On Thursday morning, Bishop Sudarshana Devadhar opened the Annual Conference session with what is expected to be his final annual Episcopal Address before retiring at the end of this year.
Bishop Devadhar focused on the 2022 Annual Conference theme: “Envisioning the Beloved Community” and the guiding scripture, Philippians 3:14, providing his vision for such a community and some action items for living into that vision.
“I like the Common English Bible translation of verse 14, the bishop said, ‘The goal I pursue is the prize of God’s upward call
in Christ Jesus,’” putting his own emphasis on “upward call,” which he described as:
“It is this upward call that invites us to live into what it means to form “Beloved Community,” he said. “It is this upward call that invites us to live into the best version of ourselves as followers of Christ.”
It is also a challenge to be prophetic, the bishop said.
“The upward call in Christ Jesus always inspires, challenges, and stimulates us to constantly examine ourselves as baptized Christians regarding what is happening outside our church buildings,” he said.
“This is where we, as a Christian community, must always be on vigil to speak up with a prophetic voice followed by appropriate action, so we will not grieve later over the damage caused by our silence or inaction to the fabric of God’s creation and humanity.”
Beloved Community is all about three Christian values, Bishop Devadhar said: “Love, Grace, and Hope.”
“The Beloved Community starts and ends with love. It is ‘agape love’ – a love that is unconditional,” he said.
Speaking about God’s grace, the bishop said that can be demonstrated in our congregations through their “radical hospitality.”
“What I have said, before, to all of you bears repeating: what if each of our congregations in the New England Annual Conference were to say, ‘Send us the people no one else wants?’”
Speaking of the Methodist tradition of an open table communion that extends grace to all, the bishop said: “As so many of our churches have affirmed, all means all
. And we are invited to walk humbly with our God, our constant companion in life, our Guide, our Redeemer. In our humility, we say to our siblings who disagree with us theologically, ‘We may be wrong about this, but if we are to err, we will err on the side of expansive grace. We live out of this conviction as we seek to walk with God in every aspect of our life’s journey.”’
And finally, he spoke about hope. We provide hope, the bishop said, “by offering Jesus in new and compelling ways.”
“Friends, I offer my deepest thanks for the hope you are offering through the many new ministries you have begun in the midst of COVID,” he said.
Bishop Devadhar also offered these “action items:”
“When we speak about the persons who may not feel welcome at our churches, we often neglect to remember those persons living with disabilities.”
He encouraged churches to celebrate Disability Awareness Sunday, do an annual accessibility audit and work with the UMC Disability Committee
to find grants, training and other resources to combat “ableism.”
“We also need to have conversations about mental health. When there is a mass shooting, it is highly offensive for politicians to blame these shootings on people who are mentally ill to take our attention off the gun issue.”
The bishop encouraged our camps and Sunday schools to offer specialized programs to meet the needs of youth with autism.
Pastors Respite Fund
“Encouraging our clergy to take the time and steps necessary to care for themselves and their health will reduce their stress and benefit everyone.”
The bishop challenged the conference to set $1 million as a goal for the fund, “to ensure no clergy ever needs to put an appointment before his/her own well-being.” Donate to the fund using this online form
“I want to acknowledge with gratitude and appreciation the 2012 Financial Summit under Bishop Peter Weaver and report that 95% of the recommendations have been implemented!”
Saying “This work has helped maintain and improve the financial health of the conference,” the bishop said he hopes the final review of the conference property insurance program will be completed and recommended programs in place for his successor.
The bishop began and ended his address by offering words of gratitude to the Conference.
“You have walked the walk with Jesus and one another during turbulent times both for our Church and for our country,” Bishop Devadhar said. “You have shown strength, and you have demonstrated the love of Jesus Christ for the communities in which you serve and for the world. You have poured out your love and support to us. I lift my eyes to the heavens and give thanks for all of you.”
As he does each year, the bishop offered some books as recommended reading. This year’s titles are:
Watch a video of the 2022 Episcopal Address
Read the full address