What Defines Us
FROM THE BISHOP
R. LAWSON BRYAN
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
Exhilarating! That describes the energy at Winter Conference as hundreds of pastors from four annual conferences filled Epworth By The Sea last week. Tod Bolsinger, author of “Canoeing The Mountains,” led us in deeply meaningful reflections on being Christian leaders in times of uncertainty.
Another highlight for me was the hour and a half I got to spend with nearly 100 clergy from South Georgia. I had something I needed to share. It is so important that I want to share it now with you.
First, while the conference staff and I have been very intentional in providing resources to educate and inform you about the 2019 General Conference, do not misunderstand: I am not fixated on the special session of General Conference. My primary focus remains on the local church, the primary arena where disciples of Christ are made. There are so many good things happening in our churches, and my goal is to resource our local churches to support effective ministry.
Second, while I appreciate the wisdom in saying “we cannot know specifics until after General Conference,” nevertheless I believe there is actually a good deal more we can say. We can begin by recalling that our theme, “Alive Together in Christ,” was given to us by the Bible. It is found in Ephesians 2:5 and expresses God’s vision for us. For two and a half years everything we have done has been guided by this vision.
We have even adopted a special process to help us live into what it means to be Alive Together in Christ. It shapes our appointment making process, how we plan the sessions of annual conference, and has led to the identification of wildly important goals. This process - Appreciative Inquiry - consists of four movements:
- Discover (Where are we alive now?)
- Dream (Where is God calling us to be more alive?)
- Design (What are we already doing to reach this dream? Who else needs to be at the table with us?)
- Deliver (How will we know when we get there? What will people be seeing, saying, feeling?)
Recognizing that we have faithful local churches, a strong Biblical vision, and a powerful process, here is what we can confidently say right now:
Whatever comes from General Conference
will be received by South Georgia as information, but it will not DEFINE us.
Here IS what defines us:
- 284 years ago, in 1735, John and Charles Wesley landed here in the South Georgia Conference. In America, the Methodist movement starts with us in South Georgia. We are Wesleyan Methodists. That is what defines us. Being true to that identity is our fundamental challenge. What defines us is owning that identity.
- Our local churches - with their history of worship, prayer, bible study, mission projects, and fellowship - define us. Those practices are called spiritual disciplines. When practiced over many years, these spiritual disciplines build our spiritual strength and our adaptive capacity. I hear the strength of our local churches as the laity continually say to me, “This is my church before General Conference, and it will be my church afterward as well. We know how to be the church, and we will continue doing that.”
- Ephesians 2:5, “Alive Together in Christ,” our four-year theme in South Georgia, defines us. This is not a human invention but a Biblical statement of what God is up to: “when we were dead in our trespasses and sins, God made us alive together in Christ.” This shapes everything we do, from goal planning to appointment making to the themes of annual conference.
Now here is the really good news: when we stick with what defines us and follow our process we will be radically open to God’s future for us.
This is what I shared with our clergy during the Bishop’s Forum at Winter Conference. That led to increased dialogue with my brothers and sisters while we were at Epworth. This dialogue has been so rich that I left Epworth making the following notes to myself.
As we stick with what defines us and remain faithful to our process:
- I pray that we in South Georgia will be better and stronger in the Spirit of God after having gone through this time of conferencing.
- I pray that “better and stronger” will mean that we have a deeper relationship with the person of Jesus who was fully human and fully divine.
- I pray that this relationship with Jesus will lead us to a deeper resolve to be Alive Together in the World by connecting with those in our own church and community who are overlooked or excluded.
- I pray that we may become Ambassadors of Christ who are non-anxious, radically open to God, and wide-eyed with curiosity because we suspect God is up to something in us and in our world through the Methodist movement.
- I pray that the whole denomination will look at South Georgia and ask: How did they do it? Before, during, and after General Conference, the South Georgia Conference was able to stay calm, stay connected, and stay the course. How did they do it?
As we stick with what defines us and follow the process, we become hope-filled people who can bring hope to our churches and our communities.
Glorify Yourself in us, O Lord, for when we were dead you made us Alive Together in Christ.
Alive Together in the World,