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News from the Virginia Conference - December 3, 2019

Conference DCM invites vision alignment input through listening sessions on Dec. 10, email
The Virginia Conference Director of Connectional Ministries (DCM) the Rev. Dr. Ted Smith is asking for feedback as the conference seeks to better align itself to the conference vision that was shared by Bishop Lewis at Annual Conference 2017. Vision alignment feedback may be given via ZOOM today during listening sessions with Smith at 12 p.m. and 7 p.m. or emailed to More... 

New video shares sounds of the season
The Rev. Drew Willson, Boulevard UMC, shares his thoughts on music of the season in the December Advocate and shares his gift and passion for music, especially Advent and Christmas music, in this corresponding video. More... 

Register soon for 2020 Faithful Aging Conference
The 2020 Faithful Aging Conference will be held on Tuesday, Mar. 31, 2020, at Bonsack UMC in Roanoke. The Rev. Dr. Richard (Rick) H. Gentzler, Jr., Tennessee Conference Director of Encore Ministry of The United Methodist Church, will be the opening keynote presenter. Dr. Gentzler, a much sought after speaker, teacher, and writer, is an internationally recognized leader in the field of aging and older adult ministries. He is author of numerous books and hundreds of articles on aging and older adult ministry. His latest book, An Age of Opportunity: Intentional Older Adult Ministry, was published in 2018. Other books and resources written by him include: Aging & Ministry in the 21st Century: An Inquiry Approach; The Graying of the Church; Designing an Older Adult Ministry; Aging: God’s Challenge to Church and Synagogue; Forty-Sixty: A Guide for Midlife Adults Who Want to Make a Difference; and, Rock of Ages (a large print worship and song book). Registration information will be available in January.  For additional information or questions, contact Martha Stokes, Director of Church and Community Relations with Pinnacle Living, by phone at 804-474-8718 or by email at

More members needed for medical mission trip to Honduras
Medical and non-medical folks are needed to complete a Friends of Barnabas Foundation team going to Honduras Feb. 8-16, 2020.  The trip is sponsored by Warwick Memorial UMC in Newport News and Main Street UMC in Suffolk as it provides medical/dental/eye care to five mountain villages. God may be calling you to this very mission. Each team member is paying $1,965 for their transportation, United Methodist Volunteers in Mission (UMVIM) insurance, food, and lodging. The team as a whole is also fund raising towards a goal of $11,500 for the medicines they will take. For more information, contact Dr. Carlos Liceaga at

Will your Christmas visitors feel celebrated or shamed?
In this article from the Lewis Center for Church Leadership, staff member Ann Michel shares that Christmas visitors can leave feeling shamed or belittled if church insiders project a holier-than-thou attitude. The preparation of Advent should include prayer about and discernment of how we might reflect the heart of God in welcoming all who seek the Christ Child at Christmas. More...

Support UMFS December offering
United Methodist Family Services (UMFS) is the Virginia Conference designated offering for December. UMFS deeply appreciates the support of local churches in this ministry, helping high-risk children create a brighter future. Each church in the conference was mailed a packet that included bulletin inserts and offering envelopes. Please don’t hesitate to reach out if you would like additional materials. This year an electronic printer-friendly version of the bulletin insert, a short UMFS video, and other worship resources are available at Please contact Jill Gaynor ( or 804-254-9463) with any questions, or to place an order for additional materials.

Final issue: Get your December Advocate now!
The final Advocate magazine is now available online and in print. Readers share their favorite Advent and Christmas hymns and the Rev. Drew Willson shares about music during the holiday seasons. As the magazine end its tenure, Advocate editor Madeline White née Pillow shares: “On a final note, it has been my great honor to edit this publication for the last four years. I am thankful for those who have come before me and the work they have done as faithful people of God. I am also grateful for our tremendous staff whose love and talent for this shone through every issue. I am grateful for you, dear readers. Thank you for joining us on this journey.” You may contact the Communications Office to place your order for any 2019 issue at or 804-521-1110.

