By the Rev. Jay Carey, District Superintendent
The geography of the Farmville and James River districts includes the southern portion of Virginia from Halifax County to Suffolk and the northern area from Scottsville to Surry. These two districts are part of 18 counties, three interstates, major highways, byways, US roads, primary and secondary roads, and many small towns, communities, and hamlets that make up what many refer to as “Southside” Virginia. There are two military forts (Pickett and Lee), state parks, recreation areas, colleges, hospitals, and several historical sites of Methodism (including the original location of Randolph-Macon College in Boydton). There are at least 16 jails or prisons in this district. Most of the 175-plus churches on these two districts have been faithfully worshipping Jesus for over 75 years – and some predate the Civil War!
This area of the Virginia Annual Conference is also literally filled with water! There are at least 13 rivers, two reservoirs, over 12 large lakes (and many small lakes), countless large and small creeks, and several branches, runs, swamps, and streams that meander throughout this part of the Commonwealth every day.
The District Initiative team, consisting of clergy and laity from the Farmville and James River districts began meeting last fall and prayerfully began the work of drafting a new name and vision statement for this district. After reviewing the many attributes of this geographic area, several suggestions were offered. But soon, one name captured the hearts of the team: Living Waters. John 4 tells the story of Jesus meeting a Samaritan woman at a well at a noontime where Jesus invites the woman to receive water that will spring up to eternal life (vs14). John 7:37-38 records Jesus’ invitation to come and drink and whoever believes …”out of their heart will flow rivers of living water.”
The Living Waters District name is based on how water is prevalent throughout this district and flows into, and out of, every county. And like the living waters that flow into us all through faith in Jesus, we too are called to “flow out” into our communities sharing the love and grace of Christ.
The Living Waters District Initiative team has been meeting regularly to 1) identify and design ways these two districts can be in ministry together; 2) to empower local churches to be “the church in ministry, mission and worship together” in their communities where lives are changed, needs are addressed and met, and new revival emerges!
The 15 geographic groups of churches in this new district will be known as “streams” that will have clergy and lay leadership working side-by-side together in their communities. The mission of the Living Waters District is to embrace, empower and inspire all congregations in our area to embody the love of God in Christ Jesus by offering the living water of Christ to everyone.
Our work here is not about merging, but about developing this part of the Virginia Conference of United Methodist Christians so that we are able to live into our call to make disciples of Jesus for the transformation of the world. There is a self-identified call for revival, and a need for renewed teaching of how to be disciples in each community so that each church can live into our Conference Vision to be Disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world who are lifelong learners who influence others to serve.
This area of our conference has a deep and rich history of faithfulness and we are standing on the shoulders of so many who ministered, served, worshipped, and sacrificially gave of themselves to Christ to further God’s kingdom in this area and in the world.
We now have the unique opportunity to really do a new thing (behold I am making all things new – Revelation 21:5). Please pray for us as we look at doing new things in new ways and doing old things in old and new ways. Pray that as we do things that we’ve never done before, and as we stretch to dream about how we can connect or reconnect with our communities, we will be able to engage and impact others for Christ. One thing is certain: if we keep doing things the same old way, we will continue to experience the same old results!
Our new district staffing plan will include a district superintendent and both of our administrative assistants that we have known and relied upon for years. We will add a new Director of Vision and Vitality and a staff person with skills in various forms of communication. The Living Waters staff will be working with Streams, churches, and pastors as they develop plans for ministry, mission, spiritual growth, depth, and outreach in their communities. While none of us know what the future holds, we all know who is holding the future and that One is the same person who promised to walk alongside us every step of our journey.
Friends, we have so much to work for! As we transition into a new district we have also discovered the unique gift of our current branch or circle groups that have turned the geography of our James River and Farmville districts from very large to small. We are discovering that we can work together to build God’s kingdom in our own “backyard.”