Over a hundred years ago, John H. Sherard, Sr., a Delta planter and layperson from Clarksdale, MS, had a vision for a hospital in the city of Memphis that would offer quality care for persons from all walks of life. He was inspired to do so because his pastor had been hospitalized in Memphis and had received inadequate care. Now, for more than one hundred years, Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare (MLH) has faithfully fulfilled that mission. We give thanks that excellent care is accessible for all persons as MLH has provided care across the years.
Recently, a Memphis news outlet reported unfavorably regarding collection practices at MLH. This report has been troubling to many of us. In the midst of balancing ministry and fiscal responsibility, the mission of the hospital does not change:
The mission: MLH, in partnership with its medical staffs, will collaborate with patients and their families to be the leader in providing high quality, cost-effective patient- and family-centered care. Services will be provided in a manner which supports the health ministries and Social Principles of The United Methodist Church to benefit the communities we serve.
Our office has been in regular contact over the last week with Dr. Michael Ugwueke and The Reverend Dr. Albert Mosely seeking to understand the nature of the allegations as well as the practices which led to the content of the report. The Administration is taking appropriate steps to examine its policies and procedures regarding collection practices and has suspended any legal action while this review is underway. In an institution that seeks to do good always, MLH must also strive to do no harm. I will continue to urge the leadership of the hospital to ensure that policies and procedures are aligned with the Social Principles of the United Methodist Church and our Wesleyan Heritage.
However, this report does not tell the whole story of MLH and the amazing work the hospital does on behalf of those on the margins in the Midsouth and in particular the city of Memphis. MLH serves a diverse population in a region that historically has experienced high levels of poverty. Annually, MLH invests over $220 million to assist with care for those in need. MLH has remained committed to the city of Memphis as it seeks to offer care to those on their doorstep. In 2018, MLH established “My Sister’s Keeper” to care for women of color to support their ongoing health concerns. Dr. Albert Mosley, SVP and Chief Mission Integration Officer at Methodist discovered that through MLH’s Community Health Needs Assessment that black women make up more than a quarter of the population in the Mid-South. Furthermore, “they are impacted disproportionately by many health conditions,” said Mosely.
I trust that you join me in praying for those whose lives are in need of care.
I trust that you will pray for those healing professionals who provide care.
I trust you will pray for the entire MLH team that undergirds quality care, and for the administration as they seek to bring peace and justice for all.
|Memphis Conference Results regarding the Creation of a New Conference|
|Tennessee Conference Results of the Creation of a New Conference|
|Area Wide||Votes cast||Yes||No||%|
On our trips to the Holy Land, one of the first stops of the trip is always Caesarea Maritima, the port on the Mediterranean from which the Apostle Paul likely sailed on his 2nd, 3rd, and 4thmissionary journeys.
Each time I stand on that shore looking out across the Mediterranean Sea, I wonder if I, as a disciple, would have had the courage to make such a voyage. In our ordination text at Annual Conference, we read from II Corinthians 4 where Paul gives an accounting of the hardship he endured. Nonetheless, Paul continued to feel the call of God to expand his mission field.
Over the last two weeks, you have considered the possibility of expanding the mission fields of the Memphis and Tennessee Conferences. On June 3 the Memphis Conference voted on the possibility of becoming a new conference, and likewise, on June 13 the Tennessee Conference cast their vote.
Today, June 17, 2019, the respective conference secretaries met in Nashville to count the votes. I am pleased to report to you that both lay and clergy voted to support creating a new conference by 68% affirmation.
Thanks to all who have diligently led our work to explore expanding our mission and vision across the Nashville Episcopal Area by forming a new conference.
May God continue to grant the wisdom to live into the vision of expanding our mission field.
As we have continuously said for the last 7 years, “nothing is sacred but the mission.”
May the Great Commandment (Matthew 22:37-39) and the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19) guide our steps as we Discover, Connect, Equip and Send lay and clergy leaders who shape congregations that offer Christ to a hurting world one neighborhood at a time.
I want to tell you that I love Annual Conference in our United Methodist tradition.
In 1784, John Wesley dispatched Thomas Coke from England to oversee the founding of the Methodist Episcopal Church in America. Coke met Francis Asbury at Barratt’s Chapel in November. Plans were quickly made to gather all Methodist preachers together for the Christmas Conference at Lovely Lane.
