United Methodist Church bishops are calling on members of the denomination to engage in respectful conversations amidst growing conflict over political, religious and justice issues in many places in our world.
November 10, 2017
Dear Sisters and Brothers in Jesus Christ,
Ephesians 4:1-2 admonishes us “to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”
All of us are witnesses to increased animosity and growing conflict over political, religious and justice issues in many places in our world in word and deed. We believe this serves to threaten our safety and security. In antagonistic discussions about our faithful witness in the world, we may encounter verbal abuse, disruptive behavior, harassing emails, letters and phone messages, and confrontations.
As Bishops of your United Methodist Church, we serve a Church which is diverse in its theological understanding of Scripture and Christ’s call in our lives. Conflict and differing opinions, a natural part of the human and faith experience, come in a variety of forms. We are called to address our differences with authenticity and respectful conversations which enrich our understanding of God and of one another.
In recent months, we have experienced these negative behaviors escalating into more aggressive, and violent expressions of hate, prejudice, and anger directed against others. We are hearing of and observing angry words now escalating to actions that are resulting in fear, anxiety, loss of security, and even physical harm. These actions are repugnant to us as your bishops.
We renew our covenant to one another to lead as a council and in our respective residential areas in ways that reflect our commitment to do no harm, do good, and stay in love with God. We renew this covenant within the Council of Bishops to engage in holy conversation and Christ-like behavior especially when we do not agree with one another. We call upon all United Methodists, even in the midst of disagreement and uncertainty about our future as a church, to do the same, and to love each other as Christ loved us (John 12:34).
In Christ’s shalom,
Bishop Bruce R. Ough, President
The Council of Bishops
The Nashville Episcopal Area is being challenged by the planned gathering of white supremacist and associated hate groups in Murfreesboro and Shelbyville on October 28, 2017. I implore all of our clergy to share the following statement with their churches on Sunday, October 22, 2017:
Dear United Methodist Family,
The same hate groups that devastated the Charlottesville, Virginia community just a few weeks ago are now targeting our Tennessee Conference by planning to gather in Murfreesboro and Shelbyville on October 28, 2017 to spread the vitriolic evil of racism. As United Methodists, we must remember and recommit ourselves to the ideals of our United Methodist social witness.
Within our Social Principles we understand racism as sin and contrary to the fundamental recognition that “our primary identity is as children of God.” “Racism … plagues and hinders our relationship with Christ, inasmuch as it is antithetical to the gospel itself.” I call on all of us to renew our personal and collective commitment to stand against racism and the violence born from it.
Some have inquired as to our possible response to the racist protests being planned. We are encouraging people to work within the interfaith partnerships already formed. The Shelbyville First United Methodist Church and the Shelbyville Church of the Nazarene will be sponsoring a prayer vigil on Friday, October 27, 2017 at Noon.
The Rutherford County Interfaith Council and the City of Murfreesboro encourage individuals to consult the #Murfreesboroloves Facebook community. Individuals who seek to publicly counter-protest in the Shelbyville area should consult the Shelbyville Times Gazette for information on where to legally gather. For more information, please feel free to call the Stones River District Superintendent, Rev. Max Mayo, at (615) 893-5886.
I call upon all United Methodists to join in praying for our communities as well as discovering creative ways to live our baptismal vow to resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves.
Bishop Bill McAlilly
Also, I invite you to read and reflect on Reverend Paul Purdue’s sermon: Blessed are the peacemakers – Being mistaken for the Children of God preached Sunday, October 8, 2017 in the aftermath of the shooting in Las Vegas. You find a link to this message below:
Brothers and Sisters of The United Methodist Church,
Grace and peace to you in the compassionate name of our Lord Christ Jesus.
I write to you on behalf of our Council of Bishops to invite you to observe Global Migration Sunday on December 3, 2017. This is the first Sunday of the season of Advent, a time when we remember the coming birth of the Christ child who himself was a migrant.
From Asia and Europe to Africa and the Americas, the plight of more than 65 million men, women and children forced to leave their homes and migrate to places unknown calls all Christians to remember what God requires of us.
Wars, natural disasters, persecution, economic hardships and growing violence around the world are the major root causes of the unprecedented global migration we witness with grave concern today. As if these deadly forces were not enough, migrants also face myriad problems including hazardous travel, cultural barriers and the physical and emotional costs of arriving in strange lands where they are not always welcome and they often face persecution.
