Building Bridges in the Tennessee-Western Kentucky ConferencePosted: March 15, 2022
Recently, I shared with you the news of the postponement of General Conference 2022 until May of 2024. There is significant disappointment across the Church with the news. For sure, there are implications of this delay, and the Council Bishops continues to consider the implications of this delay and how to lead in the coming two years until the General Conference will gather.
However, as I have reflected on this news, I have been reminded of the journey we have traveled together. Throughout our time together the conviction that has guided my leadership is this: nothing is sacred but the mission. In recent days, I have remembered the call God placed on my heart in 2012. God has been calling me to build bridges across the Nashville Episcopal Area and to be the bishop of all persons.
I am serving in my 10th year as your bishop. I remember well the joy and excitement Lynn and I had to become a part of the Nashville Episcopal Area and the promise of Greater Things about which Jesus spoke in John 14.
One of those greater things was the monumental task of uniting two conferences with histories, customs, memories, and relationships that were deep and vital. This work we have faithfully done and the TWK is now 70+ days old. We are learning a lot; our team is adapting constantly to the changing landscape of the conference and the UMC.
The Connectional Table has adopted four areas of focus for the work of the Annual Conference:
- Discover the work that God is doing to dismantle racism in TWK
- Discover what God is doing to increase resilience of spiritual leaders in TWK
- Create systems of response to Disasters that affect the TWK by setting up a Long Term Recovery organization and deepen our ability to respond quickly to disasters through church volunteer efforts
- Pay attention to the ways God is helping us be the Church in a new day
- Collaborate with leaders and discover the assets that are available to grow new communities of faith
- Bear witness to God’s work of renewing and becoming the Church in the world.
As we think about our life together, I am drawn to John’s gospel. In fact, if I look back over the last 10 years much of the teaching we have shared is drawn from the Gospel of John.
5 “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. 6 If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. 7 If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8 This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.
The overarching task of the Church today is rooted in the evangelistic process of knowing, growing, abiding in Jesus Christ (John 15:5)
This work is Initiated by the Movement of the Holy Spirit. It is through the movement of the Holy Spirit that we experience the Resurrected life which makes possible Reconciliation, Resilience, and Response.
Lay and clergy leaders all over the TWK conference are leading in ways that Christ is using to accomplish our mission.
Over the years as our two conferences worked to create the Tennessee-Western Kentucky Conference, people revealed a strength and resilience and a willingness to create a new conference in a season filled with disruption. There have been multiple disruptions. And yet we practiced adaptive leadership, grounded in Christ, that led us through.
Two years ago, this week two things happened. One, my mother died and two, we shut down all our in-person worship services. It’s been a hard two years. The journey since that time has been filled with challenges, confusion, adaptability. Our Pastors have been amazing front-line workers pivoting to worship in creative formats.
As you know, as we were saying goodbye to the legacy conferences we did so in a virtual way.
We did not have the opportunity to adequately celebrate and give thanks for who we have been.
As we have created a new conference, we have grieved the losses that we have experienced.
We will, at the first session of the TWK annual conference, have a time of lament for the losses and for what we have been. Dr. Sharon Cox will lead us in this process of grieving.
We continue to lead adaptively as we experience multiple disruptions.
Regarding the announcement of the delay of General Conference, we have learned that some of our churches may want to leave the UMC. This will cause further disruption in our conference.
I want you to know this:
- my calling is to remain faithful to the United Methodist Church.
- I believe that it is possible be a United Methodist and be faithful to orthodox, traditional, and progressive beliefs.
- I am called to this work, and to a church that does amazing mission on behalf of God’s kingdom across this world. Even as I write these words, the United Methodist Church is on the ground in Ukraine and the United Methodist Committee on Relief is responding to humanitarian need through the leadership of Bishop Eduard Khegay. When we consider the disruptions, those we are experiencing pale in comparison to our brothers and sisters in Ukraine.
Here’s what I know:
“The United Methodist Church is founded on a Wesleyan theology of grace, anchored in Scripture, and based in the life and teachings of Jesus Christ and the continuing movement of the Holy Spirit.” – #BeUMC
- We embrace the fundamentals of the Wesleyan tradition and dedicate ourselves to the mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.
- We embrace a Church anchored in Scripture and a theology of grace.
- We embrace a Church that aspires to be a more just and inclusive force in the world.
- We embrace the connected power of 12 million souls united, working towards good in the world.
- We embrace a Church that has uplifted our own lives and the lives of our friends, family, and those we cherish.
- We embrace a Church built in loving relationships rather than uniformity in thought and action.
- We embrace a Church where everyone does not have to agree and where everyone is welcome.
I recognize that not every person and not every congregation will choose to remain a part of our family. If that is the case, we have a process in place. Our process affirmed by the Conference Board of Trustees as guided by the recent Judicial Council decisions has reaffirmed paragraph 2553 of the Book of Discipline as a clear and fair process for churches who wish to depart from the denomination.
Additionally, the Council of Bishops has asked for a declaratory decision from the Judicial Council regarding whether an annual conference can leave and join another evangelical denomination.
Gil Rendle reminds us that this season of leadership must be quietly courageous: cultivating hope that becomes wise through experience and is undaunted by disappointment, naming anxiety that does not unnerve us but reveals to us new ways to look at new things in the future, knowing that we have simple blessings that will see us through — health, food, sleep, one another, the seasons of God’s creative hand. These practices draw us close to the foundation that is our faith in Christ.
Our work is to be bridge builders as we bear witness to the love of God in the world.
A Prayer for the Church in These Times
O God, whose mercy is ever faithful and ever sure, who art our refuge and our strength in time of trouble, visit us, we beseech thee—for we are in trouble.
We need a hope that is made wise by experience and is undaunted by disappointment. We need an anxiety about the future that shows us new ways to look at new things but does not unnerve us. As a people, we need to remember that our influence was greatest when our power was weakest. Most of all, we need to turn to thee, O God, and our crucified Lord, for only his humility and his strength can heal and free us.
O God, be thou our sole strength in time of trouble. In the midst of anxiety, grant us the grace to count our blessings—the simple ones: health, food, sleep, one another, a spring that is bursting out all over, a nation which, despite all, has so much to offer so many.
And, grant us to count our more complicated blessings: our failures, which teach us so much more than success; our lack of money, which points to the only truly renewable resources, the resources of our spirit; our lack of health, yea, even the knowledge of death, for until we learn that life is limitation, we are surely as formless and as shallow as a stream without its banks.
Send us forth into a new week with a gladsome mind, free and joyful in the spirit of Jesus Christ. Amen.
—William Sloan Coffin, Riverside Church
I invite you to join me in the work of building bridges across the rivers that bind us in the Tennessee Western Kentucky Conference.