SUNDAY, May 22, 2016
Dear Members and Friends of the Desert Southwest Conference,
Grace and peace to you in the name and spirit of Jesus Christ!
Our church is much more vibrant than the news coverage of floor debates might indicate. My hopes were buoyed by many stories of faithful followers of Jesus Christ engaging in very creative ministries in extraordinarily challenging situations. Across the globe, in the name of The United Methodist Church, ministries of healing and caring love in places ravaged by racism, hate, war and terrorism are offering consolation and care. Where there have been disasters caused by climate change and natural calamities, we United Methodists have been there. In countless settings, hunger, homelessness, poverty, and disease were being combated with generous resources and energy by so many caring persons. The stories were incredible! Lives and communities are being transformed.
My spirits were lifted when we celebrated the extraordinary things we do together when we are focused on our mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.
But to be honest, my spirits sank when we engaged in political maneuvering and debate over legislation. There were many moments of deep disappointment when it was obvious that floor debates were not the Christ-like way to come to decisions about matters where there was profound conflict. My hopes rose when the Council of Bishops was tasked with providing a way forward with hope. As you know, the Council suggested and the General Conference affirmed a plan to implement a Commission to work on a plan for unity in our denomination which also called for a halt to consideration of legislation related to human sexuality. The Bishops have already begun working on the implementation of the Plan.
What did General Conference 2016 accomplish? It all depends on who you ask. Did we simply defer the formal vote on legislation until a future General Conference? Or did we put into play the potential to create a different means of determining what God wants for us? Did we stop the hurt and harm being done to each other only to resume the fight in the future? Did we simply kick the can down the road? Or did we open up an opportunity to have God speak to us during a period of grace?
Here is my take. I believe the General Conference was tired of the ruthless fighting and the win-lose mentality that had brought us close to schism. I believe we now have an opportunity to pause and breathe in God’s spirit and prayerfully discern what really matters to us as people called United Methodist. I think this is a chance to work together in a new way to create a church that God will be proud of. The General Conference seems to be saying that we cherish our unity because we are able to do so much more of what God wants us to accomplish when we are working together and that God is not finished with us yet. (I’m borrowing here from an extraordinary sermon preached on the last day of the Conference by my colleague, Bishop Elaine Stanovsky of the Mountain Sky Area.)
Is that my sigh of relief that General Conference is over or is it the sound of God’s Holy Spirit rushing to inspire and bless us? It’s both! Our Desert Southwest Conference is blessed because in spite of our differences, we have a strong desire to work together in the name of Jesus Christ. We have faithful lay and clergy who are willing to join together in service to others. In the midst of many challenges, we are doing so much in ministries that make a difference in our communities and in the world. And I am relieved to be coming home, and I return to our Desert Southwest Conference feeling even more blessed than before to be given the privilege of serving as your episcopal leader.
With hope for our future,