When the Conference Connectional Leadership Table met for the first time on Sept. 17 under a new leadership team and a new Director of Connectional Ministry, the focus was on vision.
Bishop Cynthia Moore-Koikoi asked the group to engage in a process of "upgrading" the Vision of the Annual Conference in the coming year in order to more effectively allow the Conference to provide the resources for the local churches and communities to fulfill the mission of "making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world."
The newly elected chairperson, Donna Vizza of Ebensburg UMC, led devotions keyed to the words of the hymn Be Thou My Vision. Here's what she said:
The Connectional Leadership Table (CLT) meets quarterly at the Conference Center for the purpose of connection, collaboration and communication about the mission and ministry of the Conference. At the quarterly meeting, held on designated Saturday mornings, the three Connectional Ministry Teams (CMT) also meet - Nurture, Outreach and Witness. In addition, the Executive Team of the Table meets several times a year via WebEx in order to provide ministry updates between the larger Table meeting.
This is an old, old hymn that speaks to the individual vision each of us should have in our Christian lives: God as our True Word, our best thought, God’s presence our light, and our source of Wisdom. Reading Ezekiel in our “Bible Through the Year” Sunday School class, we are made aware over and over that each of us is held responsible for our actions and beliefs.
Why then, do we need church?! We need church, because we need the communion with other Christians, the building each other up and support that comes from being in a body of like-minded people. Without church we would be very limited in our ability individually to withstand the constant beat-down of the world. Without the structure of this world-wide United Methodist Church, we would also be very limited in our outreach to the rest of God’s people. Our connectionaliality is a big source of our strength.
Are our churches perfect? No, because churches aren’t buildings, churches are people, and people are very imperfect beings, made in the image of God, but God’s ways are not our ways, and God’s thoughts are not our thoughts. But no matter who or what we are, God loves us and wants for us ALL hope and a future.
This brings me to the following thoughts. When DCM Alyce (Weaver Dunn), Vicki (Stahlman), and I met in July, I was asked to cast a vision for the Connectional Leadership Team and Ministries for the coming year. Now I have to admit that I was floored by this, but when Vicki looked me in the eyes and asked me what I want for our church, I immediately answered that I want unity.
I have at least 6 generations of Methodists in my ancestry, several of them pastors of the circuit-riding, non-ordained variety, and I feel that Methodism is part of my DNA. I love our church. We are uniquely designed to be a church that is big enough to hold George W. Bush and Hilary Clinton, Jeff Sessions and Pauley Perrette, Abby from TV’s “NCIS”. We have had issues in our past that have split us, and we are in the place of another possible split, contingent on the outcome of General Conference in February.
I firmly believe that no matter what the outcome is, God wants us to work together. I just finished a book by Adam Hamilton called The Creed, in which he used a statement attributed to Peter Meiderlin, a Lutheran theologian of the early 1600’s. “If we might keep in necessary things unity, in unnecessary things freedom, and in both charity, our affairs would certainly be in the best condition.”
This statement spoke directly to my heart. It’s so easy to see the “mote” of sin in someone else’s eye while not seeing the “log” of sin in our own. I urge ALL of us to try to deeply understand the “other side”, whichever side that may be for you. We fear what we don’t understand.
Another reading, this one from Ezekiel 37: 15-28, tells the story of God telling Ezekiel to take two sticks representing the kingdoms of Judah and Israel, and bind them together. Ezekiel is to tell the people that they will be ONE nation with ONE Shepherd. ONE people keeping, as our pastor would say, the main thing the main thing! GOD, JESUS, and LOVE! God is Love; Jesus is God; and we are commanded to love God with everything we have, and ALL of God’s people as ourselves.
Galatians 3:28 tells us that once we are baptized there is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for we are all one in Christ Jesus.
I want to cast a vision for right here in WPA, a vision that includes ALL of God’s children, a vision of our best thoughts being a coming together to work for ALL of God’s children. I want us to focus on the core value of Love; I want God’s presence to light our way, our discussion, and our work of ending racism and poverty and advocating for the vulnerable among us. I want us to leave Western Pennsylvania a better place than we found it, a place where God is at home in our hearts and minds, and God’s people are at home in God.