The Joyful Journey

Bishop David Bard shares the first chapter in his monthly blog, “The Joyful Journey.”

Hello, Michigan United Methodists.  Greetings in the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the peace and power of the Holy Spirit.

AA Bard - Copy
Bishop David A. Bard

On Wednesday, July 13, at the meeting of the North Central Jurisdiction, on the last ballot of the night, I was elected a bishop in The United Methodist Church.  It was a life-changing moment.  I knew that I would be leaving my appointment as pastor at First United Methodist Church in Duluth, and leaving that community, the place where both my wife Julie and I grew up.  Part of that life-changing moment was that though we knew we would be leaving, we did not know where we would be living out this new phase of our life, and I did not know where I would be living out this new phase of my ministry.

Friday night we found out that we would be assigned to the Michigan area. Julie and I are excited to be here.  We are looking forward to getting to know you.  I am excited about our upcoming welcome events in Waterford, Kalamazoo, and Indian River.  I am excited to be able to be at events in Marquette and Troy and Muskegon in the near future as well.  Getting to know you, listening to your hopes and dreams, and even your worries and disappointments, is something I look forward to.

We will be getting to know one another in the coming weeks and months, but I thought that some introduction here might be a good beginning.  Julie and I met while we were both in college at the University of Minnesota, Duluth.  We were married in 1982.  Julie has spent her career as a teacher, most recently in a first grade classroom in Superior, Wisconsin.  This fall will be the first in over 30 years that Julie has not been teaching.  We have three children.  Our oldest is our son, David L.  He has a master’s degree in Advocacy and Political Leadership and has worked in both the public and political sectors.  He is engaged to be married to Christina, and their wedding will be next September.  Our daughter Elizabeth, who goes by Beth, is a graduate of the University of Minnesota Medical School and is in her final year of residency in Rochester, New York.  She will also be getting married next year to her fiancé Michael, a medical resident in Germany.  Our youngest is our daughter Sarah.  She graduated this past May from St. Catherine University in St. Paul, MN with a Doctorate in Physical Therapy.  Sarah works as a physical therapist in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area.  The other member of our immediate family, and the only one who moved with us, is our dog Abby, a ten-year-old pom-a-poo.

“Growing in love is the purpose of life, and my vocation has been to help form communities of love and forgiveness in the name of Jesus Christ.”

My family brings great joy and delight to my life.  I also enjoy walking, movies, music, following sports (and I will enjoy watching the Tigers and Lions, even with a divided conscience when they play the Twins and Vikings), paying attention to beauty in art and nature, and reading.  Among my reading joys are mystery stories.  I also enjoy pondering the mysteries of the universe.  I have done that through my formal education – majoring in psychology and philosophy in college, relishing theology in seminary, and earning a Ph.D. in religious studies, with a focus in ethics.  I believe that at the heart of the mystery of the universe is God whose nature and name is love, and whose love we know most fully in the life, teaching, death and resurrection of Jesus the Christ.  It is a love that embraced me in baptism.  It is a love I came to know powerfully and profoundly when I was 13 and my Sunday School teacher shared with me about God’s love in Jesus in a way that made it very real.  Growing in love is the purpose of life, and my vocation has been to help form communities of love and forgiveness in the name of Jesus Christ.  I have done that as a pastor and as a district superintendent.  I will now be doing that as a bishop and as your bishop.  I look forward to our journey together.

This is an exciting and challenging time to be the church.  In a fractured world, we have the opportunity in the name and spirit of Jesus to create communities of love and forgiveness.  In a hurting world, we have the opportunity in the name and spirit of Jesus to create communities of hope and healing.  In a world torn by violence and racked by hunger, we have the opportunity in the name and spirit of Jesus to create communities of shalom where justice and peace embrace.  This asks of us that we be the church offering compassion where people have often experienced only criticism, offering concern for justice where people have often experienced only narrow judgement, offering warm love and concern where people have often experienced a cold shoulder.  The church has not always been at its best in representing Jesus and that is our challenge.  Our opportunity is that people are genuinely curious about this Jesus and hungry for a life-changing encounter with God’s love in Jesus.

If being the church in our culture is not challenging enough, our own denomination is in the midst of change.  The Council of Bishops was charged at General Conference with forming a commission that might help The United Methodist Church think about its future as we consider the inclusion of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons.  There are deep divisions rooted in differing views of reading the Bible, and differing theological perspectives on the nature of God and revelation.  We can no longer simply paper over these differences with generic calls for unity.  We must wrestle with our differences.  We will pray and think and discuss.  While all that is going on, we, in our churches still need to be working on being communities of love and forgiveness, care and compassion, hope and healing in the name of Jesus.

“We here in Michigan also have before us the task of coming together as a single conference … It is a vision I am pleased to be part of making real.”

We here in Michigan also have before us the task of coming together as a single conference.  We do this for the sake of our mission.  The emerging Michigan Conference is committed to equipping and connecting Michigan United Methodists through Christ-centered mission and ministry, bold and effective leaders, and vibrant congregations.  This is an audacious vision, but one that excites me.  It is a vision that will call forth our best efforts – our deepest thinking and dreaming and working together.  It is a vision that will depend upon our openness to God’s Spirit.  It is a vision for the sake of sharing God’s life-transforming, world-transforming love.  It is a vision I am pleased to be part of making real.

Being a bishop is new for me.  I have been in the superintending ministry before, however.  When I went to training for being a district superintendent in 1998, I read through the book of Colossians.  I will never forget coming upon this passage.  The writer of the book has been talking about helping people become mature in Christ.  He then pens these lines: for this I toil and struggle with all the energy that God powerfully inspires within me (Colossians 1:29).  It seemed a fitting passage for the ministry of a district superintendent.  These words have been close to my heart as a pastor.  They remain close to my heart and soul as I become a bishop.  To help us all mature in Christ, to work with you all in Christ-centered mission and ministry, to help nurture bold and effective leaders together, to form more vital congregations that are places of love and forgiveness, hope and healing, care and compassion, justice and shalom – for this I will toil and struggle with all the energy God and God’s Spirit inspire within me.  But toil and struggle seem like such difficult words.  I believe this kind of toil and struggle which calls forth our best God-given, Spirit-inspired gifts, is more like a dance.  It is toil and struggle with joy.  So I will toil and struggle with you in joy, for as Dietrich Bonhoeffer reminds us, “discipleship is joy.”

Grace and Peace,

Bishop David Bard