Dear United Methodist Sisters and Brothers:
Greetings in the name of the risen Christ. We write this letter in the season of Easter, a season of hope and new life. Christ’s ministry, suffering, death and resurrection is our inspiration as we gather on the eve of the 2004 General Conference.
Every General Conference is a pivotal monument for the church. During this General Conference, we ask for prayer, not only from the delegates meeting in Pittsburgh, but also from all who call themselves United Methodist.
We come to Pittsburgh from many cultures around the globe. An abundance of issues and concerns await our care and the care of the General Conference. We are committed to Christ and to the mission of The United Methodist Church. God calls us to do justice, love mercy and walk with humility.
We are aware of a sense of anxiety in the atmosphere. Some persons are anxious because of visa difficulties encountered by many delegates from Africa, Latin America, and the Philippines. Others are concerned about racism, poverty, war and terrorism. Still others are focused on the tension between our passion for mission and our financial and stewardship challenges. The recent church trial in the Pacific Northwest Annual Conference has also contributed to the stress.
Fear and anxiety are not the only forces at work in the world. Days after the death of Jesus, the disciples were so fearful they stayed behind locked doors. Suddenly, Jesus appeared and said, “Peace be with you…receive the Holy Spirit.” When they saw the Lord, the disciples rejoiced. John 20:19-20.
When Jesus Christ is present, we have nothing to fear. We are convinced more than ever that Jesus Christ is with us here, leading us to serve in all that we do.
As a Council of Bishops, we consider ourselves to be family. That means we love each other, we listen to each other, and sometimes, we vigorously disagree with each other. However, we do not question the integrity of our colleagues and their commitment to fulfill the responsibilities entrusted to them. We have learned that honest struggle is a part of love. Our love for Christ, the church, and one another transcends our differences.
On some issues, including human sexuality, we are not of one opinion. At the same time, we are united in our commitment to Jesus Christ. We are united in our commitment to practice and advocate unity. We are united in our commitment to uphold the Book of Discipline. We are united in our conviction that the critical issues will not be ultimately resolved with legislation. We will find the answers in Christ-like love, expressed in dialogue, mutual respect and a humble search for the mind of God. Schism is not a part of God’s plan for the church.
In recent days, we have spent many hours in dialogue, listening to God and to one another. We have emerged from these conversations strengthened and committed to the Wesleyan spirit of Holy Conferencing. We pray that the General Conference will do its work in the same spirit of mutual respect and unity.
The Book of Discipline is our most current statement on how United Methodists agree to live their lives together. (Episcopal Greetings, page v, Book of Discipline) Each General Conference is charged with considering the past and focusing on the future. In the spirit of Holy Conferencing, we pray that the General Conference will speak prophetically and act wisely.
Our prayer is “that your love will overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight to help you determine what is best, so that in the day of Christ you may be pure and blameless, having produced the harvest of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ for the glory and praise of God.” Philippians 1:9-11
The Council of Bishops
Ruediger Minor, President