Guest Blog: Schnase’s Jurisdictional Address, Part 3a

At the recently concluded South Central Jurisdiction Conference, Bishop Robert Schnase gave the Episcopal Address on behalf of the College of Bishops. At the five Jurisdictional Conferences I have attended (since 1996), I have had the privilege of hearing many outstanding Episcopal addresses.  This address was at the very top of an excellent class!  Parts are reprinted in a series of five blog postings with Bishop Schnase’s permission while I am on vacation. – Bishop Mike Lowry

Episcopal Address

South Central Jurisdictional Conference

July 19, 2012

Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

Robert Schnase, Bishop ©

Part IIIa – What Are We Working On?

It’s been an extraordinary quadrennium for the South Central Jurisdiction.

We’ve seen a remarkable and growing convergence around several critical areas as all of our conferences have begun to experiment and explore common leverage points for change, reversing decline, and moving toward more vital congregations and more fruitful ministry.4 For instance, nearly all of our conferences in recent years have initiated focused work on Leadership Development, Congregational Transformation, New Church Starts, Changing Conference Staff Roles, Extended Cabinet Development, the Role of Laity as Active Learning Partners, the Use of Common Language, the Search for a Decision-Making Center. (Those who know Gil Rendle will recognize this language to describe the efforts by many of our conferences to develop effective leadership teams in conferences amidst the diffuse leadership structures most conferences have inherited.)  All of this means we are having a fundamentally different conversation about leadership and mission than we were having 10 years ago. And nearly all our conferences have experimented with Reduced Districts, Realignment of Structures, Reduction of Costs, Use of Metrics, Recasting Leadership Roles such as those of superintendents and lay leaders. And we’ve identified more clearly some of the challenges that make this difficult: Restrictive Polity that is not conducive to our mission and limits local contextual response; the unfruitful notion that Meetings are Ministry; the Need for Financial Re-Set; and Difficulty in Reaching Next Generations. But the most fundamental shift we’ve seen across the jurisdiction is a renewed Focus on Congregations as most critical arena for our work.

What also makes this time different from ten years ago is a greater sense of urgency about our task and a developing culture of experimentation in our conferences. We’re learning a great deal together. Our conferences have discovered that there are certain essential tasks which annual conferences must do with excellence or the church will continue to decline. Conferences must focus on congregational development (starting new congregations and reversing decline in existing congregations) and pastoral excellence (recruiting, preparing, deploying, and evaluating clergy), or else they fail in their mission of leading congregations to lead people to active faith in Jesus Christ, and so we’ve seen the majority of our conferences reorganize around those tasks.

We’re learning many things through this era of exploration and experimentation

 (The full text of Bishop Schnase address may be found at gntv.info/live/scj2)

 

Guest Blog: Schnase’s Jurisdictional Episcopal Address, Part 2

At the recently concluded South Central Jurisdiction Conference, Bishop Robert Schnase gave the Episcopal Address on behalf of the College of Bishops. At the five Jurisdictional Conferences I have attended (since 1996), I have had the privilege of hearing many outstanding Episcopal addresses.  This address was at the very top of an excellent class!  Parts are reprinted in a series of five blog postings with Bishop Schnase’s permission while I am on vacation. – Bishop Mike Lowry

Episcopal Address

South Central Jurisdictional Conference

July 19, 2012

Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

Robert Schnase, Bishop ©

Part II – What We Do

The United Methodist Church makes disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. The most significant arena in which this takes place is congregations. We fulfill the mission of Christ through faith communities that change lives, so that God can use those changed lives to change the world. In fact, it’s really at the margins of the congregations, where those who belong to the community of Christ interact with those who do not belong to the community of Christ where we fulfill our mission, through service and justice ministries and through invitational ministries. It’s where the 1.7 million United Methodists of our Jurisdiction engage our 49 million neighbors that we fulfill our mission.

Annual Conferences exist to lead congregations to lead people to active faith in Jesus Christ. Congregations do not exist to support conferences; rather, annual conferences exist to start and strengthen congregations and to develop the leadership streams to make them fruitful. John Wesley did not established congregations so that one day he would have a conference; he established the practice of conferencing in order to strengthen and deepen the ministries of faith communities. Annual Conferences are one or two steps removed from the front lines of our mission; and yet their work provides the leadership resources and the connections to multiply the work of Christ. …

The risk when we gather for Jurisdictional Conference, so far removed from the front lines of our mission, is that we lose sight of our task. How do we make decisions, about leadership and assignment, about aligning and strengthening conferences, that foster an increase in the number of vital congregations that reach people for the purposes of Christ? That’s our work together this week: to talk one another into greater boldness for Christ, to remember that it’s not about us and our preferences, but about the mission God has entrusted us in Christ.

