By Kara Witherow, Editor
Hope. It’s the message of Christmas and the promise of a new year. But after a year like 2020, where can one find hope?
As 2021 begins, Bishop R. Lawson Bryan is hopeful despite the uncertainties and unknowns.
He looks to the Bible – Matthew 2, specifically – to guide him into 2021.
The story he turns to often gets overlooked in the transition from Christmas to Epiphany, but it helps him remember there is hope, and sometimes just one thing needs to change for greater transformation to happen.
Matthew’s account of Mary, Joseph, and Jesus’ escape to Egypt; of Herod’s edict to kill all the male children; and of Herod’s death and Mary, Joseph, and Jesus’ subsequent return to Israel reminds Bishop Bryan that, despite circumstances, things have, indeed, changed.
“I invite us all to live with that story guiding us into the New Year, to remind ourselves not to enter it thinking nothing has changed,” he said. “We may not yet know what has changed, but there has been change.”
He urged South Georgia United Methodists to receive Joseph’s message themselves and move into the New Year with anticipation.
“Let us draw our attention to that biblical story and have us look for where change is occurring and join it,” he said.
One thing that has certainly changed is the General Conference session. Originally slated for May 5-15, 2020, it is currently scheduled for Aug. 29 - Sept. 7, 2021 in Minneapolis, Minn.
This extra time, Bishop Bryan said, allows more opportunity for reflection and discussion.
He also reminded the Conference of all they’ve been through and survived.
“Since 1736 when John and Charles Wesley landed here in the South Georgia Conference, we have been through a lot of things, but here we are by the grace of God,” Bishop Bryan said. “Perhaps we can give ourselves permission to have confidence that God is at work in us and through us. And perhaps we can take a truly deep breath based on the fact that we have come through so much.”
The South Georgia Conference will remain the South Georgia Conference, he said, and will be resilient and survive, no matter the situation.
“We did not wilt on the vine. We are strong in Christ. Christ is strengthening us. The world needs to see that. The world needs to see a group of people who can have difficult conversations about tough matters and don’t wilt but keep their arms around each other,” he said. “That’s us. That’s what it means to be alive together at the table. That’s where we need to be.”
And what, exactly, does being “Alive Together at the Table” mean to Bishop Bryan, especially in the midst of a global pandemic?
“When you come together at the table you are building relationships. That’s what it’s all about,” he said. “One of the things I want to think about in 2021 are relationships. That’s what ‘Alive Together at the Table’ means.”
That’s how Jesus did ministry, Bishop Bryan said. He didn’t use techniques or a process; He brought people together and shared life with them.
“Let’s see 2021 as the year we focus on relationships. Who’s at the table with us? Celebrate them! Who else needs to be at the table with us? Invite them!”
As people are able to receive the COVID-19 vaccination and gather again, churches need to lead the effort, showing people how to have healthy relationships with one another and how to gather safely.
“Churches are the glue that hold communities together,” he said. “Human relationships – that’s my vision for 2021.”