Bishop Sudarshana Devadhar began his 2015 tour of the districts with a visit to the Mid-Maine District on Sept. 21, followed by Metro Boston Hope on Sept. 23, New Hampshire on Sept. 24 and Vermont on Sept. 27 and 28. He will visit all nine districts between now and mid-November.
There is no specific format for the bishop’s Days on the District; instead, these two two-hour sessions – one for clergy and one for laity – are opportunities to ask questions and engage in dialog with the bishop.
The clergy and laity who have met with the bishop so far have raised a number of issues – from how to engage youth and choosing a location for the Annual Conference session to clergy health insurance and how to recognize one’s call to ministry.
Here are some of the topics that have come up during the bishop’s September Days on the District:
Bringing youth to church
During the session with laity, the topic of brining youth into churches was raised. The bishop said it’s important to understand that youth have a different way of thinking about church.
“Our youth no longer passionate about the denomination,” the bishop said. “They are beyond the denomination. They want practical Christianity. They want to live Christianity.”
That means, he said, they want an active role in the church.
“They are not interested in church,” he said. “They are interested in extending the kingdom of God. They don’t want to be part of a church where they sit on the sidelines. They want their voices heard; they want to be active.”
He said that is what is appealing about Taize: Everyone is given a job – cooking, cleaning. They are not compelled, but asked: “What can you do?” Also, he said, all are treated as children of God. “They don’t ask who you are,” the bishop said, before allowing you to serve.
The bishop said youth have told him: “They don’t preach to us at Taize, but we listen to the word of God.”
Thirty-six percent of the population in New England is youth, Bishop Devadhar said, but “how many of them are in our leadership roles?”
“They will not come by themselves,” he said. “We need to recruit them and nurture them.”
Role of clergy
He told clergy: “In our Church, you are the front line; you represent the denomination, you represent the global Church to the people in front of you. On a Sunday morning when you stand before the congregation you connect the congregation in front of you to the world behind you. … We are in this ministry together. We need to hear one another.”
“No matter where they are, these are our brothers and sisters in Christ,” the bishop said. “… I am very proud of UMCOR and what they are doing.”
As for what can be done in the local church he said: “Every Sunday morning remind us – if possible with pictures – so they can visualize and see the faces. Keep praying and keep challenging the congregation – what about thinking of them as one of your own children? Also take a love offering – give to UMCOR for this cause.
Another suggestion he made: Invite a Syrian brother or sister living in your community to come to church to read the Scripture on World Communion Sunday.
2015 Annual Conference session
At each of the sessions so far, the events of the last Annual Conference have been raised, and some expressed that those events have created pain and feelings of distrust among members.
“As your episcopal leader, I take full responsibility for what happened, and ask each and every one of you for your forgiveness for any failure in my leadership,” Bishop Devadhar said. “As we go to the next Annual Conference, I will make sure that I am on top of this. That’s all I can say at this hour.”
He pointed to a number of factors that contributed to anxiety at the session:
- The new location
- The election of General Conference and Jurisdictional Conference delegates
- The resolution to close Covenant Hills Christian Camp in Vermont
- The fatal shooting at the AME church in South Carolina
“This is a great conference. Positive things are happening. As long as God keeps me here, I will be faithful and I will do my best,” he said. “I am not saying there are no pains, but I have been meeting with people (who have asked to meet), and I will continue to do that.”
New format for Church Conferences
This year, a few elders from within each district will be leading church conferences instead of the district superintendent. The idea, the bishop said, is to allow the DSs to spend time in local churches in different ways.
Several people raised concerns that the new format will mean that congregations will not get a chance to see the superintendent.
The bishop said, the concept came from the Strategic Task Force, which “heard very clearly” that in all nine districts, the superintendents needed to spend more time in the churches. This new approach, he said, is designed to encourage that – but in new ways.
“(This new process) will release the DS from church conferences, not from being present in the district,” Bishop Devadhar said. The DS will meet with the Staff/Parish Relations committees.
“If I were a pastor, he said, “just food for thought, I would say to the DS: ‘When are you coming for pastor-parish relations committee? There are a few people who would like to have a dialog, can we have coffee together?’”
He also suggested inviting the DS to preach and to host a church luncheon or supper along with that to allow folks to talk with the superintendents.
“Think of this as a trial,” he said of the new approach. “I am happy to revisit it.”
Episcopal residence/Conference Center
The bishop updated people about the sale of the episcopal residence. The residence has been sold and funds have been set aside for the purchase of a residence should a succeeding bishop require one. Bishop Devadhar lives in the residence provided for the Metro Boston Hope DS, and says that’s where he expects to stay.
The Trustees are looking for a new location for the Conference and Episcopal offices as well. That process is ongoing.
Bishop Devadhar urged people “not to worry about the numbers” – even in the face of an announcement by GCFA that the U.S. may see a reduction in the number of bishops. Quoting Mother Teresa, he said: “God does not call us to be successful, but to be faithful.”
Like the sower in the parable, we must “Keep on doing the work with faith, and God will take care of it,” he said.
Imagine No Malaria
Announcing that the Conference’s Imagine No Malaria campaign has saved 88,000 lives by raising $880,000, he asked churches to collect loose change between Advent and Easter and bring those donations as a check to Annual Conference in June.
“We as a denomination have saved millions of lives in Africa,” he said. “You have been so generous; for this last effort to meet this goal, whatever you can do, we appreciate.”
Open door/conversation continues
The bishop said the district visits are an extension of his open-door policy. Saying it was one of the first things he established upon being elected to the episcopacy in 2004, he said it was important because: “I need to know the pains and the struggles and the joys and the concerns of the people I’m working with” – both clergy and laity.
He closed his time by reminding everyone:
“My conversation does not stop here. If you have any questions, or you hear ‘the bishop said this,’ what does it mean? Pick up the phone and call my office; I’m happy to speak to you.”
Click the link to see the schedule of upcoming Bishop’s Days on the District.