The 2020 New England Annual Conference on Oct. 17 opened with worship and Bishop Sudarshana Devadhar’s annual Episcopal Address.
This year’s address, titled “You Are Beloved,” drew on the theme for this year’s session: “Vital Conversations: Building Beloved Community” and our guiding scripture Acts 2:42-47
It was unusual for the bishop to deliver his address via video, and he began by acknowledging the process of adaptation that has gone on and is going on across the Conference:
“These past seven months have been enormously stressful for all of us, as we have had to adapt and reinvent our mission and ministry,” the bishop said. “I recognize how weary our clergy and lay leaders are and am so very grateful to God for the creativity and resiliency given to do ministry in these anxious times. We are still functioning in crisis management ... and you are working overtime. I pray that God provides you needed rest and relief workers to sustain you.”
Bishop Devadhar went on to speak about the need to combat racism, which he also called a “pandemic.”
“Until we erase the sin of white supremacy and white privilege, we will not be able to move beyond the systematic injustices that tear away the fabric of our society,” the bishop said. “The social sin of racism has exposed how bereft our country and world are and how far we are from the vision of the early apostles …”
The passage from Acts, he said, “gives us a picture of the bold solidarity within the early Christian church.” The bishop highlighted the three keys to beloved community:
- Agape Love: The Beloved Community starts and ends with love.
- Nonviolence: It is active nonviolent resistance to evil. It is aggressive spiritually, mentally and emotionally.
- Beloved Community works toward the remedy of the interrelated three evils of poverty, racism and militarism.
The bishop talked about some of the ministries and initiatives across the Conference to help us become that Beloved Community.
Zarephath Emergency Relief Fund
This fund, created in March 2020, helped provided immediate emergency relief to congregations with vulnerable members in the face of COVID-19. The fund distributed 50 grants totaling $73,000. (Read more
Cornerstone: Claiming our past, building a better future
“Cornerstone: Claiming our past, building a better future” grew out of the discovery of racist materials in the cornerstone of Fairlawn Community Methodist Episcopal Church, a predecessor of Wellspring UMC, which closed this year (Read more
This project will be led by the Commonwealth West District, and will include:
- a conference-wide act of repentance
- a Lenten Bible study focused on racial justice
- and intentional conversations with the Worcester (MA) Interfaith organization regarding racism and ecumenism and restoring relationships
Additionally, Bishop Devadhar will be inviting the entire conference to join him and the Cabinet in a four-week Advent Bible study focused on racial justice beginning mid-November.
White Privilege Focus Group
Over the summer, members of the Conference engaged in a forum on White Privilege. Out of that forum emerged four working groups focused on Educational Opportunities, Systemic Racism, Reparations, and Dismantling Racism. Watch the e-news for updates on the work of these groups. (Read more
As he does each year, the bishop made a book recommendation, suggesting Isabel Wilkerson’s Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents
“We learn through the pages of this book where today’s racial issues come from and how those issues threaten to tear the fabric of our country apart,” the bishop said. “The book opens our eyes to the reality of our own, American caste system … Reading and discussing this book will lay the foundation for being and becoming expressions of the beloved community in each of our local churches.”
The bishop ended his address by returning to a quote from his call to conference:
“Every one of us is urged to proclaim, boldly and fearlessly, the demonstration of our answer to one of the questions that we hear at every baptism, ‘Do you accept the freedom and power God gives you to resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves?’”
Read the full text of Bishop Devadhar’s 2020 Address
Watch the opening worship and Episcopal Address