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Bishop Huie’s Address: “Moving Into God’s Future”

[Delivered to the Council of Bishops at its April 29-May 4, 2007, meeting in Springmaid Beach, S.C.]

Moving Into God’s Future
Presidential Address of Bishop Janice Riggle Huie
Spring, 2007


Bishop Janice Riggle Huie

Dear friends, greetings in the name of our Resurrected Savior Jesus Christ.

In Maputo, I suggested that we are living in a threshold time: a time of great spiritual hunger and a changing context for ministry. The challenges of poverty, sickness, violence and greed are present all over the world. Alongside those challenges are thousands of people engaged in risk-taking mission and service. I suggested that our calling as bishops was to lead the church to put hope into action.

Today, I want to talk about the United Methodist Church as a movement of God. Kindly underline the word "move." In March I went with a team of clergy and laity to Cote d’Ivoire. Our experience there was transforming. It was as though that conference was being carried along by the "rush of a mighty wind." It was as though the whole conference was stepping forward into the reign of God. For a moment, I got a glimpse of what it might look like for the whole UMC move into God’s future.

Our team was made up of people from the Texas Annual Conference, the General Board of Global Ministries, and the United Nations Foundation. We went at Bishop Boni’s invitation. He and his leadership team developed our itinerary. Our purpose was to identify how we might work together to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.

Bishop Boni’s team and our team focused on starting new churches, leadership development, health care, education, evangelism, media, micro-finance and much more. We visited various places where the UMC is making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. Everyone was so excited. When we got home, I asked our team members to write about what they learned.

Reverend Todd Jordan, one of our young pastors who speaks French, had inquired of several shopkeepers along the way, "What do you know about the United Methodists?" Not a single person said, "Who are they?" Every person had something to say. "They help people," said one. "They build hospitals and schools," said another. "They care for people," said a third. Todd reported that ordinary people on the street connect the UMC with "the people of United Methodist Church do good." John Wesley would be proud.

Reverend Velosia Kibe wrote, "If worship were an art form, the people of Cote d’Ivoire would be among the most gifted. Worship includes their whole being: body, mind and spirit. Praise comes from their pores. Their dancing, singing and exaltation of God is beautiful to watch and to join with. Their joy in the Lord is evident. Their excitement is contagious. The lives of many persons in that country will be saved."

Dr. Earl Bledsoe said this, "The people of the UMC in Cote d’Ivoire were excited about being United Methodist. They wore it on their sleeve. They know how to evangelize and worship. I have made several trips to different countries. This was my first time to experience such a genuine love for Christ and His church."

I myself was most touched by a testimony from Mr. Gaston Kadio. It happened this way. Mr. Sam Koffi, Bishop Boni’s assistant, and Elizabeth McKee, the director for the malaria initiative for the United Nations Foundation, and I visited a number of government officials to lay groundwork for the distribution of mosquito nets.

While we were waiting to see the Minister of Finance, Sam wanted us to meet Mr. Kadio, a United Methodist disciple of Jesus who is the Chief Treasurer of the country. In Cote d’Ivoire, that job would make Mr. Kadio financially well-off, but not extremely wealthy by U. S. standards. Walking into his office, I noticed the cross and flame on a small plaque on the wall. There was also one of those drawings with an eagle in flight. Underneath were the words from the Prophet Isaiah, "They shall mount up with wings as eagles and run and not be weary and walk and not faint."

Mr. Kadio is a small man. He is a humble man. He greeted us with great enthusiasm. At Sam’s invitation, he shared his story. About two years ago, he fell in the shower. It was not clear to me whether he had a stroke and fell or whether he slipped and hit his head. The consequences were drastic: he was paralyzed from the neck down. It was questionable at first whether he would survive, then more questionable whether he would use his arms or walk again. Many United Methodists prayed for him. Bishop Boni prayed with him. Finally Mr. Kadio was strong enough to go to France for further treatment. A UM seminary student visited him as often as he could.

Thanks be to God, Mr. Kadio is back at home, back at work, back in church. He walks slowly. His handshake is not strong. He has recovered far beyond human expectations.

"I prayed a long time for God to show me a way to express my thanksgiving for his healing. I wanted others to know the good news of Jesus Christ." Responding to the promptings of the Holy Spirit, and in conversation with Bishop Boni, Mr. Kadio felt God was calling him personally to build a new church.

