A Joyful Journey

At mid-year 2018, Bishop David Bard does some looking backward and looking forward …

Janus is the Roman mythological figure with two faces, one looking backward and one looking forward. It is thought that we take the name for the first month of the year, January, from Janus – a time to look back to the year gone by, and a time to look forward to the new year. Allow me to offer a little January in July, some looking backward and some looking forward.

I look back in deep gratitude, again, for all those who helped make our Annual Conference the gathering it was, a gathering where we were inspired in worship and by powerful stories of ministries being done for Jesus Christ by Michigan United Methodists, a gathering where we made decisions together about structure and values, a gathering where we remembered those whose course of life has ended, celebrated those who were retiring from appointed ministry, and welcomed those coming into licensed, commissioned and ordained ministry. It was a joy and honor to share this time with you as your bishop.

I also want to express gratitude for those churches and clergy going through transitions this year. I am grateful for churches that helped celebrate ministries coming to an end, offering gracious good-byes to clergy who are leaving. Good-byes are not easy, making them gracious is so important. I am grateful for churches who are welcoming new clergy with joy and anticipation. Change is hard, and I pray for good beginnings where there has been change. I am grateful for churches that are also celebrating clergy who are continuing with them. Just as every January offers the opportunity to resolve to be healthier and grow in creative ways, so I hope the beginning of a new appointment year offers us all the opportunity to resolve to be healthy places of ministry and to grow in grace and ministry together for Jesus Christ. I am grateful, as well, to all those clergy families who have made changes. Re-locating family is difficult. My prayer for you all is that you have experienced God’s grace during this time, and that new places of life and ministry will be filled with grace, joy and adventure.

“Good-byes are not easy, making them gracious is so important.

Gratitude looks backward. I am also looking forward. In the coming days, the final report from the Council of Bishops, rooted in the work of the Commission on a Way Forward will be released. Already there are those who have taken positions, positive and negative, on this work. There is tension and anxiety, and I expect those to increase as the special session of General Conference February 23-26, 2019 draws nearer. In acknowledging the inevitable increase in tension and anxiety, however, I also want to remind us that we are always more than our fears and anxieties. How often the biblical writers encouraged us to “be not afraid.” I have long appreciated Parker Palmer’s reflection on that phrase. Be not 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. (Let Your Life Speak). We don’t have to be our fear and anxiety, and we certainly don’t have to let our fears and anxieties lead us toward increasing anger, over-heated rhetoric, or nastiness.

“We United Methodists are asking what it might mean to bear with one another in love at this time in our history.”

I invite and encourage us to reflect on the text from the first few verses of Ephesians 4. Lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love. The decisions we make in 2019 and at the next session of General Conference in 2020 matter. So, too, will the way we conduct ourselves. Will those watching how we are together in these sessions be able to find humility, gentleness, patience and bearing with one another in love? The writer of Ephesians goes on to say that we should be “making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”

We United Methodists are asking what unity is possible, giving our significant differences on LGBT inclusion, rooted in differences in how we read our shared authoritative Scriptures, and our theological understandings. We United Methodists are asking what it might mean to bear with one another in love at this time in our history. As we struggle together, may we do so with humility, gentleness and patience.

“While this report and the upcoming General Conference deserve your careful attention, they should not demand all your attention.”

I would invite you, then, as this report is released, to read it carefully. Reflect on it thoughtfully and prayerfully. I think that reflective, thoughtful reading of the report will help us all see that the plans discussed are not simply recycled ideas from the past. The One Church Model is not simply the “local option” that we have seen before. For one, it is crucial to remember that all this work has been done through a 32-member commission comprised of United Methodists of very different perspectives from around the world. The One Church Model also contains elements that have never been proposed before. The Traditionalist Model is more than the status quo. While it retains the current language of The Book of Discipline LGBT persons, it would both offer more stringent enforcement of those provisions and a path out of The United Methodist Church for pastors, churches, or perhaps conferences that find those statements and provisions not in keeping with their understanding of the gospel. While complex, the Connectional Conferences Model deserves a careful review simply because of its complexity.

Allow me to mention here that I will be traveling throughout the conference in the fall to discuss this report. Here is the current schedule, with more information to follow:

  • September 25: Hope UMC Connections Campus, Marquette, 7 p.m.
  • September 26: still to be determined
  • October 8: Michaelson Memorial UMC, Grayling, 7 p.m.
  • October 9: Lake Orion UMC, 7 p.m.
  • October 15: Grand Rapids area, location to be determined
  • October 16: Detroit area, location to be determined
  • October 17: Kalamazoo First UMC, 7 p.m.
  • October 21: Northville UMC, 4 p.m.
  • October 22: First UMC, Midland, 7 p.m.
  • December 6: Area Ministry Center, Lansing, 7 p.m.
  • January 2019, date to be determined, an on-line conversation

Read, reflect, pray and discuss, and when you discuss the report remind yourselves again of Ephesians 4:1b-2, lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love.

Finally, while this report and the upcoming General Conference deserve your careful attention, they should not demand all your attention. Do not lose focus on the ministry to which we are called by God through Jesus Christ – sharing the good news of the gospel, inviting people to faith in Jesus Christ, feeding the hungry, caring about those who are poor, offering healing to a hurting world, doing justice, fostering peace and reconciliation. We cannot put a pause on our ministry. The world needs the good news we have to share, the lonely need a friend, the hungry need some food, those on the margins need to be included, unjust systems and practices need to be called into account and changed all in the name and spirit of Jesus. Even in this time of uncertainty and anxiety, may we work together to help each other live lives worthy of the calling to which we have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love.