Each year we wait eagerly for words of wisdom, support and challenge from our Episcopal leader. From the beginning of the church people have been set aside for the work of oversight of God’s people, the church. The nature of this office is apostolic, which means that it has its roots in the sending out of people into the work of proclamation.
The address is one that seeks to highlight our past year and give us words for the year ahead. This “proclamation” seeks to make “apostles” of all us who are hearers in this place.
Katrina and Rita, the two hurricanes of 2005, forced the Louisiana Conference to begin to look at ministry in new ways. Change is always difficult but in times of crisis change is forced upon us and we are able to look at things in different ways. As people were displaced and new communities began to return we realized that a new way of being the church was needed. This new way was not just needed in the New Orleans area and in southwest Louisiana, but in our whole state.
Six years later we have begun to live into this new day. As Bishop Hutchinson told us we must innovate, we must take risks, we must move in decisive ways. This is not easy to do, our tendency is to want everything to remain the same, but we must do so if as the Bishop said, “our goal is to be a more effective movement for the cause of Christ!”
This kind of movement is a movement of all the people of God. The bishop reminded us that God’s people, the laity, are not being asked to “be followers of clergy,” but “to be complete partners in a new direction.” All of us together, all of us as disciples of Jesus, living into our baptismal calling to be about the transformation of the world.
The more I hear about a new day, I keep on thinking that transformation of the world takes a commitment to our own transformation into the way of Jesus. It requires not a new initiative or new call. Instead it requires a re-commitment to our baptismal calling, a recovery of the Wesleyan of discipleship with its bands, classes and societies, and a renewal of our commitment to to works of justice.
We hear much talk today about death, decline, and survival. The United Methodist Church has to face some important realities. We cannot do things as we have done them before, we cannot fund things in the ways we have funded them before, we cannot continue to do things because we have always done them that way. These issues are important realities that we must face and we must speak about.
Yet, as I contemplate the future of the church I do so with hope!
God is doing some amazing things in communities all around us. Everyday we encounter people in need of good news, with people hungry to hear about God. Are we ready to dig deeply into our discipleship? Are we ready to commit ourselves to the way of Jesus not just in the four walls of the church but as the sent out, baptized, sealed by the Spirit, people of God?
Let us raise our heads, lean on God’s Spirit, trust our baptism, and know that we are people of Resurrection, that we are a people that have found life out of death, that we are a people who have been called to leave our places of worship to let all people know of God’s love!