“We were sitting in the ordination service at Annual Conference 2015, and Bishop Bledsoe gave an altar call. When the Bishop gave that invitation, I felt God stirring in my heart. I thought I needed to rededicate my life to Christ. In that moment, I was sure that God wanted me to recommitment myself to Jesus and the ministry. A little later, I went to an Episcopal Committee meeting for the Jurisdiction and people started to ask me if I would consider becoming an endorsed candidate for the episcopacy. Enough people asked me that I began to ponder the question and the question would not go away. One of the things the Bishop mentioned in his invitation at Annual Conference was that if a question keeps coming to you, it might be a sign that God is calling you. I don’t believe that God calls people in The United Methodist Church to be Bishops. I believe God calls people to engage in a process. After a great deal of prayer and discernment, I decided to commit to the next step in this process.”
Rev. Dr. Jimmy Nunn
(Note concerning the graphic below: Not all African delegates had addresses in the Advanced Daily Christian Advocate. Therefore, country information is estimated. Specific information can be located on page 116-166 of the Advanced Daily Christian Advocate.)
Intercession. Noun. The action of intervening on behalf of another. The action of saying a prayer on behalf of another person. Intercede. Verb. To intervene on behalf of another.
Both of these words invoke action. We all know that verbs are our obvious action words. But “intercession” is categorized as a noun. The subject, what the sentence structure is based around. And yet, the very definition of intercession implies action. The action of intervening on behalf of another. The action of saying a prayer on behalf of another. To intervene: “To come between in order to prevent or alter a result or course of events. To serve on one’s behalf.”
You may be wondering why we are having an English lesson. We are talking about General Conference; why are we focused on these action words?
When asked about his calling to serve as a delegate to General Conference, Jimmy Nunn, head of the NWTX delegation, shared this: “The call of General Conference is to intercede on behalf of people and the church. It is a ministry of intersession as much as it is a ministry of obedience to God and representation of the Church.” But there is more to the story here. Jimmy described how General Conference has been part of his calling in that it has broadened his sense of what a calling is. “I heard a great sermon this year on the sacrifice of Isaac by Abraham and the preacher made the point that Abraham had always been obedient. His calling was to be obedient. There were times when Abraham had to intervene on behalf of someone else. The test for Abraham was not for him to simply be obedient; the test was: would he intervene on behalf of his son? Abraham failed that test. God had to intervene by sending the angel,” Jimmy shared.
So you may be wondering how can we join Jimmy in intercession for General Conference? His prayer focus can be found in Colossians 3. Paul’s prayer says “Look for the things that are above. Think about the things above and not about the things on earth.” Jimmy explained how this is an important global and internal perspective for General Conference. He also is taking the second part of this prayer to heart. “Put on compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience.”
He elaborated on the implications of the prayer for General Conference saying, “it is easy to be the opposite of these things, so for me personally my prayer is to live Paul’s prayer.” This is a bold prayer that may help balance the concerns and divisions that can make General Conference discussions difficult.
Jimmy shared the three things he thinks General Conference does well. The Conference provides a context for the church to come together and worship God, provides guidance through legislation that effects our world-wide witness, and builds world-wide relationships. His ultimate hope for General Conference is “that we live out our mission, making disciples for Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world, and that we also realize the local church is the place where we believe that it is done most effectively.”
Let us come together in intercession as a United Methodist body focused on our mission of making disciples for the transformation of the world.
“My greatest hope for The United Methodist Church is that we can rekindle that gospel fire that we had for a couple of centuries when we burned across this country transforming it. I would like to know what it feels like to be part of a movement that changes peoples’ lives, that transforms communities for Christ,” declared Ron Enns, NWTX Lay Delegate. I believe that this is a hope that many of us could agree with. How does the movement start? Do we wait for those at General Conference to be the catalyst?
