Genereal Conference Notebooks, April 25
The sessions for General Conference began on Thursday morning with the Episcopal Address by Bishop Sharon Brown Christopher. Wow! The contrast between this year’s Episcopal Address and those from previous conferences could not be more marked, and represent a major shift in focus and initiative from the Council of Bishops. This year’s was a multimedia presentation powerfully interweaving themes about the purpose of the church, the Sacrament of Holy Communion, the reality of US UM decline and global growth, and the seven vision pathways and four foci that will move our church forward during the years to come.
Some of the things I noticed in this year’s address: 1. It focused on the primary mission of the church from beginning to end. The importance of this is not to be underestimated. 2. It represented a new level of initiative for leadership from the Council of Bishops by focusing the work of our church on seven priorities, including starting congregations and fighting killer diseases. This kind of focus has not been present in past Conferences. 3. It represented a new level of collaboration between the General Boards and the Council of Bishops in leading the United Methodist Church.To hear four General Secretaries sharing the stage and offering a common vision is amazing. And the intermingling of board work to support the four central foci was remarkable. For instance, the General Secretary of Higher Ed spoke about support for starting new congregations and the General Secretary for Discipleship spoke about fighting killer diseases. This level of cooperation is new, difficult, but extraordinarily vital to the future of our mission. 4. The speech was realistic and honest about our decline and division. There was no denying or ignoring the urgency of our need to do things differently. 5. The speech was forward looking, and was not simply a report about past work. 6. The setting was sacramental, using the backdrop of the liturgy for Holy Communion to lead our prayers, confession, and recommitment to ministry. 7. And the speech asked all of us from our various contexts to work together to support the four themes: the development of leadership for the future, the starting of congregations and redevelopment of congregations, fighting the killer diseases of malaria and HIV/AIDS, and engagement in ministry with the poor. The entire presentation was laced with images, stories, and videos highlighting congregations and connectional ministries that are making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.
Following the Episcopal Address, the delegates heard the first-ever Young Adult Address to General Conference. The address was energetic, honest, insightful, and encouraging as several young adults spoke about their experiences, hopes, and vision for the church. I so deeply hope that our decisions this year on many issues, including the ordination process, help us use the gifts of younger adults in leadership for our church.
I know that there are many challenging issues yet ahead, and the hard work is still before us as we begin to talk about how to turn these conversations, speeches and priorities into actions that will serve and support the mission of the church. But I feel that conference is off to a good start.
The Bishops are convening for conversations on racism in the council and in the church during the time that the delegates are working in legislative committees. As one leader said, “Not everything we face can be changed; but nothing can be changed that we don’t face.” I think that is true about so many of the hard issues of our great mission together in Christ.
Yours in Christ,