Bishop Sudarshana Devadhar’s day on the Green Mountain District was Oct. 14, 2021. The hybrid event was hosted by St. Paul’s UMC in St. Albans, VT.
The evening began with a worship service honoring Indigenous Peoples Day.
Part of the service was a Land Acknowledgement written in part by Breanne MacFarland, chair of the Conference Committee on Native American Ministries and a member of First UMC in Burlington, VT. MacFarland is also a student at Boston University School of Theology.
A Land Acknowledgment is a formal statement that recognizes and respects indigenous peoples as traditional stewards of this land and the enduring relationship that exists between indigenous peoples and their traditional territories.
The state of Vermont comprises the original homelands of the Abenaki people, who are members of the Wabanaki Confederacy. Wabanaki means "People of the Dawn" in the Abenaki language.
“I hope we will honor our siblings with our singing and these words. Tonight’s words are going to be a dance between asking for forgiveness and living into hope for what could be,” said Rev. Jill Colley Robinson, Green Mountain District Superintendent.
Rev. Colley Robinson offered her prayer “Ancestors,”
which was the NEAC Daily Prayer for April 13, 2021.
“I wrote it out of respect for the many indigenous people who honor their ancestors in prayer and for the thousands of North American murdered and missing indigenous women many of whose names have been lost or forgotten,” she said.
This land, known for its fall foliage, was appreciated by Bishop Devadhar, who began by saying:
“It is indeed a joy, a privilege, and blessing to be with all of you here in the Green Mountain District. You have already blessed Prema and me as we drove along Route 89 enjoying the beauty of the Green Mountain State,” the bishop said.
Bishop Devadhar thanked those who attended via Zoom, who were the majority, as well as those there in person, despite the recent uptick in COVID cases in Vermont. The bishop said that he would have been happy to come even to see just two or three in person.
As the bishop has said in past district visits, he feels a new spirit emerging in New England, and he observed some evidence of that when the delegation to the postponed 2020 General Conference began their meetings with NEAC stakeholders this spring.
Bishop Devadhar has been a part of General Conference since first serving as an alternate delegate in 1996, and said this “amazing” New England Delegation stands out.
Referring to the four Zoom sessions the delegation had with Conference leaders, the bishop said, “As I observed the wonderful conversations that were taking place – the pain, and the hope, and joy people were sharing with them, I knew God is doing something new through this leadership.”
The Vision Forward Team, authorized by the 2021 Annual Conference, includes some delegates and will continue this work; they are expected to bring a report to the 2022 Annual Conference.
“We cannot do this work without your support and love,” the bishop told those gathered. “As they [Vision Forward Team] come to you through Zoom and other ways – please attend these sessions and give your feedback. Cast this new vision, so when the new bishop gets here in 2023, he or she will have a wonderful journey with all of you.”
“There are some wonderful things happening across the Conference,” Bishop Devadhar said. “I keep bragging about it, but it’s not the bishop’s doing, it’s the faithful work of the clergy and laity.”
In this district that has many federated churches (churches that unite two or more congregations with different denominational ties), Bishop Devadhar was asked for advice on how these churches can navigate the changes happening in The UMC.
Whether the Protocol
will pass or not is in the hands of the General Conference delegates, the bishop said. The postponed 2020 General Conference is set for late August 2022.
In the meantime, he said, “I have a great hope that in the Wesleyan sprit we can all stay at the table — with people who agree and people who do not agree with us.”
The bishop then talked about his own transformation on the issue of human sexuality.
I came from a very conservative background, Bishop Devadhar said. “My perspective on human sexuality changed when a college student shared how the church had kept him away because of his sexuality.” The student left the Methodist Church and traveled 24 miles to attend a Unitarian church.
“If everyone leaves the table, then that is not right,” the bishop said. “We need to have a church where people of all orientations are at the table to share the word of God and proclaim the word of God.”
“My request to federated churches: I am a person of hope; keep praying keep fighting stay at the table give us a chance, give us the time.”