Acts of Repentance, Signs of Hope

Thursday afternoon we gathered to engage in an intensive time of follow up to Acts of Repentance for the Treatment of Indigenous People (which was a commitment out of General Conference 2012). It is a massive understatement to assert that the United States’ history of treatment of Native Americans is rife with injustice. Growing up in Seminole, Oklahoma (which is near the headquarters of the Seminole tribe) my wife has a much deeper grasp of the history than I do. Originating in Florida, a significant number of Seminoles held out in the Everglades during the Indian Removal Act of 1830 and Seminole Wars of 1832; however, the majority marched the deadly trial of tears and settled in the Oklahoma territory. Last year as a part of our participation in the “Acts of Repentance,” CTCYM (Central Texas Conference Youth in Mission) worked in mission with churches of the Oklahoma Indian Mission Conference (OIMC).

In our “Acts of Repentance” we are working towards a new future of healed relationships that constitute honest confession of past moral failures and offer hope for a new future. We are witnesses and even at times participants to the victimized. For example the Sand Creek Massacre was led by a Methodist Minister (an elder in good standing!). It is a blight on our history. Today, issues still remain that cry out for holistic ministry — alcoholism, drug abuse, poverty and the like. Together we are called to be a part of a new day. I am grateful for the leadership of representatives of the OIMC for their thoughtful and challenging leadership.

The Council of Bishops’ common time in conjunction with the Connectional Table of the United Methodist Church has focused on what unites us. Our overarching engagement is on building vital congregations. A key learning is how the Four Areas of Focus are a reflection of Vital Congregations. Put differently, vital congregations engage in (1) creating new places for new people (through both! the transformation of existing congregations and the creation of new churches and faith communities), (2) leadership development (both lay and clergy), (3) ministry with the poor, and (4) the eradication of killer diseases worldwide (Imagine No Malaria, fighting HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis). These signature goals are the fruit of vital congregations and simultaneously they are formative of vital congregations. Vital congregations not only engage in the focus areas, they come about and grow through engagement of the focus areas. By focusing we more faithfully live our mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.

When we focus on vital congregations that are in ministry in these focus areas, we are united. A part of this great work of God calls us to come up with signature objectives — that is, defining, challenging, aiming points. A classic example of a signature goal is “Nothing But Nets” or “Imagine No Malaria.” Signature goals have a way of galvanizing the imagination and driving innovative new ministry in the area of the goals. They are not limiting but rather expansive.

Another sign of hope that the COB took part in with the Connectional Table was our vision for our worldwide church. In one sense, it is far easier to just be a national church (as in the Presbyterian or Lutheran Church in America). As a worldwide people of faith, we embody the global call land claim of the gospel of our Lord. Together we are stronger and more faithful. We have the opportunity to learn from each other in grace-filled ministry. As a Council of Bishops we have the responsibility for the initiation of “structures and strategies” for the sake of the worldwide mission of the church.

This, the worldwide nature of the church, is tricky work. Our various contexts differ widely! Imagine being a United Methodist Christian in Russia and the conflict with Ukraine erupts. The same bishop, Bishop Edward Khegay, is responsible for both countries, Russia and the Ukraine! Or reflect on the growing ministry taking place through Global Ministries in Vietnam. In each case the context is dramatically different from Central Texas. The great hope and promise is that together we are “transforming the world for Christ.” On a more practical level, many (most?!) of our congregations in Central Texas wrestle with this wonderful worldwide reality when they take part in a mission trip or support a missionary or pay Connectional Mission Giving (apportionments)!

Taken together we are living the faith in tremendous ways! We are, on a worldwide basis, “making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.”

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