FROM THE BISHOP
R. LAWSON BRYAN
To borrow a phrase from Charles Wesley, Sherrill and I wish we had “a thousand tongues to sing” our thanksgiving to God and to each of you for the privilege of serving the South Georgia Conference over the past five years. Your radical hospitality welcomed and supported us every step of the way. Thank you for the many ways you have included us, ministered to us, and blessed us. When we think of the South Georgia Conference we often quote Psalm 16:6, “the boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places.”
I was elected and assigned to South Georgia in 2016. The understanding at that time was that I would have four years to serve before reaching mandatory retirement age for bishops. But the global pandemic prevented the meetings that were necessary to elect new bishops. I was given the opportunity to serve an additional year. This fifth year has been a gift for which I will always be grateful.
I came to South Georgia with an affirmation and a question. The affirmation is found in Ephesians 2:5, “even though we were dead in our trespasses, God made us alive together in Christ.” Together we have explored what it means to be Alive Together in Christ: in worship; in the world; in witness; and alive together at the table. God created us to be Alive Together in Christ. We are more alive when we are together. As N. T. Wright says, “Not to come to the table is already to get the answer wrong.”
The question I have been asking is: what needs to happen during these years that - if it does happen - will propel us forward for years to come, but, if it doesn’t happen, will hold us back in the years ahead? You helped me see that in this unusual season of our lives we need processes more than programs. Programs come and go. Processes are ways of living together that serve to refresh us and renew us for the mission of Christ in the world. So together we have introduced processes and groups such as: OnBoarding, Appreciative Inquiry, Strengths Finder, Intercultural Development Inventory (IDI), the Compass Group, the Leadership Forum Task Force, the Laity Cabinet, the Bishop’s Emerging Leadership Initiative, and Conscious Culture Building. These are propelling us forward, and they will continue to do so in the years ahead.
I am especially happy that Bishop David Graves will be providing episcopal leadership for South Georgia from September 1 until the next Jurisdictional Conference. He has served the Alabama-West Florida Conference for five years and will continue to serve that conference, too. David and Nancy Graves are good friends to Sherrill and me. You will love their commitment to Christ and their non-anxious presence. They will be living in the episcopal residence in Macon and will be visiting each district throughout the fall. Please pray for them as they take upon themselves the responsibility of serving two annual conferences. Your personal greetings may be sent to Bishop and Mrs. Graves at the conference office: PO Box 7227, Macon, 31210.
I want to take a moment to thank Sherrill for the constant love and encouragement with which she blesses me. She is an amazing person, capable of having six new ideas before noon each day! In June we celebrated our 48th wedding anniversary and now we are looking forward to the next chapter of our life together. We will be living in Montgomery, Alabama, and enjoying our son, daughter-in-law, and our two grandchildren. We will be involved in the life of First UMC, Huntingdon College, and the community at large. We will also be open to new ventures as the Holy Spirit prompts us.
The members of our conference staff and our conference agencies have been a special blessing to me. We have such talented professionals who serve this conference with devotion and passion. I thank God for those with whom I have worked so closely and who continually inspire me by their authentic devotion to the ministry of Christ.
I have often quoted the words of Margaret Wheatley about preparing for the unknown. She writes, “It is possible to prepare for the future without knowing what it will be. The primary way to prepare for the unknown is to attend to the quality of our relationships, to how well we know and trust one another.”
In other words, pay attention to the processes that keep us Alive Together in Christ.
As I conclude my time in South Georgia, I invite you to join me in reflecting on some very special words found in the Order of Farewell to a Pastor. The pastor says to the congregation (and I say to you): I thank you for the support you have shown me. I ask forgiveness for mistakes I have made. I commend you to God’s care.
Thank you and God bless you all.
Alive Together in Christ,
R. Lawson Bryan