Historian John Strawbridge writes about what happened over those ten days that formed a new denomination:
“Every Methodist preacher in America left their home and their parish on Christmas Eve. It was an important place to be in the church forming this denomination, dealing with the business that it took to create a church that would serve the people. So, they gathered all the preachers in America, about 86 preachers that they knew of at the time and planned to meet at the Lovely Lane Chapel on Christmas Eve 1784 for the formation of a new denomination.
They met in conference for ten days, established a Discipline, a Book of Worship, they ordained preachers, and they aside Asbury as the first superintendent. It was 10 days of debates and struggles and accusations and reconciliations, and the kinds of things that we do as Methodists.
To realize that this is not something that was handed down from on high, but that those people all came together as lay people.”
Since 1784, Methodists have been conferencing. It is the way we hold our connection in high regard. Collectively we work together. What is decided by the conference becomes our guide for our work for the coming year.
Today begins Annual Conference season for the Memphis and Tennessee Conferences. United Methodists from Paducah to Paris, from Memphis to Medina, from Camden to Collierville, from Savannah to Spring Hill, Columbia to Cookeville, McMinnville to Murfreesboro will gather in Collierville June 2-4 and in Brentwood June 12-14.
Our theme: Remember Who you Are: Word, Water, Witness.
These promise to be historic conferences as we determine if we have the energy to focus on our mission in spite of our challenges.
When we gather, we will sing:
- And are we yet alive,
and see each other’s face?
Glory and thanks to Jesus give
for his almighty grace!
- Preserved by power divine
to full salvation here,
again, in Jesus’ praise we join,
and in his sight appear.
- What troubles have we seen,
what mighty conflicts past,
fightings without, and fears within,
since we assembled last!
- Yet out of all the Lord
hath brought us by his love;
and still he doth his help afford,
and hides our life above.
- Then let us make our boast
of his redeeming power,
which saves us to the uttermost,
till we can sin no more.
- Let us take up the cross
till we the crown obtain,
and gladly reckon all things loss
so, we may Jesus gain.
In 1799 Tobias Gibson was sent from Tennessee to be a Missionary to the Mississippi territory. At the end of that year, he rode the 400-mile trip through the wilderness of Mississippi and Tennessee to attend the conference at Strother’s meeting house, then in Sumner County, Tennessee.
It had been a difficult year for Gibson. He appealed to Bishop Asbury for help, due to his failing health. The Bishop consented and sent Moses Floyd as his helper.
When one rides 400 miles by horseback through the wilderness having overcome the dangers of the frontier, singing “And are we yet alive” takes on new meaning.
Thankfully, getting to conference isn’t quite so challenging! Nonetheless, we sing:
Yet out of all the Lord
hath brought us by his love;
and still he doth his help afford,
and hides our life above.
As we gather, may we pray for one another that we will take up the cross until our crown attain.
And may we remember: Nothing is sacred but the mission.
I look forward to greeting you!
You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot. You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.
“Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works.”
One of my prayers for the coming Annual Conferences is that we will let our light shine in such a way that those on the outside watching might say what was said of the early Christians, “See how they love one another.” When we shine the light of Christ and remove our egos from the process, we will offer a path for those broken by sin and grief to come near. The love that Christ offers will make a way for estrangements to be healed.
It would be naive of me to think that this session of Annual Conference will be without some measure of tension. It seems as if the bloggers have been relentless for the last two years and especially since the special session of General Conference.
We acknowledge that in our context, some left St. Louis thankful for the legislation that was passed. Others left feeling harmed. Among our people in the Nashville Episcopal Area, we have both. When we gather I pray that the Holy Spirit that calls us to faithfulness will bear witness to us in a mighty way.
I have a request: I ask you to lay aside your positions, your anger, your frustrations and come to Annual Conference shining the light of Christ with all you encounter.
We will NOT deal with matters related to the special session of General Conference. There are no action items to come before the Annual Conference.
We will honor those who have entered the Church Triumphant.
We will celebrate those who have given faithfully their lives in ministry and are choosing the retired relationship.
We will elect delegates to General Conference and Jurisdictional Conference.
This is important work. These persons represent us.
These persons will participate in shaping the future of our denomination. The General Conference is the only body with authority to speak for the United Methodist Church.
One common misunderstanding is that some people think bishops have voting privileges at General Conference. We do not.
Only those you elect to represent Conferences have the privilege of voting. We will want to elect those who will let their light shine before others.
We will present the resolution for a new conference.
If the vote is in the affirmative for the new conference, we will begin planning for a historic session of Annual Conference in 2020 to celebrate, give thanks, and remember who we have been.
