|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
Dear friends, greetings in the name of our Resurrected Savior Jesus Christ.
Bishop Janice Riggle Huie
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
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
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
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
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’
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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