(The full text of Bishop Schnase address may be found at gntv.info/live/scj2)

Schnase’s Jurisdictional Address, Part 1

At the recently concluded South Central Jurisdiction Conference, Bishop Robert Schnase gave the Episcopal Address on behalf of the College of Bishops. At the five Jurisdictional Conferences I have attended (since 1996), I have had the privilege of hearing many outstanding Episcopal addresses.  This address was at the very top of an excellent class!  Parts are reprinted in a series of five blog postings with Bishop Schnase’s permission while I am on vacation. – Bishop Mike Lowry

Episcopal Address

South Central Jurisdictional Conference

July 19, 2012

Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

Robert Schnase, Bishop ©

Part I – Who Are We?

The people in this room represent 1,725,000 (1,725,081)1 United Methodists and 6,000 United Methodist Congregations (5,937) presently organized into fifteen Annual Conferences serving eight states with an immediate mission field of more than 49 million people.  (49,073,767).    We represent more than 5,200 clergy (5,229), including Elders, Deacons, Licensed Local Pastors, and Associate members, plus nearly 3,000 retired clergy. (2,902).

5 ½% (5.51) of our membership is African American compared to over 12% (12.26) of our neighborhoods that surround us; 2% (2.04) of our membership is Hispanic compared to 24% (24.06) of the areas we serve; and under one percent (.79) of our membership is Native American compared to nearly 1.4% (1.38) of the areas we serve.  More than 90% (90.44) of our membership is White Anglo, while the areas we serve are 58% (57.66) White Anglo.

On any given weekend in our Jurisdiction, more than 620,000 (620,603) people attend worship, and according to the end of the year reports we submit so faithfully, nearly four million people (3,848,325) are served regularly through our ministries in our communities.

Now that I’ve numbed your brain with statistics, let’s look at what some of this means.  The good news is how robust these numbers are, the size and scope and range and reach of the United Methodist Church in our Jurisdiction is amazing, and more than any one of us can comprehend.  There’s something deeply satisfying to think that more than a quarter million children attend Bible School through our churches.   A quarter million children!  Think about it.  That’s enough to fill five huge professional baseball stadiums with children.  That’s a lot of lemonade to mix! How’d you like to be responsible for a Bible School program with 257,000 kids? Well, you are!

And yet, these numbers still reveal troubling trends.  Attendance in the last five years has declined more than 7% (7.28).  However, the decline in the South Central Jurisdiction has been significantly less pronounced than in other US Jurisdictions.  That’s good news I suppose, in some qualified sort of way!  Thirty percent (30.74) of our congregations have actually shown growth over the last five years.  And the annual number of Adult Professions of Faith has increased more than 10% (10.78).  On the other hand, 40% (40.45) of our congregations have reported no Professions of Faith over the most recent year.

We don’t report ages in our annual statistics, but we do have ways of estimating them through sampling and through pensions information related to our pastors.

Missionally, if the only statistic we could fully comprehend about the United Methodist Church in the US is that our median age is approaching 60 while the median age of our culture is 35, we would see with stark clarity the missional challenge we face. There is an age gap of nearly two generations between the average United Methodist in the US and the local mission field God calls us to serve.  And across that gap lie significant differences in perception, spirituality, musical tastes, community, life experiences, use of technology, and cultural value.2

Reaching next generations. And reaching our more diverse neighbors that surround our congregations—these remain our most poignant, critical, and strategic missional challenges.

The full text of Bishop Schnase address may be found at gntv.info/live/scj2.

TAIZE: DEVELOPING A NEW GENERATION OF LEADERSHIP

One of our vital strategic objectives is to develop a new generation of leadership.  As the “baby boomer” pastors & lay leadership retire this becomes increasingly critical.  We must be focused on forming and developing a generation of young disciples and leaders for the 21st century.  As an integral part of that process, I will be a part of leadership team leading a pilgrimage of young adults to Taizé, France, in May 2013, to expose them to the deep spirituality and justice orientation of the Taizé community.  The intent of the pilgrimage will be to develop the personal spirituality and the leadership capabilities of the young adults through prayer, reflection, community, and instruction.

Our partner in this venture is the Missional Wisdom Foundation.  The Missional Wisdom Foundation is a private non-profit corporation that supports the education and Christian development of adults through service and new monasticism. The Foundation makes it possible for students and others engaged in ministry to live in community and to explore Christian service by providing financial, asset management and administrative services. The Missional Wisdom Foundation is a private corporation and is an approved extension ministry of the United Methodist Church.