The timeline is as follows:
June 2019 Final Vote for a New Conference
June 2020 Historic Conference Celebration
July 2020 Southeast Jurisdictional Conference
Fall 2020 Special Session of the New Conference to elect officers for the quadrennium.
We will order the ministry of our clergy.
We will care for the administrative matters that come before the conference, including adopting a budget.
We will have great worship and great music!
So come and let your light shine before others!
Your Servant for Christ’s Sake,
In a very short time, the Memphis and Tennessee Conferences will gather.
Our theme: Remember Who We are: Word, Water, Witness will guide our days together.
In our remembering, I invite you to prepare yourselves by focusing on Matthew 5,6, and 7. This is known as the Sermon on the Mount. These three chapters encompass the Beatitudes but so much more. More than anything else, these sacred words are a guide to how scripture invites us to live in relationship with brothers and sisters in Christ as well as those in the world. It is my prayer that we will meditate on these Holy Words daily as we approach our time for Annual Conference.
Further, let me invite you to reflect on the life and teaching of Jesus and prayerfully consider how we are preparing ourselves spiritually. When we are rooted in Scripture and focused on Jesus as Lord, holy conferencing with one another becomes a means of grace. It is my prayer that this will be true as we gather.
As you prepare your hearts and minds, reflect on these three short chapters. Think before you speak. Reflect on the life and teachings of Jesus. As Paul taught us in Philippians 2, “Have this mind in you that was also in Christ Jesus.”
Our lives are cross-shaped because we have said yes to Christ through our baptism. We are indeed rooted in scripture, centered in Christ. Our witness becomes the window through which others are drawn near to Jesus Christ.
We have important work to do. Let us do our part by being spiritually prepared to give Christ our best.
Your Servant for Christ’s Sake,
My wise son shared the following story with me from Ben Quash’s book “Abide.”
One of the greatest female saints of the early Church was a woman named Macrina. She lived from around 330 until her death on 19 July, 379—a death that was recorded lovingly and in considerable detail by one of her brothers, Gregory of Nyssa. Gregory revered his older sister. She was an inspiration to him.
He calls her a Mother, Father, Teacher, Tutor, Advice-Giver, all in one.
He says that she was angelic—perfect in virtue and beautiful—but she was human; her profound holiness is grounded in her life, her relationships, and her place. Gregory was present at Macrina’s death almost by accident.
He was a hard-pressed bishop in difficult times, and had not had an opportunity to visit his sister for some years, when he found himself traveling near the community where she lived and he decided to go to her. As he drew close, he was met by a servant that warned him that his sister was gravely ill.
They took him to the holy dwelling in which his sister was lying, “terribly afflicted with weakness.” He doesn’t know it yet, but she only had one more night to live, and will die the following day. These precious hours give Gregory the opportunity for a series of intense and moving final conversations with her, in which she recalls the blessings of her life and shares them with him. Then progressively, as the final day of her life slips by, her speech becomes wholly prayer, her prayer (as her voice fails) becomes wholly silent prayer, and finally she passes from this life.
At Macrina’s request, Gregory is closely involved in the preparation of her body for burial, as well as with her funeral. It is in the preparation of her body that he encounters a scar, a small faint mark below her neck. It turns out that Macrina had in earlier times had a life-threatening tumor on that spot, which resulted in an open sore and which was so near her heart as to make it inoperable.
But she found herself the recipient of a miracle of healing, in which the tears shed during long prayers were mixed with the mud of the sanctuary where she prayed, and this mud—applied to her breast by her mother in the sign of the cross—was followed by an extraordinary recovery.
All that was left of that event was the scar, a sign of her fragility and weakness, but also a token of God’s powerful help.
The story of the miracle is itself remarkable, but what was also remarkable to Gregory was the scar. The healing was not the eradication of all signs of the tumor.
The skin does not revert back to total, unbroken smoothness. A mark on the skin abides, as a sign of what has happened.
If Holy Week is about anything, it is about the scars that are inflicted upon Jesus that bring healing.
Isaiah 53:5 reminds us:
But he was wounded for our transgressions,
crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the punishment that made us whole,
and by his bruises we are healed.
When we remember the last night of Jesus’ life around a table, there is the anticipation of betrayal, a scar to the soul of Jesus. By the end of Friday, the one we call Good Friday, Jesus’ body bears scars that come from being beaten and bruised. Nailed to the cross, speared in the side.
