The United Methodist Church
Virginia Conference

From the District Office

Hold Fast

Dear sisters and brothers in Christ,

Grace and peace to you in the name of the One who is making all things new. I pray this note finds you doing well and filled with God's blessings as we move into a new year together. Over the course of the autumn, I was blessed to engage the clergy and lay supply of the Roanoke and Staunton Districts in over 110 one-on-one consultations. Now, I am in the process of meeting with the PPR/SPR committees of churches who are anticipating a pastoral change this year.

In these meetings, both the one-on-ones and the PPR/SPR meetings, I have consistently experienced two things: a certainty that the work of ministry for both clergy and laity is tremendously difficult right now and the sure and certain hope that we are not alone for God is with us.

In many ways, what I am seeing is something that author Jim Collins describes in Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap...and Others Don't. In this book, Collins describes what he calls the "Stockdale Paradox." He writes, "The name refers to Admiral Jim Stockdale, who was the highest-ranking United States military officer in the 'Hanoi Hilton' prisoner-of-war camp during the height of the Vietnam War. Tortured over twenty times during his eight-year imprisonment from 1965 to 1973, Stockdale lived out the war without any prisoner's rights, no set release date, and no certainty as to whether he would even survive to see his family again."

In conversation with Collins, Admiral Stockdale said that the key for him surviving his imprisonment was not naked optimism but a combination of unshakable faith that you will prevail despite your present circumstances and a willingness "to face the brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they may be."

As the church begins to look down the road to Lent, we know that we will begin this journey on Ash Wednesday by acknowledging our own sin and mortality. Then, we will spend the forty-day season ahead considering what those two brutal facts say about how we live in the life laid out before us.

And yet, we do not do so without hope, for throughout our liturgical year, we are Easter people. It is the reason that Sunday worship is so powerfully important, for it reminds us of the words of the old hymn that states "though the wrong seems oft so strong, God is the ruler yet." It reminds us of the One who is the living amongst the dead, and it reminds us to "hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful" (Hebrews 10:23).

Hold fast. God is not done with us yet, and we are not alone.

Thanks be to God.In Christ,


Posted: 14 January, 2022