The pilgrimage will be open to young adults from the Central Texas Conference between the ages of 17 and 30.  They will be selected through an application process that will be administered by the Conference Pilgrimage Leadership Team.

The application is on-line at www.missionalwisdom.com.  Approximately 20 participants will be selected.  The Selection Committee will endeavor to choose a diverse group of participants, considering geographic location, gender, and ethnicity in the selection of qualified candidates.

Each participant will be responsible for contributing $500 toward the cost of the trip, either individually or through the local church.  The remainder of the trip cost will be underwritten by the Missional Wisdom Foundation.  No conference funds will be used for this trip.

The Conference Pilgrimage Leadership Team includes myself, Rev. Larry Duggins  (Director, Missional Wisdom Foundation; Associate Pastor, White’s Chapel UMC; Trip Leader), Rev. Kyland Dobbins (Center for Mission Support), and Leanne Johnston (Center for Evangelism and Church Growth).

I am excited about this incredible opportunity for learning and spiritual formation.  While space is limited, I invite those who are eligible to prayerful consider applying by following the link to the Missional Wisdom Foundation and the pilgrimage tab on their page.

Emerging from the Bubble and Coming Home

Last week it felt like we were living in a Methodist bubble during Jurisdictional Conference.  Our attention was focused on the election of three new bishops, hard decisions about the future of the church, and where bishops would be assigned.  Jolynn and I could not help but be concerned about whether or not we would be returned to Central Texas.

Friday was a night of rejoicing!  Not only was Bishop Mike McKee elected but we learned that we would be coming home, back to Fort Worth and our beloved Central Texas Conference.  Saturday morning the Central Texas Conference delegation held a celebration breakfast.  We cheered Bishop McKee’s assignment to the North Texas Conference and they wonderfully welcomed us home.  This was our personal high point for it is with much thanksgiving and praise to God that Jolynn and I return to the work we’ve begun with the good, good people of the Central Texas Conference.

The home coming is an emerging from the Methodist bubble.  News of the tragedy in Aurora, Colorado drew us to prayer and reminded us of how desperately the world needs the gospel of God’s grace and love in Christ through the power and presence of the Holy Spirit.  The church of Jesus Christ, the body of Christ, lives and breathes in mission and ministry to this bruised and bleeding world.  It is to this great task that we best turn our attention and offer our most ardent efforts of love lived out in Christ.

Mike McKee Elected Bishop

Just a few moments ago, Dr. Mike McKee, senior pastor at First Hurst UMC was elected as Bishop in the United Methodist Church. It is with great joy that I welcome Mike McKee to the office of bishop in the United Methodist Church. With you, I offer praise and thanks to God for Mike’s election and celebrate the leadership he offers to the larger church. This is a historic day for the Central Texas Conference and blessed day for the Conference to which he will be assigned. By the grace of God in Christ through the Holy Spirit, Bishop McKee offers much to the larger leadership of the church in his passion to develop new leaders in the faith and make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.

To read more about the election, I invite you to read today’s article on ctcumc.org and stay tuned to the conference website for more on and from Bishop McKee and news regarding the assignments for all active bishops in the South Central Jurisdiction.

A Request for Prayers for Jurisdictional Conference

Tomorrow the quadrennial meeting of the South Central Jurisdictional Conference will formally begin.  Today, Tuesday, July 17th, we are meeting as a College of Bishops (that is the bishops of the South Central Jurisdiction, both active and retired).  Additionally various other groups are meeting (training for secretarial staff, Committees on Nominations and the Episcopacy).

I ask your prayers for us as we gather and begin our business.  May the kingdom of God be advanced by the work that is holy and spiritually discerning.  May the Lord direct and guide all of our efforts, especially that of the Committee on Episcopacy as it wrestles with the assignment of bishops.  May God hold the bishops and delegates in divine grace.

Thursday morning, July 19th, will begin the balloting for three new bishops.  In the Central Texas Conference the Rev. Dr. Mike McKee is the Conference’s endorsed nominee.  There are many other fine nominees.  I ask that we pray not only for Mike but also for all of the nominees.  I am ever conscious that for every bishop elected another 10 could have been nominated and many would have made wonderful bishops.  Please keep each and all and the entire process in your prayers.

“This is why I kneel before the Father. Every ethnic group in heaven or on earth is recognized by him. I ask that he will strengthen you in your inner selves from the riches of his glory through the Spirit. I ask that Christ will live in your hearts through faith. As a result of having strong roots in love, I ask that you’ll have the power to grasp love’s width and length, height and depth, together with all believers. I ask that you’ll know the love of Christ that is beyond knowledge so that you will be filled entirely with the fullness of God.

