Reflections on a Council of Bishops meeting
Having just returned from a week-long meeting of the Council of Bishops of our United Methodist Church, I want to share some thoughts and reflections. The meeting took place at Epworth by the Sea, a United Methodist retreat and conference center in St. Simons Island, Georgia.
This was the first "paperless" meeting of the Council. Reports and hand-outs were all transmitted electronically. We used Nooks, Kindles, iPads, and laptops to follow the discussions and conversations. The decision to go paperless was in keeping with our concerns about the environment. I confess it was great not to have added pounds of paper to bring home and file in my office. Another benefit of going paperless was considerable cost saving.
Much happens at a Council meeting. On a personal note, I appreciated moments of conversation with colleague bishops, sharing thoughts about challenges and joys we are experiencing. The challenges we are facing in our annual conference are not terribly different from what others are dealing with: declining membership, lagging worship attendance, financial difficulties, the viability of many churches unless major reform takes place.
We were inspired by moving worship each day, which included creative liturgies, daily sharing of the Lord’s Supper and deeply moving preaching. Covenant groups provided “sacred space” for us to share our thoughts and prayers in smaller, more intimate groups. The covenant group that I have been assigned to this quadrennium has been a colleague group that offers listening ears, prayerful support, and wisdom as we share about our lives and our ministries as bishops.
High on our priority as a Council was the tracking of progress in our efforts to lead our church toward the vision for this quadrennium. We received reports on the work of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world through focus on the areas of:
• Combating the diseases of poverty by improving health globally.
• Engaging in ministry with the poor.
• Creating new places for new people and revitalizing existing congregations.
• Developing principled Christian leaders for the church and the world.
Attention was paid to discussion of the Call to Action document which was revealed recently as the result of considerable study, reflection and conversation to move us toward our vision of vital congregations. As we discussed the Call to Action, I am aware that there is much that we are doing in our Annual Conference that is in concert with the strategies outline for the whole denomination. One of the things we are already doing is working with the A2B’s to develop a vision for each congregation, with attention given to specific ways we will measure our progress in meeting our goals to reach that vision. For much more information, please see the Call to Action.
I believe that the challenges we are all facing in the church today are actually opportunities for us to reorder our lives as disciples of Jesus Christ. While some shrink from fear about the future, your Council of Bishops is actively working for ways to offer hope to us as we lead our Annual Conferences through some very difficult moments. I feel the deep concern of all the bishops as we discern God’s direction. And all of our efforts are anchored in the reassurance we have that in all we do, God is with us. Please continue to lift the Council of Bishops, and your bishop in prayer!