Lay Delegate’s Report – Brenda Grembowski
The theme for annual conference this year was “Moving Forward in God’s Mission”. I believe that, through the majority vote of over 3,000 delegates, we began the spiritual journey of moving forward in God’s mission in the United Methodist Church.
Interwoven between a lot of committee reports and elections, we enjoyed many worship opportunities with our fellow UMC members across the state, including bible studies, the recognition of mission works in many districts, the honoring of retiring clergy and celebrating the ordination of new clergy, to name a few. One piece of business to share with our congregation is to request that everyone take a communications survey that will help prioritize the way the conference shares information with us. It is a simple survey that takes 5 to 7 minutes. The simplest way to take the survey is on your phone. You may send a text to 474747, and type “survey” as the message and send. You will get a reply with a link to take the survey. You may also go online at https://www.vaumc.org/survey and take the survey that way. Please take the survey before July 31.
While Pastor Brian will report on the specifics of the compelling voting decisions and motions passed during the conference, I would like to give you my perspective on one significant change that took place in the voting results. By a large margin, our newly elected delegates, representing us at the General Conference and the Southeastern Jurisdictional Conference, are younger and more diverse. When the results were in, it was made tremendously clear that people want change from the old status quo. Our very own Brian Johnson, Kim Johnson and Deb Angerman were among those newly elected. This is a testament to their dedication and hard work not only in our church, but for the greater United Methodist Church as a whole.
A few people expressed to me during the conference that they worried that the youth and inexperience of all of our newly elected delegates will be detrimental to the Church. My response to their concern is this. During the three days of conference, I witnessed a revival. I saw a diverse, educated and highly-motivated group of young men and women come together because they care enough about the future of the United Methodist Church to be elected to our higher conferences. That is powerful! The fact that our younger generation, the future of our church, is fired up and passionately willing to give of themselves in order to help steer and secure the future of our denomination is huge and hopeful! That is moving forward in God’s Mission.
Pastor’s Report – Brian Johnson
What is Annual Conference?
Annual Conference is yearly gathering of United Methodist Leaders from across Virginia. It is always a complicated mix of activities and emotions. There are reports to be given (everything from the status of the United Methodist colleges in Virginia to the status of Virginia United Methodism’s finances and clergy health benefits), worship services to be celebrated, and important discussions to have.
One of the annual highlights, for me, is the Service for the Ordering of Ministry. On Friday Night, 58 people were licensed, commissioned, and ordained as pastors – and those 58 people are being sent throughout Virginia to preach the Good News of Jesus, care for their communities, and help lead churches in doing God’s work. Every year when I experience those new pastors being celebrated and sent out into the world to do God’s work, it gives me hope for the future. They responded to God’s call on their lives, just as each of us is challenged to do every day. It was exciting to see.
Reaction to General Conference
This year’s Annual Conference was, in many ways, a response to (and a referendum on), the Special General Conference that was held in February of 2019. In February at General Conference, the global policy-making body of the United Methodist Church, that body voted by a very slim margin not to allow United Methodist clergy to perform same-sex weddings and not to allow the ordination of LGBTQIA+ persons as United Methodist pastors. In addition, that body put into place what’s called “enhanced enforcement” – harsh penalties (harsher than the penalties for any other violations of church policy) that include a one year unpaid suspension for any pastor who breaks those rules.
Delegation Election – Strong Victory for Advocates of Full Inclusion
Virginia’s Annual Conference reacted against that change in policy in a pretty overwhelming fashion. On Thursday at Annual Conference, the Virginia Annual Conference voted for its delegates to the 2020 General Conference, Jurisdictional Conference, and alternates. (Jurisdictional Conference is a level of UMC government just below General Conference – it’s the level at which bishops are elected for each region of the church). We elected 11 clergy (pastors) and 11 laity (people who aren’t pastors) to General Conference, 11 clergy and 11 laity to Jurisdictional Conference and 10 clergy and 10 laity as alternates. 63 of the 64 people who were elected are openly opposed to what happened at the 2019 General Conference – the only exception is one of the alternates. This means that nearly 100% of our elected delegates support full inclusion, including the ordination of LGBTQIA+ persons as UMC pastors and the celebration of same sex weddings by United Methodist Clergy. (And they were elected by an overwhelming margin.) This is huge news. In fact, across the United Methodist Church in the United States, supporters of full inclusion nearly swept the elections – somewhere between 70 and 80 percent of delegates elected to General Conference from the United States are in favor of allowing same sex weddings in the United Methodist Church and ordaining LGBTQIA+ persons as pastors in the UMC. But, remember that the United Methodist Church is a global body, and there does not seem to be a corresponding shift among our church’s membership outside the US. This means that, despite these landmark elections, the church’s policy may not change.
Virginia Delegation – 3 Members from Haymarket Church
Three people from Haymarket Church were elected to the Virginia delegation as Jurisdictional Conference delegates. I was elected as a clergy delegate to Jursidictional Conference, and Kim Johnson and Deb Angerman were elected as lay delegates to Jurisdictional Conference. We are making a 13-month commitment – helping the delegation to get ready for General Conference in May 2020, and then participating in Jurisdictional Conference in July 2020. Our job, as Jurisdictional Conference delegates, will be to support the General Conference delegates in their work and then to help elect the next bishops who will lead the United Methodist Church in the southeastern area of the United States. I ask you to pray for me, Kim, and Deb (and the whole delegation) as we seek to help the church move forward to where God is calling us to go next. Also, it’s worth noting that, with 3 delegates, Haymarket Church is tied with Floris United Methodist Church for the most members of the delegation. Out of 64 people elected from across Virginia, three of them are from our little church plant – that says something awesome about the spirit and leadership that we have present at our church! God is on the move here!
Motions to General Conference
In addition to electing our delegation to General Conference, we also voted on various motions. Three motions (or sets of motions) passed. The first had to do with representation at Annual Conference – it’s a technical matter that would help us better balance the number of people attending and save some money. That motion will go on to the 2020 General Conference and will need to be approved there before it takes effect. The second motion encouraged our bishops not to enforce punishments against pastors who perform same sex weddings until after the 2020 General Conference – basically, asking our bishops to slow down the rollout of the new rules that were enacted in 2019. This motion passed with an overwhelming majority. The third motion was actually a set of motions, calling upon the 2020 General Conference to delete the language from the United Methodist Book of Discipline (our denomination’s policy/law book) which states that “the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching.” This motion also passed with a significant majority, meaning that Virginia United Methodists seem clearly to be rejecting that language/statement. It’s important to note, however, that only General Conference can change that policy, which means that this vote was largely symbolic – the real work/change will have to happen in May of 2020 at General Conference.
I came out of Annual Conference exhausted (it was a long 4 days without much sleep), but hopeful. I saw our church working hard, practicing respect even amidst our disagreements, and organizing itself to get ready for a new future. I praised God in moments of worship, I prayed in the midst of tough decisions, and I was humbled that I was entrusted to serve as a delegate from Virginia to the church’s higher levels of leadership. God seems to be on the move, doing a new thing. The Holy Spirit is moving, leading our church forward to where God wants to go next. There is still much to be done, and the road is long, but God is not done with Methodists – in Virginia or beyond. And that’s exciting.