The Episcopal Evening began with a welcome back to Bishop Sudarshana and Prema Devadhar from the Episcopacy Committee, and presented them with a gift on behalf of the Conference.
“What a blessing to have both Bishop Suda and Prema back for another four years,” said Kerry Cameron, chair of the committee. “What we have found is not only is Bishop a strong spiritual leader, he is calm in the midst of storms, he is humble beyond belief, and he makes himself available to all of us without concern for himself. He always seems to put others first before himself; he is clearly a servant leader. And by his side is lovely Prema supporting him on all days.”
Then it was time for Bishop Devadhar to offer his annual Episcopal Address.
A strong message about welcoming immigrants and all people took center stage when the bishop, taking a line from the Broadway hit “Hamilton,” urged United Methodists: “Don’t throw away our shot.”
In his 2017 Episcopal Address on June 15, Bishop Devadhar said the challenging times the church is facing can also be an opportunity “for all of us to bear witness to our faith in Jesus Christ and break through barriers to reach people with the good news of God’s reign.”
He spoke of coming to the U.S. 39 years ago with just one suitcase, which he brought with him to the stage, and the warm welcome he received from this country and The United Methodist Church.
“Yet, today, there are many would-be immigrants who are afraid to come to this country. They are not sure they would be welcomed. A fundamental piece of our history has always been the myriad ways that newcomers benefit this country through their drive and ingenuity — much as Alexander Hamilton did. They did not want to throw away their shot at success, a meaningful life, or contribution,” he said.
While immigration is not the only important issue, Bishop Devadhar said, it is one about which we must be concerned.
Read Bishop Devadhar’s
2017 Episcopal Address
“We see innocent people killed because of their color or race, and we witness the denial of justice to them,” he said. “Numerous national and international policies continue to deny human dignity to all, and by ‘all,’ I mean all the children of God.”
Though these times are difficult ones for the church, he said, we can learn from those who had to thrive in adversity, beginning with the Israelites living in exile in Babylon.
“It is remarkable that under the persecution and humiliation of exile, these Jews kept the faith and the practice of their faith for generations, even centuries,” Bishop Devadhar said. “In recent times, we have seen such faith under duress not just survive, but thrive, in places such as China and Cuba.”
“They (the Chinese church) learned how to be a movement again,” he said. “They learned the significance of following the Spirit of God that blesses the expansion of ministry rather than throwing up barriers.”
And the bishop acknowledged the barriers that exist in the Church:
“Members of our beloved church are weeping by the rivers of Babylon today wondering, after the recent Judicial Council decisions, why the church has again left them out. Beloved children of God who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and intersex seek the familiar voice of the One who says ‘come to me’ while the church continues to push them further into the margins,” the bishop said. “Still others find the church changing in ways they don’t recognize and wonder where the church that nurtured them in the traditions of faith has gone.”
“These may be stormy times,” the bishop said, “but they are also times of great opportunity for us to give witness to our faith in Jesus. Let’s not throw away our shot!”
The bishop outlined some ways for United Methodists in New England to not throw away our shot:
- The bishop renewed the invitation he issued in his first year as bishop to become his coffee/tea/prayer partners. He asked people to “support me in prayer and to contribute the cost of 10 cups of coffee or tea each month toward the enrichment of our clergy and laity by providing funding for opportunities for spiritual growth, leadership and professional development and renewal. Contact the bishop’s office to learn more.
- Bishop Devadhar praised the Board of Ordained Ministry for submitting a resolution about the ministerial call fund and pastors telling their call stories. “Clergy, may I request every one of you to make a commitment to share your call stories; and, laity, may I request you to respond to those call stories through your generous contributions to the Ministerial Call Fund,” he said.
- The bishop called on the Conference Personnel Committee to hire an outside consultant to examine our Conference structure in light of the Strategic Plan and make recommendations on leadership and staffing needs, as well as on creating a transparent recruitment and hiring policy “as we strive to make our leadership and staff truly inclusive.”
- Bishop Devadhar called on the Conference Global Ministries team and Connectional Table to hold a summit with the General Board of Global Ministries “to evaluate our existing missional commitments in other parts of the world, so we can have holistic mission involvement on all continents beginning in 2019.” The bishop said he hoped a report from the summit would be ready for action at next year’s Annual Conference.
- The bishop called on members to support his call for the creation of nine new centers of Taizé worship over the course of this quadrennium.
- Finally, and most importantly, the bishop said, “we need to be in deep, deep, prayer” for the Commission on a Way Forward. “I know there are many differing perspectives, but, as your spiritual leader, may I plead with you, cajole and beg you, to keep praying for our Church and the work of the Commission, so God will pour fresh winds of the Holy Spirit on the Commission and all of us so we break through all the barriers,” he said, and become a “powerful Church.”
The evening also included an offering for the Mission of Peace
. This year, two young people from New England will be part of the 2018 MOP to Cuba. They are Katryn Barr, Grace UMC in Lynn, MA, and Clara Szakas, Winthrop UMC, in Maine.