FROM THE BISHOP
In a video message to the South Georgia Conference, Bishop David Graves spoke about the On Boarding process, how it has helped jump start his time in South Georgia, and how, even during these challenging times, South Georgia United Methodists can be witnesses for Christ each day. Watch it here.
Read the full transcript of his video message:
Well, it’s just wonderful to be with the wonderful people of the South Georgia Conference. And I’m starting my second month and it’s been a great 34 days meeting people. I’ve been doing what’s been called an On Boarding process and I’ve kind of multiplied it out. But I had the opportunity to meet with about 30 of our conference staff and district superintendents and then I got to meet with pastors in our larger membership congregations. And then I also got to meet with the lay leaders, most of the lay leaders of the annual conference, the district lay leaders. And then I had the opportunity to move into districts and meet clergy and laity in those districts.
The laity were invited because of their leadership position in the district itself. Some people were able to come, some weren’t. We had it in person. Some did not feel comfortable coming in person, but we’re going to have steps to meet more laity after the first of the year. But it’s been a way for me just to get the pulse and the DNA and the character of the South Georgia Conference.
And so I have been in three districts already. I’ll be in three more districts before Thanksgiving. So I’ll have made my rounds all across the South Georgia Conference and will have met a lot of people. And of course, there’s many more people to meet, but it’s been really been good for me, just for people to hear my story, who I am, my family, and what I’ve shared with people. They ask a lot of questions, of course. I tell people I’m going to answer your questions, but I hope you can hear my heart because if you can hear my heart and then I hear your heart, it’s amazing when we have the heart of God, what we can do together in these somewhat challenging times, wouldn’t you agree?
It’s a little bit of a challenging time. People want to know my thoughts around the general Church, and human sexuality, and the Protocol, and we begin to have a dialogue about that. They want to know about my family and we have fun about our colleges, right? Because we’re in the throes of college football, and I tell people that I graduated from an academic school up in Knoxville, Tennessee, called the University of Tennessee. And we’re trying to get our football program back. And people kept telling me... we love our Georgia Bulldogs here in South Georgia. So can you imagine what it is to be raised in Tennessee and spend part of your time in the Alabama-West Florida conference with the University of Alabama, and part of your time in South Georgia with the University of Georgia? So, we like to have fun around our college football and when you’re in my position, you have a humble spirit. So we have fun.
I mean, we want to have fun together and we want to laugh together in these times, but what I’ve observed are wonderful people and that’s where I feel so blessed because people say, “You’re serving two annual conferences, Bishop, and that’s hard, or it’s just overwhelming?” And some days it is, but I just feel blessed because we’d be never having this interview right now. I mean, we would’ve never met, but we have, and we’re all making the best of it. And wherever I’ve been, every church that I’ve served as a district superintendent and now, as I say, … I’m a circuit-riding Bishop serving a two-point charge.
Each place is unique, but it’s filled with God’s people. There are beautiful churches here, beautiful towns and cities. And so Nancy, my wife, and I just feel like we have been so blessed by this opportunity. Now I will admit some days are a little overwhelming. Some days I wake up and I say, “Where am I today?” Because we’ve been in several hotels recently, as we’ve traveled. And so you have to do that but also we have a wonderful conference staff in South Georgia. Just very capable people, gifted people and just wonderful clergy and wonderful laity and we’re all trying to do the same thing. We’re trying to be focused on the mission that Christ has given us in this corner of the world.
I have heard concerns about, “Bishop, how are you going to help some of the smaller membership congregations? We’re really struggling. How are we going to be past... We’re in the COVID era now. We’re not past COVID yet but we’ve got vaccines and the numbers hopefully are going to go down, but we’ve had to deal with variants. But we are in this COVID era and what are people going to do? And how are we going to reach younger people? How are we going to get back to where we were?” And I have to say, “We’re not going back.” What’s our future hold? It is challenging, but we have great opportunities too. What excites me is even though there’s challenges, there’s great opportunities to really be the body of Christ to a world that needs good news.
And we’ve also heard people... I’ve been saying this a lot. We, as the body of Christ, we as Christians, we as members of our churches, we’ve got to go the extra mile. Jesus told us that a lot in his teachings. One example, when a Roman soldier asked to carry your pack a mile, you carry it two miles. I mean, Jesus said, “You go beyond what is asked of you.” And so I think that’s what’s kind of required of us in this day.
The Jewish people that Jesus was speaking to were persecuted people. In some instances, we may go through persecution, but nothing like they did. But we are going through a very divided time in our lives. Pick any subject and we’re divided on it. I mean, it seems like it; how can we rise above that? How can we be that witness? And one of the things I’ve just talked about, we just need to be nice to people, even when people are not nice to us. I think we need to tip more in restaurants, even when the service may not be good. But people that are in the restaurant business are really struggling today with workers and just the demands.
Teachers are having to struggle in their role, school administrators, anybody that’s in leadership, working with people, it’s not easy. So how can we rise above all of that? And so it’s our Christian witness. I don’t know what the future holds, but I know that God gives us this day. And I don’t want this day to go by without trying to be a witness and trying to build the kingdom here on earth as it is in heaven.