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By the time this Advocate is distributed, I will have completed my 16th (32 sessions total) Bishop’s Chat and Chew listening session in the annual conference. I would like to take this opportunity to thank all of the host churches for providing excellent meals and hospitality during my visits. In addition, I would like to express my appreciation for the clergy and laity that shared their desires and struggles with the denomination and the Virginia Annual Conference.

I was very excited to dialogue with several youth groups and confirmation classes who attended the listening sessions. I was very encouraged by the energy, conversations and attendance that have taken place for the last eight months.

In addition, I would like to thank Warren Harper, Virginia Conference lay leader, and Sandy Harper for accompanying me during the Chat and Chew listening sessions.

The purpose of the Chat and Chews was to provide me an opportunity to listen, glean and develop a collaborative vision for the annual conference in the coming years. After each Chat and Chew, I spent several hours in prayer and reflection upon the demographical information compiled from each district and the data transcribed from the listening sessions.

There were several common themes that permeated throughout the 16 districts. These included:
• developing an intentional discipleship system
• understanding our Wesleyan tradition and doctrine
• welcoming all individuals in our churches
• collaborating with other United Methodist churches in local and global mission
• cultivating stronger youth ministries
• shifting the culture of small churches from surviving to thriving mode within the Virginia Annual Conference.

I found the sessions in each district invaluable, and I met incredible clergy and laity blessed with many gifts and graces for ministry. Please join me next year in Bishop Lewis’ Chat and Chew 2.0. Information and locations will be forthcoming. In addition, please read next month’s issue (if you were not able to be with us at Annual Conference) to learn about the upcoming vision for the Virginia Annual Conference.