A movement starts with you. It starts with me. The Methodist movement will rise again as we grow in discipleship focused relationships. Ron’s hope for General Conference is “that we can empower the local churches to make disciples. That General Conference won’t get in the way of that. Discipleship is a process, being the
hands and feet of Christ for those around us. The movement I hope to see is where everyone in the church understands what the church is about.”
Ron also shared how he thought General Conference was going to be an enjoyable time. Wait, what? Not a horrible or terrible or anxiety driven time, but an enjoyable time? This was the first I had really heard someone describe his or her anticipation of attending General Conference this way! But as he explained, I realized exactly why he used that phrase. Relationships. He explained that you get to meet some fantastic people at General Conference. “The church is full of some dynamic and resourceful people that are changing the world in their churches. Those stories that we hear at General Conference about how the world is being changed are very uplifting and encouraging. There are
negatives as well, but you see God’s hand moving in all of it.” There are stories of discipleship and stories of how unbelievers are finding salvation and life in Jesus Christ. There are global stories that show how a ministry like Africa University is making a huge impact, and conference stories that highlight how the NWTX Hispanic/Latino Ministries are expanding their reach all across NWTX. There are even local stories that share how a church in Dalhart, TX is building a new building, because they have outgrown the old as they have chosen to reach 60-80 kids each week and the young adults who are moving to their community.
When we can put aside our agendas for the greater good and focus on the gospel and discipleship, the movement becomes alive again. Ron commented that “we are not doomed as a nation, not doomed as a
culture, we just have to redirect, rethink, and go back to our roots in order to figure out what is really important.”
This is the heart and soul of where the church is going next. Think about your relationships. Are there some that are thriving? Maybe some are dying. Take a moment to look at your roots and persevere through your discipleship path. The movement is alive within you.
We are all part of The United Methodist Church, globally connected and intentional.
Some would say that they feel more isolated or undervalued before they would share stories of how our global church is succeeding at being connected.
Some would argue that gatherings such as General and Jurisdictional Conference highlight how our connectionism is shattering as our church tries to transition to the 21st century. But hope is found in believers who proclaim how Jesus is still moving and changing lives, and how United Methodists are still being the hands and feet of Christ around the world.
Murray Murphy, the NWTX Lay Leader and a delegate to General Conference, is one of those hopeful voices. The connectional system is particularly important to him, because it reflects the global mission of the church. As Murray says, “We are literally all over the world helping people.” Of course, it is also important to help people locally and regionally.
As our Conference Lay Leader, Murray has been able to do just that, help people all across NWTX and beyond. As he wraps up his last year, he excitedly talks about how he has learned from so many people, both men and women of all ages, during his time of leadership. “There was a time in our conference where there was a serious lack of trust between laity, clergy, and the conference office,” Murray shared. “There were misunderstandings, fractured relationships, and isolation here in NWTX.” That is one of the reasons he felt called to serve as Lay Leader. When asked about his calling in greater detail, Murray stated, “my goal has always been to uplift lay leadership and bridge the gaps of misunderstanding and lack of trust between clergy and laity. The reason I was called was to bridge the gap between clergy and laity - so that we can become a stronger church.”
While we as United Methodists of NWTX are still working towards minimizing the isolation of our conference, Murray beamed as he described that “we have a very good relationship with our clergy. I have seen a heightened awareness and greater trust of our clergy, and our conference office. I have seen a lot of good things come and our future is bright because we have good leadership on the horizon.”
We have been at a crossroad in NWTX but the blessings have still been evident. There has been growth in our conference. But what does this have to do with the anticipation of General Conference? Everything. There is hope and life in our churches and communities. We are living out the mission of the church, making disciples for Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. Our Conference has worked hard on building trust. We are an example of how this can happen on a large scale. NWTX has shown that moving from decline to health is possible. By mending broken relationships, we can see amazing work being done for the Kingdom all around us. The work that has been done here provides hope for the hard work that must be accomplished at General Conference, and it shows that success is possible.
Bridging the gap starts with us, with you. Join us as we continue to take steps towards building strong relationships within the conference and towards reaching people in our communities, so that they will know Christ as their Savior.
