It was a joy and an honor to represent Community of Faith UMC as our lay delegate to the Virginia Annual Conference on June 15-17, 2023. I was called to serve as the alternate this year when Raj Bartakke decided it was best not to travel as Naomi continued on her miraculous recovery. Though I wish those circumstances had not occurred, I was blessed with a wonderful experience at the conference. I was joined by Pastor Rob Vaughn, Bane Vaughn, Hannah Godfrey, and Joanna Dietz.
Bishop Sue Haupert-Johnson designated the theme for this year’s conference to be “United as One In Mission”, and both the “united” and “mission” portions of that theme were evident. There was a very upbeat and joyous atmosphere at the conference under the leadership of Bishop Haupert-Johnson. This feeling was not just my own, as Pastor Rob told me multiple times that it was a great year to be attending my first Annual Conference.
I came to the conference expecting a lot of formal business, and there was of course business to be done. But I was also pleasantly surprised by the awesome spiritual experience I had at the conference. There were worship services each day, including Holy Communion with over 1000 participants. (That was a God-moment in itself.) The messages included “Going Beyond the Walls of the City” in which Bishop Haupert-Johnson asserted that our work as disciples is not primarily inside the church, but out in the community, nation, and world. And Rev. Gary Miller of the Coastal Virginia District had a moving message of remembrance, “Can These Bones Live?”, based on Ezekiel, chapter 37. The music at the conference was a great mix of traditional and contemporary songs that were spiritual and uplifting.
Of course, there was plenty of business to address, and the process flowed smoothly, with dignity and respect, even in the brief moments of differing opinions. Here is a summary of some of the business proceedings:
There were no new disaffiliations to address at Annual Conference. The total number of churches in the Virginia Annual Conference that have disaffiliated is 107. This represents about 6% of the total and is on the lower end among the conferences in the United States.
- Thirteen churches were closed, and two new faith communities were announced.
- The Virginia Delegation of the General Conference, of which Pastor Rob is a member, presented its report, including a unanimous endorsement of the Christmas Covenant Regionalization Plan. The Christmas Covenant proposes the creation of Regional Conferences, which would include a United States Regional Conference. This structure would allow U.S. specific business to be completed outside of the General Conference, which includes worldwide representation. You can find more information on the Christmas Covenant by clicking here. After some discussion, the Virginia Annual Conference affirmed, by a significant majority, the delegation’s endorsement.
- During the discussion of the Equitable Compensation report, a motion was made to increase the minimum salary for full-time clergy in each category by $1000 in 2024. The motion passed.
- Another motion was approved which proposed that a work group be appointed to review and provide recommendations on clergy compensation.
- The various committees and boards gave their reports and full details can be found here.
- New laity and clergy leaders were recognized: 1 certified lay minister; 23 lay supply pastors; 15 local pastors; 1 provisional deacon; 12 provisional elders; 2 associate members; and 5 elders were ordained.
- New clergy appointments were approved in aggregate.
During the breaks and evenings, there were lots of opportunities to learn about the different missions and advocacy groups within the Annual Conference. Some of the missions support: 1) Local and world-wide food insecurity, 2) People with physical and mental challenges, 3) Senior citizens, and 4) Refugees. Advocacy groups support: African Americans, Hispanic Americans, Asian Americans, Women, the LGBTQ+ Community, and Creation Care.
The service of retirement was bittersweet, as the Annual Conference recognized retiring clergy and their spouses and wished them well in the next chapter of their lives. This recognition, of course, included our own Rev. Dr. Rob Vaughn and Bane. It’s notable that Rob had the most years of service among all the retiring clergy. Community of Faith has been blessed by Pastor Rob’s leadership and ministry and will continue to celebrate his legacy for generations to come.
I am truly grateful to God and His people, my friends at Community of Faith, for granting me the privilege and life-changing experience of attending the Virginia Annual Conference as your delegate. I am humbled and even more challenged to carry on the discipleship of Jesus Christ as a member of Community of Faith and the United Methodist Church.