By the scars of Jesus, we are healed, made whole. Everybody I know who has lived long enough has scars.
You have scars. I have scars. Our bodies are covered with memories of our missteps, falls, cuts, and surgeries, by harm done to us and by us.
The scars are visible reminders of the wounds we’ve absorbed as we’ve lived life. We have places on our skin that have not returned to unbroken smoothness.
We have also experienced wounds in life that give our souls scars.
- Wounds from grief.
- Wounds from illness.
- Wounds from relationships.
- Wounds from failure.
- Wounds that others have inflicted upon you.
- Self-inflicted wounds.
We live in a world in which it is always possible, or so it seems, to wipe our slates clean. We delete all the old pictures from our FB or Instagram accounts and move on. We clean out the closets. Move to a new house. Pick a new career. You throw yourself into a new relationship. We cover up our scars and pretend like they are not there.
But, many of us have wounds that abide, that linger, that impair us. Unresolved anger or grief. Fears. Questions. Shame or guilt. Feelings of inadequacy.
And as much as we like to pretend that they’re not there; as much as we want to pretend that we’ve started over, we feel the rough edges of the scars. Our wounds abide with us whether we want them to or not.
The message of Holy Week and Easter is this—through the mystery of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, we are transformed. By the amazing grace of God’s healing we are given a second chance.
We come to the table on Maundy Thursday and receive the gifts of bread and wine. This holy meal is given for us. We are among those Jesus calls friends. By such, we are called to participate in a holiness of heart and life. When we rise from the table, we are sent into the world to love as we have been loved, scars and all.
John, one of my best friends in the world, has had a month-long hospital stay due to a complicated heart challenge. For days he was unconscious and unresponsive. We doubted if we would ever see John again, and if we did, we wondered what his prospects of a healthy life were.
Today, John was released from the hospital and able to be home. He is doing pretty well, given where he has been.
About 10 days ago, in the night, when things were not yet certain for John, he called me. He was alone in his hospital room and had grown anxious. He said, “When my wife goes home and I am alone in this hospital bed, I become very frightened about my prospects of a future.” I then asked John to recount all the positive signs that had come to him in the last few days.
I then said, “John, you have experienced a resurrection.” It was true. John knew it and I knew it. From that moment forward, John has made steady progress which made his release from the hospital possible.
While he had no visible scars, no surgery performed, he was bearing under the weight equivalent of a deep scar. And he is being healed. His lifestyle will change. But in his heart of hearts, he is a new creature in Christ.
May the love of Christ come to you through this Holy Season and bring you healing for your scars, visible or not, so that you may experience the fullness of resurrection.
This was recorded live on Sunday, March 10, 2019.
Live Stream Participants:
Bishop Bill McAlilly
Moderator, Rev. Deborah Owens
Tennessee Conference Delegation Leaders: Jim Allen & Rev. Harriet Bryan
Memphis Conference Delegation Leaders: David Reed & Rev. Sky McCracken
Over the course of the past several days and weeks I have heard a common refrain from my fellow brothers and sisters in Christ who call themselves Methodists. Statements such as “I do not know who I am apart from the United Methodist Church” or “I do not know who I am apart from the Church” and I find myself reflecting on those same sentiments.
I do not know who I am apart from the United Methodist Church.
In 1968 I was confirmed in the Fulton Methodist Church which later that the same year became Fulton United Methodist Church. Along with some of the finest people I have ever known, we offered our lives as living sacrifices to Christ and his Church and promised to live in covenant with our sisters and brothers everywhere who were living out their baptism as United Methodists.
When I graduated from high school and chose to attend Millsaps College, one of our United Methodist Colleges, little did I know that I was entering a line of splendor that 40 years later would count me among 9 graduates who have been elected bishop in the United Methodist Church. The journey between Millsaps College and the Nashville Episcopal Area has been deeply rich and amazingly rewarding. That the providential hand of God has guided my steps throughout these years is without question. Navigating my way among the people called Methodists, has taught me that God is always going before, always surprising, new every morning.
I shall never forget the opening worship of my first General Conference in 2000.
I witnessed the most stirring worship as the processional featured persons from the Global Church. It stirred my deepest sense of praise to God and it opened my eyes to a wider circle than I had known. Since then, I have travelled across the globe and witnessed the power of God’s movement in multiple contexts and cultures. As I wrote recently, my experience in the Holy Land also deepened my love for the many people who have come to know Christ because the Church took seriously John 3:16 and Matthew 28.