For most of these migrants, the decision to flee their homeland comes as a last resort effort to live. We are reminded of Joseph and Mary as they sought to save their lives and especially the life of the Christ child as they fled to Africa to escape the wrath of King Herod, who (threatened by the birth of Jesus) ordered the massacre of children (Matthew 2:13‑14).
As United Methodists, we believe that the prayers of God’s people can cause the outpouring of God’s mercy and justice. As your bishops, it is our fervent hope that on Global Migration Sunday on December 3, United Methodist congregations in all the places we serve around the world will join our voices to pray for our brothers and sisters who are suffering the journey of forced migration. In addition, as a people who pray and act upon those prayers, we ask that all our congregations gather an offering dedicated to the human suffering inflicted by forced migration. Offerings collected should be sent to the Migration Advance No. 3022144.
We are grateful for our general agencies who have prepared excellent resources for Global Migration Sunday in English, Arabic, French, and Spanish — including the prayer that we ask all pray on December 3rd.
Jesus said, “When you welcome the sojourner, you welcome me.” (Matthew 25:35)
Let us welcome our migrant brothers and sisters with compassionate care, pray for them without ceasing and give generously that they, too, may have life.
Grace and peace,
Bishop Bruce R. Ough
President, Council of Bishops
I want to encourage you to take the opportunity this October to hear and interact with a great teacher of church history, Rev. Dr. Justo Gonzalez. He will be visiting the Nashville Episcopal Area on October 13 & 14.
In his sessions, Dr. Gonzalez will lay the groundwork for understanding how our past informs our future. He will share his insights surrounding the impact of the Protestant Reformation of 1517 for our life as the church of 2017.
As we approach the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s audacious act of calling on the church of his day to make much-needed changes, we may find ourselves reflecting on something quite similar for our own lives as well as the greater church.
We are called as the church to provide a way through the reality we are facing and to be an anchor in the storm for those who are lost and hurting. Our time with Dr. Gonzalez will provide learning to help us better understand the context Martin Luther faced as well as our own.
Dr. Gonzalez will share his teaching in English so everyone will feel welcomed into the conversation that has been going on for some time with our Spanish-speaking brothers and sisters. (Spanish translation is available upon request.)
Our hope is that this time of learning around the 16th century Reformation’s context and the potential for a new reformation may guide our prayers and planning. This will be a time to enliven passion around seeing the people in our own contexts, primarily our Hispanic and Latino neighbors, so we may work in cooperation with one another.
While this is a two-day event, the leadership team wants to accommodate schedules and make this available to as many people as possible. They now have added a single-day registration option to attend this event in Murfreesboro. More information and a registration link are available at tnumc.org/reformation2017.
I want to thank you for your generous and faithful response to your sisters and brothers affected by Hurricanes Harvey and Irma! I am thankful for the way God has worked through the disciples of the Nashville Episcopal Area to offer Christ to a hurting world.
Today we can celebrate your financial gifts to UMCOR that totaled over $87,000 during the past month from churches and individuals in our two conferences – and it is still coming in.
Our churches have connected directly through family members and sister churches in affected areas to assist them. Conference Emergency Response Teams quickly prepared to deploy as we waited for invitations and assignments from affected Annual Conferences.
And of course…we made cleaning bucket kits…THREE truckloads of buckets and other needed supplies. I invite you to watch the video below to see our volunteers in action!
I want to thank the people of the Memphis and Tennessee Conferences for your continued prayers, your financial gifts, and your hands-on response to our neighbors in need.
Leviticus 19:33-34 “When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.”
As we continue to have concern about our brothers and sisters in Christ who would be affected by decisions to end Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, I share with you a guest post from Morgan Stafford. As a part of his third year of divinity school at Perkins School of Theology at Southern Methodist University, Stafford is currently a full-time intern serving as a cross-cultural strategist for the Nashville Episcopal Area. Part of his responsibilities include working with lay and clergy leaders who continue to be marginalized based on their immigration status.
Earlier this week, the announcement was made that the current presidential administration intends to end Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, commonly known as DACA. Created in 2012, DACA has provided temporary protection from deportation and legal work authorization for about 800,000 “DREAMers.”