Study at Wesley Theological Seminary in 2020
Need a time of refreshment following the busy Advent/Christmas season? Why not take a retreat week and come to J-Term at Wesley. Exciting courses will be taught over an intensive one- or two-week period in January 2020 – take the course for credit or audit Attention, Wesley graduates: all alumni may audit one of these J-Term classes for free! Some of our J-Term courses:

•    A Black Theological Critique of Spike Lee Dr. Asa Lee
•    Worship in Popular Culture – Dr. Anna Petrin
•    Faith on Film – Dr. Deryl Davis
•    Bodies, Books and God – Dr.  Katherine Brown

Wesley’s Spring term 2020 will feature a wide range of challenging topics in a format that fits with your busy life – days, evenings, weekends, online, and hybrid. Choose from courses like:
  •  BioEthics and Pastoral Care – Dr. Sondra Wheeler (Daytime/Afternoon)
  •  Caring for Community Through Non-Profit  Organizations – Dr. Jana Strukova (Hybrid -Online/Weekend)
  •  The Holy in Washington, D.C. Art: Art as Embodiment – Dr. Aaron Rosen (Daytime/Afternoon)
  •  Swords, Spaceships and Salvation – Dr. Rick Elgendy (Online)
  •  Ecology and Moral Community Dr. Joe Bush (Daytime/afternoon)
  •  When does life begin and end? Rabbi Fred Reiner (Daytime/morning)
  •  The Art of Toni Morrison and the Problem of Theodicy – Dr. Josiah Young (Evenings)

Deadline to register is Dec. 15, 2019. For more information about Wesley’s J-Term or Spring courses in 2020, contact Wesley Admissions today at or call 202-885-8659 or go to

Celebrate Heart Havens Month
Help Heart Havens share their message of inclusion and empowerment across the Virginia Conference. The organization empowers adults with developmental disabilities to live and thrive in their community. Heart Havens depends on the support of church friends during February to sustain their mission as they do not receive any funding from conference apportionments. Please contact them to learn about participating in Heart Havens month. Additional electronic resources will be available on their website in January. Contact Sara Becker at 804-237-6097 or for more information. More…

Reimbursement for Advocate magazine subscriptions available
If your subscription to the Virginia Advocate runs past 2019, you may contact the conference Communications Office to get a reimbursement or to donate your remaining balance to ongoing communications efforts or UMCOR (United Methodist Committee on Relief). Contact the Communications Office at 804-521-1110 or email expiration date can be found on the mailing label of the magazine.

Registration open for UM Day 2020
Registration is now open for United Methodist Day at the General Assembly in 2020 presented by the Virginia Board of Church & Society, United Methodist Women and the Virginia Legislative Network Committee. The date for the event is Jan. 30, 2020. This year there will be a new location for the event at The Pace Center, 700 W. Franklin Street in Richmond.  Learn more…

Five-Day Academy for Spiritual Formation event to be held in 2020
"Songs for the Journey" will be the theme for the Virginia Five-Day Academy for Spiritual Formation event from Mar. 15-20, 2020. The event will be held at the Roslyn Retreat Center in Richmond and will be a week of renewal, worship, prayer and learning with faculty, Dr. Don E. Saliers and Rabbi Rachel Barenblat. More...


Summit leads United Methodists to heart of border woes
A cold November rain was falling as 1-year-old Kataleya pushed her tiny arms out of a tent and her plaintive crying pierced the gray afternoon. Her father, Jesús, was just outside the tent. He reached down and wrapped her in his arms, pulling a small blanket around her shoulders.Misery, desperation and love are languages that need no translation. Members of the United Methodist Immigration Task Force — hailing from around the U.S. and Mexico — visited migrants living on a small street near the Paso del Norte International Bridge, which connects Juárez with El Paso. The visit was part of a three-day Immigration Summit held in El Paso, Texas; Las Cruces, New Mexico; and Juárez, Mexico. The group walked to the bridge after leaving a nearby migration processing facility in Juárez. United Methodists volunteer their time at the center to feed and bring some relief to migrants suffering from the unrelenting waiting and worrying as they seek asylum. Migrants arrive with very few possessions. They are not prepared for the long wait. Churches and other organizations supply them with tents. Silver Mylar blankets donated by a United Methodist church dotted the bleak scene. Migrants were using the blankets to add another layer of protection from the rain. Like many others in this makeshift camp, Jesús and his family are fleeing organized crime in Mexican states like Michoacán, Guerrero and Zacatecas or countries like El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala. They came here to seek asylum in the U.S. and have been on this street for two months. Jesús’ wife, Mariana, is pregnant. Many migrants choose to live outside near the bridge, fearing that if they move they might lose their spot on the waiting list to interview with a border agent on the other side of the bridge. More...

