For several days in June of each year, our Virginia Conference of the United Methodist Church meets as a body. With over 1100 churches, this amounts to a lot of people. I confess to not always having a positive attitude toward spending several days sitting still in a chair listening to a multitude of reports interspersed with Bible study and worship. I am sorry to say that “Survival” was often my goal, when a conference like this should really be about “Revival”.
This year I prayed for God to help my attitude. In addition we received a lot of help from Bishop Cho.
One pastor commented on his blog: “I have never attended an Annual Conference that was as spiritually anchored and moving as this one. It may sound like I am oversimplifying matters, but I think the primary reason for this is the remarkable leadership of Bishop Young Jin Cho.” – Rev. George Riggins
Bishop Cho’s leadership added so many spiritual dimensions starting with the theme, “Lord, Teach Us to Pray.” From the beginning, in his Episcopal address, Bishop Cho cast a vision for our conference.
“This is the reason I think the issue we, the UMC, face today is a spiritual issue and a faith issue. This is the reason I say, “No spiritual vitality, No vital congregations.” If we do not go back to Jesus Christ who is the owner of The United Methodist Church, if we do not truly honor the Lordship of the risen Christ, there is no way for us to move toward a fruitful future. If we are not connected to the true vine, Jesus Christ, we cannot bear much fruit. Apart from the Lord, we can do nothing.”
Rev. Tom Berlin said “Bishop Cho is the first Bishop to ever challenge him to pray one hour a day and to be mindful of the spiritual disciplines.”
“Of course all of us pray but just saying hello to Jesus a couple of times at the table is not enough.” – Bishop Cho
“The presence of God’s Spirit could not be missed. Bishop Cho’s humble servant leadership is evident and his emphasis on prayer a powerful witness.” – Rev. Brian Simmons
Bishop Cho as a young man, experienced a five year long struggle with tuberculosis that nearly killed him. For days, he laid in a hospital intensive care unit losing blood. Over 30 pints were added during those days but nothing seemed to stop the bleeding. Quoting Matthew 10:29-31: “Are not sparrows sold two for a penny? So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.” The peace that came to him in that moment led Bishop Cho on a journey toward ministry. More difficulties ahead but he gained an assurance of God’s presence and a freedom from any more fear. (Adapted from Advocate)
As the conference progressed, we heard story after story of lives changed by prayer to the “Joy” of serving an all-powerful, all-loving, all-forgiving God. Rev. Clarence Brown challenged us to, “be joyful enough that young folks might actually want to come.” Rev. Tom Berlin emphasized the “joy of giving it all for God and discovering the single perfect pearl of great value.”
In the midst of meetings, worship and prayer we also served and generously contributed our time, talents and money: “Collected 10,216 school kits, 17,996 health kits, 5878, birthing kits, 1698 layette kits, 343 cleaning buckets, 345 other kits for UMCOR – all worth $453,647.” – Virginia Conference Update
“The promise of God is the foundation for us not to be afraid,” Bishop Cho proclaimed. “God’s promise to be with us can be burdensome news before it becomes good news. God knows our thoughts, our hearts, and our every move. God knows about the lies we tell to evade difficult moments. There is no place we can hide from God. There is no privacy before the Lord. Where can you hide from the face of God? There is no place to hide. There is no place untouched by God’s love. The Good News is although we have so many shortcomings, God still does not give up on us. God still loves us. This is amazing grace. We need not worry about tomorrow because we know Who is with us and Who will lead us,” Bishop Cho said.
After three very full days the final service ended, Bishop Cho for the final benediction raised his hands, smiled and said – “Get out of here! Go home!” We will indeed go home, tired but refreshed, challenged yet comforted. Our churches still face an uphill battle but we have been encouraged and prepared. Thank you, Bishop Cho for helping us to experience the power and grace of God at Annual Conference.
“We are not on a sinking ship because our captain is the Risen Lord!” – Bishop Cho
“I have never left an Annual Conference more excited, more enthused, and more hopeful about the future of our United Methodist Church. Yes, we have some major challenges ahead, but I am confident that God has called and equipped us for such a time as this! Thanks be to God!” – Rev. George Riggins