DREAMers are young immigrants who arrived in the United States before 2007, are currently enrolled in or have graduated from high school, and have committed no criminal offenses. While these young people do not have citizenship, they have spent the majority of their lives in the United States, contributing to the well-being of our communities, schools, and churches. Without DACA, thousands of families will be negatively impacted, and this reality will directly impact us all.
During my ministry experiences across Tennessee, Kentucky and Texas, I have been blessed to be in relationship with many immigrant sisters and brothers. Among these individuals have been several DREAMers who are proud recipients of DACA. I have witnessed firsthand the positive impact of DACA on the lives of these young people and their families:
- A 16-year-old who could apply for a job and now pays taxes and works part-time to support his family.
- A 17-year-old who could obtain a driver’s license and now drives to a better public high school outside of his neighborhood.
- An 18-year-old who could apply for in-state tuition and scholarships and now attends one of the best public universities in his home state.
- A 22-year-old who could use her gifts for ministry and now serves on staff at a local non-profit organization.
- A 26-year-old who could answer her call to ministry and attend seminary and now serves on staff at a local United Methodist church.
We celebrate that over 100 young people in Tennessee have successfully received DACA thanks to Justice for Our Neighbors, a United Methodist-affiliated organization which “provides affordable, high-quality immigration legal services to immigrants, educates the public and faith-based communities about issues related to immigration, and advocates for immigrant rights.” The Tennessee Conference of The United Methodist Church has supported this ministry from its beginnings.
In my new work with the Nashville Episcopal Area, I am blessed with the opportunity to visit and serve alongside lay and clergy leaders across the Memphis and Tennessee Conferences. Many of our churches have been enriched by the presence of young people from a beautifully diverse range of cultures, languages, and nations. In a divisive political climate in which immigrants continue to be marginalized and objectified, the United Methodist Church has a clear response found in our Social Principles:
“We recognize, embrace, and affirm all persons, regardless of country of origin, as members of the family of God. We affirm the right of all persons to equal opportunities for employment, access to housing, health care, education, and freedom from social discrimination. We urge the Church and society to recognize the gifts, contributions, and struggles of those who are immigrants and to advocate for justice for all.”
Now is the time to practice what we preach!
I pray that our churches will continue to be or become places where young people are welcomed and affirmed regardless of their documentation and legal status.
I pray that our clergy will advocate for policies which protect families and empower young people to use their God-given gifts.
I pray that our laity and clergy will organize and demonstrate their support for DACA recipients in a clear and public way.
May we pray. May we act. May we stand for justice.
Cross-Cultural Strategist & Ministry Intern
Nashville Episcopal Area
The United Methodist Church
1908 Grand Ave.
Nashville, TN 37212
The Memphis and Tennessee Conferences are working together to respond to the disaster affecting our sister conferences in Texas and Louisiana. Please continue to pray for all those whose lives continue to be impacted by this storm.
We ask for your help in the following ways:
- Please help us fill the truck! The Nashville Area plans to send an 18-wheeler filled with cleaning buckets to the UMCOR warehouse fulfilling needs for this disaster.
Within the next couple of days, drop off locations will be identified along the trucking route. Please bring buckets to those locations NO LATER than Noon on Monday, September 11.
- Give generously to UMCOR’s US Disaster Response Advance #901670. Also, please share this link with your friends and colleagues. Let them know that every dollar donated to this fund goes to US Disaster Response – none goes toward administrative costs.
We know some of you would like to offer hands-on help, but the affected areas are not yet ready to receive volunteers. There will be opportunities in the coming weeks for trained teams to go in, but UMCOR asks that we wait for an invitation to volunteer.
More information about response efforts is available on these conference Facebook pages: The Texas Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church, Louisiana Conference of The United Methodist Church, Río Texas Conference of The United Methodist Church and Central Texas Conference.
Thank you for your prayers and support!
The events in Charlottesville, Va., last weekend took me back to my childhood in Mississippi where the history of racial violence is too well known. I remember waking up one morning as a high school student in New Albany, MS, to find a cross planted squarely in our front yard because my brother and I regularly gave David Fitzpatrick and R.C. Smith rides home from football practice. R.C. and David were black teammates on our football team. It was a shocking reminder that not everyone appreciated the act of grace we were offering.
