Bishop Sudarshana Devadhar completed his 2021 tour of the districts with a visit to Charlton UMC in the Commonwealth West District on Oct. 21. In addition to more than 30 present in person another 47 attended via Zoom.
October is Pastor Appreciation Month, and the bishop encouraged laity to thank and support their pastors by ensuring that they have two days off each week and that there are adequate resources their continuing education funds.
“The more you equip them, the more the churches will benefit,” the bishop said. “A new wave has been spreading all across new England. This is because of the hard work of the laity and the clergy.”
And he asked the laity to offer a round of applause for the clergy.
Continuing to speak to the laity, the bishop said: “I’m proud of you. You have really rolled up you r sleeves and have been faithful supporters of God’s ministry in this Conference and beyond. I’m thankful for who you are and your witness living out the gospel.”
He then asked the clergy to offer a round of applause for the laity.
In his remarks before taking questions, Bishop Devadhar shared a quote by Sudipta Singh, with the Council for World Mission
, from Singh’s preface to the book “Liturgies from Below: Praying with People at the End of the World,” by Claudio Carvalhaes.
“Egypt is around us and within us, and we need to discern it and gather the prophetic courage to destroy the Golden Calves of our times. It is our faith imperative to occupy our churches, our spiritual practices, and our institutions so as to reclaim them from the worship of the ungods. It is in our unending journey toward freedom, dismantling the pyramids of systemic sin and evil, that we worship the God of life in truth and spirit.”
The bishop said, “Whenever do baptisms in our churches, we say publicly that we fight against all kinds of sin and evil, and, friends, as we look around our nation, as we look in our communities, there are all kinds of “isms,” which have become our Golden Cows. We need to dismantle these Golden Cows — that is our baptismal challenge, that is our discipleship calling, and that is what makes the difference.”
“As Gandhi said, ‘If every Christian practices Christianity, we don’t need anything else in this world,’” Bishop Devadhar said.
The bishop then opened the floor to questions.
Pastor Sabina Terrades, part-time local pastor serving First UMC in Southbridge, MA, asked about the statistical reports that are completed by churches each year.
First UMC’s congregation of about 20, Pastor Terrades said, serves a community where homelessness, poverty, addiction, and alcoholism as prevalent. The churches ministries, which continued through the pandemic, include free weekly meals, supplies of clothing and hygiene products, tents for the homeless, and an internet café.
“I am thankful to God for having equipped us,” she said. “We have no money, but have partnered with other churches and organizations [to make the ministries possible].”
But when it comes time to complete the statistical reports, Pastor Terrades said the “report reduces our church to numbers – members, baptisms, money” and there is “no room on this form for ministries,” she said.
“We are the only organization in Southbridge to offer all that to people, but still we are reduced to a number — financial or the number of people in the pews,” she said. “My goal when we serve a meal is not to bring people into our pews. My goal is for them to see the Christ in us and for us to see the Christ in them and plant a seed …”
“Is there a way to make it official … Is there a way we can include that kind of testimony in the reports – words, not numbers?”
“Sister, my heart is where your heart is,” Bishop Devadhar said. “I’m not defending the statistics, but we have to find a way to tell the stories the statistics cannot tell. Be faithful. Keep on doing what you’re doing.”
The bishop told a story of how when he sought place to stay when bringing a group of youth from his churches in Upstate New York to Boston many churches turned them down citing liability issues. The group was welcomed by the Church of All Nations and the ministry the youth saw there, not unlike that in Southbridge, had an impact.
“One of the parents said, ‘What did you do to our kids? My daughter came back a transformed person,’” said Bishop Devadhar.
“Thank you for sharing your pain. I’m grateful to you for your ministry,” the bishop to Pastor Terrades. “God knows what you’re doing. On the day of judgement, it is not about our loyalty to any golden cows, but it is our loyalty to the mission and ministry of Jesus Christ.”