Bishops say God is calling church to a new future

The bishops of the United Methodist Church believe God is calling the people of the church to a new future and a new creation.

“The promise of a new creation provides the foundation and vision for the church’s mission in this new millennium,” said Bishop Kenneth L. Carder of the Mississippi Area, speaking on behalf of the Council of Bishops.

God wants to expand our horizons, he said. “Just look at this magnificent, vast universe!”

“While God’s domain extends to yet uncharted planets in unexplored galaxies, innumerable light years away, God cares about and is present with the DNA in every one of the 60 trillion cells in every one of the 6.3 billion people on earth!”

Rubbing his head and smiling, Carder reminded the assembly that God “numbers the hairs of our heads and marks even a sparrow’s fall.”

Carder presented the traditional Episcopal Address on April 27, the opening day of the denomination’s General Conference. The denomination’s top legislative assembly is meeting through May 7.

God is calling the church to be a sign and an instrument of a new creation, Carder said.

It is the mission of the church to point out God’s compassion, justice, peace and joy.  “This is why we make disciples of Jesus Christ. This is why we as Wesleyans are committed to personal salvation and social transformation.”

Every person needs to know what it feels like to be treated with “infinite worth and dignity and unconditional love.”

In a press conference after his address, Carder again emphasized that every person must be treated with dignity and worth. “It is indisputable in the Gospel,” he said. 

When asked about some of issues before General Conference, including homosexuality, he said, “How we deal with the issue may be as important as what we decide.”

“The prophetic word for the church today is civility.”

Through the Bishops’ Initiative on Children and Poverty, the council has called the church to “be a visible sign of God’s justice and compassion,” he said.

“History documents that whenever the church has turned its face toward the poor, there is revival, and justice springs forth as a flowing fountain in a parched land.”

The church must evaluate all its actions and ask, “Do our practices reflect the One who, though he was rich, yet for our sakes became poor, the One who ‘emptied himself’ on behalf of the whole world?”

Fear and despair dominate the old world, he said. “Fear, however, is not the only force at work in the world.

“We are an Easter people, living toward God’s new creation in Christ!”

As the church enters the third millennium, there are extraordinary opportunities and resources to live into God’s vision of a healed creation, he said.

“For the first time in human history, we have the means of preventing most of the 10 million deaths each year from poverty-related causes.”

What is lacking is vision, will and financial commitment, he said.

“God is calling us to be a community in which all know their identity as beloved children of God, where all barriers are removed, and where justice enables the lowly to be exalted and the least and the last and the lost to be welcomed with joy at the table in God’s cosmic home.”

Carder said John Wesley’s goal for the first Methodist conference in 1744 was “how we should proceed to save our own souls and those that heard us.”

The challenges faced by that first Methodist conference are still the challenges for the 2004 General Conference, he said.

“What shall we teach? How shall we teach? What shall we do to affirm and live our doctrine, discipline and practice? If we approach these questions as people of faith with ‘open hearts, open minds and open doors,’ we live out the spirit of Wesley, who saw ‘the world as our parish’ and the whole creation as the realm of God’s reign.”

At the conclusion of his address, Carder said the bishops invite the church to join in a quadrennium of Methodist conferencing around the world.

The bishops propose focusing on the following themes during the 2005-08 quadrennium:

  • The new creation and the church’s mission.
  • Sound doctrine and Catholic spirit.
  • Sound doctrine and Catholic spirit.
  • Sound doctrine and Catholic spirit.

General Conference is convened every four years. It is meeting at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center, with 998 delegates and about 1,000 other guests and visitors from around the world.

The Episcopal Address is the only point during General Conference in which the Council of Bishops addresses the assembly. While they preside over plenary sessions and participate in worship services, the bishops have no vote.

*Gilbert is a staff writer for the United Methodist News Service

News media contact: (412) 325-6080 during General Conference, April 27-May 7. After May 10: (615) 742-5470.

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