As part of our preparation for General and Jurisdictional Conferences, the New England group of delegates and reserve delegates have been meeting together regularly and conversing over email. I think it’s impossible– or at least I hope it is– for a group of thirty United Methodist lay and clergy people to meet regularly and not become a covenant group of sorts.
It happened officially this week.
In the midst of discussions about the legislation coming before General Conference, and the struggles for the future of the denomination, and discernment around who might be called to serve as Bishop, one delegate emailed the group, expressing a felt need for deep prayer in preparation for General Conference. Quickly, the rest of the delegation agreed, and beginning today, we committed to pause for prayer each day at or around noon EST. We will pray for one another, for our denomination, for God’s church and God’s world, and that we strive after God’s direction for the life of the church and the ministry we do in Christ’s name.
I set an alarm on my phone for noon each day. I invite you to do the same. Some days, every day. At noon. At midnight. Whenever. Will you pause and pray with us, however you are moved?
In conjunction with this prayerful work, we have also been in discernment with people whose names were lifted up as possible candidates for Bishop. In the Methodist system, Bishops are elected at the Jurisdictional Conference (which is in July), from a pool of candidates who have been nominated and endorsed by their annual conference and/or by a caucus group. While it is forbidden to campaign for candidates, and it is the responsibility of the annual conference as the whole, not the delegation, to put forth nominees, there is no place for those who may be feeling called to process or practice their interviewing or pull together their thoughts. Our delegation solicited names of potential nominees from members of the delegation and from the annual conference as a whole. From that pool, people whose names were lifted up by three or more individuals were invited to consider a calling to be nominated for Bishop, and to respond in writing and in an interview to some questions with our delegation.
We heard back from six people, and sat with them in interviews and read their written answers to questions.
What a profound privilege.
Now, the election of Bishops, because it is an election, is at least partially political in nature. Although campaigns are forbidden, many conferences already “know” who their nominees will be, and are floating those names and introducing those individuals to make connections. There is much that can be sham and show and networking and politicizing in this process.
But what I have learned is that there is much that can be prayerful as well.
All six people we talked with are persons of deep faith, profoundly committed to God in Christ, and to the witness of justice, love, and transformation that God works in our lives. All six believe in the future of the UMC as a denomination, so long as we keep Jesus before us, and so long as we engage our differences rather than let them pull us apart. All six spoke of a need to break out of the boxes and molds of expectations, and do a new thing in the church and in the world. Some of them embody just that sort of change and vision. Reading their reflections on lay leadership and clergy development, on the role of a Bishop and on the Book of Discipline, and their honest reflection on strengths and areas of growth in themselves and in the church, reveals much to be grateful for, much to have hope about.
The church is alive! God is still calling women and men to lead us in an ever-changing world.
I’m in prayer for them and for us, for you and for me, for the planet we call home, for the church that has nurtured many of us, and for all that will be as God leads us into new life again and again.