Open Doors, Open hearts, Open Minds

Lay Leader Minute

In designing buildings, earthquakes are the worst.

Unlike wind loads from hurricanes and tornadoes, seismic forces on a building frame are multi-dimensional. Instead of just having lateral loads for you and your trusted structural to design for—as is the case with wind loads—you have dynamic loads up and down and basically every which way to contend with. Soils liquefy, and buildings structures are exposed to rotational forces. The math is terrifying, and as a young archi-tecture student, I retained an elementary notion of the math until about five minutes after the final exam.

Throughout the course of my professional career, however, I have learned the fundamental principles on how to approach design for seismic events most efficiently (i.e., most inexpen-sively). And there happens to be several metaphorical parallels with the current state of the United Methodist Church as we know it.

While one can use very difficult to fabricate torque-inducing moment force connections of the beams and columns to resist seismic forces, it is far simpler—and more economical—to utilize cross-bracing. Triangulated cross bracing using multi-ple framing members from the top of the building to its base foundations distributes the forces and relieves the pressure on any single connection. The second basic principle in areas prone to seismic events is to strive for symmetry of the build-ing mass. A square-based building will perform better than an L-shaped building, especially one with unequal legs. Depend-ing on the soil geology, foundations are either very deep, touching on bedrock, or are supported by a thick reinforced concrete raft that literally floats the building.

Lay Leader

James Wright, FAIA 

 The primary representative and role model of Christian discipleship and faith lived out in the church and in daily life. The lay leader works with the pastor to fulfill the mission and vision of the congregation.


Seismic events are on my mind because we are faced with a such an event in what is described in the “Protocol of Recon-ciliation & Grace through Separation”. In just over six pages, a mediation team establishes the framework for restructuring the UMC through separation of traditionalist and progressive views on homosexuality. Nothing less than a new Methodist denomination will be the outcome.

A footnote to the process of reaching this consensus was a no-table act of grace. The UMC was blessed to be the recipient of mediation services offered on a pro bono basis by Kenneth Feinberg, who is among the best-known figures in the field of dispute resolution. He served as the Special Master of the U.S. government’s September 11th Victim Compensation Fund (chronicled in his book What is Life Worth? (2005), a role in which he served pro bono for almost three years. He was later appointed Special Master for the TARP Executive Compensa-tion initiative (“pay czar”) and, in June 2010, was named to run the BP Deepwater Horizon Disaster Victim Compensation Fund, a $20 billion fund to pay claims resulting from the BP
Gulf oil spill. He has also managed compensations systems relating to the Aurora and Virginia Tech shootings and the Boston Marathon bombing.

Back to our lesson on seismic design: we’ve long been taught to understand and respect the connectional nature of the UMC. The United Methodist Church defines connection as the principle that “all leaders and congregations are connected in a network of loyalties and commitments that support, yet supersede, local concerns.” At Walker Chapel, the term most frequently arises in annual discussions about apportionment obligations.

Now we must reconsider the nature of those connections. Those that depend on the strength of a single person are not likely to hold; those that are braced by the community will not fail. And just as a building mass in which its center of gravity corresponds to its center of mass is inherently more stable than one with asymmetrical wings, the tighter we as a congre-gation can bind ourselves to a core set of values regarding our approach to Methodism, the greater our stability. And our faith foundation must be deep, reaching the bedrock of our being.

Something you should be aware of: Pastor Lynne holds the position of Chair of the Order of the Elder for our Virginia Conference. As one of her responsibilities with this role, she preaches at the clergy session each year, with 2020 being the last year in this role. Lynne tells me that she has used this platform to help us see what we need to see as we hopefully move toward becoming a fully inclusive UMC.

Our pastor is also a reserve delegate to this year’s General Conference, the one that will determine the fate of the Proto-col and all that ensues from that determination. There is no stipend for reserve delegates, so I recommend that Walker Chapel take up a special offering to help fund Lynne’s travel expenses so that she can be there. Please mark your offering “General Conference”; let’s do our best to see that our pastor is eye and soul witness to what transpires. We as a congrega-tion will benefit from this vital connection.

Lay Leader James Wright