Church nativity displays Jesus, Mary and Joseph in cages, separated at the border
A Southern California church flipped the lights on its outdoor manger scene Saturday evening to reveal Jesus, Mary and Joseph as border detainees, each figure isolated in its own chain-link cage with a barbed-wire top. The nativity display from Claremont United Methodist Church, a suburban congregation east of Los Angeles, is raising both praise and ire for its depiction of the biblical story of Jesus’s family fleeing to Egypt in the context of controversial U.S. immigration policies. The nativity is meant to highlight the plight of migrants and refugees, a longtime cause for this 300-member congregation, said the Rev. Karen Clark Ristine, the church’s senior pastor. “Our intent is to focus on the asylum seekers and the ways they are being greeted and treated and to suggest there might be a more compassionate way to show God’s love,” Ristine said. “I think as Christians we have a responsibility to proclaim a narrative that might be counter to what the world thinks.” More...

Scripture key to first draft of WCA discipline
The Bible is the supreme arbiter of right and wrong when it comes to marriage and every other issue, states a 53-page first draft of a guidebook for a potential new denomination spun out of The United Methodist Church.“The canonical books of the Old and New Testaments … are the primary rule and authority for faith, morals and service, against which all other authorities must be measured,” says the “Draft Book of Doctrines and Discipline for a New Methodist Church,” posted by the Wesleyan Covenant Association on Nov. 8.The WCA formed in 2016, attracting United Methodists who hold to a traditionalist approach to Christian faith, including upholding the denomination’s bans on same-sex unions and ordination of openly gay clergy. The group supported the Traditional Plan that passed 438-384 at the rancorous 2019 General Conference in St. Louis. The plan strengthened church restrictions against ordination of gay clergy and same-sex unions. Since then, the association has taken steps toward forming what it calls a new expression of Methodism, though its leaders continue to be in talks about the future of The United Methodist Church. The WCA’s legislative assembly endorsed the New Denominations of United Methodism Plan, better known as the Indianapolis Plan. That plan would divide The United Methodist Church into two or more denominations. The draft Book of Doctrines was a main subject of discussion at the WCA’s recent meeting in Tulsa and is the latest step toward the possible creation of a new, traditionalist church. More... 

Jurisdictional conference sues SMU
The South Central Jurisdictional Conference of The United Methodist Church is suing Southern Methodist University, claiming the Dallas school improperly moved last month to sever ties with the conference and denomination. The dispute deals with who has ultimate control over SMU and comes as The United Methodist Church faces uncertainty about its future, given internal division over how accepting to be of homosexuality. The suit, filed Dec. 4 in state civil court in Dallas County, challenges SMU’s recent change of its articles of incorporation to delete mention of the conference. “By this lawsuit, the South Central Jurisdictional Conference seeks to preserve a 100-year-relationship that it or its predecessors have held with SMU,” said a statement from the jurisdiction’s Mission Council, which authorized the court action. SMU released its own statement Dec. 5. “SMU cherishes our history with the (United Methodist) Church, and we are committed to maintaining close connections with the church and its successors. “In response to the debate regarding the future organizational structure of the church, the SMU board of trustees recently updated its governance documents to make it clear that SMU is solely maintained and controlled by its board of trustees as the ultimate authority for the university.”
The statement concludes: “With Methodist in our name, the Perkins School of Theology as a resource and assurance of Methodist representation on the board of trustees, the church will continue to have important influence in the governance of SMU.” A spokeswoman said SMU’s leadership was not commenting beyond the statement. More... 

United Methodist men fight climate change in Congo
United Methodist men in Congo are helping to fight climate change through education and action. “The effects of climate change are felt in Congo. … It is our responsibility as men to see far away and begin to counter it through our actions,” said Martin Lubamba, president of United Methodist Men in the Kivu Conference. During a recent celebration of the men’s organization, the group reflected on ways to combat climate change. They appealed to agronomist Rachid Mutoro, a young adult in the conference, to teach them about global warming and the measures they can take to protect the environment. “The challenge is significant,” Mutoro said, “because despite the threat, our society is struggling to review its waste management habits in households and industries that are located in urban areas.” Mutoro urged the men to raise awareness of the dangers of climate change and the consequences, including rising temperatures and sea levels, flooding and decreased agricultural production. He said United Methodists need to practice good management of household waste and garbage and to reforest empty spaces to reduce greenhouse gases. “All this will leave the future generation with a better climate and clean air,” he said. Mutoro said the destruction of forests is a problem facing the country. More...

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