Dear Members and Friends of the Oregon-Idaho Annual Conference,
One of my all-time favorite songs by Peter, Paul, and Mary contains the line: “All my bags are packed, I’m ready to go . . .” Well, my bags are not yet packed and I have discovered that I am not yet ready to go off to my new assignment to the Phoenix Area, Desert Southwest Annual Conference. One of the very important things left on my “to-do-list” is to share my gratitude for you as I depart.
Eight years ago, I was warmly welcomed to the new ministry as a bishop by conference laity and clergy. I was a “newbie” bishop on a journey of discovering how I might use the gifts for ministry that God has given me. Your welcome embraced Greta and me with love and support. As I visited in each district that first year, I received symbols of your vision for our work together. From the (then) Eastern District, I received my beloved potato masher along with the admonition to never forget the churches in Idaho! I received a couple pounds of sand from the Western District reminding me of the beauty of the churches and the many stories of Jesus’ ministry by the seashore. From the Metro District, a pair of running shoes reminded me that we always need to hit the ground running if we are going to be doing excellent ministry for Jesus Christ. A colorful wind-sock in a glass container told of the mighty blowing of the Holy Spirit in the Central District churches. A hand-made ceramic chalice and paten spoke of the beauty and the many talents of the Southern District, used for the work of the church and its communities.
These gifts were only the beginning of many, many blessings I received in our work together. In the ensuing eight years, we were able to accomplish significant work that has resulted in an annual conference that I believe is on the right path to creating healthy vital churches. Relationships forged through visits to local churches, work on various committees and task groups (meetings!), phone calls, letters, and emails allowed us precious moments to pray together, vision and dream, laugh and cry together as we followed God’s call in our lives. I felt the gift of your love and trust in many instances! Your trust has allowed us to try some new and innovative approaches to ministry.
I thank you from my heart for these precious gifts! You have helped me learn and grow as an individual disciple of Jesus Christ and as a bishop of our United Methodist Church. At Annual Conference, I received a beautiful stole with hand-painted scenes of our beautiful Conference which will remind me always of our years together and of the work we have accomplished. A generous outpouring of your love was also evident in a check for over $1,500 to go to the Bishop’s Initiative to Eliminate Hunger. And your kind words were treasures for my soul.
Now as I prepare to move to Phoenix I want to share with you my gratitude for your spirit of inclusion. In this time in the denomination when there is much rancor and debate, I appreciate the ways in which the ethos of the Oregon-Idaho Annual Conference is to be accepting of all persons. My hope is that you will continue to focus on the real challenges of our faith: to feed the hungry, clothe those without adequate clothing; shelter the homeless, and love those who are on the margins of society as we follow the example of Jesus Christ. And I hope that you will lead your congregations and ministry settings to find ways to make them places where God is worshiped, Jesus Christ is proclaimed, and the Holy Spirit unleashed. Let us be an annual conference of open hearts, open minds and open doors: truly open to all persons, EVERYONE!
Officially on September 1, I will no longer be your bishop. My friend and colleague, Bishop Grant Hagiya will become your Episcopal leader. I covet for him the same warmth and welcome and willing spirit that you offered to me. You are a gracious annual conference, and I have deeply loved being your bishop. Thank you for your love, your trust, and your partnering in the joyful if challenging work of ministry together!
As I leave to assume my new assignment in Phoenix, I am excited about this new adventure in a very different geography. I have come to know that there are wonderful folk wherever there is a United Methodist Church, and I have already been impressed by the staff of the Desert Southwest Annual Conference. I hope that you will hold me in prayer as I make this transition. Know that you will be in my prayers as you and Bishop Hagiya embark on your journey together.
In Christ’s shalom,
Robert T. Hoshibata,
Soon-to-be Resident bishop,
Desert Southwest Annual Conference
The United Methodist Church