Council of Bishops President’s Remarks

Council of Bishops President’s Remarks

11/8/2021

By: Bishop Thomas J. Bickerton | Resident Bishop, New York Annual Conference, President, UMC Council of Bishops 

Once again, I want to thank each of you for the opportunity to serve you in this way.  I pray that will be able to earn your trust as we work together these next few years.
 
I would be remiss if I didn’t first of all take a moment to acknowledge the steadfast and faithful work of our current president, Cynthia Fierro Harvey.  Bishop Harvey has led us in the midst of a pandemic that has altered every routine and rhythm we have come to know as the norm.  And yet, she has taken every challenge in stride and led us with hope and determination.  

Cynthia, you and I can date our working relationship back to our days with UMCOR and Imagine NO Malaria.  It has been and continues to be a great joy to share ministry with you and on behalf of the whole church I would say, “We are SO grateful for the way in which you have and continue to lead us.” 
 
Last weekend I had the opportunity to be in Philadelphia, PA for the 250th Anniversary of Francis Asbury’s crossing from England to the United States.  On September 4th, 1771, at the age of 26, Francis Asbury set sail for America from a tiny little port outside of Bristol, England named Pill.  Asbury and the Methodist missionaries set sail from Pill Harbor, in part, because of the violent response the Methodists were facing due to their opposition to slavery.  
 
The tiny little port at Pill has the second largest tidal shift of any port in the world.  The port fills to the brim with water at some points during the day and is drained to nothing but mud in the same day.
 
In the midst of that tidal shift, Francis Asbury set sail to cross the Atlantic for a new world.  That journey across the Atlantic had no guarantees of safety.  Many lost their lives as their boats were tossed about by weather and wave in that six-to-eight-week journey.  It was a test of faith and body to endure that trip but there was always the hope that there was a shore on the horizon and safety on the other side.
 
When Asbury saw that shore and began his work, he saw a world of possibility for the gospel of Jesus Christ to be proclaimed in a way that would transform the lives of those living in the new colonies.  
 
And, when Francis Asbury landed, we know that he never returned to England again.  

He never looked back but pressed forward with the gospel in his satchel, and a deep faith in his heart.  And due to his work, for decades, Methodism was the fastest growing religious movement in America.
 
Two hundred and fifty years later we find ourselves with similar challenges as a church: 

  • We are facing great opposition to the initiatives of justice that we are pursuing.  

  • There is, in our midst, a great tidal shift happening both in our church and throughout our world. 

  • The boat of Methodism and religion in general is being tossed to and fro on a sea of uncertainty, fear, and anger.  

  • The journey itself is a test of faith and body as we endure the storm, and yet we continue to hope for a shore on the horizon and safety on the other side.

 
Friends, there IS a shore on the horizon.  There IS a way through this uncertainty and there IS hope that the message we are called to proclaim will reach people in the depths of their soul with a theology of grace, hope, joy, justice, and love that will bless their lives.
 
But like Francis Asbury, we cannot look back.  I encounter people every day who long for us to be able to go back to the way it was before the pandemic. I do not believe we can go back, nor should we.  

  • We cannot go back to the way in which we dismissed the depth of the sin of racism in our church and throughout our world in the past.  

  • We cannot to go back to the way that we have neglected the urgent need to address climate change. 

  • We cannot go back to the way that we have negated and suppressed the gift of affirming and including everyone as a part of the church.

  • And we cannot go back to the paralysis we have experienced in our efforts to grow this church and joyfully work to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of this world.

 
There is no doubt that we never want to forget to look in the rearview mirror so that we can see and learn from the past, . . .but friends it is time to move forward and look through the windshield of possibility.
 
It is time for us to move forward with a narrative of who we are and who, by the grace of God, we will be as United Methodists.  I am weary of looking back too much and weary of standing still too often.  The shoreline IS in our sights.  It is a horizon filled with joy and hope and possibility.  And I look forward to embarking on that journey with you in days that lie ahead.
 
May it be so.  May it be so.
 
Amen.