Bishop Laurie's Post AC2019 Pastoral Letter

Bishop Laurie's Post AC2019 Pastoral Letter

June 14, 2019

Grace and peace in the name of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. As I reflect on the 2019 Iowa Annual Conference, Paul’s words to the saints in Ephesus come to mind (Ephesians 3:14-19 CEB). “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.”

I give thanks for the strong roots of love that characterized the covenant community of the Iowa Annual Conference as we gathered around the theme of Creating Difference Makers in Ministry with the Poor. I sensed a prayerful spirit at annual conference, with outstanding lay and clergy leadership, careful decision-making, and spiritually transformative worship. 

The annual conference elected six lay and six clergy delegates to the 2020 General Conference in Minneapolis, an additional six lay and six clergy delegates to the jurisdictional conference, and six lay and six clergy alternates to the jurisdictional conference. The 2020 delegation gathered over the dinner break on Monday to organize their work. 

We welcomed Rev. Rob Cook and Rev. Eric Mulanda, pastors at Mt. Hope UMC in Lansing, Michigan, who shared the story of how this formerly all-white city church has been transformed. Today, the church is a thriving multi-cultural congregation with Africans from many different countries finding a home at Mt. Hope. We will not soon forget Eric’s inspiring account of getting a bike from his neighbor in Kolwezi, Congo, riding it 232 miles for two days to the country of Zambia, and then riding on a bus for two more days to Africa University in Zimbabwe (1,200 miles) in order to enroll as a student. Eric received his M.Div. degree from Garrett Evangelical Theological Seminary. 

I was overjoyed that all eight of our districts collaborated together to raise money to complete the kitchen at the Ubuntu Retreat Center at Africa University. Our offering at opening worship was over $45,000, surpassing our goal of $40,000. This is amazing and shows the depth of commitment to mission here in Iowa. Your generous gifts will facilitate the ministry of hospitality at Africa University, one of the premier institutions of higher learning on the African continent. Any Iowa United Methodist who visits Africa University will be thankful for this kitchen! 

Our four days were filled with honest and grace-filled conversations as we debated difficult issues with integrity and compassion for one another. We are a diverse conference, so we do not always agree. Yet we were able to move through the legislation prayerfully and honor the decisions that were made by the body. The approval of Amended Petition 506, “Disapproval of the Traditional Plan,” occasioned difficult as well as respectful and heartfelt conversation, and we were able to debate with grace and sensitivity. A decision of law has been requested and will be issued within thirty days. Please click here to read about all of the legislative results

I was deeply moved by the privilege of recognizing six Course of Study graduates, commissioning one provisional deacon and eight provisional elders, ordaining five full elders and receiving one full elder from another UMC Conference at the Ordering Service on Sunday morning. I marvel at the deep faith of these women and men who said a resounding “YES” to God’s call to ministry in the midst of uncertainty around the future of The United Methodist Church. What a sign of hope!  Other highlights included:

  • Interacting with our 32 Diakonos, high school students who serve us in many capacities during annual conference, and inviting them to participate in the Episcopal Address. More than one Diakonos has felt a call to ministry over the years because of this program. We always look forward to their skit at near the end of conference. 
  • Our amazing band, that led us joyfully and with enthusiasm. In addition, our signers for the hearing-impaired always sit on the stage, and I love watching the graceful way in which they communicate with their hands.
  • Having the privilege of working with our outstanding conference leaders to facilitate the Business of Annual Conference: Brian Oliver (Business and Agenda), Nitza Dovenspike (Conference Secretary), Erica Shannon-Stueve (Parliamentarian), and Harlan Gillespie (Clergy Assistant to the Bishop).
  • Being blessed by the image of “the Table,” which kept changing over the course of Annual Conference but with the understanding that the table is for all, no matter how the tables or chairs may be arranged.
  • Receiving a packet full of gift cards from a couple who purchased them as part of our “Ministry with the Poor” theme and giving them to the Diakonos to share outside on the streets of Des Moines. Hundreds of gas, food, and cash cards have been distributed around the state as part of our annual conference.

The most touching part of annual conference for me is when I have the privilege of washing the feet of those being ordained at the Orders service.

The tears flow as the body sings,    
Refrain: Jesu, Jesu, fill us with your love,
show us how to serve the neighbors we have from you. 

  1. Kneels at the feet of his friends, silently washing their feet,
    Master who acts as a slave to them. (Refrain)
  2. Neighbors are rich and poor, neighbors are black and white,
    Neighbors are near and far away. (Refrain)

It is this kind of love that embodies the apostle Paul’s words to the Christians in Ephesus, 

“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.” How might our world be transformed if each one of us focused more on serving then being served ourselves?

In my own time of prayer and reflection on Annual Conference, I remain convinced that we are much better together than apart. The Methodist movement led by John Wesley was never meant to stifle differing opinions on matters that do not lie at the heart of salvation by God’s grace through faith in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. At the same time, I recognize that in order to remain in connection with one another through mission and ministry around the world, it will be essential to offer ample space to accommodate different expressions of faith around human sexuality. 

I invite each one of you to continue to stay engaged as various groups around the United Methodist Connection prepare to bring proposals to the 2020 General Conference. Keep on loving, keep on serving, keep on witnessing, keep on reaching out, and keep on making a difference!

Blessings,


Bishop Laurie