In a departure from tradition, Bishop Sudarshana Devadhar gave his annual Episcopal Address immediately following the opening worship that began the 2019 New England Annual Conference session on Thursday morning, June 13.
The bishop’s address focused on the year’s theme, “Vital Conversations: Justice,” and the guiding scripture Micah 6:8: “He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”
“This morning, I want to focus on the issue of justice from a biblical perspective. First, I want to frame
this verse in Micah against the backdrop of how we read and interpret the Bible. Second, I want to focus
on the theme of justice within Micah 6:8. Lastly, I want to invite all of us – in these challenging times – to follow
Micah’s teaching in our faith communities and in our lives,” he said.
Referencing the 20th
century evangelist E. Stanley Jones’ book “The Christ of the American Road,”
Bishop Devadhar answered the question of whether we read and interpret scripture literally with Jones’ response that the prologue in the gospel of John does not say, “The Word became printer’s ink,” but,
“The Word became flesh.”
“We follow a living mind instead of a fixed letter,” the bishop said. “Therefore, our goal is a flying goal—always ahead of us, inexhaustible. … We value the letters of the Book ... but the Revelation is in the face of Jesus Christ. That Life was there before the letter was written, and it is in the letter and yet beyond the letter—not different from, but beyond.”
Looking at the verse in Micah, as with those that touch on human sexuality, we are trying to understand words spoken by the prophet 2,700 years ago and find in them inspiration and direction for our lives today, Bishop Devadhar said.
“Our differing understanding of how to do that has caused pain and division in our church,” he said. “So how do we draw meaning from a message delivered so long ago in such a different culture and context?”
Micah demands that Israel practice authentic worship, the bishop said. “Micah stood up for a true faith that revolved not around the burnt offerings only the rich could afford, but around one’s behavior: to act justly, to love mercy and to walk humbly with God.”
In attempting to follow Micah’s call today, we think especially of the LGBTQIA+ community, Bishop Devadhar said.
“We are to show constant love to our neighbors, regardless of race, nationality, sexual orientation, or political perspective,” he said, pointing to the Wesleyan and Methodist tradition of an open communion table.
“We invite all
to the table because holy communion is a means of grace, and we want to extend that means of grace to all,” the bishop said, adding “as so many of our churches have affirmed, all means all
“In our humility, we say to our siblings who disagree with us theologically that we may be wrong,” Bishop Devadhar said, “but we live out of this conviction as we seek to walk humbly with our God, our constant companion, our Guide, our Redeemer in every aspect of our life’s journey.”
In laying out his vision for the Conference, the bishop offered the following:
As he does each year, the bishop offered some recommended reading, encouraging everyone to read Piloting Church: Helping your church take flight
by pastor and pilot Cameron Trimble.
Regarding the General Council on Finance and Administration’s (GCFA) recommendation to reduce the number of districts from nine to seven, the bishop said. “Whatever you decide, we will take as the will of God for our journey forward as a Conference.” It is up to the Annual Conference to set the number of districts. The bishop is then tasked with defining the boundaries and appointing superintendents.
Bishop Devadhar encouraged “our fullest cooperation and trust to our Conference Personnel Committee,” as they seek to strengthen our personnel policies and restructure our staffing. The 2020 proposed budget includes two new positions: Real Estate Manger and Revenue Manager, as well as a grant writer shared with the United Methodist Foundation of New England. (Find more on the proposed budget
Attending this year’s Annual Conference at the invitation of Bishop Devadhar is professional parliamentarian Dr. Leonard Young, who helped train the Council of Bishops in advance of the 2019 General Conference.
Dr. Young will also be conducting training in parliamentary procedure here in New England. “It is important that we raise up new leaders into these ministries of order and discipline,” Bishop Devadhar said in his address. Those who are interested in the training should contact their District Superintendent. The bishop thanked those who have supported him with donations by being coffee/tea/prayer partners; those funds will pay for this training.
As we seek new ways to reach new people, the bishop said he would like to begin visioning “what cyber churches might look like.” He said: “With your assistance – clergy and laity – we can not only think outside the box, we can leave the box behind entirely.”
“Finally, may we pray faithfully and diligently for God to lead us, guide us, and mold us as we envision the new thing God has in store for us. As we do, I hope that no matter where you stand theologically, politically or sociologically, you will allow me to be your temporal and spiritual leader; and know that I care deeply for each of you,” Bishop Devadhar said. “It is my earnest prayer that we will journey together for the glory of God, filled with the love of Christ, and depending upon the Holy Spirit to guide us.”
Read the complete 2019 Episcopal Address here
Read the bishop’s closing prayer
Address and Prayer combined