Layers of red, printed notes covered the whiteboard. Stacks of paper filled her desk and social media posts, tweets, and instagram shots filled her screens. Rachel Wright, Director of Global Missions & Community Impact at Tarrytown UMC and Executive Director of a 501(c)(3) called FreeStore Austin, was in the thick of Amplify Austin, the biggest fundraising day of the year for her entire city.
Yet, in the middle of all that was happening, she sat down to have a focused conversation about the importance of General Conference and the work of The United Methodist Church. “I think we have astounding capacity, so I hope we use it,” Rachel said with a smile. When she envisions the church of the future, one of her greatest hopes is that lay people will stop thinking of Christian service as a hobby, and instead, will start thinking of Christian service as giving from their very best gifts. That level of giving will lead them to use their professional interests and passions to meet the deep needs of the world and would leverage their abilities to create better solutions for connectional difficulties. “If God is your first love, you use the best of who you are, not whatever is left over,” she shared.
General Conference and Jurisdictional Conference are examples of places in the church where laity have the ability to use the best of their gifts to shape the church and lend their voices to decision making. While this is a powerful position, Rachel points out that it can also be a problem. After participating at that level, some laity feel they can defer many other leadership decisions in the church to professional clergy or bishops. “I think lay people are a powerful body that can move the church in ways that maybe we have forgotten we can do, and I think the church would be in a different position, if lay people would own a sense of responsibility to where God is calling them everyday. If everyone asked themselves that question about calling, the church would be stronger, more vibrant, and more awake in the world today.”
When laity give their best gifts to God to meet the world’s needs and do not back away from leadership tasks of the church on a day-to-day basis, then Rachel believes we will be able to choose to do the hard things that the mission requires of us. General Conference and Jurisdictional Conference are places where we need to choose what is difficult over what is expedient.
One of the ways Rachel believes we can do this at both conferences is by talking less about what we have lost as a denomination and more about what we can lay down to focus on the work of the present and the future. “I think that is Biblical. Jesus talks about laying down your life and saving it. I would like to see us risk the loss of our institutional life and be willing to go out in style with the hospitality, generosity, grace, and great love for the world that is at the heart of the Wesleyan movement. If we did that well, I think we might find that our life is gained.”
(Rachel Wright is a lay reserve delegate for the Rio Texas Annual Conference.)
There, Jeff Fisher leads them and helps provide dependability in a world that is rarely stable for this demographic group. In this space, participants share how God has moved in their lives, even if the outside world cannot imagine how individuals in that situation could possibly have an example. In this space too, Jeff’s horizons have been broadened.
We can see Christ in this work in tangible, living ways. Even so, in other places it is harder to see Christ’s hands. Sometimes when we think about General Conference, we are very much like people looking in at the 13th Street Sanctuary and we, too, are unable to see the ways in which God has moved.
For Jeff, however, seeing Christ’s hand at work is possible in both places and perhaps, that is why he has been called to General Conference.
“Each and every day we experience God and the risen Christ in our lives, and often we don’t know how to look for it,” Jeff noted. “I think it is up to Methodists to establish that idea once again, that God is present with us. I think we need to be able to see it in our lives, so we can share that with others. What is decided at General Conference has such a large impact on the local church. The local church is where lives are transformed and disciples are made. Our presence at General Conference is important, because we have to care for the local church.” We have to put first things first, the health of the local church and a return to sharing the good news that God is with us. My greatest hope is that we remember these things, that we allow the Holy Spirit to sit with us as we deliberate, and that “we can bring our grace filled history with us to General Conference, so that it will shine through the polarized viewpoints in the legislative process.”
With grace serving as the mediator, delegates like Jeff might not leave General Conference 2016 in anxiety over the future of the church, but with hope and renewed calling to lead its greatest revival.
Pastor Rich Jones has a mantra: “It is time for us to be who we have always been when we have been at our very best, Wesleyan Arminian Christians – missional Methodists. We need to root ourselves in our theology and practice and we need to be living the Christian life in the community and world around us.”
