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Saturday Morning Session

A conference member donates to YSF.

The youth members attending conference greeted members coming through the doors of the civic center Saturday morning and took a collection for the Youth Service Fund. Jim Bennett led a time of music and singing and then Bible study with Thomas Kemper began. (Click here to listen to a sound file of Kemper's study, mp3). Kemper talked about being in mission WITH and showed a new Web site the church has developed at Kemper talked about being in ministry outside the gates of the church. In the ancient world the gate was a place of protection … those outside the gate were literally and figuratively outcasts, criminals … and those infirmed.

Kemper showed examples of United Methodist ministries around the world: in Haiti, where the church continues to help the people rebuild their lives after the 2010 earthquake; in Mongolia, which the church has expanded a ministry that began with Hospice care; in West Africa, where the church’s “Imagine No Malaria” is going beyond distribution of life-saving bed nets; in Eastern Europe, with a ministry among the Roma (formerly gypsy) people in Hungary and the Czech Republic; and Southeast Asia, which started with Vietnamese and Laotian immigrants to the U.S. who got involved with United Methodist Churches and wanted to return and share the gospel in their own countries, which still have Communist governments. The church in Vietnam is very mission-minded and has provided help to its neighbors in Laos and Cambodia.

Clara Biswas, missionary in Cambodia, addresses conference.

Kemper introduced Clara Biswas, a missionary in Cambodia, who addressed the members about her ministry journey. She now works with orphaned and abandoned children in that country. “God created this beautiful world for us, whether you live in a garbage dump or in a rich family. We must carry on our ministry because their life, your life, my life, is beautiful.”

Kemper announced that the Virginia Conference was again the denominational leader for highest designated giving for mission support in 2010.

Carl Moravitz brought a report on All Things News. Lay and clergy are making all things new pledging more than $2.5 million. The effort has now been extended to local churches. Over $50,000 has been pledged since Pentecost Sunday. Moravitz thanked everyone in advance for their efforts. "It's no small thing that we do individually when it touches the lives of those we touch," he said. "All Things News, a living banner for today."

After another round of balloting, Mr. Jim Bergdoll, president and executive director of the Virginia United Methodist Foundation, brought the report of foundation. He reported gains in all investments, even though May and June have been volatile months. Bergdoll is retiring at the end of the month after 12 years of service to the foundation. Ron Hardman expressed "heartfelt appreciation" for the decades of service Bergdoll has given to higher education and the foundation. The new executive director, E. Deal Tompkins, who is coming to the conference, most recently from the foundation office at Emory and Henry College, was introduced.

The Rev. Tom Coffman, president of the Retired Clergy Housing Corporation, brought his report. He introduced the Rev. Gary Shelton who resides in one of the Roanoke homes and will be turning 90 this summer. "I appreciate the privilege of you being my gracious host and landlord. I love you... God bless you," he said.

The Rev. Alan Combs and the Rev. Jessie Squires, representatives of the Young Adult Council, explained the VocationCARE program, a call to young leaders to renew the church, change the world. Combs said the Virginia Conference has had the largest group participate in VocationCARE training. CARE is an acronym: C-Create a space to explore Christian vocation; A-Ask self-awakening questions; R-Reflect theologically on self and community; E-Explore/Establish/Enact ministry opportunities. They showed a video that local churches can share in their congregations by going to the Fund for Theological Education Web site. Squires led all the members of the conference through one of the practices learned at the VocationCARE training. It's a meditation called "letting go." It teaches to let go of the old and bring in the new.

Bishop Whitaker announced that the body would consider more resolutions.

Resolution 9, "The Priority of Proclaiming Jesus Christ." Beth Christian, chair of the Board of Discipleship, said her board recommends concurrence with the resolution with an amendment. The makers of the resolution concurred with the amendment. The new wording reads, "Therefore, we affirm Jesus Christ is the Son of God, the Messiah, the Savior and Lord of all. Proclaiming the Lord Jesus Christ, in word and deed, is the Christian Church's priroity. Witnessing to Jesus Christ as crucified and raised from the dead who to everyone who belives in him receives forgiveness of sins is the supreme purpose of the Church." The Board of Discipleship will go back with the makers of the resolution and do some rewording of the amendment and bring it back to conference.

Resolution 11, "Stop Wage Theft," referred to the Board of Church and Society."  The board recommends concurrence with the deletion of point number 5 in the resolution. The makers agreed to this.

Liturgical dancers, from left, Rev. Crystal Sygeel, an elder from the PNW Conference, and Jessi Bullard Young act out Scripture and story for worship. Both are on staff at Union Presbyterian Seminary in Richmond.

Bishop Whitaker moved the conference to a time of worship with the Rev. Dr. Sam Wells. Wells sermon title this morning was "Not Peace but a Sword."

(Click here to listen to Dr. Wells' sermon, mp3). "Today we are looking at division," Wells said. He told about a situation where he oversaw several dozen churches. One church was fighting about its stained glass windows that did not match. He tried to limit the conversations. He formed an impression. No one had stood up to these people for a generation or more.

In another instance he entered into a stand up shouting match with young people at a church about a supposed teenage pregnancy. At another church it was a fight over a church hall that was being used by outsiders. Two homeless men started sleeping there and the housekeeper fed them. The lady who ran the classes in the hall was furious. All these examples show how much time these conflicts take up. "Many of us resent that wasted time and grieve the waste of emotional energy," Wells said. But Jesus says, "Do not think I've come to bring peace to the earth." What do these words mean? It depends on what you mean by peace and what we mean by the sword. Sometimes the sword can hurt, but it can also be used to divide, to heal and to reveal the truth.

The Rev. Sam Wells preaches on "Not Peace but a Sword."

"We can pretend there's no conflict, but Jesus says no," Wells said. "Don't call it peace if it isn't." Jesus came to bring truth and healing. Taking up the cross comes as the answer to division. "All churches crucify Jesus," said Wells. Will you impose a false peace? Or will you find healing. "Okay, I get it. You're asking me to follow Jesus." Do we make the church look good or shape it around the cross? he asked. "Are you talking about it or are you living it?" The cross doesn't look good but it's the only peace Christians know. "What's it going to be?" Wells asked. "Look good or looking like God?"


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