Bryan Compton and Madeline Pillow, conference staff, check out annual conference from the Tech Desk 

Bishop Lewis convenes 235th session of conference

Following separate Laity and Clergy sessions, Bishop Sharma D. Lewis officially called the 235th session of the Virginia Annual Conference to order at 3 p.m., June 16.  The conference began with the historical singing of "Are We Yet Alive," a hymn written by Charles Wesley that has been sung by persons gathering for holy conferencing since the beginning of the Wesleyan movement.  The Rev. Robert McMichael III and Mr. Jarvis Wilson are leading music for this conference. Bishop Lewis is presiding over her first annual conference session in Virginia.

The Rev. Raymond F. Wrenn, who is attending his 77th conference, and Ms. Ashton Huddleston, a member of Saint Mark UMC, Roanoke District, who is attending her first conference, gave opening prayer. Bishop Lewis introduced Bishop Ray Chamberlain who will be her "parliamentary consultant" during the afternoon session.

York River District Superintendent Seonyeoung Kim welcomed members of the conference to her district. Nancy Yarborough, lay leader of the York River District, also extended a welcome. Bishop Lewis asked members of the conference to join hands and pray for the retired bishops and their spouses from Virginia.

The bar of the conference was established.

Susan Reaves was elected secretary of the annual conference. The Rev. Delano Douglas and Mrs. Bev Myers were elected as assistant secretaries. Ms. Madeline Pillow was elected editor of the conference Journal. The annual conference committees were elected.

Joshua King, chair of the Rules Committee, asked the Rules be suspended to do necessary work.

The Rev. Mary Dadisman, clergy co-chair on the Commission on the Status and Rule of Women (COSROW), talked about her agency's monitoring of annual conference. Members of the on Ethnic Minority Concerns and Advocacy (CEMCA) will be assisting COSROW with collecting statistics to raise awareness of the types of people who are attending and speaking at conference.

Bishop Lewis gave her first episcopal address as the Virginia Conference's new bishop.  "I was told I was supposed to speak, but I'm going to do a new thing. I'm going to preach!" she said. "Annual conference is like a family reunion, a family picnic. We may not always agree, but we come out with one accord." She had members turn to each other and say, "Neighbor. A new thing," which is the theme of this year's conference. Her assistant, Terri Biggins, told the bishop she had traveled 7,823 miles since September 2016. She visited all 16 districts with her Chat and Chews seeing well over 3,000 people. She held 32 sessions with clergy and laity. Bishop Lewis reminded the gathering that her main theme at her installation in September was to "stir things up."  God sent me to tell you about a new thing,. she said. God said, "Behold I will do a new thing." "How many would agree that God is up to something in the Virginia Conference," Bishop Lewis asked. "It's time to stop playing church and to start being the church by demonstrating the transformations that have occurred within through our transformations through Jesus Christ."
The bishop said the conference must do three things: Change our focus. Clarify our focus. Commit to God's plan. "We can't let past failures prevent us from being the annual conference that God has called us to be," she said. "There must be a new vision." She apologized for the hurt and pain that some have suffered. "We need new narratives that laity are valued, that women can lead large churches, that young clergy will have a church to serve, that small churches will have people to serve." God doesn't want to look at the past, she said. "We cannot live in the past, we cannot live on yesterday's faith. There is nothing wrong with memory and reminiscing, but we cannot stay in the past," she said. "We want to do what we used to do and think we're going to have different results. We've got to do church differently. There are some folks who would never come into your church. There are generations of folks who do not know about the Gospel message."

   Bishop Lewis took to the floor of conference during her address.

"What should be our focus?" she asked. The mission of the United Methodist Church is to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. "We must see our future of possibilities instead of problems," Bishop Lewis said.
"We must commit ourselves to God's plan," she said. "Have we committed ourselves to the work of the Kingdom? Have we committed to love our brothers and sisters no matter what color, no matter what race, no matter what sexual orientation, no matter how young or how old? Whether you are conservative, or progressive or centrist, have we decided the souls of our brothers and sisters are more important than our theological agenda?"
Bishop Lewis took to the floor of the conference, saying she needed to preach among her people. "We've got to tell people about Jesus! It's a new season. It's a new day. It's a fresh anointing!" she exclaimed. "We're living in a world where people aren't sure where they are going. I don't know about you, but I feel it's a new day. I'm humbled and honored to be your bishop, but at the end of the day, I'm going to tell people about Jesus." Bishop Cho had you praying for four years, Lewis said. "You didn't know he was preparing you for me!" the bishop exclaimed.

Winchester District Superintendent Larry Thompson gave the report of the  District Superintendents. The report  was approved. The district Committees of Ordained Ministry and the district Boards of Church Location and Building were approved.  Several churches were recognized that are closing this year. They include Berea UMC, Eastern Shore; Bishop Memorial UMC, Richmond District; Rankin UMC and Wayne Hills UMC, Staunton District; Amor Y Paz and Powells Grove, Winchester District; East Hampton, York River District.

The Rev. Mark Ogren, director of the Center on Congregational Excellence, introduced the conference's new faith communities. They are:
Gainesville, Second Site, Benson McGlone--Alexandria District
Ghana Wesley UM Mission Second Site, John Obeng--Alexandria District
Christ Online Campus, Tony Arnold--Alexandria District
Arlington Urban Edge, Kate Floyd--Arlington District
Floris Online Campus, Ashley Allen--Arlington District
Bishop Lewis prayed for the new faith communities.

Bishop Lewis announced that "Glory Sightings," a series of videos highlighting ministries across the conference, will be shared throughout the conference session.

The Rev. Joseph T. Carson III shared the Equitable Compensation report.

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