He and Bishop Boni chose a site in Bongouanou where there has been civil unrest since 1999. People there struggle for daily existence. Many people have moved out of the area waiting for peace. It is a place where it is hard not to feel abandoned by God and everyone else. The United Methodist Church is not strong there. Mr. Kadio said that he wanted this new United Methodist building to be a sign of hope and new life for the people. He showed us a picture of the building—its size calculated for those people yet to come. It will seat 2,500 people. It was dedicated this month.

I said to myself, "Janice Huie, you have been in the presence of a disciple of Jesus Christ transforming the world. You have been in the presence of a disciple putting hope into action. You have been in the presence of a disciple who might not move so well physically, but who has mounted up with wings like an eagle in his calling to living as an embodiment of God’s kingdom on earth as it is in heaven." At some level deeper than words, this humble man is part of a mighty movement of God in Cote d’Ivoire.

Where do you see the people of the United Methodist Church moving with the Spirit? Where do you see the people of the UMC leading a movement of God in your Episcopal area? What do those experiences tell us about our leadership as bishops of the United Methodist Church?

What amazes me is that I hear similar stories of excitement and energy wherever we get together around the world—the Philippines, eastern and central Europe, South American, Africa, and yes, in the United States. We learn from each other. We are blessed by each other. There is a movement of God’s spirit that is transforming the world and we are witnesses to it, and we are blessed by it in this community of faith called the United Methodist Church.

In glimpse after glimpse of the reign of God in 21st century, I see a UMC that is guided more by movement than by institution. I see a UMC led more by a clear vision and mission than by rules and regulations. That vision and mission unites diverse groups of people. It is generous enough and large enough to make a kingdom difference in the world. It offers a holistic vision of salvation: body, mind and spirit.


Historically speaking, a movement enters most frequently from the margins of culture rather than from the centers of power and authority. Its mission is to change the way that things are in the dominant culture. A movement usually has multiple components or aspects. Some are in the center, and others are on the edge. Movements are not neat and clean. In fact, they are downright chaotic and messy.

The United Methodist movement invites belief in Jesus Christ over the cultural gods, the practice of forgiveness over hate, peace over violence, a better life over poverty, health over sickness. This vision starts with a few people. It grows through prayer, study of Scripture, worship, holy conversation, and practices of mercy and justice. This vision and mission connects more and diverse people as disciples of Jesus Christ. Finally, by the powerful of the Holy Spirit, the body of Christ starts to move------ together.

Isn’t this exactly what Jesus did? Within his faith community, Jesus was born into a very securely ordered world. There were chief priests and scribes and Pharisees. There were countless rules and regulations. People knew their place—like it or not. The Roman world was securely ordered, and Rome was brutal when that order was violated. People knew their place—like it or not.

Then along came Jesus. He was a carpenter’s son. He preached, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." When he stood up to describe the kingdom, it was as if he was turning the world upside down and inside out. "Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you who are hungry now for you will be filled. Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh." You have heard it said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy, but I say to you, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you."

Jesus told stories about the kingdom. A landowner hired employees for his vineyard. He paid those who started 30 minutes before quitting time exactly the same wage as those who had worked from dawn. How orderly is that? In another story, Jesus said that a powerful man invited his close friends for great feast. When they didn’t show up, he brought in the homeless, the drunks and the gang members. Jesus said, the first shall be last and last shall be first." I could go on and on. First through Jesus’ disciples and now through the church, God’s Spirit empowered a movement of the reign of God that has spread all over the globe. Early Christians were known as "people of the way." I’ve noticed that some bishops are using this language, "living the United Methodist way."

A movement: that’s how the United Methodist Church began in Great Britain. John Wesley, Charles Wesley and a handful of highly disciplined disciples of Jesus were determined to live as Jesus had taught his disciples. Both were priests of the Church of England. However, most of the people to whom they preached and who formed the early Methodist classes, bands and societies were people with little economic, religious or political power. Responding to the promptings of the Holy Spirit, the Wesleys sought to help people become the whole persons that God intended. They made Christian faith simple and practical. "Do no harm. Do good. Attend the ordinances of God." A movement called ‘methodist’ was born.