My father was a pastor who stood for racial equality in the turbulent 60’s and worked for the merger of the Upper Mississippi Conference and the North Mississippi Conference at a time when it was incredibly unpopular. He modeled for me a style of leadership which was brave and prophetic. It was not always easy. I am grateful for the ways in which my parents taught me to do the right thing.
When I observe the hatred and violence and evil that is unleashed in our country today my heart grieves.
There is no place in America in the 21st Century for White supremacists, Nazis or the Ku Klux Klan. Bishop Mike McKee writes: “The carrying of the Nazi flag is evil. The flag is a symbol of an evil, failed state that brutally killed more than six million Jews and countless Romani people, homosexuals and others judged to be inferior. Those who sacrificed their lives in World War II defeated that evil. It is truly un-American to carry the flag for an evil dictatorship that our country defeated.”
When we baptize persons in the United Methodist Church, part of the vow we take comes in the form of a series of questions:
Do you renounce the spiritual forces of wickedness,
reject the evil powers of this world,
and repent of your sin?
Do you accept the freedom and power God gives you
to resist evil, injustice, and oppression
in whatever forms they present themselves?
Do you confess Jesus Christ as your Savior,
put your whole trust in his grace,
and promise to serve him as your Lord,
in union with the Church which Christ has opened
to people of all ages, nations, and races?
Every person I have ever baptized has answered “I do” when answering the baptismal covenant vow. It is instructive that at the very outset of our Christian walk, right at the beginning, we affirm that evil exists. We also affirm that the Church through the power of the Gospel is called to stand against such evil.
Now is the time, as United Methodists, to live our Baptismal Vows in the most visible way.
Much has been said in the media about the travesty of this tragic event. There is little I can offer that enlightens our tribe called United Methodist.
However, I do appeal to you, my brothers and sisters, to pray for the victims of this senseless and tragic event. Pray for the those harmed by the senseless attack on the protesters and their families. More than that, pray that we in this country will respond to violence with peace. Pray that we begin now, today, seeking a loving path toward peace and reconciliation among all people of our great country.
As a white male in a culture of privilege, I have no idea how it feels to be a black person experiencing hatred and violence that grips our land. I pray today that God will show me how I unknowingly contribute to racism and injustice. I invite you to do the same. Let the United Methodists of the Memphis and Tennessee Conferences work toward a just and loving world so that those who live in fear and anxiety because of these evils will no longer be afraid.
Pastors, I call upon you to speak God’s truth into this moment of chaos and violence. Let it be said of the United Methodists in our communities that we do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with our God.
May we break the silence by joining our voices with the brave and prophetic who call out evil and injustice in our land.
Let us come together to find unity in the midst of diversity.
Let us offer Christ to those who are broken by this chaotic moment in time.
Let the peace of Christ dwell richly in you.
Grace and Deep Peace,
Bishop Bill McAlilly
In March, I was in Africa, in Zimbabwe, and I went to the Mutare Mission where hundreds of children and young people are receiving an education, and health care, and hope because the Methodist church has been doing mission work there since the late 1800’s. The site on which Africa University is planted, celebrating its 25th anniversary, is in existence because the people called Methodists believe that educating Africans on the continent was a vital mission of the church.
Were we to splinter or split, the work of Africa University, and the work of the Mutare Mission, among other places across the world, would be damaged. The matters of human sexuality and unity are presenting issues for a deeper conversation that surfaces in different ways of interpreting scripture and theological tradition.
Over the coming months and year or years, increasingly the Commission on the Way Forward will offer models to annual conferences through the residential bishops who are committed to leading and teaching in their own contexts and working with delegations to the special session of the 2019 General Conference.
Now, what does all that mean? It means that we have a group of about 30 people who are meeting every 6 weeks working on this on our behalf. It means that whatever is brought forward at the General Conference of 2019 will, then, have to be approved by that General Conference. In most cases, I believe the same delegates that were delegates in 2016 will be delegates in 2019, which means by and large it will be a group of the same people.
I also have to tell you that one of the churches in Mississippi who has departed, Getwell Road, was a church that I planted in 1986. I was the church planter, and my heart is absolutely broken over their decision to leave our family.
The day that I was born, my father was ordained an elder in the United Methodist Church. Like many of you, my blood runs through the veins of the United Methodist Church, and it’s a little bit like when people talk about your family; I can talk about them, but you better not. I get a little angry.
I want us to be careful. Literally, the word careful is to be full of care. The meaning of careful is to be full of care.
