The Very Rev. Ian S. Markham spoke with Dr. Rob Vaughn, General Conference delegate, about ways churches can prepare before and after General Conference 2019. Markham is the dean and president of Virginia Theological Seminary and is part of the Episcopal Church. View video.


Virginia delegation takes time for prayer before General Conference 2019

By Madeline Pillow

The Virginia delegation to General Conference held a time of retreat on January 25, 2019 at the Roslyn Retreat Center in Richmond. The retreat was also open to other clergy and laity who wanted to participate in this time of prayer with the delegation. The retreat provide time for prayer, discernment and centering prior to the Special Session of General Conference which will be held in St. Louis from Feb. 23-26.
Danielle Hettmann, a young adult in the conference, offered her leadership in planning and organizing the retreat.

  Retreat participants are guided through a prayer walk.

“The Virginia delegation first discussed the retreat as a time of prayer, discernment and centering ahead of their last delegation meeting,” Hettmann said. “Since each of them are intently focused on their preparations, I’m helping bring that vision to reality by being the hands and feet to make the event possible. We currently have clergy and laity, delegates and non-delegates, scheduled to attend. I hope that attendees come away feeling centered and leave with a renewed focus on who God calls each of them to be.”

As the General Conference draws closer, Hettmann emphasized that the retreat did not focus specifically on the discussion of legislation but rather preparation in another way.

“General Conference should be approached with such care and preparation which our delegates have faithfully done. This retreat time will provide a space that will not focus specifically on discussion of legislation or preparation but instead provide a space for processing, reflection, and focus as we walk forward together.”

As part of the retreat time, Joy Crawford, director of youth and adult formation at Welborne UMC in Richmond and who holds a certificate in spiritual guidance from Shalem Institute for Spiritual Formation, led participants in a time of guided meditation. As well The Very Rev. Ian S. Markham, dean of Virginia Theological Seminary, spoke about the similar journey the Episcopal Church took in the last couple of decades and where The United Methodist Church now finds itself.

He expressed admiration that the delegation was making sure to take out time for prayer during this process. He reflected back on the similar conversations the Episcopal Church has had in the last two decades related to human sexuality and how United Methodists are now entering into territory where the Episcopal Church had once been.

“The Episcopalians and the United Methodists have the same danger,” said Markham. “We have to make sure that we remain church.”
He shared that it is important to appreciate conservatives who can be the voice of constantly asking, “Is this work of God?”

“Because not everything is,” said Markham.

  Joy Crawford leads participants in guided meditation.

He also shared the importance of the hard work of prophetic discernment and staying in conversation with as many people as we can.
Throughout the process of arguing about human sexuality in the Episcopal Church, Markham said that that in the denouement of that work and how it affected the church, it was important that they constantly reach out to each other and to build bridges with one another.

During his talk, Markham shared four principles for staying in conversation with one another which he considers a spiritual discipline.

1. I always recognize all the things that bind me to my sister and brother in Christ. We share so much.

2. I always aspire to sit with, understand, those who disagree.

3. I always seek to state the position I don’t hold with as much fairness as can muster.

4. I always seek to pray with, understand, and serve the other.

Markham said of disagreement:

“I always tell students you are never allowed to disagree with somebody until you can state their position accurately and in such a way that illustrates that you get it and that if somebody else was listening they might be persuaded. When you tick that box, then are you allowed to say this is where I have a problem.”

Markham concluded by sharing that the delegation and conference can help in the days following General Conference to emphasize seeing the humanity in each other and in those with which we disagree.

“Make it a human issue and prepare people to see that the ties that connect us are worth cherishing, feeding and supporting.”

The following day, the delegation met for their final meeting to discuss the three plans coming before General Conference and the ruling from the Judicial Council in October.

-Madeline Pillow is the editor of the Virginia Advocate magazine.


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