“Be strong and courageous…Get to work. Don’t be afraid or discouraged, because the Lord God…is with you.”
– I Chronicles 28:20 – David’s words to his son Solomon
March 3, 2022
Friends, today, the Commission on the General Conference for The United Methodist Church announced that the 2020 General Conference, already postponed twice, will be postponed again, this time until 2024. This news will be received with a range of feeling across our churches. There are some for whom this just makes sense given the uneven distribution of vaccinations across the globe, the current world situation, and the challenge of obtaining the appropriate travel documents for all the elected delegates from around the world. For others, this is deeply disappointing, delaying an anticipated vote on a denominational separation even further, which might allow for new expressions of Methodism to emerge and bring an end to our disputes over how we minister with and to the LGBTQ+ community. Some ask just how we can make it through the coming months with deep unresolved tensions. I have heard all your voices. I understand your concerns.
And I am thrown back to words found frequently in our Scriptures, “do not be afraid.” The text I share above is one of countless Scriptures that encourage us not to be afraid. While the range of emotions the news about General Conference brings includes disappointment, dismay, anger and fear, the text remains helpful as an encouragement to not allow such emotions to fully define how we move forward. This text invites courage, focusing on the tasks ahead, and not being defined by our fears, angers, anxieties or disappointments. I understand the range of feelings. The delay in General Conference is disappointing. I also know that the world continues to need the good news of God’s love in Jesus Christ. People need Jesus. The world needs churches that can surround people with communities of love and forgiveness. The world needs people and communities of faith committed to justice, peace, reconciliation, committed to seeing the image of God in all others and breaking down dividing walls. I know we have some profound differences about how God calls us to be in ministry. We also share many of the same passions to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. People are hurting. People are wounded. Relationships are frayed. Families are struggling. Our world is plagued by war, poverty, environmental degradation, and the persistence of old prejudices and ancient hatreds. God still calls us, each of us and all of us, to be in ministry for and with Jesus Christ in this chaotic and all-too broken world.
We can, at this moment, allow ourselves to focus on anger, fear, dismay, disappointment, or we can feel these feelings and still move through toward the strength of love and the courage to be in ministry.
My commitments to all of you are the same commitments I have made in my ministry with you in this difficult time. I am committed to kindness. I am committed to graciousness. I am committed to fairness. I am committed to seeking as much wisdom as I can to exercise the ministry to which I am called. As we move forward in this tense time I am committed to communicating with you all clearly and fairly. As we continue to discuss future alternatives in the coming months, I will consistently sources for additional information with you. While I am committed to the continuing United Methodist Church, I will make sure you know where to find information about other expressions of Methodism. As a conference we will do our best to provide resources for your congregational discernment about your mission, vision and values. We have been living in an uneasy tension with one another. While uncomfortable, I trust we are capable of continuing to live in this tension. My commitments include the understandings reached concerning abeyance and fairness in working with all congregations and clergy when the Protocol for Reconciliation and Grace Through Separation was first announced in early 2020.
The Michigan Conference has consistently identified a direction for its future, a direction that defines inclusivity in ways beyond our current polity, a direction that seeks to combine personal faith development, congregational vibrancy, and passion to create a more just and peaceful world. There is spaciousness, room for difference in matters of conscience and an encouragement to on-going dialogue amid contradictory convictions within that broad direction. As a bishop I have shared with many that I am not interested in exchanging one set of judicial processes, complaints and trials about matters of conscience for another. And I recognize that not everyone sees themselves or their congregation as part of this direction. There are unanswered questions about whether or not new expressions of Methodism may launch before General Conference. There remain provisions for disaffiliation for local congregations in accordance with paragraph 2553 of The Book of Discipline, revised in 2019.
The Council of Bishops has scheduled a meeting for March 8 and I may have more to share with you following that meeting. At that time, I may be in a better position to respond to more specific questions about disaffiliation, pathways for new expressions of Methodism to form, and whether or not Jurisdictional Conferences might yet be held this year. If pathways to new expressions of Methodism are developed, I will work graciously with those seeking to move in that direction.
I have long cherished these words of Parker Palmer, and have shared them often. “’Don’t be afraid’ does not mean we cannot have fear. Everyone has fear, and people who embrace the call to leadership often find fear abounding. Instead, the words say we do not need to be the fear we have. We do not have to lead from a place of fear, thereby engendering a world in which fear abounds. We have places of fear inside of us, but we have other places as well – places with names like trust and hope and faith. We can choose to lead from one of those places, to stand on ground that is not riddled with the fault lines of fear, to move toward others from a place of promise instead of anxiety.” (Let Your Life Speak)
May we not be the fear we feel. May we not be defined by our disappointment, anger or dismay. May we find ways to lead and work in ministry from places with names like trust and hope and faith. By the power of the Holy Spirit may we be courageous, and do the work of ministry to which we have all been called by God in Jesus Christ.
Grace and Peace,
David Alan Bard
Michigan Area Bishop