“Glory to God, who is able to do far beyond all that we could ask or imagine by his power at work within us; glory to him in the church and in Christ Jesus for all generations, forever and always. Amen”  (Ephesians 3:14-21).

Cleaning Things Up in Preparation for Jurisdictional Conference

Much of this week I have spent on administrative details (with the exception of teaching a PLD group). Many things go under the rough heading of “cleaning things up in preparation for Jurisdictional Conference.” My wife asked me what I did at dinner. I replied, “worked!”

Nothing really stood out as exotic, innovative, or fascinating. And yet, the various pieces of administrative details have an importance in their own right. My predecessor at University UMC in San Antonio, Dr. Steve Wende (now Sr. Pastor at First UMC, Houston), likes to say, “nobody joins a church because it is well run. But people will leave a church if it isn’t well run.” How true! I like to say, administrative attention to detail separates the women from the girls and the men from the boys. I have a conviction that every job has components of taking out the garbage. By that I don’t mean that things or people are garbage. Rather, I mean that there are parts of living together that are necessary to get done (and done well) that aren’t fun or even pleasing to do. They just need to be done. In my marriage, one is taking the garbage. For the last 35 years and 11 months that has been (and remains) one of my tasks. I don’t get warm feelings from doing it, but if the marriage is going to work, somebody has to do it.

In the midst of the ordinary, even pedestrian, elements of being a bishop (or pastor or lay leader) I need to be reminded that the Apostle Paul rated “the ability to help others” and “leadership skills” as spiritual gifts. (see I Corinthians 12:28) Scholars of spiritual giftedness believe that administration is a central part of this “gift-mix.” So, I turn my attention back to administration of tasks – writing a myriad of letters, working on the agenda for our fall Cabinet retreat, going over plans for the Path 1 (the General Church Focus Area on “New Places for New People” – new church development), grinding through the paper work on a complaint, cleaning out far too many emails, doing a second re-write on an evaluation document to use on myself, the Cabinet and appointed pastors – the list continues, you get the drift. This too can be a work of God.

Solitude and Sabbath

What were you doing four years ago?  It is a trick question.  I don’t expect someone to know.  It is an element of my own history that I can remember exactly what I was doing four years ago (July 11, 2008).  Then as now, it was a week before Jurisdictional Conference.  At that time I was an endorsed candidate for election to the episcopacy.  Jolynn and I prepared for Jurisdictional Conference by going on a spiritual retreat through the Pastors Retreat Network.  Whether I was elected or not, I desired to walk through the process in a healthy and holy relationship with God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

There is a second reason I bring this up.  This past week I have been preparing for my presentation to our PLD group.  (Rev. Ed George and I jointly teach a Pastors Leadership Development – PLD – group that meets at King Memorial UMC in Whitney.)  In preparation for that group, I’ve been reading Ruth Haley Barton’s marvelous book Sacred Rhythms: Arranging Our Lives for Spiritual Transformation.  I recommend it highly!

Together the two experiences – reliving my preparation for Jurisdictional Conference and preparation for the PLD group – call me back again to what is a constant theme; our need as both lay and clergy to rediscover and reconnect to solitude and Sabbath.  We got the name “Methodist: because we were so methodical about spiritually walking with Christ as Lord and Savior.  Methodist were (and are!) practical Christians who live the faith.”

In my readings and reflection over the years I come back again and again to this theme.  Dallas Willard (The Divine Conspiracy and The Great Omission) teaches eloquently on the need to step out of our fragmented and frantic world to reconnect to the Holy Trinity.  Ruth Barton offers marvelous insights and practical help in how to do so.  As a taste; she writes: “The truth is, Sabbath keeping is a discipline that will mess with you, because once you move beyond just thinking about it and actually begin to practice it, the goodness of it will capture you, body, soul and spirit” (Sacred Rhythms, p. 133.  She offers suggestions on what to include and what to exclude.  Consider, Exclude: 1) work, 2) buying and selling, 3) worry.  Include: “whatever delights you and replenishes you” (Sacred Rhythms, p. 142).  She suggests 1) Resting the body, 2) Replenishing the spirit (noting “Usually television and most things technological are not really replenishing; they are merely distracts from God’s more meaningful gifts.” – Sacred Rhythms, pp. 142-143), 3) Restoring the soul (including both worship in the community of faith and more personal worship and sharing for yourself and with family).