How do we care for each other in the midst of our differences?
My home church, First United Methodist Church of New Albany, Mississippi is the church Lynn grew up in and I was a part of as a teenager.
Among the children of the elders of that church, there are a number of homosexual people. I have no idea, should this church split, what would happen to that congregation. And I would guess that church after church after church in our family could bear witness to similar stories.
The question I raise within my own spirit is – if we had not adopted The Way Forward, can you imagine what we would be doing right now as a denomination? We would be splitting this church up with a rusty butcher knife, and it would not be a very pretty sight. I will go so far as to say I’m not terribly optimistic that we will find a solution that everybody is going to sing the doxology over.
And if that’s the case, then I pray that we will have enough wisdom to find our way through this and hold on to each other. Schism is the lowest fruit on the theological food chain, frankly, but I simply ask you to bear with us and be patient with us and help us be in conversation together as we work our way toward a future that God has not yet defined. I don’t know anybody that would have signed up for this, but this is where we are.
I give thanks to God for the persons we are commissioning, the ones we are ordaining, those who are saying yes to this denomination. They want to give their life to this church and serve faithfully. Let’s remember that they see hope that maybe some of us don’t see. If you look back over the history of Christianity over the last 2,000 years, there have been a few bumps in the road, right? It has not all been smooth sailing, but somehow, out of that, God has still prevailed.
God is still on the throne. God is still the God of the resurrection. God is still the God of the future, not just the God of the past.
God is still calling us into that future, and I’m going to be trusting that God is going to show us the way.
Now God is not going to give us all the answers from here to the end of the road, so don’t expect that, but you can expect that God will give us enough light for our next step.
When the appointive Cabinet gets together every spring, I think, “How in the world are we going to make these appointments?” But, somehow, out of the mystery of God and the combined wisdom of that group of people, God shows us a way through. I trust that God.
I’m going to do my best to be faithful to you and faithful to God and this church, and I ask you to join me in that faithfulness. I will be faithful to the vows of my ordination as an Elder and my consecration as Bishop. If you have a problem and you feel like you need to talk about it, call your District Superintendent. If your District Superintendent can’t help you, then we’ll help you. I trust our Cabinet. They’re good people. I ask you to be faithful to what God is calling us to do.
Sunday night’s state of the church address probably disappointed some people because they thought I was going to talk about our denomination and not our mission. That was not an accident because
I don’t want this conversation to become our mission.
Our mission is to serve God and neighbor. To go into the world, to offer Christ to those who are hurting, one neighborhood at a time. I’ve been beating this drum for five years. I’m not going to stop beating it. We’re going to do the same thing we’ve been doing. We’re not going to give up. We’re going to keep pushing out. We’re going to keep pushing forward. We’re trying to transform congregations who transform people’s lives through the power of Jesus Christ who is a resurrecting God.
I believe in that God and that’s the God I’m going to bear witness to and I invite you not to be consumed by the negative press that the Church is going to receive in the coming years. And you’re going to get it from every direction.
My experience of the church is that there are some folk over here and some folk over here, but most Methodists are somewhere in the middle. Some of us are right of center and some of us are left of center, but most of us are centered in Christ.
My little 3 point sermon would be something like this: rooted in Scripture, centered in Christ, serving in love.
Rooted in Scripture, centered in Christ, serving in love. And if we live out of that triumvirate, and if we keep God’s mission at the forefront of our lives, other conversations will not distract us quite so much.
You know in 1 Peter: 5, there’s a line in there that says ‘beware of the evil one who prowls around like a roaring lion and seeking to devour you.”
Maybe you’ve read C.S. Lewis’s Screwtape Letters, and Screwtape says “don’t ever let them see the church with its banners waving.” There are forces in the world that do not want us to be seen with our banners waving.
But friends, there is some amazing, amazing transformational work that is taking place in the Tennessee and Memphis Conferences on behalf of the people called Methodists who are giving their heart, mind, and soul to people in need, and we’re not going to stop doing that no matter what happens way up here, right?
I showed you a picture of myself when I played football at two different periods of my life. I’m not sure some of you got it. My college coach used to always say,
“Always leave it on the field.” Now, what does that mean? You’re going to give it your “all” day in, day out.
