Tonight, I want to address the “elephant in the room,” Bishop Sudarshana Devadhar told Annual Conference members during his annual Episcopal Address on Thursday evening, June 14, 2018.
“Let be clear at the outset: the ‘elephant in the room’ is not human sexuality or homosexuality, though we have acted as if this were so,” Bishop Devadhar said. “Our engagement of the conflict over homosexuality is but one manifestation of a much deeper and more serious matter. Namely, the health of our communal heart as a people.”
The bishop said that the writer of Ephesians (4:11-13) speaks to this, when he writes: “the ministries that will be continued until we are unified in Christ.”
The bishop, expanded on this and clarified, saying that it is “not because we are unified;
not when we become unified, but until we are unified in Christ, until we stand mature in his teachings, and are fully formed in the likeness of the Anointed One …”
So, the “elephant in the room,” he said, ‘is the ministries that will be continued (or not) until we are unified,” the bishop said, adding: that Paul, in his letter to the Ephesians, “seems to imply that ministry precedes unity.”
“We do ministry together until we are unified,” Bishop Devadhar said. “We do not become unified in order to get ministry done.”
We seek a way forward where we can stay true to our deepest convictions about what it means to be Christian in this time and age, and stay united as a church at the same time,” Bishop Devadhar said.
Acknowledging that conflict is scary and difficult, Bishop Devadhar said that “as people who follow Jesus, we have a deep well from which to draw that can guide us forward in times like these.”
As Jesus told us in the Sermon on the Mount: “Blessed are the peacemakers for they will be called children of God.” (Matthew 5:9).
Peace, the bishop said, must begin with each of us. To help find that peace, he has recommended that conference members read the book The Anatomy of Peace by the Arbinger Institute.
“I recommend this book because it addresses the heart of conflict that resides in each of us,” the bishop said. “When our hearts are at war, we begin to see those with whom we disagree or with whom we are in conflict as objects. We lump people together as the collective ‘them’ versus ‘us’ that robs others and ourselves of our humanity.”
“In a real sense, peace begins with us” and whether our hearts rest in peace or not, he said.
Bishop Devadhar said “We can all use guidance in finding and fostering hearts of peace amid our own conflicts, whether they are on a grand scale, like a denomination at war with itself, or a personal one, like a family broken in its relationships with one another.”
To that end, he recommended that people read The Anatomy of Peace and gather with others in their church “and take time to discuss it and its implications for your ministry.”
The #MeToo movement, #BlackLivesMatter and those advocating for immigrants are all seeking the same thing: For us to see each other’s humanity and give each other the respect we all deserve as human beings.
“We can choose to love the poor, the marginalized, women, LGBQTI persons,” said Bishop Devadhar. “We can stop assuming and start listening. We can build relationships and break down barriers of communication. We can love by advocating for just laws and the full participation of all persons.”
Peace begins with us, the bishop said, and he called on United Methodists in New England to engage in some concrete actions to foster peace:
ReadThe Anatomy of Peace in your church. Read it and discuss it small groups.
Relate to a people group in your community with whom you have not had contact before: Is there a mosque in your town? Are there immigrants? Find a way to invite them into a conversation. Get to know their needs. Build relationships that emphasize Christian love.
Aspire to rest in peace and not have your heart at war.
Remember The Rabbi’s Gift – The Rev. Steve Garnaas-Holmes, who serves St. Matthew’s UMC in Acton, MA, recounted the story of The Rabbi's Gift during the Episcopal Address. (See the full address).
It is during his episcopal address that Bishop Devadhar lays out his vision for the New England Conference’s future, and he mentioned three goals in this year’s address.
The bishop again raised the need for clergy respite care. He proposed the creation of a “Pastors Respite Fund,” the interest from which would be distributed by the Board of Ordained Ministry on a case-by-case basis for emergencies, medical needs or crises. He urged congregations to allow clergy to take the time and steps necessary to care for themselves and their health, which he said, would “reduce their stress and benefit everyone.”
Bishop Devadhar said he would like to invite the General Council on Finance and Administration (GCFA) to take a thorough look at our financial and physical resources, investments, and staff structure, and to advise us on steps we can take now to help ensure our long-term sustainability as a Conference. He would also ask that they evaluate the current district structure and make a recommendation about how many districts are needed “in order to do our ministry and mission effectively in the next decade.” Several years ago, GCFA came to New England to offer advice about financial and property challenges; that evaluation “helped us tremendously,” the bishop said.
“As we seek to extend our mission and ministry, our Conference would be well served by conducting a mission summit under the leadership of the General Board of Global Ministries and with the help of the Conference Board of Global Ministries,” the bishop said.
Acknowledging that this was a goal stated in his 2017 address, the bishop asked that the Connectional Table put the matter on the agenda for its Fall Retreat (Sept. 28-29, 2018) with the leaders of Conference boards and committees, “so that we can present a plan for our involvement as a Conference in mission in different parts of the world in 2020 and beyond.”
“As we approach the important General Conference of February 2019, let us remember to see the Christ in others that they might see the Christ in us,” the bishop said. “Let us resolve to live out our relationships in ways that give honor and respect and dignity to fellow human beings. Let these ministries continue until we are unified in faith and filled with the knowledge of the Son of God, ‘until we stand mature in His teachings and fully formed in the likeness of the Anointed One.’”
Pastors Respite Fund
Once Bishop Devadhar finished his address, the Rev. Jim Mentzer, president of the United Methodist Foundation of New England, announced a $25,000 matching grant for the Pastors Respite Fund.