Saturday, Oct. 2, 2021, brought Bishop Sudarshana Devadhar to the Katahdin District. Folks gathered at Hampden Highlands UMC in Hampden, ME, and online via Zoom.
Bishop Devadhar began by saying that he is grateful to clergy and laity for their willingness to adapt to the new reality created by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I want to thank each and every one of you for your faithfulness during the last year-plus — for your adaptability, your willingness to stay firm and be faithful to the gospel of Jesus Christ and to carry on the ministry,” he said.
He commended clergy and church leadership who had to “adapt overnight” to a new way of doing worship and being in ministry.
“When I was elected in 2004, a wise mentor told me ‘Prepare 10 of your best sermons and keep rotating them in your churches,’” Bishop Devadhar said. “Friends, now I cannot do that … I have to do the lectionary preparation to preach a fresh sermon, because [with hybrid online worship] you never know who will be tuning in on Sunday morning.”
The new technology has put new pressures on local church pastors as well, the bishop said. Every pastor preaching Sunday morning must do a lot of preparation in order to bring the gospel of Jesus Christ in a meaningful way, he said.
“This is a lot of work … it takes more time and more energy [in these times], and I commend our pastors for that,” the bishop said.
He encouraged laity, particularly those in leadership positions in the church, to “continue to support your pastors.”
Some tangible ways to offer that support, the bishop said, are to have adequate continuing education funds available for pastors to continue their training and to ensure that pastors can take two days off each week.
“Laity, you have been amazing in supporting the local churches. Your constant support made a big difference in this conference,” Bishop Devadhar said. “I am hearing about wonderful things that are happening in local churches with the support of the laity.”
The bishop told a story of his days as a local church pastor. He was appointed to a church that had a lot of challenges and he had not been there long when he asked his District Superintendent to reappoint him. The DS rejected his request.
Following his first church conference, the Pastor Parish Relations Committee chairperson delivered a handwritten letter of support.
“When I read this, it was like getting a million-dollar check, because of that support,” said Bishop Devadhar, who added that he still has the letter all these years later.
“When the laity gets excited with the pastor’s ministry and when it becomes a team spirit, that makes a big difference,” the bishop said.
Bishop Devadhar was asked about the recruitment of clergy, and responded saying there are many clergy from across the connection who are interested in the New England Conference, and we may have opportunities to bring in new expertise. We also have gifted pastors within New England, he said.
Katahdin District Superintendent Jackie Brannen asked the bishop to offer some wisdom about recruiting part-time local pastors in this district that has “only a handful of full-time appointments.”
“Some of our part-time churches with ministry teams are doing extremely well,” the bishop said. “We need to give attention to that, and ask ‘How do we keep the momentum going?’”
The bishop referred to the work of the Neighborhood Seminary
and the need to continue to develop lay ministry teams.
“This is something we really need to explore seriously,” he said, and reminded this group, as he has others before, that “the Methodist movement is a lay movement.”
The bishop said that he hoped the Vision Forward Team authorized by the 2021 Annual Conference “to advance the strategic imagination and mission [of the Conference]” would include this in their report to the 2022 Annual Conference.
The team includes members of the New England delegation to the General and Jurisdictional conferences, who earlier this year held online meetings to gather leaders and stakeholders to “provide collaborative insights to the incoming Bishop, and to the delegation as they deliberate in the coming Conferences.”
Bishop Devadhar said “we may not have all the answers for next Annual Conference,” but the team’s work can lay out a foundation for the Conference’s future.
“I am grateful for this conversation,” the bishop told the Katahdin District. “This conversation is really needed.”