We were having dinner with some friends the other night and Lynn was talking about when she was in her master’s program and we moved in the middle of her doing her master’s to a little house that had been flooded by Hurricane Katrina, and she was working herself pretty hard, and I said, “Well, you don’t have to get an “A” in everything.” She said, “I don’t know how to try to get a B!” That’s what it means to leave it on the field.
I’m going to be faithful. I want you to be faithful. I can’t make you be. But I can invite you to be. I can invite you to follow Jesus into the world and reach out to those who are hungry and those who are broken. As I said last night, God uses flawed people because he doesn’t have enough of the other kind.
And brothers and sisters, we have no room to point our fingers at anyone. We would be much better off to get on our knees and pray, Lord, have mercy on me a sinner, than to point our finger and say thank God I’m not like that terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad person over there.
As I’ve said to the clergy, Jacob walked with a limp and he was better off with his limp than he was without it. Yes, we limp as a church. Yes, we’re broken. Yes, we’re imperfect and yes, we’ve got to figure this out, but we’re going to do it and let’s stay together as we do it, and let’s love each other.
As I read the gospel, the central ethic of the gospel is love. It’s love.
I’m going to be about loving God and loving the people God loves, and that includes all of us. All the time.
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
Grace and Peace to you from Jesus Christ our Lord. In this Easter season, I come to you with the hope of the resurrection of Jesus Christ who reminds us that life is stronger than death, love is greater than hate, that light overcomes darkness, and hope outdistances despair.
This week, the Judicial Council of the United Methodist Church convened (as it does regularly throughout the year) to consider various matters of church law. Of particular interest to many throughout our church was a question about the validity of the election and consecration by the Western Jurisdiction of a married lesbian bishop, Karen Oliveto. Yesterday the Judicial Council released its ruling which stated that the consecration of a gay bishop violates church law, but that Bishop Oliveto “remains in good standing” until an administrative or judicial process is completed.
As we consider yesterday’s ruling, it is important to remember that there are several authorized bodies in our church that guide us in our life together. The General Conference speaks for the church. The Council of Bishops exercises oversight and support of the church’s mission. The Judicial Council determines the constitutionality and legality of actions taken by individuals or constituted entities of the church, and in this instance, the action taken by a jurisdictional conference. At times these bodies collaborate, and at other times this work is done independently, but the goal is to discern God’s will for our church and ensure that our order is maintained as we work together to make disciples.
While the judicial process has been an important part of our communal life for many years, I would urge us to resist viewing this ruling in the context of “winners” or “losers.” We, as has been true since the beginning of time, are a broken people who are all in need of God’s grace. The grace-filled life understands that this is a time for compassion and prayer as we seek a means out of our brokenness toward restoration.
In the days to come, we will continue to grapple with the realities of this moment in our life together. Twenty-five years from now we certainly will look back on this time differently than we do now. For the moment, we only can see through a glass darkly. May God grant us the grace to find light in the midst of our darkness.
Please remember that the Judicial Council’s actions are specific to this situation and this decision does not change the United Methodist Book of Discipline, nor will it change the mission, vision, and scope of work of the Commission on the Way Forward. The commission’s work is ongoing and will continue toward a time in which a proposal will be presented in a Special Session of the General Conference to be held in St. Louis, MO on February 23-26, 2019. Only the General Conference has the power to make changes to the Book of Discipline.
And yet our calling to make disciples for the transformation of the world continues. I ask you to avoid a hasty reaction to this decision and instead spend time in prayer about God’s work for the people called United Methodists. Our mission has not changed, and we are called to be the body of Christ to a world in need.
It is also my hope that we give the Commission on a Way Forward the space and grace to carry out their work of discernment. The Council of Bishops is confident that the Holy Spirit is operating through the commission’s work and leadership, and we believe as a council that the Way Forward Commission is our best opportunity for determining God’s will for our church.
The United Methodist Church is an extraordinarily diverse communion — both theologically and politically. This is one of our unique strengths and yet maintaining the tension between differing understandings requires a commitment to engaging with one another even when we disagree. This engagement must always be rooted in love, which is the core of our faith in Jesus Christ. Be assured that the Council of Bishops is committed to the unity of the body of Christ, and we pray with Christ the prayer from John 17 that the church may be one:
“I’m not praying only for them but also for those who believe in me because of their word. I pray they will be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. I pray that they also will be in us, so that the world will believe that you sent me. I’ve given them the glory that you gave me so that they can be one just as we are one. I’m in them and you are in me so that they will be made perfectly one. Then the world will know that you sent me and that you have loved them just as you loved me.”
