FROM THE BISHOP
R. LAWSON BRYAN
“Prepare the way of the Lord” is the great rallying cry of the Advent season. The prophet Isaiah gives a vivid description of that preparation: hills and valleys made level, crooked places made straight, and rough places made smooth so that the glory of the Lord may be revealed and all people see it together!
Preparing the way is also a good description of the work of laity and clergy in the local churches and communities of South Georgia - we seek to focus attention and resources on doing those things that prepare the way for making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.
As you work in your local churches, in your communities, and out in the world to prepare the way, I am working with fellow United Methodist bishops and members of the Commission on a Way Forward to prepare the way ahead for our Church.
We are preparing for the recommendations for a Way Forward that will come from the Council of Bishops in 2018 and will be acted upon at the special session of General Conference in February 2019.
The Commission on a Way Forward was formed by the Council of Bishops and charged with bringing recommendations that the council can use to help decide what to recommend to the General Conference. The 32-member commission includes both laity and clergy. They will make their final recommendations to the Council of Bishops in late spring 2018.
Recently, the Commission on a Way Forward presented three “sketches” to the Council of Bishops in order to get feedback. Now the Council of Bishops is encouraging each annual conference to design ways to help our members evaluate each sketch in light of the convictions and values of the annual conference.
I am happy to report the South Georgia Conference has already begun equipping our laity and clergy leaders to give strong leadership in this process. Recently the Leadership Forum met to consider how we want to lead. The senior ministers of the 25 churches with highest average worship attendance have also asked the same question of themselves. This week, several groups of lay and clergy leaders will meet Dr. Jorge Acevedo, lead pastor of a multi-site church in the Florida Conference and a member of the Commission on a Way Forward. Dr. Acevedo will address the work of the Commission on a Way Forward and will describe the three “sketches.” Participants will then have an opportunity for small group dialogue about the three “sketches” in light of the convictions and values that keep us Alive Together in Christ in South Georgia. This will result in at least 100 laity and clergy who are equipped to lead similar dialogues throughout our conference.
I will be working with the district superintendents and the district lay leaders to define a process of engagement that will fit each district. The goal is to give as many persons as possible the opportunity to be informed about the three “sketches” and to evaluate them based on the convictions and values of our conference. This will give me valuable input to take to the Council on Bishops meeting in February 2018. Specific plans for each district will be announced as soon as they are finalized.
In January, we will hold a meeting of our elected delegates to general conference and jurisdictional conference. They too will be comparing and contrasting the three “sketches.”
It is important to note that these “sketches” are not yet full-blown models. That is why this is the right time for our conference to be studying the “sketches” and giving input to the Commission on a Way Forward. Having total engagement throughout our conference will go a long way toward addressing the anxiety that naturally arises when considering matters of such magnitude.
Please let me repeat what I have been saying for a year now: we are the South Georgia Conference. No one is going to invade our conference and force upon us a particular way forward. We have a voice in this decision. We have a voice in the entire process. This next 12 months can be a time when we demonstrate spiritual maturity, a non-anxious presence, firm trust in Christ, love for one another, and the vitality that comes when we truly are Alive Together in Christ.
For now, please read Tod Bolsinger’s book, Canoeing The Mountains, which is sub-titled, “Christian leadership in uncharted territory.” The book draws on the Lewis and Clark Expedition and what they did when they went as far as the maps could take them and then had to operate “off the map.” There are many useful insights in this book. I strongly encourage you to read it and discuss it with others. After all, whatever position we may hold on any issue the big question is: How will we lead so that we are faithful to the Gospel, open to the Holy Spirit, and Alive Together in Christ?
Mark’s Gospel says that “preparing the way” is actually “the beginning of the Good News of Jesus Christ” (Mark 1:1-8). That is our goal as we prepare the way for our Way Forward in The UMC. Thank you for your prayers and your personal involvement in preparing the way.
Alive Together in Christ,