Methodists focus on innovation

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BUCKHANNON — “Innovative” served as the theme for this year’s annual West Virginia Conference of the United Methodist Church.

The conference, which began June 7 and wrapped up Sunday on the campus of West Virginia Wesleyan College, selected that theme because it’s one of the four core qualities the UM Church feels a spiritual leader should have, conference spokeswoman Deborah Coble said Saturday.

In addition to innovative, the other three key qualities are invitational, hopeful and generative.

“Those are four qualities and characteristics of a passionate spiritual leader, whether a person is a clergyperson or a laity if you are hopeful, innovative, invitational and generative, then you should be a good leader and follower of Jesus Christ,” said Coble, the director of communications for the W.Va. Conference of the United Methodist Church.

“We’re celebrating and lifting up innovative ministries and innovative ways of reaching people,” she added.

Indeed, one of the societal issues requiring innovation right now is the opioid epidemic ravaging the Mountain State.

“One of the things that we’re passionate about addressing right now is the reality of the substance use disorders and the opioid crisis, and through the leadership of Barry Steiner Ball, who is the husband of (Bishop) Sandra Steiner Ball,” Coble said. “He is really leading us to be more intentional about reaching out to our neighbors, being welcoming to all and one of our focuses has been the children that are caught in the midst of the crisis … and the families and how can we walk alongside people and be difference makers.”

Coble said the church is exploring ways to walk alongside — rather than look down on — people struggling with addiction in an effort to help them overcome its grip.

“So I think it’s, ‘How do we interact in our communities?’” she said. “‘How do we respond to the needs of our neighbors and how are we creating safe places for people? How do people of faith respond to this?’ And it can’t be building a wall of separation; it’s actually reaching and stepping over and being in relationship.”

This year’s conference is the continuation of a church tradition that unites representatives from all United Methodist churches across West Virginia and Garrett County, Md. to share ideas, conduct business and brainstorm new ways of reaching people.

“It’s part of our rhythm of our life together,” Coble explained. “We have business meetings, we have sermons, we have teaching sessions. We gather together to celebrate, to pass a budget, to do the business of the church and to learn and be inspired so we can go home to our churches and lead and do what we’re called to do, which is to make disciples.”

One event unique to this year’s annual conference was a large barbecue open to community members that took place Friday evening on the lawn in front of Wesley Chapel. Approximately 1,000 people attended, Coble said, adding that the event was a way for the church to show its gratitude to Wesleyan and the Buckhannon community for hosting the conference for so many years.

“We really feel like a part of the Buckhannon community, and we are really appreciative of the Buckhannon community for just embracing us and welcoming us,” she said. “For us, it’s a sacred space. It just becomes a place where special memories are made, where friendships are rekindled. I’ve been able to fly a drone and to see from up high and to see the beauty all around us.”

Other capstone events included addresses delivered by conference bishop Sandra Steiner Ball and Dr. Junius Dotson as well as ordination on Sunday.

“This morning, we also lifted up and celebrated a very small country church up in the northern district that’s making a huge impact on its community,” Coble added. “It’s those kind of things — that idea sharing and those opportunities to learn more and to celebrate that just make conference special.”

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