The first day of the Northeastern Jurisdictional Conference ended with a celebration of the four retiring bishops: Bishop Sudarshana Devadhar, Bishop Peggy A. Johnson, Bishop Jeremiah Park, and Bishop Mark J. Webb.
Bishop LaTrelle Easterling called the four leaders who have “moved many, many mountains” and who have “never tired of being agents of change.”
Bishop Sandra Steiner Ball offered a witness and thanksgiving for the ministry of Bishop Devadhar, whom she called a colleague, friend, and spiritual friend.
Bishop Steiner Ball said Bishop Devadhar’s life and ministry have been guided by the words of Joshua 1:9: “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”
Bishop Steiner Ball said before she met Bishop Devadhar he was described to her by a colleague who said: “I have never met a more prayerful, spiritually centered person; compassionate, really truly cares about God’s people, Christ’s Church, and reaching people for Christ.”
Once she met him, she found that every word of the description was true.
Part of the celebration included each retiring bishop’s favorite hymn. Bishop Devadhar’s is “We're Marching to Zion.”
Before the bishop spoke, Prema Devadhar said that she had been asked to read her husband’s favorite scripture, but she turned that over two the couple’s three granddaughters, who read Romans 8:28 in a video.
As the NEJ celebrated him, Bishop Devadhar recalled another celebration.
“As my home conference (then the North Central New York Conference, now the Upper New York Conference), said farewell to me in
2004 as I transitioned into Episcopacy, I preached from I Kings 19:1-15 with the theme, ‘Angels in My Journey,’” Bishop Devadhar said.
And Bishop Devadhar named some of those who were the angels along his journey. Including Bishops Joseph Yeakel, Forrest Stith, Violet Fisher, Alfred Johnson, and former Bishop Hae Jong Kim; clergy Sherrie Johnson, Robert Hill and Russell Lee; the staff and cabinets of the conferences he’s served, and his family: “Prema, our daughter Trina, son-in-law Gage, and granddaughters Nyla, Lali, and Miana, for their unwavering support and sacrificial love.”
“Let me be clear that even though I am only mentioning a few names, there are countless numbers of other angels who will certainly never be forgotten in my mind or heart,” he said.
The bishop also offered some advice:
First, as Jesus said, “No one can serve two masters … You cannot serve God and wealth” (Matthew 6:24, NRSV). May we commit ourselves to heed the power of God, love of Christ, and voice of the Holy Spirit when it comes to finances and how we do our ministry.
Secondly, in my humble opinion, one of the reasons we are losing members is because we are not using the gift of laity in recruiting our leaders. Quoting Katharine Jeffers Schori, former Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church of the United States, he said:
“As leaders in this Body, our job is to welcome the prophet, the one who speaks for God rather than self. Our job is to equip those around us to see beyond their own needs and wants. Our job is to model that kind of sacrificial living. That is baptismal ministry, and it is the foundation of ordained ministry.”
The bishop closed with some hopeful words:
“So, my final departing words, friends, is not to fear people leaving the church, the threat of financial loss or membership decline,” he said. “I believe even if we lose millions, if we allow the faithful who stayed at the Table to use their talents and allow them to practice their baptismal ministries, we will become a blossoming church for the glory of God, filled with the love of Christ, and empowered and ignited by the Holy Spirit.”