It was a similar story in this brand-new country called the United States. According to Dr. Nathan Hatch, the Methodist historian at Notre Dame who spoke to this Council in 2000, the American followers of John Wesley could boast no more than four ministers and three hundred lay people in 1771. The church was threatened with extinction during the Revolution. However, between the end of the Revolution and 1850, seventy years, the Methodists achieved a virtual miracle of growth, rising from less than 3% of all church members in 1776 to more than 34% by 1850.

Methodists were famous for their ability to move. Responding to the promptings of the Holy Spirit, they moved physically. Circuit riders traveled west and south with the wagon trains. They transcended lines of race and class and language. Methodists empowered ordinary people to express their faith in Jesus Christ. Methodists were known as a church which "moved with the spirit." One of the words Dr. Hatch used that day was the word, "nimble." Nimble.

They were so nimble that, as Professor Nathan Hatch describes it, by 1850, nearly one out of five Americans was associated with the Methodists. They were the most extensive national institution other than the Federal government.

Fast forward to my lifetime. At the risk of oversimplifying the complexities of the last 60 years, allow me a moment to describe my experience of the UMC in the U. S. By the time I was born in 1946, The Methodist Church was becoming less and less well known for responding to the promptings of the Holy Spirit and moving and better known for its great and strong and mighty institutions and agencies. Those institutions and agencies brought permanence and stability in a world that had experienced the chaos and insecurity of two great wars in a half century. Functioning like mighty, well-oiled machines, they were created to endure, to order the church, and to offer Christ’s ministry forever.

Many of the twentieth century institutions and agencies that remain today continue to bless the church and the world. They do good works in health, education, mission and ministry to the poor. If some of them didn’t exist, we would need to create them. Like many of you here, I work hard to support and maintain the United Methodist institutions for which I have episcopal responsibility.

However, by the time I was ordained in 1970, most of us clergy in the United States thought we lived in a "Christian nation." The major work of making disciples of Jesus Christ was mostly complete. We were focused more on preserving the gifts given to us than we were on extending them. In my early years of ministry, I believed that my vocation was the faith development of the children, youth, and adults in my congregation. I did not think about my neighborhood or community as a mission field. I thought in terms of "come" rather than "go."

In fact, according to the 1980 U.S. census, Bob and I actually served in a Texas county in which United Methodists were still the largest faith community. There were seven UMC congregations in a county of 3,000 people. My view of making disciples was limited to deepening the faith of the disciples entrusted to my care. "Mission work" was primarily international work or work in another part of the town or nation. Responding to the "promptings of the Holy Spirit" seemed slightly suspicious to me.

In my lifetime, the Book of Discipline has grown from this (hold up a 1948 BOD) to this (hold up a 2004 BOD) and this (hold up a 2004 BOR) and this (hold up a BOW). The 1948 BOD had a section on the social principles and worship. (Hold the three.) Stability and order is good, but that’s a lot of stability and order. When a new idea was mentioned in my local church or annual conference, my response was often "what does the Book of Discipline say about that?"

I went to my first General Conference in Baltimore in 1984, the bi-centennial of Methodism in the U. S. Even then worries were surfacing about division and fragmentation. Twenty years later in Pittsburgh, there was open discussion of schism. Some of you were instrumental in drafting and gathering support for what has become known as the "unity resolution." The result made clear to all of us that while United Methodists may discuss division, the overwhelming majority don’t want schism. On the other hand, we were not yet united in a common vision and mission.

In these 37 years since my ordination as a deacon, only in the rarest of instances have I experienced a UMC guided by such a powerful sense of mission and vision that people were galvanized into one unified Body of Christ. Only in the rarest of instances have I experienced the UMC in the U.S as "movement. Only in the rarest of instances would I have used the word "nimble" to characterize our beloved church here in the U. S. I have never been a part of a church in the U. S. which was making more new United Methodist disciples of Jesus Christ than it lost in the previous year.

Thank God for institutions and agencies which bring stability, order and good works. Thank God for the people who envisioned them and whose generosity supports them. For all their sacrifices, I can think of no better word than gratitude. Gratitude. I am truly grateful for the great institutions and agencies passed on to my generation.

However, the foundations laid in the 19th and 20th centuries need to be lifted up as the platforms with which launch the new initiatives of 21st century. I don’t know about you, but I’m ready to loosen up a little. I’m ready to move. I’m ready to follow Jesus. I am ready for the United Methodist Church to rise up and dance before the Lord. I’m ready for the United Methodist Church to step forward into God’s reign on earth as it is in heaven. I believe this Council of Bishops is ready to lead that movement.