-John 17:20-23 (Common English Bible)
Brothers and Sisters, I believe that the God who began a good work in us will be faithful to complete it (Philippians 1:6). Christ’s command to love God and love neighbor still holds true. The work of offering Christ’s love to a hurting world has not ended.
May the Master of the Universe and the Provider of us all send a special measure of grace that in the midst of our darkness we will see light, in the midst of our despair we will find comfort, and always that in the midst of death we will experience resurrection.
With the love of Christ,
Bishop William McAlilly
“Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O LORD, my rock and my redeemer.” Psalm 19:14
During these changing times in the history of our church, there will be defining moments when words on a page, no matter how carefully crafted, might not convey the thoughts, emotions and importance of one’s message. Today is one of those significant times.
As we await the response of the judicial council, it is important in the upcoming and unpredictable days, that we keep our eyes on Jesus Christ, the light and our salvation. Our call is to continue to offer Christ to a hurting world. My prayer that this call will direct my thoughts, conversations, and actions.
No matter the outcome of the Judicial Council, I am committed to keeping that focus. As you watch this video, my hope is that you will be moved to do the same. I invite you to listen for Jesus’ call to love God and neighbor. May we be inspired in our thoughts and words as we remain focused on offering Christ to a hurting world, one neighborhood at a time.
May our thoughts and words mirror the call to love God and neighbor and that they might be pure and acceptable in God’s sight.
Recently, Lynn and I were privileged to travel to the Holy Land with our good Methodist people from across the Nashville Area. You will remember three years ago my trip was cut short by an untimely fall near Jericho which landed me in the hospital. So, it was good to get to go back and experience the entirety of the “land of the Bible.”
It was a marvelous experience and my heart was full as I walked from the Mount of Olives to the Garden of Gethsemane, on down to the Holy City. What’s more, walking the Via Dolorosa and stopping at the stations of the cross brought home again the agony of Holy Week.
I often reflect during Holy Week how we see the humanity and divinity of Jesus comingled in the events between Palm Sunday and Easter. Fredrick Buechner in his work, The Faces of Jesus, writes:
“WHAT YOU ARE GOING to do,” Jesus says, “do quickly.” What Judas is going to do, he does in a garden, but though he goes about it as quickly as he can, there is a little time to wait before he gets there. It is night, and they are all tired. Jesus tells them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death,” and then asks the disciples to stay and watch for him while he goes off to pray. One thinks of the stirring and noble way others have met their deaths—the equanimity of Socrates as he raised the hemlock to his lips, the exaltation of Joan as they bound her to the stake, Nathan Hale’s “I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country.” Jesus sounds like none of them. Maybe it is because it is to the ones who are most fully alive that death comes most unbearably. His prayer is, “Abba, Father, all things are possible for thee; remove this cup from me; yet not what I will but what thou wilt,” this tormented muddle of a prayer which Luke says made him sweat until it “became like great drops of blood falling down upon the ground.” He went back to find some solace in the company of his friends then, but he found them all asleep when he got there. “The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak,” he said, and you feel that it was to himself that he was saying it as well as to them.
I’ve often thought about what it must have been like for Jesus to want to hang out with his closest friends only to discover they could not remain awake long enough to be present to him.
If you have ever tried to remain present when the pain or suffering or grief is as thick as molasses in January, you begin to understand why the disciples could not bear up under the weight of the moment. It’s just the way God has wired us—to protect us from trauma that is often too deep for words.
How many times in a weak moment have we muttered the words, “The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.” I acknowledge I often feel weak in the face of innocent suffering. I often feel as if I do not have the proper words when I walk into a hospital room and the diagnosis is difficult. I have always found comfort in the words of Henri Nouen when he spoke of the ministry of presence in his book, The Wounded Healer. Generations of clergy of been helped with that word. There’s nothing worse in such moments than to say the wrong thing.
I felt powerless and helpless this week as I read about the Coptic Christian Church in Egypt that was attacked on Palm Sunday. I felt helpless in the face of the chemical attack on innocent civilians in Syria. I felt helpless when I read this morning that there are at least four places in the world where hunger is so devastating that children are dying daily. And even as they are dying, there are still more dying from war. It’s one of the most helpless feelings I have had in a long, long time.