It appears now that this church of ours is fractured deeply. Some believe it is fractured beyond healing. We may discover in the days to come this is our reality. Until then, however, I urge each pastor and congregation across our area to take a deep breath. Just as our counselors advise us in the recovery of grief, no decisions need to be made with haste. Let us be “wise as serpents and innocent as doves.” Let us hold steady until we can better determine our future.
I do not know who I am apart from this great Church of ours.
My father was a part of a generation that experienced great personal and social transition. Soon after his death in December, I said to my sister and brother, “that our father heard a call to ministry and left the family farm and went to college and later to seminary accounts for the many ways we have been blessed beyond measure.”
Prevenient grace poured over my life the day I was born. The four churches my father served when I was a child poured into my siblings and me so that we would claim the faith of our fathers and mothers. Sunday School teachers, Boy Scout Masters, MYF leaders, Choir directors, Counselors at Camp, Conference Youth Ministry all contributed to my faith formation and for this reason I don’t know who I am apart from this great Church of ours.
Maybe, you too, do not know who you are apart from the United Methodist Church.
For generations, the people called Methodists in Middle and West Tennessee and Western Kentucky have been writing God’s story. We are a diverse family—conservative-centrist-progressive. We often disagree, yet we hold firm to the primacy of scripture and the centrality of grace.
These same ideals were things I saw practiced by my mother and father in our home, things I learned in congregations across North Mississippi, and are things I see across the Tennessee and Memphis Conferences.
The work now before us is to continue to walk with our brothers and sisters across the Church. It is often messy, hard and challenging work. We now need a deep healing. How might we be a part of healing our Church in this very divided moment? Holding onto each other is more difficult than letting go, loving in the midst of difficulty, finding hope in the midst of struggle and suffering.
I do not know the United Methodist Church without the Young People who are committed to Christ and this Church.
Over the course of the last few days, my son, a young pastor committed deeply to the United Methodist Church and to mentoring young adults who are discerning a call to ministry, shared this note with me from a candidate for ministry and a college student attending Birmingham Southern College. The student was willing for me to share his witness with you:
“Just got back to my apartment from General Conference and I want to share my thoughts with you. This was a difficult yet fruitful experience. My heart broke as I saw both sides attack each other. Yesterday, I could not fight back my tears as I saw a physical divide on the floor when two groups attempted to sing and chant over one another. I truly saw the ugliest part of our church. I was filled with disgust at the church as a whole. Despite this, I saw some of the most beautiful parts of our church. I witnessed people come together and proclaim unity even though the plan that they supported did not pass. I saw young, devout Methodists say that they have too much love for the church to give up on the denomination as a whole. I wanted to see our church agree that we might not all think alike but that we could still give hope for others who want to pursue ministry in our beautiful church (I was one of the 15,000 young Methodists under the age of 35 to sign that petition that made it to the floor yesterday). This has made me extremely ready to start ministry and to get as involved as possible in our annual conference.”
We in the Nashville Episcopal Area are deeply blessed to have young clergy and young leaders who deeply love the United Methodist Church. Our ministry with young people is profound and many are hearing a call to ministry. I am encouraged by their faithfulness and desire to follow God’s call upon their lives. When 2,500 young people gather in one place to worship and praise God, I am certain God is at work among us.
But what I do know is…God is not yet finished with the United Methodist Church.
Unlike some of the clergy who left Mississippi during the civil rights turmoil of the 1960s, my father stayed, rolled up his sleeves and worked to bridge the gap between where we were and where God was leading us. Through the leadership of many faithful lay and clergy men and women in small, medium and large congregations, bridges were built and huge strides were made in our congregations and our communities with regard to race relations. My father taught my siblings and me how to build bridges across divides as God shows us a way through.
I want to say to our LGBTQ members and friends, you are beloved children of God. Many of you were baptized as infants in our churches, nurtured in Sunday school, and participated in our Youth Ministry. You were confirmed in our Churches. You are living out the tenets of your faith—in new and transformative ways that have never existed. You have given your life to Christ and His Church. Communities in the Tennessee and Memphis Conferences celebrate the gifts God has given you. I am looking for the churches who will be sanctuary for our LGBTQ sisters and brothers. We are the Church—and it is up us to demonstrate our love for God and our love for those God loves.
The unfolding journey as United Methodists is ever before us, not behind us.
As we continue processing the next steps for our denomination, I will be praying for the God who formed us in our baptism to lead us in discovering our future together in the United Methodist Church.
