Palmer: Church is increasingly seizing change

Lea en español
By Linda Green*
Nov. 3, 2008 |ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga.(UMNS)


Bishop Gregory Palmer

It's OK for the church to stumble a bit as it struggles to address rapid changes in society and the world, says the new president of the United Methodist Council of Bishops.

In his first address before the council, Bishop Gregory Palmer noted that the image of stumbling is a powerful metaphor for a struggling church when considering its life and mission. The council, meeting Nov. 2-7 at St. Simons Island, is the top clergy body of the 11.5 million-member global denomination.

"Stumbling has gotten a bad rap," but the truth is that "we are a community of stumblers," Palmer told the council on Nov. 3. "We stumble because there is not sufficient light. We stumble because we sometimes refuse the full gift of the light. But the amazing thing is that even when we stumble, the real light still shines."

Palmer, who was elected the council's president last April, believes "stumbling in the light" can create a breathing space for the church.

During the last 16 years, he noted, the denomination has been profoundly affected by the declining significance of mainline Protestant denominations, the shrinking influence of Christianity in the Western world, rapid technological change, population shifts and the widening gap between the rich and the poor.

"In face of this change, The United Methodist Church has wrestled a debilitating sense of loss and grief as we behold our numerical, if not our spiritual decline," he said. Voices and prophetic nudges, both ecclesial and secular, have suggested that "if you stick to business as usual, you will surely die."

Because the church is slow to change and is suspicious of change, "the pain of remaining the same has begun to exceed the pain of change," the bishop added. "A sense of urgency has been created and we find ourselves taking hold of the opportunity."

"The pain of remaining the same has begun to exceed the pain of change."
Bishop Gregory Palmer

The church's increasing awareness of its global nature and its absence of young people-combined with its efforts to increase collaboration among its boards and agencies and create a mission statement-are indications of the "readiness for more than a plodding-forward movement," Palmer said.

The bishops also are primed for change. The council's purpose, focus and passion has been "synergistically" met by other tables of leadership in the church-the top executives of churchwide board and agencies and the delegates to the 2008 General Conference-as "we find ourselves in the midst of a sea of opportunity" to proclaim and embody God's love to a lost, broken and hurting world, he said.

"It is amazing that when we face and lean in the right direction, we discover that there are others who are doing likewise even if the place where we stand is different," Palmer said.

Church leaders "got what we asked for" when the 2008 General Conference approved four areas of ministry focus for the church. He said the bishops and the other leaders are now charged with "putting flesh and bones" on the focus areas of global health, church growth, leadership development and ministry with the poor.

Change is messy, Palmer declared, and bishops and church leaders will stumble again and again. "If we stumble long enough, we will find ourselves walking with the confidence of God's strength and love," he said.

*Green is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in Nashville,Tenn.

News media contact: Linda Green, e-mail: newsdesk@umcom.org.

Related Articles

Bishop Gregory Palmer receives leadership gavel

Council of Bishops elects Gregory Palmer president

Bishop Huie invites church to impact global health

Pew Study raises questions for Methodist leaders

Resources

Council of Bishops

Four Areas of Ministry Focus

Latest News

General Church
Bishop John Yambasu (right) is congratulated by Ebun James Dekam (center) and the Rev. Bob Williams after Yambasu was elected president of the Council of Churches in Sierra Leone for a second term during the council’s conference in Kabala, Sierra Leone. Dekam is general secretary of the council and Williams is a United Methodist pastor. Photo by Phileas Jusu, UMNS.

Bishop re-elected as head of Sierra Leone Council of Churches

Ecumenical group remains committed to advocacy, addressing social ills in the country, Yambasu said.
General Church
 Bishop Arnold C. Temple speaks during the African College of Bishops meeting Sept. 4-7, 2018, in Freetown, Sierra Leone. Temple is president of the All Africa Conference of Churches. Photo by Danny Mai, United Methodist Communications.

African bishops hear call to cross divides, unite Methodists

Church must be a reconciler in Africa, ecumenical leader says.
General Church
North Katanga Area Bishop Mande Muyombo speaks about the benefits of a United Methodist Communications project in his episcopal area. Muyombo spoke during at presentation Sept. 4 at an Africa College of Bishops’ retreat Freetown, Sierra Leone. Photo by Phileas Jusu, UMNS.

African bishops reaffirm stance on marriage, vow to maintain unity

African bishops have reaffirmed their traditionalist view of marriage and their commitment to the unity of The United Methodist Church.

Sign up for our newsletter!

SUBSCRIBE