The article below was written actually before the last week of protests following the killing of George Floyd and our nation and world’s horrified reactions. While I still think the piece stands as a witness for our United Methodist connection and have asked that it be shared with you, I have to preface it with the statement that the work of the Church – as we say in our baptismal vows when we promise to resist evil, injustice and oppression wherever they present themselves – is on-going in our society. I invite you to continue to witness in our communities by building relationships across racial divisions. Large steps have to come but small ones are needed too. If you are white, read something written by a person of another race to hear things from that person’s perspective. Listen to someone you don’t understand or even agree with. Intentionally engage in an experience where racial matters are frankly and accurately discussed. And pray, pray that we will live into our baptisms and that our nation will live into our aspirations. Work for the same.
Tradition has made the hymn of the above title the opening music at every annual conference in the USA and lots of historical justifications are offered as to when and how it first became used to mark the reunion of lay and clergy people empowered by the Spirit, guided in the Wesleyan way, and excited by Jesus and the gift of seeing one another again re-assembling in conference. It is a lovely thought.
In a few days we will have Annual Conference 2020 here in the NC Conference, but it will not be assembling as we have ever done before. Some people are intrigued, a few are put off, and everyone grieves the necessity to meet as we will even while thanking our God that human ingenuity affords us the potential to remain connected in an electronic medium. But what will we be celebrating?
First, we will be celebrating that all the things that we and our forebears have celebrated by singing the hymn remain true for us. We will be gathering in God’s grace, despite “troubles we have seen, conflicts past, fightings without, and fears within since we assembled last.” We will not all be there physically, some who met in June 2019 have “gained” Jesus in the song’s words, but all of us will testify to the “power divine” that save to the uttermost.
I hope that we will also celebrate the incredible ministries our connection continues to live out during the pandemic. Our churches have continued to preach and to teach the Good News online, by post, and in small groups that meet virtually and by phone. How many “visits” have been made by telephone and what celebrations of community continuing, and even in many cases, growing stronger by virtue of virtual meetings!
I hope that we will thank God for the ways our churches have fed the sick, housed the homeless and been Jesus to our neighbors across eastern NC. No exaggeration there: the number of our communities who have worked to serve their neighbor has actually grown in our district during this hard time.
I would think that we will give praise for what it means to be connected: planning resources, spiritual and emotional support offered, calls to representative ministries of all sorts heard and discerned, spiritual direction given, financial aid offered. Denominational life has been largely uninterrupted.
I would trust that we will celebrate the officers and leaders of our connection, lay and clergy, who have made this entire ministry in the middle of a crisis possible. Such faithfulness always inspires me but it generally also moves me to action. Spirit-given inspiration and action going together: a Wesleyan synthesis always!
And I would think that AC 2020 will conclude June 18 with us wanting more. The wish that we would be physically together and looking to that day. The wish for more conferencing to be done: commissionings, blessings, and ordinations; worship services; break-out groups that inspire; Bible lessons to be taught; the Lord’s Meal to be received. That’s why the hymn has the line, “Preserved by power divine to full salvation here, again in Jesus’ praise we join, and in his sight appear.”
All that sounds like an annual conference of United Methodists. It will be so on June 18. Thanks be to God. It is enough at the human level to make one very proud of our heritage and our present. It is enough to give me hope for more.
See you June 18!
If you would like to view past editions of Hello from Harvey, follow this link: https://capitaldistrictnc.org/category/from-the-ds/