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June 21, 2006

Membership Losses

The General Council on Finance and Administration released some preliminary figures today that report that the United Methodist Church continues our downward spiral in membership decline. We have dipped below 8,000,000 for the first time since the 1930’s. There was no jurisdiction that reported an increase.

I realize that for many this is depressing news and it would also be depressing to me except I am aware that our almost forty year decline has finally begun to register with some in our denomination. The Council of Bishops even prior (in fact as early as November 2004) began to shift our conversation to “Making Disciples for the Transformation of the World” as we dialogued during that Fall 2004 Council of Bishops meeting. Several exciting movements began as a result of those conversations. I would like to lift up two of them.

The first of these movements was to begin asking and holding each other accountable for how we are planning and implementing this emphasis of “Making Disciples for the Transformation of the World” in our Episcopal areas. Each active bishop is asked to submit their plan and the results of their efforts to a panel of Bishops both active and retired. This has helped us to focus our attention on and be held accountable to each other for carrying this out.

The second movement was to call together persons across the United States to design a National Strategy for New Church Development. This group had its initial meeting May 22-23. And the excitement around the table was great and moving. We shared and held strong conversations and left with a commitment of all parties to move forward in designing this national strategy. In fact, the North Georgia Conference has already agreed to help finance a New Church start in the Desert Southwest Area. This is a growing population center but a conference with little resources.

I see these as signs of hope and new passion developing to “Make Disciples.”

I welcome comments.

Posted by Bishop at 11:20 PM | Comments (0)

June 20, 2006

The Pain of Loss

I am told that we discovered the bodies of the two soldiers that were missing in Iraq and that their bodies were mutilated. My heart goes out to their loved ones and my prayers go up to God to provide them with comfort and support during their time of grief and pain.

I have no clue how I would respond to such a loss in my family but I would like to believe that somehow I would hold on to the fact that God is present with me even in my grief. I call us to be in prayer for these families and others who are in pain at the loss of their loved ones.

Posted by Bishop at 10:22 PM | Comments (0)

June 07, 2006

As I Approach My Second Annual Conference

It is amazing to me that we are about to begin the 2nd Annual Conference Session since my appointment to the Holston Annual Conference. The time has gone by so fast and as I reflect over this almost two year period here are some of my thoughts.

There are some very gifted and committed persons both lay and clergy who serve God in and through the ministries of the local churches and extension ministry settings of the Holston Annual Conference. There are congregations that are experiencing growth and vitality, joy and celebration and renewal. There are clergypersons that are excited about serving Jesus by serving people. There are many lay persons that volunteer their time, gifts, talents and financial resources on behalf of the cause of Christ. There are many pastors and families that make tremendous sacrifices for the cause of Christ and never bring any attention to their sacrifices. I celebrate this and give God the praise.

Unfortunately, this is not always the case.

I have found that a smaller group of churches and clergypersons that are mired in depression, disenchantment, disappointment, and caught in a vicious cycle of blaming everyone for the state of affairs in their churches and in their personal lives. It is regrettable that we often focus so much of our attention on the disappointments, lack of effectiveness, depressing conditions that we never can see all the places and people that are experiencing and appreciating the blessings of God.

I believe passionately that we need to reach out in love and service to those who are caught in these conditions but I believe with equal passion that we need to learn how to celebrate and draw strength, hope, courage, faith, and motivation from those places and people where the Holy Spirit is breaking through. We must find a way to make the main thing the main thing. Winning people to Christ is what we are called to do through Word and deed. The potential is there. The promise of God to never leave us or forsake us is there. The resources are there.

We must focus on God’s Vision for us, develop a stronger work ethic, get on our knees and pray and give space for the Holy Spirit to move among us and then follow where the Holy Spirit leads. I want to be a part of that kind of a movement and it can begin at Lake Junaluska this upcoming week.

Posted by Bishop at 10:28 AM | Comments (0)