United Methodist bishops opened their online meeting in a season of turmoil.
Around the globe, people are contending with the pandemic, struggling economies, natural disasters and a reckoning with racial injustice. In the U.S., United Methodists also face political polarization on the eve of Election Day on Nov. 3.
“Any one of these would be enough of a disruption — enough to make us lose our way,” Bishop Cynthia Fierro Harvey told her colleagues in her first opening address as Council of Bishops president. “Altogether, they cause us not only to lose our way but forget our destination — where we are going and why.”
Harvey, who also leads the Louisiana Conference, attested to the way this year’s raging hurricanes have uprooted lives along the U.S. Gulf Coast.
“Sometimes, I catch myself sounding like the Israelites: ‘Egypt would have been better than this,’” she confessed. “The journey is truly a wilderness one.”
Even in this time of disaster and division, she reminded her fellow bishops that God’s compassion is steadfast. Throughout her address, she quoted the beloved hymn “Great is Thy Faithfulness” and its promise that God provides “strength for today, and bright hope for tomorrow.”
Bishops, she said, are in a unique position to provide stability through the chaotic times.
“Stability is not about staying physically in one place but rooting ourselves in the God who dwells among us,” she said. “Imagine if we committed to provide a clear direction toward the Promised Land — leadership toward our mission to proclaim good news to the poor and release to the captive.”
Harvey, the first Hispanic woman to be Council of Bishops president, addressed some 115 bishops across four continents at the beginning of their second virtual meeting since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. For those participating online, the address started at about 6 a.m. on the U.S. West coast and 10 p.m. in the Philippines.
Harvey told her colleagues that they would do their work together over 16 hours Nov. 2-5. The bishops plan to discuss missional strategies, their ongoing efforts to dismantle racism and possible paths to financial sustainability.
The bishops plan to reopen their meeting to public view Nov. 5 on the Council of Bishops Facebook page.
The bishops meet at a time when they are dealing not only with afflictions around the globe but also anxieties within the denomination.
COVID-19 has put on hold General Conference, the denomination’s top lawmaking assembly, which faced multiple proposals to split the denomination long-divided over how accepting to be of homosexuality.
With the pandemic still wreaking havoc, General Conference organizers are looking at different options for the meeting, now scheduled for Aug. 29-Sept. 7 in Minneapolis. The bishops expect to get an update from General Conference organizers during this week’s meeting.
General Conference’s postponement has left some United Methodists feeling that the church’s future is in a state of limbo.
Harvey, however, had another word for this time: liminal.
“The word liminal finds its root in the Latin word for threshold, a transition space,” she said. “We left something, and we don’t know yet what is on the other side.”
She urged her bishop colleagues to use this time to recalibrate and rethink their roles.
“What if we stopped marginalizing the marginalized?” she asked. “What if we made room for all of God’s children, including our LGBTQ siblings? What if we added a voice of courage? Black lives do matter.”
She concluded by reminding bishops that God is not through with the bishops or the broader United Methodist Church.
“No General Conference, no pandemic, no disaster, nothing will disrupt God,” she said. “God’s compassion isn’t through.”
Bishop Samuel Quire, who leads United Methodists in the Liberia Conference, appreciated Harvey’s focus on God’s presence in troubled times.
“For me, Bishop Harvey’s message was heartwarming and filled with hope for all as she emphasized God’s faithfulness!” he said.
The bishops completed their open session Nov. 2 with prayers for peace during the coming U.S. election. Time magazine reports that the level of preparations for political unrest around an election are unprecedented in modern U.S. history.
Bishop Ken Carter, whose Florida Conference has promoted voter registration, read a prayer written by the Rev. Lisa Degrenia, pastor of Trinity United Methodist Church in Sarasota, Florida.
“Bring forth unity and healing in our land,” Carter prayed. “Cover this election with fairness and dignity.”
Hahn is a multimedia news reporter for United Methodist News. Contact her at (615) 742-5470 or [email protected]. To read more United Methodist news, subscribe to the free Daily or Weekly Digests.
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