As with previous events, Bishop Sudarshana Devadhar’s Sept. 30, 2021, visit to the Seacoast District was a hybrid event.
District Lay Leader Dan Genannt, who is a member of the host church Wesley UMC in Lincoln, RI, announced that 55 people were joining the gathering via Zoom.
“I want to thank the office of Congregational Development, because when the pandemic started, we bought $7,000 worth of equipment to make this happen,” he said. “Half of which was from a grant from Congregational Development and half was raised internally, so thank you, church, for making this possible.”
These technology equipment grants are made with the dividends of endowed funds; there are no more funds for 2021, but the deadline for the next round of funding will be May 15, 2022. Details will be announced closer to that time.
During the question time, the bishop was asked about his prayer, hopes, and vision for the church for the next five years.
“My prayer is that we do not become anxious,” Bishop Devadhar said. “When we become anxious, we become fearful, and when we become fearful, we react, we don’t respond. When we react, that causes more confusion.”
Some of that anxiety comes from the delays in holding General Conference. The postponed 2020 General Conference is currently scheduled for Aug. 29 – Sept. 6, 2022, and speaking of General Conference, the bishop said:
“Whatever the decision is, [I hope] we take that as God’s will for the church. Because, friends, the church was there before we all joined the church, and the church will continue even after us,” he said. “It is not our church; it is the church of Jesus Christ.”
Talking about his hopes for the church the bishop went on to say, “I hope that we reclaim that we are a pilgrim people.”
Explaining, Bishop Devadhar said, as the Israelites journeyed, the people were living in tents, rather than in a fixed place, and that can be a model for ministry today.
“We really need to take the church outside the buildings … ,” he said. “We need to be the voice of God wherever we are because the world needs that voice. … We need to reclaim our prophetic voice as a church. We cannot simply give the sugarcoated gospel to please everyone. We need to preach the gospel, and not just preach the gospel, but do
Part-time Local Pastor Evan McElreath, who leads a new church start in East Hartford, CT, asked the bishop about what the denomination is doing to address inequities in vaccine distribution.
When the pandemic started, the bishop said, some erroneously claimed this was “God’s curse to the world,” but with the advent of a vaccine, “now we know it can be controlled by human science.”
The bishop told a story from his days in seminary in India. One of his fellow students, who had a great gift for music, had contracted hydrophobia (rabies) and was dying. “We were in shock,” said the bishop, who was “at the bedside with another student when he breathed his last.”
“I said, ‘I cannot understand why God would take an innocent person like this. Where is the justice?’ My dean corrected me, and said, ‘Don’t blame God.’”
The dean said, when his open wound was licked by a dog, the student knew he needed to see a doctor, but he did not, and paid the price for that.
“People who opposed the [COVID] vaccine are now calling from their death beds, ‘Don’t make the same mistake,’” Bishop Devadhar said. “It is a teaching moment for our churches. This is something we can control. I am so proud of all of you for wearing masks. Let us keep wearing the masks” and taking other steps to reduce our risk.
As for work being done by the denomination, in early September, the Connectional Table announced that it would make addressing COVID-19 vaccine inequities a “missional priority.”
Rev. Kennetha Bigham-Tsai, the Connectional Table’s chief connectional ministries officer, told United Methodist News: “With more than 4 and half million deaths and counting worldwide from COVID-19 and vast disparities in vaccine distribution, there is a clear need for a massive and sustained effort to address this tragedy.”
Board of Global Ministries General Secretary Roland Fernandes told the Connectional Table the agency has been working since the pandemic began to help poorer countries respond to COVID-19, and now that work has turned to vaccines.
“We work through our health boards across Africa, and we are focusing on education,” Fernandes said. “We are also trying to prepare our health facilities to help with vaccine distribution. Some of our facilities are already distribution centers for the vaccine.”
Read the full story from United Methodist News
“It has been the honor of a lifetime for me to serve on the Cabinet with a bishop like Bishop Devadhar,” Seacoast District Superintendent David Calhoun said in his introduction. “Bishop Devadhar has a love for people. He cares deeply for what happens in the church and for each one of you. … and we have been extremely blessed to have an episcopal leader like Bishop Sudarshana Devadhar.”