2021 ANNUAL GATHERING


During turbulent times, Methodist men

challenged to ‘stay focused on Jesus’

During these turbulent times, Bishop James Swanson Sr. challenged United Methodist men to stay focused on Jesus because, “One thing I know is, he holds the future.”

Swanson is the resident bishop of the United Methodist Church’s Mississippi Conference. He also is president of the church’s General Commission on United Methodist Men. He recently was a keynote speaker at the Annual Gathering of the West Virginia United Methodist Men.

Because of the pandemic, the gathering was held virtually. A video of the proceedings — including Swanson’s message — is posted on the internet at https://vimeo.com/604225243

“The trick of the enemy is to get you off-focus,” Swanson said. He cited the verses in John Chapter 21 where Jesus is talking to Peter but Peter is distracted by someone else and asks, “What about him?”

Jesus replied that Peter must not be distracted but must stay focused. Jesus said, “You must follow me.”

In the midst of the pandemic, racial upheaval, strife, and a very contentious society where “everybody seems to have their feet anchored in concrete with no sense of how we can find a way to live not only together but to bless each other,” Swanson asked, “How do we hear the voice of Jesus that so clearly says, ‘Follow me.’ How do we do that when we seem to be so easily distracted?”

Jesus provides the answer when he tells Peter to avoid distractions and stay focused on the mission of making disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Swanson said people have lots of questions about what the future holds. “I don’t know” what the future holds, he said, “but one thing I do know is, He hold the future. He also holds my hand.”

“The trick of the enemy is to get you to a point where you’re not focused, Swanson said, “so that when somebody who is a candidate to get to know Jesus walks by, instead of you putting your focus on being able to give them a Christian witness…your mind is turned somewhere else where it does not need to be.

“Not only must you stay focused, your passion has to be centered and focused in the Lord Jesus Christ,” Swanson concluded.

Sandra Steiner Ball, resident bishop of the West Virginia Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church, presented Swanson at the men’s gathering.

Bishop Steiner Ball, noting that the gathering was held on the 20th anniversary of the terrorist attacks, said, “People wondered that day, ‘Where is our God?’ And some have asked that question during the past 20 years.”

The answer, she said, is that “God is in our midst 24/7.” She reminded the men that He is the Great Physician. “Jesus’ message is of hope and life,” she said.

Bishop Steiner Ball urged her audience to “be open. Allow Christ…to touch and heal our eyes, our ears, our tongues so that our witness might not be just about physical, human things, but about Jesus, the Great Physician, who wants to give and bring our world healing in so many ways — spiritual and physical healing.

“It’s a story about the Great Physician. About living water. About the bread of life. Be open! This world needs a message from people like me and like you, who have struggled with the challenges, the disappointments and the pain of life. Be open, for this world needs to know and meet and receive its Savior — that One who can bring healing to this mess, bring hope in the midst of hopelessness and bring life, not just for the moment, but for eternity.”

Also during the annual gathering:

* Rev. Dr. Barry Steiner Ball spoke about the church’s mission to help the children in our midst. He said unpredictability in a child’s life has even more negative consequences than poverty. “We represent a God who is predictable,” he said. “How are we, the church, helping the endangered children understand that they are a child of God, beloved?”

* Jeffrey Taylor, president of The West Virginia United Methodist Foundation, Inc., said the organization has more than $145 million in assets under management and was recently ranked as one of the top grant-making foundations in the state.

Taylor urged churches and individuals to contact the foundation to learn about numerous ways to make lasting gifts.

* Ralph Herron, the West Virginia United Methodist Conference’s scout coordinator, said Methodists have had a relationship with the Boy Scouts of America for more than 100 years. He said Methodist churches are the largest group in America to charter troops, packs and venturing crews. He noted that girls can now join cub packs and troops.

Herron said there is a study and awards program named Programs of  Religious Activities for Youth (P.R.A.Y.),  a Bible-based series that challenges youth to serve others and increase self-awareness.

“The Boy Scouts have gone through rough times recently and filed bankruptcy,” Herron noted. He said Bishop Steiner Ball recently sent a letter to all congregations. “The Boy Scouts are going to go through a reorganization and we don’t know what it will look like for the program or the chartering organizations which, in this case, are the churches,” he said. “That’s why no United Methodist church will charter a scouting organization next year but they (scouting organizations) can still use (church) facilities if they sign a facilities agreement.” Herron said it is important to keep the relationship between scouting and the Methodist Church.

* Music during the gathering was provided by Steve Plantz, a member of the Holy Fish band at Elizabeth Memorial United Methodist Church, Charleston.

During a business meeting:

* It was announced that the Arnold Eddy Memorial Golf Outing, held Sept. 10 at the Tygart Lake Public Golf Course near Grafton, raised more than $7,000 for the United Methodist Men’s scouting ministries.

* The Spruce Street United Methodist Church Men were declared the winner of the Palmer Award, an honor bestowed annually on the local church fellowship with the largest number of men in attendance at the annual gathering.

* West Virginia United Methodist Men President George Hohmann announced that the men will soon launch a fund-raising campaign to refurbish and help maintain the All Faith Chapel at West Virginia University’s Jackson’s Mill near Weston. The Methodist Men spearheaded the construction of the chapel in 1958-1959.

* Hohmann, of Charleston, was re-elected president for the coming year, while Ed Altizer of South Charleston was re-elected secretary and Don Davis of Maidsville was re-elected treasurer. Jerry Meadows of Cross Lanes was elected Conference Prayer Advocate, succeeding Rev. George Webb.

The Annual Gathering, held virtually via Zoom, was produced by Rev. Deborah Coble, Rev. Kerry Bart and Jim Minutelli of the West Virginia United Methodist Conference’s Communications Team.