The Joyful Journey

As the calendar turns, Bishop Bard looks forward to a faithful and fruitful New Year.

Looking through my paper calendar the other day – and yes, I do still keep a paper calendar along with my electronic ones – looking at that calendar I noticed I had written a couple of notes for an idea for a Christmas Eve sermon for this year. Looking at my handwriting, I remembered having an idea earlier in the year that I did not want to lose. I was planning on making use of an episode of the old “I Love Lucy” show where Lucy is expecting a baby and her husband Ricky and their neighbors the Mertzs are all rehearsing with her how they will get to the hospital in an orderly manner. Of course, when Lucy announces that she needs to go to the hospital because the baby is coming, comedic chaos ensues. No matter how well prepared we are in our lives for a celebration of the coming of Jesus, his coming carries elements of surprise. In life with the God of Jesus Christ, we need always to be prepared for surprise. I may have even brought part of a Mary Oliver poem into the sermon:

Instructions for living a life.

Pay attention.

Be astonished.

Tell about it.

This sermon did not get preached, at least not this Christmas Eve. What a difference a year can make. Early in 2016, I was preparing for Christmas Eve worship and thinking about surprise and astonishment. In July, I was elected a bishop and felt a bit astonished by that, and then delightfully surprised to be assigned to Michigan. Again, I want to thank you all for the warm and gracious welcome you have given Julie and me here in Michigan. I continue to be honored and delighted to be your bishop, and I continue to look forward to our work together for Jesus Christ through The United Methodist Church.

2016 was a year of change and of surprise. What might 2017 bring? Here in The United Methodist Church in Michigan, we continue to move forward on forming a new conference. This effort is being led by talented and committed lay and clergy persons, and is being informed by any who wish to make their thoughts known through listening sessions and on-line feedback. Our Annual Conference session will bring many items to a vote, shaping the direction of Michigan United Methodism for years to come. The coming year promises to be interesting and exciting for the United Methodist Church here. We are seeking to build a conference committed to vibrant congregations, to the development and support of bold and effective leaders, and to Christ-centered mission and ministry. Please keep this creation process in your prayers.

In the wider United Methodist connection, the coming year will witness the beginning of the work of the Bishops’ Commission on the Way Forward. This commission, authorized by the 2016 General Conference, will be exploring church unity and the inclusion of LGBT persons. They will be a prayerful and thoughtful group, asking delicate and deep questions about theology, the church, and what unity is possible amidst significant disagreements about the nature of Scripture and the place of LGBT persons within the church. I ask for your prayers for this commission and its work. We will also be bringing some of that work home to Michigan. Along with the work of the Commission, the Council of Bishops is asking each resident bishop to host conversations about church unity and LGBT inclusion. I am committed to doing that, and will be working to organize such conversations for later in 2017. I am committed to making sure that these conversations are respectful and authentic dialogs inclusive of people who have differing viewpoints. We also need to be asking what unity is possible here in Michigan United Methodism, given both our shared faith in the saving power of God’s love in Jesus Christ and our different understandings of theology and Scripture. Please pray for me and for those who will be working with me on shaping these conversations.

“We will prepare well and offer our best thought and energy to working for the common good.”

Even as The United Methodist Church is engaged in significant and serious conversations, the world moves forward. 2017 will bring a new administration into power here in the United States as Donald Trump becomes president and works with a Congress controlled by his party. I hope you will join me in praying that the common good of our country will be well cared for. A healthy democracy depends upon citizens whose deepest commitment is to the common good, regardless of the results of elections. Our call from God in Jesus Christ is to care for the common good, to be concerned for the health and well-being of all. In this new year we need to be willing to work with any who strive for the common good, and need to be willing to identify places where the common good is being ignored or subverted. The issues confronting our nation and world are too important for people to focus their energy only on the electoral side of democracy. In the face of global climate change, racism, exclusion, extremist terrorism, war, hunger, poverty, and opioid addiction we need to commit ourselves in the name and spirit of Jesus to working with any who will for a better world, for a more beloved community.

From the global to the personal, this new year will bring new changes for my family. In the summer our son and our oldest daughter will be getting married. Our son’s fiancé’s father grew up in Spain. Our daughter’s fiancé is from Germany. Our family will not only be growing numerically, but will be enriched by persons whose experiences of the world offer us opportunities to learn. For the first time in my life, I will experience what it is like to be both parent and officiant at weddings. In this new year, I will also continue to learn and grow as a person of faith and as a bishop.

Looking ahead to this new year, we will be busy. There will be much to occupy our time, attention, work and prayer. We will prepare well for all that is before us, offering our best thought and energy to forming a new conference committed to vibrant congregations, developing and supporting bold and effective leaders, and Christ-centered mission and ministry. We will prepare well and offer our best thought and energy to engaging in significant conversations about the future of the church. We will prepare well and offer our best thought and energy to working for the common good.

Along the way, I also hope we will be prepared in this new year to be surprised and astonished by God’s grace in Jesus Christ.

Happy New Year on the Joyful Journey.