God is writing a better story in us and through us.
Let us be attentive to one another, to the Holy Spirit, and to the places where God is already on the move.
This Sunday, the Table of our Lord will be spread.
It is God’s Table and all are welcome.
To submit a question to be addressed during the live stream, please send an email to GC19question@gmail.com. Please try to get it to us by Tuesday, March 5. Thank you!
We are nearing the end of the final day of General Conference 2019, the special session that was called to be held in St. Louis just this week. I want to tell you how grateful I am for the prayers of the Memphis and Tennessee conferences, as your delegations and I have been here seeking to find a way forward for our United Methodist Church.
I want you to know that while we have been in St. Louis, we have been praying for you as those across the Memphis and Tennessee conferences have been facing flooding. We’re mindful that there are many who are displaced because of those floods, and want to remind you that Robert Craig is our Disaster Response Coordinator and you can find contact information for him on our conference websites.
Many of you have watched the live streaming of the special session, and you have followed the coverage – many of you, moment by moment. You have probably also followed some of our United Methodist news service outlets. But if you’re not already aware, this afternoon we passed the Traditional Plan which was passed by a significant margin, 54% roughly to 47%. That plan has been adopted and it will need to be further studied by the Judicial Council to rule on constitutionality.
As a result of the decision, some of you feel relief. Others of you are in disbelief, and some are angry. Many feel a sense of grief. My first reminder today as your chief pastor is to love one another. Some of your neighbors, some of your church members are hurting because of this decision.
It will take time for all of us to understand how these decisions will affect us at the grassroots..how they will affect the future of the United Methodist Church.
Likely there will be adjustments that we have to live into within the reality of our Church, but one thing is certain, the church will continue to be the church. We will continue to love the least and the last, our neighbors in our communities. We will continue to offer hope to a hurting world in every place we exist in the Tennessee and Memphis conferences and Kentucky.
Our conferences will continue to value local churches as the disciple-making center of all of our ministry. We will continue to be diverse. We will continue to be rooted in Christ, and we will express a deep love for one another.
This coming week, your church will gather for worship. Someone will teach Sunday School. Youth will gather for MYF. Other churches will reach out to those in need with food pantries and clothes closets. For some, they may need to set some time aside for grieving.
As soon as the Southeastern Jurisdiction College of Bishops meets, I’ll return to our Episcopal Area and I will begin the hard work of doing ministry with you as we discern what this decision means for the Church.
I ask you that you allow us the opportunity – before you or your church make any decisions regarding your relationship with the United Methodist Church – to be in conversation with you.
On Sunday, March the 10th at 3:00 p.m., I, along with our delegation heads, will be coming to you livestream, and you’ll have an opportunity to hear more details about what we discern is our future.
If you wish to send questions, you may do so at firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com.
Updates will continue to be shared through our conference websites, and our task teams on the ongoing work for our New Conference that will continue.
I invite you to continue praying for the future of our denomination, for the future of the Tennessee and Memphis conferences, for the work that God has called us to do in a very specific, particular place called the Nashville Episcopal Area.
I’m deeply grateful for each of you and I thank you for your willingness to work with me in this time of transition. May God be with us.
Lynn and I returned last week in the wee hours of Thursday morning after a wonderful pilgrimage in the Holy Land. We traveled by bus with some of our recent Ordinands and several Laity from across Tennessee and Alabama.
Every time I walk in Galilee, stand on the banks of the Jordan River, or walk the trail from the Mount of Olives to the Garden of Gethsemane in Jerusalem, I am reminded of how wide and vast is the influence of this man, Jesus of Nazareth, and his tribe called Christians. On pilgrimage alongside our group were Asians, Africans, Germans, Italians, among others!
Every time I walk the Via Dolorosa, I reflect on the worldwide nature of the Church–not just United Methodists—but persons from every nation, language, people and race.
Such a journey gives one perspective.
As we approach February 23 and the beginning of the called session of General Conference, we all could use a little perspective. Sometimes it is helpful to take the long view. The work of Christ’s Holy Church began long before we came along and will go on long after this moment.
There is no doubt that this is an important moment. The debates about human sexuality and who can be ordained and who can be married are important for the United Methodist Church. The Commission on the Way Forward has presented the 2019 General Conference with three plans to consider. Across every Conference, there have been sincere listening, courageous conversations, and meaningful discourse. There have also been hurtful attacks, fear-mongering, and misinformation. It is impossible to know what will happen among the people called United Methodists in three brief days in St. Louis later this month.