Those words are not merely a slogan he can say without thinking, either; they represent his way of life and his hope for The United Methodist Church. When God called Rich to ministry, the calling was to be a preacher, but it was also a calling to work towards bringing about a newness of life within The United Methodist Church. “In all the different contexts of ministry, it was very clear to me, I had to be preaching, but I also had to be working
It was 8 p.m. We had been on the go for more than 12 hours and the day still wasn’t finished. After driving to Albuquerque, interviewing episcopal candidates, and participating in a debriefing following each interview, I was exhausted. Pastor Eddie Rivera might have been, too, but he did not show it when we arrived at the hotel lobby. He had agreed to a magazine interview about the amazingly, exciting topic that is currently on everyone’s mind – General Conference.
As we rearranged the breakfast room to turn it into an instant production studio, I grabbed a stack of plates to act as my tripod and I was thankful Eddie simply smiled at my balancing act. We set up the microphones, pushed play, and as this three-time General Conference delegate started to speak about his hopes for the church, my energy returned.
He spoke of church renewal with passion, highlighting the positive characteristics of our church, while still being bold enough to mention a troubling reality. “I think the problem is that we have elevated the value of systems, processes, and structures over and above valuing the presence of the Holy Spirit. We need systems and structures, but when they are empowered by the Holy Spirit there is no telling what we can do to facilitate the fulfillment of our mission.”
His concern for including the Holy Spirit resurfaced again and again during our conversation, as did his concern for our faithfulness to God’s intentions. In the midst of answering other questions, he mentioned that he hoped we would become a movement again, and I asked him what that would look like. A smile spread across his face. “A movement is something that we cannot control and we
cannot produce,” he said. “God has the rights of ownership and it will renew the soul of the church. When we are a movement again, the church will no longer exist for the good of itself, but it will exist for the good of others.” I’m pretty sure at this point I stopped the interview and gave him a fist bump. Then, we promptly returned to the serious matter of God’s intentions for the church.
“God intended for us to be a global church from the very beginning,” Eddie said warmly, getting me back on track. “In the Book of Acts, in the first moments of the church’s birth, it was global. People were speaking 14 different languages, reaching people from 14 different countries. Every time the early church wanted to stay in one region, something would happen and they would be forced to keep spreading God’s message to new places. John Wesley understood that. He knew that the world was his parish. That DNA is in our church and in the Methodist movement. I am afraid we will forget the global nature of the church and continue focusing on regions, which can make us disconnected. My hope is that we keep the global nature of the church first and foremost, so that it will continue to drive the Methodist movement.”
Again, I was moved by his words of vision for the church, but I restrained myself from giving him another fist bump. Instead, I wanted to know where his love for The United Methodist Church stemmed, and I discovered that his transformation story of discipleship is a direct result of our church. While he was listening to the testimony of another student, Eddie learned that Christ was not just God’s son, but Christ could also be a friend. This moment in time was so important, Eddie could still remember the exact date – April 8, 1973 – that it happened. From that moment, he took his first step to become a true disciple of Christ and his discipleship blossomed in the best environment possible. Through The United Methodist Church’s grace centered theology, he learned firsthand that grace is not something we merely read about or profess, but it is something that can truly be experienced in ways that change lives. This grace still compels him to share the Good News with others.
It also compels him to extend grace to others, even those who have different opinions than his own, which is an incredibly important characteristic for a delegate to General Conference. This grace, for which Methodists are famous, that has shaped his discipleship and leadership role so inextricably is also what shaped his last statement to me in our interview. “I pray for once, that we are in harmony, whether a person is progressive, conservative, or middle of the road. We all need to be connected in Christ; we all need to be empowered by the Holy Spirit, and once we are, there is no telling what we can do as The United Methodist Church.”
