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Council leader challenges bishops to put hope into action

By Linda Green*
Nov. 3, 2006 | MAPUTO, Mozambique (UMNS)

 

Bishop Janice Huie, Council of Bishops president, wears African attire to show solidarity with United Methodists in Mozambique. A UMNS photo by Linda Green.

Now is the time for United Methodist bishops to lead the church in putting hope into action, to address the needs of a world struggling with a "powerful spiritual hunger," the president of the Council of Bishops told her peers.

Bishop Janice Huie gave that challenge Nov. 2 in an episcopal address to more than 70 bishops attending their first meeting outside the territorial United States. She focused on hope, leadership, vision and risk-taking in calling her colleagues to act.

"We live in a threshold time," said Huie, who leads the denomination's Houston Area. "Globally we face a new context for ministry" that includes the challenges of poverty, disease, hunger, violence, war and genocide, greed, suicide, school shootings and ecological destruction. Despite the despair and chaos, people are seeking God's word, she said.

"A deep and powerful spiritual hunger is present all over the globe," she said. It is being satisfied in both constructive and destructive ways, but the common element in that hunger is the "deep human desire for hope," she said. People hope for peace and a better or transformed world, she said.

She noted that the council expresses hope in its mission statement of leading the church to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world, and she asked how the bishops might more effectively lead United Methodists into "that future of hope."

Quoting the Alban Institute's Gil Rendle, Huie said the work of leadership involves shaping both the hope and fears of people, and directing the positive and negative energy so that it flows with purpose and meaning.

"Leaders shape hope when we offer vision to the church," she said. "We shape hope when we help people dream big enough to be faithful to God and to capture their own imaginations."

She said she imagines the 10 million members of the United Methodist Church beginning a new church every day somewhere in the world. The church can reach and save the world's children and lead the effort to eradicate poverty, malaria and HIV/AIDS - "the killer diseases," she said.

"If the Council of Bishops wants to shape the hope and fears of the people of the United Methodist Church over the next few years, now is the time to step forward," Huie said. "Now is the time to put hope into action.

"God gives us hope. The Holy Spirit gives us courage."

Vision is critical

Huie told the council members that they individually and collectively must have a vision that is bold and comprehensive enough to be part the vision God has for the world. She said people don't get excited about a "vision you can pour into a teacup" or is "focused on institutional maintenance."

Hope becomes action, she said, when a vision that "changes and reshapes futures for Jesus Christ" is seen. Vision needs a plan, money and people to carry it out, which involve taking risks, she added.

Because making disciples is risky, Huie told the bishops that if they expect United Methodists to take risks for Jesus Christ, then they need to do the same.

"Not many people are going to step out into a new future when leaders are focused on the rear-view mirror of institutional survival and self-preservation."

Noting that a new vision will have resistance, she reminded her colleagues that as Moses and Jesus faced obstacles, they need to "be prepared to shape people's fears. We need to do a lot of listening and a lot of loving."

The meeting in Maputo is the international council's first outside the territorial United States. The council met in Puerto Rico in 2002, its first meeting outside the continental United States.

The bishops' presence in Africa, Huie said, shows "the reality that the United Methodist Church is a global church" and indicates solidarity.

"By our very presence, we affirm with our African sisters and brothers that although the Council of Bishops is made up of different nations, languages, cultures, styles of worship, ways of dress, we are also one body - the Body of Christ.

With offices in Washington, the council comprises 69 active bishops and 100 retired bishops; they are the church's top clergy leaders in the United States, Africa, Europe and Asia.

*Green is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in Nashville, Tenn.

News media contact: Linda Green, (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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