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Convocation focuses on 'the United Methodist way'

United Methodist Bishop Violet Fisher
United Methodist Bishop Violet Fisher addresses nearly 1,000 participants at the "Convocation of Extended Cabinets " Nov. 9 at Lake Junaluska, N.C.
UMNS photos by Linda Green.

By Linda Green*
Nov. 16, 2007 | LAKE JUNALUSKA, N.C.

"Do no harm. Do good. Stay in love with God.”

Nearly 1,000 United Methodists from throughout the world learned those three simple rules Nov. 9-11 and committed to teach them to others as they extend the church's mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.

The occasion was the first joint meeting in almost 40 years of the United Methodist bishops and their cabinets. Three Simple Rules: A Wesleyan Way of Living, a new book by Bishop Rueben Job, was one of the convocation's guides.

Bishop Gregory Palmer of Iowa
"We, as United Methodists, must rediscover the vocation of being full-time Christians," says Bishop Gregory Palmer.

In the book's preface, the retired bishop writes that in the fast-paced and complex world of the 21st century, people of faith are ready for a more faithful way of living and discipleship. Methodism founder John Wesley articulated how to live faithfully and then practiced and taught those principles.

"And now it is up to us to see if we will take it, teach it and practice it until it becomes our natural way of living — a way of living that will mark our life together and our lives as individual Christians," Job said.

Throughout the convocation, the bishops emphasized a commitment to teaching the rules of United Methodist living in order that people and congregations may be strengthened and grow in faith.

The convocation brought together district superintendents and others charged with leading their annual (regional) conferences to develop clarity around the church's purpose, mission and identity and to prepare to lead the church in new ways.

"If our church is going to reach its potential, we have to lead the church differently," said Kansas Area Bishop Scott Jones. While bishops and their cabinets are not the only denominational leaders, Jones said they are crucial to moving the church into the future.

"We are people who, through our offices and through our full-time service, shape the lives of annual conferences in significant ways, and we wanted to have a conversation together to move the church forward in effectiveness of living the United Methodist way," he said.

Missouri Area Bishop Robert Schnase, presenting from his book Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations, described how effective congregations engage in radical hospitality, passionate worship, intentional faith development, risk-taking mission and service and extravagant generosity.

The convocation was the first gathering of bishops and cabinets since 1969, just after the merger of the former Methodist Church and the former Evangelical United Brethren Church to form The United Methodist Church.

Jones hopes that holding the gathering six months before the 2008 General Conference will build momentum toward understanding God's calling for the church.

Bishop Scott Jones of Kansas confers with Mary Brook Casad, executive secretary of the United Methodist Connectional Table.
Bishop Scott Jones of Kansas confers with Mary Brook Casad, executive secretary of the United Methodist Connectional Table.

Rediscovering identity

The Rev. Veronica Palmer, a New Jersey district superintendent, called the event long overdue. "It is about time we get on board and start turning our church around," she said.

New York West Area Bishop Violet Fisher agreed and delivered a sermon called "We Are the Ones We Have Been Waiting For," using the title of a song by the African-American group Sweet Honey in the Rock. She said United Methodist leaders live in God's world as God's co-workers to enhance the welfare of people.

"We are called out of our insulated individualism into solidarity with the other people, not only at home but also around world," said Fisher. "The world is waiting for us."

Iowa Bishop Gregory Palmer, president-elect of the Council of Bishops, told the convocation that United Methodists "must rediscover the vocation of being full-time Christians."

The church and all Christians must breathe in the spirit of God, and then breathe out in service to the world, said the Rev. Karen Greenwaldt, top executive of the United Methodist Board of Discipleship. The church thrives, she said, when it offers hope and love not only to those inside but to the wider world.

"Imagine what could happen if all of us, by the grace of God and prepared by the Holy Spirit, start to move in the same direction," said Houston Bishop Janice Riggle Huie, president of the Council of Bishops.

The United Methodist Church in Africa and the Philippines know how to make disciples of Jesus Christ while the church in the United States is losing members. Huie said United Methodists in the United States need to stop bickering among themselves and focus on spirituality, their identity as United Methodists and what God is calling them to be and do.

The gathering, she said, "was a time to rethink who we are as United Methodists and how we live into, lean into, step forward and move into this mission that God has given us."

The Rev. Larry Homitsky portrays John Wesley, the founder of Methodism.
The Rev. Larry Homitsky portrays John Wesley, the founder of Methodism.

The United Methodist way

The Rev. Isaac Ken Green, a district superintendent in the Sierra Leone Annual Conference of West Africa, attended the convocation to "learn who we are as United Methodists, the direction we are going and get acquainted with the United Methodist way."

The convocation, he said, was an opportunity to learn because individual knowledge is not sufficient in helping bring people to Christ. "Everyone has his or her own knowledge, his or her own view, but this was about coming together and seeing what is missing in us so that we can improve."

For the Rev. David Muwaya of Uganda, East Africa, the United Methodist way "means working together as (a) global church, building relationships with churches within our own conference and with churches elsewhere, bringing together people to share our history and to determine where we move from here."

The Rev. Linda Wiberg, director of connectional giving for the California-Nevada Annual Conference, said living the United Methodist way means getting in touch with the Wesleyan spirit and the movement that John Wesley and his brother, Charles, helped to create.

"It is about intentionality and personal piety and social holiness," she said. "They are in partnership with one another and give us a whole Gospel to proclaim."

Prior to the gathering, participants read and discussed "The United Methodist Way: Living the Christian Life in Covenant with Christ and One Another," a paper commissioned for the convocation by the Council of Bishops. The paper is available at http://www.gbod.org/extendedcabinet/UMWay.pdf.

*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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