(Pastor Eddie Rivera is the clergy delegate for the New Mexico Annual Conference.)
for a new movement of the church.” The new movement Rich feels called to serve is really a restoration of Methodism’s historic roots, which tangibly changed lives by spreading the gospel message with intense dedication.
“I hear so many people talking about how we need to renew the church, but I think my prayers have shifted away from that. Now, I pray for God to resurrect The United Methodist Church. I want God to breathe new life into the church, not just to take an old corpse and bring it back a little bit, but to really breathe the newness of the spirit of God into us and to see a resurrection of the people called Methodists.”
Part of that resurrection will stem from General Conference, a body that has the ability to make changes to the Book of Discipline and shape how the entire church functions, which is exactly why Rich wants to be there. “There are so many important conversations happening around the future of the church at General Conference. I want have a voice in those conversations,” Rich said ardently.
Of course, this resurrection cannot just take place in the U.S. Since the church has a global scope, decision makers for the future must consider the context of Africa, Russia, the Philippines, and so many places in between. Each part of the church is deeply connected and has the ability to shape the outcome of a resurrection effort. Key stakeholders from all of these areas are present as delegates and reserve delegates during General Conference, so if individuals, like Rich, who feel called to the resurrection efforts of the church, are not there, they lose an opportunity to have influence and to be connected with similar leaders.
While there will be a host of legislative petitions that are discussed and protests that are made, not all of them will reflect efforts to successfully guide the church to be more effective in making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world, much less to spark resurrection. In spite of those realities, Rich still has great hope that the church “will get to the purpose of what General Conference is all about - looking to the future of The United Methodist Church, discerning the will of God, and then living that out as the people called Methodists.”
With leaders that have such hope for the church meeting together in May, perhaps the resurrection Rich and others feel called to push forward will begin sooner than even they could have imagined.
Two completely different sets of words are juxtaposed to describe the same event: an event that can bring out the very worst in us, building up unnecessary fear and tension, yet at the same time it is an event that God can use as a place of calling.
Calling and mission are easier identified in places like the 13th Street Sanctuary service at FUMC Lubbock than at General Conference. At the 13th Street Sanctuary service, people who have inconsistent housing and employment can find a place to worship after enjoying a warm meal.
“I really believe I was called to General Conference. After it was announced that elections would happen in 2015, I had this unique feeling that it was something I needed to do, but I couldn’t explain it. I think that is often the case with callings, you don’t understand them. I think it is interesting how God places us in positions that we never really dreamed we would be in, we never had on our radar, because it fits in His puzzle. I don’t know that the piece fits in my puzzle yet, but I think it is essential that I be a delegate to General Conference. I am excited to see what God is going to do with this, because I don’t know. I am just stepping out in faith. I’m getting out on the water.”
Why did you want to participate in General Conference?
I have served in the local church, district and annual conferences and General Conference committees, boards and agencies. I have served as a Jurisdictional delegate in 2004, 2008 and 2012 and I am serving as General Conference delegate in 2012. I feel I have the experience to bring the views of the laity of the UMC. As a Certified Lay Minister, I also understand clergy perspectives on many issues. I want to participate in General Conference to engage in planning for the future of our denomination.
Why do you think General Conference is important?
As a connectional church body, General Conference provides a time for us to come together to evaluate where we have been, where we are now, and where we hope to be in the near future.
What is your greatest hope for General conference?
I pray for the Holy Spirit to guide us and unite us in our Biblical understanding of what it means to be United Methodists. My hope is that we will address the declining membership and worship attendance and seek strategies for spiritual and membership growth.
What is your greatest hope for the UMC?
The theme for 2016 General Conference is Matthew 28:19-20 “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” This scripture is my hope for the UMC.
How is being a delegate in General Conference part of your calling?
My prayers include offering myself in service to God. I trust that He provides opportunities for me to be obedient to His calling. Being a delegate to General Conference is an honor and privilege, and it requires prayer, study, teamwork, and faithfulness to the Scriptures.
(Sue Sullivan is a lay delegate from the Texas Annual Conference.)
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