On Friday afternoon, the Rev. René Perez, Dean of the Cabinet and Central Massachusetts District Superintendent gave the annual State of the Conference Report on behalf of his colleagues on the Appointive Cabinet.
The soil in New England, which regularly tops lists of states with the fewest believers, may be rocky and challenging, Rev. Perez said, but he encouraged Conference churches to “bloom where we are planted.”
“In the midst of existential fear and religious indifference,” he said, “we have the opportunity to flourish as places of hope, healing, truth, prophetic wisdom, and reconciliation. … this is the place. Wake up! Bear fruit! Let us bloom where we are planted!”
Rev. Perez referred to a description of that that means voiced by the Rev. Dr. Andrew Foster, III, Rhode Island/Eastern MA District Superintendent, who said: “We must connect to the past, assess the present and plan for the future as we purposefully grow the ministries in the communities we are planted.”
Rev. Perez gave examples of churches in every district that are transforming and blooming – like the small island church in Eastport, ME, that has grown from three members to 12 in six months.
But he acknowledged that this is “a time of fear and division” where “lines continue to be drawn,” both outside and inside the church.
In order to continue to thrive, United Methodists in New England must come together to act and do it now.
Quoting the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., he said, “We are now faced with the fact that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life and history there is such a thing as being too late.”
“My beloved United Methodist family of New England, today, we are confronted with the fierce urgency of now, but we don’t do it alone,” Rev. Perez said. “All of us are in this together.”
“It is up to us, to you and me, to make New England a more hopeful place for everyone,” he said. “Not for us to surrender our integrity and commitment to truth and justice, but to step out of our silos of self-righteousness, indignation, self-doubt, and judgement; and embrace faith, hope and love, which can set us free from the monsters of hate, bitterness and self-entitlement.”
“Serving the least of these is central to our core beliefs and practices,” Rev. Perez said, because:
Justice and grace matter to us.
Truth and godliness matter to us.
Ministry and Missions matter to us.
Black lives matter to us.
The lives of documented and undocumented immigrant children held in detention centers matter to us.
The lives of children and youth who live under the continual threat of gun violence and opioid drug abuse matter to us.
The lives of women who have suffered, long enough, under the chauvinistic monster of misogyny and unequal pay matter to us.
The lives of all of God’s children, gay or straight, transgender or asexual, conservative or liberal, traditionalist or evangelical, comfortable or fed-up, homeless or homebound, matter to the United Methodist people of New England.
“Everyone should have the opportunity to have a seat at the table of Christ, he said. “ The lives of everyone anywhere should matter to us, and so should our commitment to how we live together as people of God.
Even as the 2019 General Conference “looms,” Rev. Perez said, there are many more things bringing us together than separating us.
“If there is truly a common cause which unites us as United Methodists it is the vision of a church which is passionately preaching and living the gospel of Jesus Christ, which is unwaveringly committed to the transformation of people’s lives, and which is relentlessly working towards a more just world,” he said.
“The doors of the world are opening up to us,” Rev. Perez said. “The words of Jesus to his disciples when he said, ‘I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest’ could not be truer. We are not talking about reviving religion. We are talking about lifting up the name of Jesus, and his message of new life and salvation. These words are an invitation to see beyond our own self-ascribed perceptions and see with the same compassion God sees the world.”
Again quoting Dr. King, Rev. Perez said: “There is an invisible book of life that faithfully records our vigilance or our neglect …”
“Peaceful unity or mutual eradication,” he asked. “What will be our choice?”
Rene A. Perez, Cabinet Dean, Central Massachusetts District Superintendent
Jackie Brannen, Northern Maine District Superintendent
Karen Munson, Mid Maine District Superintendent
Jim McPhee, Tri-State District Superintendent
Taesung Kang, New Hampshire Superintendent
We Chang, Metro Boston Hope District Superintendent
Jill Colley Robinson, Vermont District Superintendent
David Calhoun, Connecticut/Western MA District Superintendent
Andrew Foster III, Rhode Island/Eastern MA District Superintendent