This week a colleague asked me to read a blog post he was considering by asking me if it was too dark. I said, “No. After all, it’s Holy Week.”
Holy Week. A time when, all too often, tragedy and suffering are visited on our world.
Good Friday. A time when we remember the suffering and death of Jesus.
The paradox is that the darkest day in history we call “good.” And yet we have the audacity to believe that we could have Easter without Good Friday.
Without Good Friday, there would be no empty tomb. Without Good Friday, the disciples would simply have returned home to the work they knew so well. Without Good Friday, we would be without the possibility of new life. Without Good Friday, without Easter morning, we would be devoid of the faith that believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
There are times these days when I think about the future of the United Methodist Church that my faith wavers. But then, somewhere in the midst of God’s great grace, there springs forth out of the barren soil of winter a crocus. Someone will reach down and offer a cup of cold water to parched lips. A miracle will appear out of nowhere. Grace will fall fresh on the world. A college student will say yes to the call of Christ on her life to pursue ordained ministry. God will make a way where I cannot see a way.
Late this afternoon one of our pastors called to tell me about a conversation he had with one of his confirmands. A twelve-year-old young girl, sat across from her pastor and said, “I think God may want me to be a minister.” As he told me the story, chill bumps formed on my forearms as I marveled at the way God continues to move in the hearts and minds of our young. All because a pastor took the time to listen to the heart of this twelve year old. She’s not thinking about the future of the denomination. She’s thinking about how she can serve God. Would that our eyes be that focused-on Jesus! The witness of this pastor dispelled for a moment, all my fear and anxiety. In that moment, I heard Jesus whisper in my ear, “I am the resurrection and the life.”
Since moving to Nashville, I’ve been introduced to musical artists that I had not previously known. One of those is Mike Farris. He has a great song, “Mercy Now.” At the end of the day, isn’t that what we all need? We need a little mercy now. It is my prayer for you this week, that you will pause and reflect on what you need to leave at the cross so that on Easter you might rise and sing with all the saints in glory, the resurrection song…a song that will bring mercy to you, even in the darkest of nights.
A prayer as the Tennessee and Memphis Conferences lead the UMC in prayer this week:
O God, our help in ages past, our hope for years to come, grant to your Church great wisdom for the task that is set before us.
We pray for those who have been set apart for the task of guiding the Church toward a Way Forward, seeking in the midst of great division, a place to stand which allows the redeeming work of our Savior Jesus Christ to be made known in the world.
Grant also that each of us, in this journey fraught with difficulty and challenge, might seek your face. Give patience, wisdom and courage to the members of the Commission, that their work would bring glory and honor to your name. Remind us that the wisdom in all of us that is greater than the wisdom in any one us. Free us from the arrogance to believe that any one of us has all the truth but that by your great grace, together, your truth might be made known to the world through the witness of this challenging and dangerous work. We make this prayer in the strong name of Jesus, the Christ. Amen.
Please join the prayer vigil as we continue our prayers throughout this week and including Saturday.
Over the last few days there has been a great deal of discussion regarding the executive order banning refugees from seven countries. Within this context, many of our fellow churches are requesting ways they can offer sanctuary to immigrants within our communities.
I know this issue is complex, and I believe we, as the church, and as United Methodists, must pay close attention to how we respond in these days. I encourage churches and clergy who wish to offer sanctuary to contact our District Superintendents for guidance and resources.
Currently, the United Methodist Immigration Task Force (UMITF) is working across our connection to support Sanctuary Cities that are opposing the construction of a wall between the U.S. and Mexico.
The UMITF also is supporting the Bridge Act, a piece of bipartisan legislation that would allow young persons who are eligible for temporary relief from deportation through the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) to stay in the U.S.
As we move through the coming days, please pray deeply for God’s guidance. Moreover, may we gain courage in knowing God does indeed call us to speak out for justice, especially for the poor in our midst.
In times like these, let us remember the mission of the Memphis and Tennessee Conferences to discover, equip, connect and send lay and clergy leaders who shape congregations that offer Jesus Christ to a hurting world one neighborhood at a time.
To be sure, we are living in a hurting world, but I am certain that hundreds of passionate congregants across our two conferences will share the love of Christ to those who are overcome by confusion and fear.