There is much, much more and many outstanding authors and guides to engage both our heart and mind.  I suspect I write on this so often because I know how great my own need is and how deep my own tendency to sin by omission of the Sabbath.  As the summer slows me down, I have time to reflect.  The development of “habits of the heart” is a crucial component of being a Methodist Christian!  I need to be Methodist, that is, methodical about solitude and Sabbath.  Willpower alone won’t work.  I must develop the habits.  What about you?

For now, let Isaiah’s witness settle in your being:

“If you stop trampling the Sabbath,
stop doing whatever you want on my holy day,
and consider the Sabbath a delight,
sacred to the LORD, honored,
and honor it instead of doing things your way,
seeking what you want and doing business as usual,
then you will take delight in the LORD.
I will let you ride on the heights of the earth;
I will sustain you with the heritage of your ancestor Jacob.
The mouth of the LORD has spoken.”  (Isaiah 58:13-14)

Four on the Fourth: July 4th, Virtue and the Wesleyan Way

James Madison famous wrote in The Federalist No. 51 “if men were angels, no government would be necessary.” What is often forgotten are the preceding sentences. “It may be a reflection on human nature that such devices should be necessary to control the abuses of government. But what is government itself, but the greatest of all reflections on human nature.”

From a Christian theological position this is witness to the doctrine of sin. Utopian dreams aside, the Wesleyan branch of Christianity has held to a deep conviction of the reality of sin, “the spiritual forces of wickedness” and “the evil powers of the world” (The United Methodist Hymnal, liturgy for the “renunciation of sin and profession of faith, p. 40). Co-joined with such conviction has been an ardent belief in the twin responses of personal and social holiness. Our Arminian roots and belief in free will weld us as Wesleyans to notions of civic virtue and morality. Regardless of where we might stand (from the far right to the far left), the recent drama around accessible health care for all is a reflection of such theological convictions played out in the confusing contest for public policy.

As we (those of us who are citizens of the United States) rightly celebrate the 4th of July and our independence, it is worth reflecting on the importance of civic virtue (welded as it is to religious conviction — albeit often hidden religious convictions). The founding fathers (& mothers! – just note the role of someone of the intellectual and moral statue of Abigail Adams!, but I digress) held a strong passionate belief in at least four cardinal virtues. While they are variously debated by scholars, there is reasonable consensus around the four (are there more?): industriousness, honesty, marriage, and religiosity. (While many across the political spectrum have written on this subject since before the American Revolution and down into the present day, I have found Charles Murray’s recent summation in Coming Apart, chapters 6, 8-11 especially helpful in summation.).

Industriousness denotes a strong work ethic and desire to get ahead (however one defines “get ahead”). Industriousness involves a cluster of qualities that focus around concepts of hard work, accountability and personal responsibility. Honesty as a civic & moral virtue relates to voluntarily complying with the law and with what are generally taken to involve cultural and ethical norms (think of George Washington “I shall not tell a lie”). Marriage, many scholars argue, was taken as a “bedrock institution” (see Murray, Coming Apart, p. 134). As a founding virtue, marriage referred to both fidelity in marriage & the permanence of marriage. (It is worth noting that however much we might dislike it, the evidence is overwhelming that a stable marriage between a man and a woman is the — get that!– THE single greatest statistical variable for producing well-adjusted emotionally healthy children.). Religiosity refers not to the Christian faith per se (many of the founding fathers were deists) but to the importance of religious belief in general. (This entails what has come to be known of generally as “Civic Religion.” Washington was specific in his Farewell Address. “Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable.”

Let me invite the reader who has slogged through this longer than usual blog so far to step back and attempt to reconnect these four founding virtues (moral convictions) with the Wesleyan branch of Christian witness. Each, however debated, represents aspects of both social & personal holiness that reach beyond concepts of justice and mercy (without in any way!!! denigrating the importance of justice and mercy, along with service). It is worth noting that the great Methodist layman William Wilberforce, rightly known for his great championship of the cause to end slavery, understood his life of faith to involve two great causes. The first was the eradication of the slave trade. The second (and often forgotten) was the improvement of what he often referred to as public manners by which he meant the establishment of public virtue in ways that reflected the Great Commandment (love of God and love of neighbor). This entailed advocacy of labor reform and just pay, support for public education, and enhance of community. (Chapter 6 of Amazing Grace: William Wiberforce and the Heroic Campaign to End Slavery by Eric Metaxas is particularly insightful.)

Support of the 4 virtues (as well as others) on the 4th is not a purely American project. Nor is it an attempt to pump a religious agenda into patriotism. Rather it is a deeper reflection and acting out of a truly Christian agenda for society as a whole. It rejects theocracy and embraces a Christ driven compassion for all society. It seeks to live the prayer we have been taught by our Lord & Master — “Thy kingdom come; Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”