When we U.S. bishops and clergy and laity go to Mozambique or Angola or Zimbabwe or Liberia or the Philippines or a dozen other places that we have visited, we get so excited we too start to move with the Spirit. Our hearts overflow with joy and hope for what the UMC can yet become in Christ Jesus. Radical hospitality, passionate worship, extravagant generosity and more. It is our DNA. "Do no harm. Do good. Attend the ordinances of God." It is who we are. Sometimes it is as though I am—to paraphrase T. S. Eliot-- "arriving at the place where we first started and knowing that place for the first time."

Dear Friends, our beloved church is starting to move again. I see it. I hear it. I feel it. We see it in the seven vision pathways. Think of the image: "pathways." What do people do on a path? They move. They walk. They run. They jog. They jump. They skip. They ride bikes. They go from somewhere to somewhere.

We see the church moving in the malaria initiative—where the people of the United Methodist Church are joining with many other groups to stamp out malaria in our life time. We hear it in the agencies. It is the sound of collaboration and communication. We feel it in our own conferences—a new spirit welling up from the grassroots of the church, "Move on out, church. Get going."

To be sure, our motions are a little awkward—like junior high kids dancing for the first time. There are days in our annual conference when I feel a little like the feminine version of the Tin Man in the Wizard of Oz who finally gets a little oil squirted on her joints. We will make mistakes.


Despite all of this, God’s great and mighty United Methodist Church is moving—all over the world. The task of this Council is to lead that movement of God. It is to lead the church to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.

This Council proposed seven the pathways. The General Agencies responded with four provocative propositions. There are the four calls to action. It is my prayer that we will leave here with a single clear message or an agreement on how to get to that message. However the final language is shaped, it is my hope that we will leave here united on the paths or roads or highways or directions or whatever images remind us to move. Those pathways or themes or calls to action or whatever we name them must so resonate with God’s desire and be so focused on God’s Reign that we can’t do anything except be swept along in the movement of God’s spirit.

Some of you personally have been a part of a movement that shaped and formed your identity. I heard one such a person tell this story last week. I was attending the Large Church Initiative sponsored by General Board of Discipleship. It was held in Montgomery, Alabama, the home of the Civil Rights Movement in the United States. On Wednesday afternoon, participants visited the Rosa Parks Museum, Dexter Street Baptist Church and the Southern Poverty Law Center. Later that evening Dr. Kent Millard, who is now pastor at St. Luke UMC in Indianapolis and who has been a leader in promoting "Nothing But Nets," shared this story about his first trip to Montgomery.

1955, 42 years ago, was the year that Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on the city bus. Kent was a young seminary student at Boston University. Prompted by the Holy Spirit, he decided God was calling him to become a part of a vision of the Reign of God meant equal rights for African Americans. Not even thinking of themselves as participants in the movement for civil rights, Kent and several other BU students traveled to Montgomery to support the bus boycott.

Before the marches, everybody was trained in non-violence. Kent said their training consisted of the following.

Lesson number one: whatever happened—yelling, cursing, spitting—their job was to keep singing and keep walking. Every evening the group went to the basement of the church and practiced marching in a circle singing while others in the group spit on them, cursed and them and yelled at them.

Lesson number two: if you get beaten, protect your head. You’ll be hurt less by blows to your body. If someone gets knocked down, nearby marchers should fall on top of him/her so that each person will take a few blows rather than one person being severely beaten.

Lesson number three: Always march arm in arm with at least one person. It is much more difficult to pull two or more people out of the line than an isolated individual. Joined together, you can keep moving and singing.

Kent said to the group, "I must have looked a little shell-shocked because a large, middle-aged African American woman came up to me and said, "Sonny, you look scared." "Yes, ma’am," he said, "I am." "Take my arm," she said, "and you’ll be all right." "And," said Kent, "I was."

Sisters and brothers in the Council, General Secretaries, I am inviting this Council to lead a United Methodist movement again. I’m inviting us to step out in faith for the sake of a vision of "God’s kingdom on earth as it is in heaven." It won’t be easy. We’ll take some hits. God’s Spirit is already moving in the world. We are catching glimpses of it everywhere. Joined together—arm in arm—this Council’s calling is to lead The United Methodist Church to follow God’s spirit.

Janice Riggle Huie

President, Council of Bishops

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