It’s easy to get discouraged because we have no idea how it is going to turn out.
The uncertainty we are all feeling can turn us inward into the places in our souls that are most afraid, that long to control outcomes.
It can turn us inward to the worst spirits in our culture: the spirit of competitiveness, the spirit of power.
We must turn outward beyond ourselves.
We must turn outward
towards one another in love and mutual respect,
towards God in prayer.
We must turn outwards
watching for Jesus, the man from Galilee to go ahead of us
listening for the Holy Spirit to speak to the Church.
I confess that there have been moments over the past two years when I have been discouraged by the tone of conversation in our beloved Church.
There have been times when I have doubted and when I have been afraid.
But, God continues to remind me that the work of Christ’s Holy Church began long before we came along and will go on long after this moment.
And so I invite you to pray with me.
I am praying for humility, wisdom, for kindness, for generosity and self-control.
I am praying that the witness of those gathered in St. Louis February 23-26 will bear witness to the love of God in Christ.
I am praying that the Church will cease its mission drift and will continue to bless those who are discerning a call to ministry.
I am praying that we will do no harm.
I am praying that when the history books are written, this era of Church history will be judged not by the lens of short-sightedness but through the lens of God’s great grace guiding us through challenging waters.
One of the last things we did in Jerusalem was to walk the Via Dolorosa and go the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.
I was reminded as I walked that lonesome road of something Dr. Davis Chappell said to me the day before we departed. He said:
“The truth is – all 4 strands of Judaism were disappointed in Jesus. The Sadducees said – he’s too radical. The Pharisees said – he’s too liberal. The Zealots said – he’s too conservative. The Essenes said – he’s too inclusive. Jesus didn’t line up with these groups! And consequently, they were all disappointed in Jesus. And so, they found a way to get rid of him! But God raised him up.”
I can’t help but wonder with which strand Jesus would align. Or if he were to come, and he didn’t align with our particular strand, if we, too, would reject him.
Beware of assuming that Jesus lines up perfectly with your group.
Remember that Jesus is always going ahead of us
sometimes surprising us
because his thoughts are not our thoughts
and his way is not our way.
We are brothers and sisters in Christ here by God’s great grace alone.
I don’t know what will happen at General Conference.
I don’t know which plan will be adopted.
Here’s what I do know—my role as a bishop in the United Methodist Church is to lead all of God’s people—not just those with whom I agree. When I was elected and consecrated a bishop, the values and beliefs that have guided my life did not change. From the time I was a college student serving as a youth director until this day, my desire has been to be in ministry with all persons. I have sought in this office to abide with Christ and to abide with the Church even when the Church didn’t seem to desire to abide with itself.
The trip to the Holy Land gave me new perspective.
God has not abandoned our Church.
God was at work in the people called Methodists long before we came along
and I believe that God’s work among us will continue.
This weekend four of our five grandchildren have been in Nashville.
It is for them that I hold out hope for this church of ours.
It also is for those who Saturday attended the Orientation to Ministry, discerning their call to ministry.
It is for the young clergy who have gone to great lengths to acquire the necessary educational requirements to serve our churches.
It is for those who have yet to hear the Good News of the Gospel of Jesus Christ that it is critical that we allow the Holy Spirit to move among us and that we live with hearts of peace.
Our Lord God, we have no idea where we are going. We do not see the road ahead of us. We cannot know for certain where it will end. We do not always know ourselves as well as we think we do, and even though we often believe we are following your will that does not mean we are actually doing so. But we believe that the desire to please you does, in fact, please you. And we pray for that desire in all that we are doing. We hope that we will never do anything apart from that desire. We know that if we do this you will lead us by the right road. Amen. (adapted from a prayer by Thomas Merton)
December 2018 – Bishop Bill McAlilly
The Nashville Episcopal Area
Report Of The Advisory Group Toward
Creating a New Conference
Fall Update, 2018
Over the last several months, an advisory group made up of lay and clergy members began the hopeful and challenging work of living into the decision of the 2018 Annual Conference to continue the work of alignment between the Memphis Conference and the Tennessee Conference.
The primary question to be answered in these last months is do we simply adopt best practices of the two conferences or do we strive to truly to become a new conference with a new vision and a refined mission?
The answer the advisory group has adopted is that we must create a new entity focusing our energy on what God is leading us toward rather than simply blending the two entities. We believe God is saying to us: “See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland. (Isaiah 43:19)
The group agrees on the following:
We believe that the local church is the primary disciple-making entity in the conference.
