“At once, [the] Spirit pushed Jesus out into the wild. For forty wilderness days and nights he was tested by Satan. Wild animals were his companions, and angels took care of him.” - Mark 1:12-13, The Message, alt.
Vermont United Methodists welcomed the Rev. Jill Colley Robinson as their new superintendent with a service on Oct. 15, 2017 at Faith UMC in South Burlington.
Bishop Sudarshana Devadhar described Rev. Colley Robinson as “a person of prayer, a disciplemaker, and someone who is committed to connectionalism with a gift of administration.”
The bishop said that her “creativity and innovativeness, encouraging spirit, and sense of humor” are all qualities that the Vermont District Committee on Superintendency was seeking.
As for himself, Bishop Devadhar said, he looks forward to the creative worship experiences Rev. Colley Robinson will bring to the Cabinet table.
Cabinet Dean Rene Perez, who serves as superintendent of the Central Massachusetts District, included Rev. Colley Robinson’s family in his welcome, saying:
“The ministry of the clergy and of district superintendents is a ministry of the whole family, so I welcome you into the ministry of superintending as well.”
Rev. Perez said he would summarize his message with these words: “What God knows about you will help you through it.”
“Sometimes I think It is hard to believe that in the great scheme of things God had all this planned out,” Rev. Perez said, “but it fits perfectly in our Wesleyan theology to believe that God’s grace is big enough for us to know that God can order your steps; that God can order all of our steps in our lives as well. In the same way that God chose people like Esther, God has chosen you for such a time as this.”
Rev. Perez said that her colleagues on the Cabinet will be there for her, and invoked the image of a seesaw.
“There will be ups and downs,” he said, “but you never play alone.”
In her sermon, the Rev. Colley Robinson said that as Christians in “the least religious state in the nation,” United Methodists in Vermont may feel a bit alone. You are, she said, like scouts at “the very front, forward edge of the wilderness.”
“There has been a lot of talk over the last few decades about the church, our church, being in the wilderness like those of the scriptures of old, like Jesus at the very beginning of his ministry,” Rev. Colley Robinson said, and she pointed to the suggested reading list for new District Superintendents that includes titles such as “Journey into the Wilderness” and “Next Steps in the Wilderness” by Gil Rendle.
“This is the edge of all that is known,” she said, “and we are the ones blessed with the mighty task of discovering what is out here after so much of what is familiar in the church is behind us.”
“We are the ones blessed with the task of blazing the trail for the rest of our church; finding the rocks that look like the ones God can break open for water; finding the protected, level ground where God can lay down the manna in the morning; finding the safe spots where God will pitch a tent amidst ours and make a home with us; finding the mountain peaks and thin places where God’s law of love can be envisioned in new ways; keeping company with the beautiful, wild things in Vermont as Jesus once did near the Jordan.”
Being the scouts, even ones with strong faith, can be difficult, Rev. Colley Robinson said.
“Like the Hebrew people, we hope and pray we are headed in a right and good direction to get to wherever God wants us to be, but feel lost much of the time and get downright grumpy about the whole thing,” she said.
But Christian scouts have an advantage over the explorers and map makers of centuries ago who could only guess at what lay ahead, she said.
Rev. Colley Robinson showed a picture of a maze drawn by her son Isaiah, 8. She said he often draws mazes like this one for her to follow. (Click the image to see a larger version).
“His is the type of maze where there are seemingly many paths from the start to the finish, but only one that will get you from one side to the other,” she said.
And, Rev. Colley Robinson said, she often finds it easier to start at the end and work backward. Knowing the end point, the destination, makes all the difference.
“Wilderness scouts, and I am preaching now, we know the way to where we are going,” she said. “We are not starting new this afternoon. We are not out here alone … . We know the destination, and God willing we are getting closer to it even though and especially when we feel at times like we are lost.”
“The same Spirit that pushed Jesus into the wilderness pushes us into it once again,
and the same angels who waited upon him are with us still,” Rev. Colley Robinson said. “We are bound for the promised land, we are bound for the promised land. This is our destination at the end of what turns out to be anything but a God-forsaken wilderness …”
Telling the “beautiful scouts in the wilderness of Vermont” not to forget where they come from, Rev. Colley Robinson ended her sermon with this tradition of the former Troy Annual Conference: A dance (watch below).