly surprised by the honesty from the clergy and laity who wanted to work on this issue. However, as I prayed and discerned, the Holy Spirit revealed the Virginia Conference resources and the resources of our apportioned dollars in the General Commission on Religion and Race (GCORR). I shared with our Commission on Ethnic Minority Concerns and Advocacy (CEMCA) that I wanted to tackle this monumental issue, and the rest is history.

Our keynote speaker, Romal Tune began the event by telling a story that was so appropriate for the conversation. Interestingly, he experienced a delay in the arrival to the church because his iPhone was “frozen,” and he had to depend on several individuals that did not “look” like him for directions to the church. The story was quite relevant as he articulated the assumptions we make about individuals we encounter.

Romal pushed us to examine our own stories of race (both experiential and inherited.) He articulated, “Just about everything begins and ends with the story you have accepted as truth about yourself and others. These stories will shape our thinking, actions and assumptions about different races.” The “a-ha” moment was the realization that until we are able to examine our own stories we can never have an authentic conversation about race and reconciliation. He emphasized, “When we surrender our stories to God then we are able to embrace a new Kingdom narrative about race.”

The video “Deconstructing White Privilege” by Dr. Robin DiAngelo was viewed in the afternoon session. The Rev. Giovanni Arroyo and the Rev. Michelle Ledder, Programs Ministry for GCORR, led the convocation in several small group conversations on race and reconciliation based on the video and workbook. As I listened intently to the conversations, individuals were highly engaged, owning their truths, learning new language and listening to each other. I walked away from this session with a sense of assurance that our conversations on race and reconciliation have just started.

Peace and Blessings,

Bishop Sharma D. Lewis

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