Southern District WVUMC holds first webinar conference


Southern District WVUMC holds first webinar conference
By Audrey Stanton-Smith

Nearly 50 attendees and panelists attended the Southern District West Virginia United Methodist Church Conference April 19, meeting and worshiping in a way that has become a new norm for most participants since early March — online.

Thirty-seven attendees and 10 panelists held the annual conference via Zoom webinar, a first for the annual meeting.

Reflecting on Acts 1:6-8, District Superintendent Rev. Joe Kenaston compared the world’s present circumstances to those the disciples were facing, when the church was in hiding behind closed doors — “not for fear of a virus, but for fear of death.” That’s when Jesus gave them a commission to be his witnesses to every part of the world. 

“What God is challenging us to do is to see ourselves in ministry outside of the church, outside of Jerusalem,” Kenaston said. “We need to keep in mind how we can be the church in ministry and mission in the counties of southern West Virginia and to the ends of the Earth.”

The webinar continued with examples of WVUMC Southern District churches doing just that, via Facebook, YouTube, Zoom and other digital formats. Attendees viewed a video compilation of online church services recorded Palm Sunday, featuring segments from more than 15 southern district churches and charges.

“I do appreciate the hard work and the creativity that lay and pastoral leadership are offering across the district,” Kenaston said following the video. “It’s still the same gospel, but we are presenting it in a way that will connect with folks around southern West Virginia.”

The meeting also included prayer, special music presented by the Global UM Choir, and celebrations regarding paid apportionments and the District Promotional Fund. Kenaston said to look for more good news in the future, crediting United Methodist Global Ministries with help expanding Hope in the Mountains into Sophia.

Rev. Steve Hamrick, chair of the District Committee on Ministry, also shared good news, reporting that Beverly Baker had been approved to attend licensing school and that Mark Schrader had successfully finished classes. 

Ministries at the New Vision Depot in Raleigh County and Heart + Hand Outreach in the Kanawha Valley displayed videos and offered information about their programs.

“We can’t do what we do without you,” said Dan Louther of New Vision, which recently deployed more than 100 flood buckets and hygiene kits to the Wheeling area to help with cleanup. The Depot also recently donated surgical masks to area first responders and health departments, as well as cleaning supplies to churches and other organizations that needed help sanitizing. “I know that in the near future, we’re going to be putting out for donations to help us restock again, especially with the N-95 masks.”

Vicki Ballengee, with Heart + Hand Outreach explained how her organization provides social services to some 5,000 people annually and serves 10-25 families each day through its food pantry. The organization also runs a thrift store and supports a program that helps convicted felons re-enter the workforce.

“All of this happens because of what we receive from the West Virginia Annual Conference,” she said, adding that in-kind donations are always welcome. Donations of items made locally through the New Vision Depot will be delivered to Heart + Hand in Charleston.

Participants were also asked to vote virtually, approving minutes from the 2019 meeting, the 2020-21 budget, and the slate of leadership officers via Survey Monkey or regular mail by April 30. Document PDFs were emailed to conference attendees and reviewed during the webinar.

Based on the success of virtual worship and small group attendances, Kenaston called on participants to consider incorporating technology and new forms of communication even after stay-at-home orders are lifted and churches reopen.

“I encourage you to see how to develop teams,” he said, “ … and when things go back, let’s not go back to the way it was. Let’s continue to use the gifts and the skills people have been offering during this time of pandemic. … Excellence needs to be our calling card. It’s a learning curve for all of us, but being able to give our best and be authentic about it makes all the difference in the world.

“We have an opportunity to share the gospel of Jesus Christ in amazing ways,” he added.

After participants watched the Global UM Worldwide Easter Virtual Choir perform “Alleluia,” Kenaston noted: “All around the world, we’re all singing Christ the Lord has risen, and that brings joy and hope even in the midst of a global pandemic.”

In his closing prayer, he thanked God, saying “the building may be closed but the church is alive and well.”