In his first Joyful Journey blog of 2020, Bishop David Bard talks about important tasks before The Michigan Conference of The UMC: ministry work, soul work, and grief work …
Perhaps some of you are familiar with the beautiful words of Howard Thurman’s, “The Work of Christmas.”
When the song of the angels is stilled,
When the star in the sky is gone,
When the kings and princes are home,
When the shepherds are back with their flock,
The work of Christmas begins:
To find the lost,
To heal the broken,
To feed the hungry,
To release the prisoner,
To rebuild the nations,
To bring peace among people,
To make music in the heart.
I have been pondering those words in recent days as we begin a new year, a new decade. I have been thinking about them as tensions with Iran have escalated following the killing of an Iranian general, which followed the deaths of Americans in Iraq. Our president has said that he does not wish to start a war, and I think we will need to hold him and other elected officials to that as part of the work of rebuilding nations, the work of the Prince of Peace whose birth we have just celebrated.
I have been thinking about these words as we head into another presidential election year. The divisions in our country are significant, often accompanied by anger and the use of words as weapons. How might we, followers of Jesus Christ, be leaven, calming tempers and promoting genuine conversation? How might we remind ourselves and others of the common good, of the importance of the general welfare which has to do with healing the broken, feeding the hungry, setting free?
I have been thinking about Thurman’s words particularly in light of the release of the “Protocols of Reconciliation and Grace Through Separation,” a proposal for the future of The United Methodist Church. I have said that I think this is a hopeful development even as I am saddened by the idea of separation. I need to be clear, that this is only a proposal and there is a long road ahead in the coming months for this proposal to become legislation which might then become an official United Methodist Church agreement approved by the delegates of General Conference. I am committed to meeting with our Michigan delegation to discuss this proposal and look forward to hearing their ideas and feedback. I am looking forward to wider conversations within our conference about this proposal.
If this proposal, or something like it, becomes an approved plan for the future of The United Methodist Church, it seems likely that the Michigan Conference would remain affiliated with the post-separation United Methodist Church, though a vote could be taken to determine otherwise. If the Michigan Conference remained part of the post-separation United Methodist Church, I know that there will be churches that will affiliate with another Methodist denomination formed pursuant to the protocol. I am committed to working with every congregation and pastor with grace and with all the wisdom God’s Spirit might impart. Change is likely coming, and we will navigate that change best if we seek to be loving, grace-filled, compassionate, wise, courageous, and if we continue to do the work of the church, the work of Christmas.
On the other side of whatever changes are coming, and in the coming months of this new year and new decade, the work God has given the church in Jesus Christ and by the power of the Spirit is this work of finding the lost, healing the broken, feeding the hungry, setting free, rebuilding the nations, bringing peace, helping each unique person find the song God has put in their heart and helping them sing and dance to it.
It remains needed work. The world is still plagued by war. The world and the church are still enmeshed in racism. Inequality tears at the fabric of our society. We are not doing what needs to be done to care for the earth. Too many struggle with addiction. Relationships that are meant to be life-giving are frayed. People feel disconnected from God. In the church itself, we face challenging decisions about buildings and budgets and leadership, and the changes in the denomination will not magically solve such realities. After the next General Conference, the work of the church will only be beginning anew.
Such ministry work entails soul work, the inner work of having our lives shaped in the spirit of Jesus. One of the things that all us Methodists share is Wesley’s emphasis on the Christian life as formation in love. I trust we all remain committed to this soul work.
Ministry work and soul work will be accompanied by grief work. In this new year, it is likely that The United Methodist Church will be changed significantly, and there will be grief with that. As we look to the future, how we do ministry in the Michigan Conference will continue to undergo change, and there will be grief with that. I am committed to walking together with you as you do the important work of grieving. It is not all the work we have to do, but it is part of the work we need to do.
When the song of the angels is stilled, when the star in the sky is gone, when the kings and princes are home, when the shepherds are back with their flock, the work of Christmas begins. Before and after proposals are made, before and after legislation is written, before and after votes are counted, the work of the church is always beginning – ministry work, soul work, and grief work, work best done in a spirit of care, kindness, courage, compassion, wisdom, and love. May it be so with us in this new year, in this new decade.
I am with you on this hard journey which is also a joyful journey.