Lay Leadership in a COVID World Turned Upside Down

By Pam Braden

West Virginia Laity:  Meet the COVID-19 world.

In a “normal” year, the Annual Conference Laity Session is part of the Annual Conference. Director of Lay Ministry Services Rich Shaffer typically dons a fun costume to draw attention to the need for qualified lay servants across the connection.

In the 2020 COVID-19 world, the Laity Session took place on Zoom, an online platform.  For the first time in West Virginia United Methodist Conference history, more than 145 laity members met by Zoom on Friday, July 24. 

Speakers for this year’s session presented from their homes in their comfy clothes sitting at their kitchen tables.

Participants became listeners in the session and used Zoom’s Q&A function to ask questions of the presenters. Chat was disabled, and only the presenters’ pictures appeared on the screen. 

Bishop Sandra Steiner Ball, who normally is unable to attend the session because the Clergy Session is normally at the same time, joined the meeting and offered a stirring call-to-action devotional. 

Using Acts 9:26, the Bishop explained how, after his Damascus Road conversion, Saul desired community and fellowship with the Disciples.  Because of his reputation, the Disciples were in fear and slow to accept him into their midst.

“What is it about fear that causes us to pause?,” Bishop Steiner Ball asked. “We are living in a time of pandemic and racial unrest once again. Living in a time where we can’t do things in the way that we are comfortable and used to, so we have a fear reaction that comes out.  That’s what Saul encountered as he came into Jerusalem.  He was looking for the church.

“In the midst of things that have been turned upside down where we can expect the unexpected, Jesus’s Good News turned things around,” the Bishop said. “It is Good News.  Not just for a single person or community.

“It has ripple effects and reaches out broad and wide, and people come to know Jesus for the first time, or maybe the second time, or the Nth time in their lives. They turn to grace and love of God and proclaim ‘I trust in your power to turn me around.’  Forgive me; heal me; and give me the courage to proclaim your good news.

“Church – There is Good News in the midst of this craziness in the midst of fear,” the Bishop proclaimed. “We do not need to be in fear. Jesus is turning things around. God is doing new things. We need to be alert to see the things that Jesus changed. We are not alone. God is with us. Through Christ, we can do all things, and we can bring revival and new life to this world. May it be so.”

The Bishop concluded by praying, “God – speak to us that we might be that ripple effect out into the world that gives this world and your people new hope and new life for generation after generation.”

Shaffer, the outgoing director of Lay Ministry Services, expressed his appreciation for the support and work of the Lay Servant District Teams and WVUMC leadership throughout his eight-year term. 

Kristi Wilkerson was nominated by the Lay Ministry Team to serve as the incoming Director of Lay Ministries. Her nomination will be voted on at the Annual Conference session August 1.  Wilkerson also serves as Executive Director of the Upshur Cooperative Parish House in Buckhannon. 

Wilkerson described her role as Associate Conference Lay Leader and referred the laity to pages 39-41 of the Conference Workbook to read about the councils, boards, and agencies the WVUMC supports.  (

Eva Faulkner, associate lay leader-elect, spoke of her call to serve God and her experience throughout the Conference as a district lead team member, lay leader, and Conference Spiritual Formation Team member.  

Kim Matthews, Director of Lay Service Ministries, will serve another four years in that position.

“We are all called by God,” Matthews told the group. Lay Servant Ministries enable us to step out in faith and answer God’s call to serve using hands, feet, heart, and love to change the world, she said. 

Matthews reviewed the three Lay Service opportunities and described the certification process for each one. Certified Lay Servants serve the local church; Certified Lay Speakers are able to preach and serve other churches when the local pastor is away; Certified Lay Ministers conduct worship and may be assigned a church. Certification processes and requirements are posted on the Conference website at: (

The WVUMC Cabinet set a goal to increase the number of persons who completed the Lay Servant Basic Course.  In 2018, 115 people completed the course; the 15 percent goal of increasing that number to 133 was met and surpassed as 162 Lay Servants completed the basic course in 2019, Matthews reported.

During the pandemic, most courses for Lay Servant certification were canceled or postponed.  If you are interested in learning more about Lay Servant courses, certification, and opportunities, consider taking an online course at ( )

Other presenters included Ken Willard, director of discipleship, leadership, and congregational vitality, who gave an overview of the changes in process for Annual Conference and answered questions using Zoom’s Q&A function.  

A section with Frequently Asked Questions is also posted on the conference website ( ) and there is a special email account available for Annual Conference communications ( ).

Jamion Wolford, Conference Treasurer and Director of Administrative Services, provided a summary of budget and finance-related items that will be on the agenda for voting at the Annual Conference sessions on August 1.

Pam Braden is a member of the WVUMC Communications Team.