We believe that we are called, through the leadership of the Holy Spirit, to create a culture within the conference where we:
- Lead with Grace
- Discover, connect, equip and send well-qualified lay and clergy leaders who are spiritual leaders
- Are wise stewards of resources as we maximize the resources at the local church
- Foster Innovative expressions of Church
- Foster Innovative expressions of leadership
- Expect a Diverse Church
- Discover and engage with young people in leadership
- Foster emotional intelligence among leaders
- Expect excellence in communication among leaders
- Reflect, Adjust, Do, as we move forward with regard to all ministries
- Hold one another accountable in love
- Celebrate God’s work
The group has organized teams to begin work around the following opportunities: Benefits, Finance & Funding, Property, and Conference Organization & Mission.
The Advisory Group will meet again in early December. Please continue to be in prayer for us as we continue this work.
Last Sunday night, Claflin University Choir provided a mini concert for the Council of Bishops. Their opening number was the historic “Lift Every Voice and Sing”, written by James Weldon Johnson.
In 1899, Johnson was asked to speak to a crowd in Jacksonville, Florida. The occasion was the coming anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s birthday. Just two decades had passed since the Reconstruction era. The segregated south was deeply divided racially. Lynchings were on the rise across the South.
As Johnson considered his opportunity, he decided to write a poem. The opening line, “Lift every voice and sing,” gave rise to the powerful poem which is now a hymn, the music composed by Johnson’s brother, John Rosamond Johnson who was classically trained, putting the stanza’s to music. ( ‘Lift Every Voice and Sing’: The story behind the ‘black national anthem’ that Beyoncé sang. Washington Post Samantha Schmidt). http://www.pbs.org/black-culture/explore/black-authors-spoken-word-poetry/lift-every-voice-and-sing/
It is a powerful poem, both lyrically and musically. Essentially, it is a poetic recounting of the journey African Americans across the 17th and 18th Century. I never sing the hymn or hear the hymn performed without being deeply moved.
It is a song a of memory and hope.
From the first stanza:
Sing a song full of
The faith that the
Dark past has taught us,
Sing a song full of
The hope that the present has brought Us;
Facing the rising sun of our new day
Let us march on till victory is won.
Last Sunday night, almost in unison, the entire room was quickly on their feet acknowledging the power and meaning of these words. It was a moving experience for me in light of the continued racism that continues to be alive and well in our lives.
For my entire life, racism has been a challenge for our church and for our culture. Despite all the progress many folks thinK we have made, we cannot help but be reminded daily of the failures of the progress we are not making.
This was brought home to me recently when ten individuals, including four people of color attended a rally in Nashville. One of the four is a candidate for ministry in the United Methodist Church. The group arrived at the event after registering properly. Those of color were asked to leave while the others were allowed to stay.
One student in particular is a student at Vanderbilt Divinity School in Nashville. As he seeks to live out his baptismal vows to “resist evil, injustice, and oppression” he participates in movements that support equality, access to healthcare, among others. This brave young man has shared with us that he was only seeking to hear the opinions of a candidate for office. I have asked myself why he was removed and after reviewing the video footage, the only reasonable conclusion I could reach is that he was removed because the color of his skin.
When I consider my own baptismal vow, my own commitment to Jesus Christ and the Social Principles of the United Methodist Church, I believe we cannot be silent before injustice.
At the Council of Bishops this week, I joined with my colleagues on the Council who are African American who call the Church to stand against the resurgence of racism in the United States. Today I ask that you pray for unity, acceptance, movement in our own hearts and most of all peace to those who may be different from ourselves. We are more alike than we are different, but we celebrate the uniqueness of God’s cultural and racial diversity in all of us.
I call on all United Methodists in the Tennessee and Memphis Conferences to reaffirm your baptismal vows to resist evil and injustice in whatever forms they present themselves. I give thanks to God for those who daily stand against racism and injustice for all people.
In the midst of the recent election cycle, perhaps Samuel Beckett’s words from his 1983 novella, Worstward Ho, offer a more appropriate (and humble) approach to the challenges we now face: “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.”
(This appears in the September 17, 2018 issue of TIME. http://time.com/5388356/our-racist-soul/)
May we United Methodists ever move forward in spite of our failings. And may we ever be steadfast in standing with those who, on our behalf, are brave enough to bear witness to God’s love for all people.