The Sacrament of the Moment
As my wife, Janet, and I transition into the Western North Carolina Conference we are overwhelmed with the gracious reception, encouragement, and hospitality expressed through visits, cards, texts, phone calls, emails, letters, and welcome gifts extending a genuine acceptance into our newly appointed conference. Thank you. Your warm embrace has created a time in which we have been reflecting on our journey together in ministry. I suppose every time we experience changes in our congregations we find ourselves contemplating how God’s presence has been unfolding from the first day until now.
When I was elected, consecrated, and appointed to serve as a bishop within The United Methodist Church in 2008, I found myself pondering on many unique moments from the past that had brought me to this present moment. I suspect many us can look back on past incidents and see how God’s Presence has orchestrated these events in bringing us to the present. What is more difficult for me, is to recognize the Unseen Divine Presence that is with us now preparing us for the future.
Jean Pierre de Caussade, an eighteenth century priest and author of “Abandonment to Divine Providence” wrote about “the sacrament of the moment”, reminding us of God’s presence in every moment thus allowing us to truly abandon ourselves to everything that happens to us because we truly believe that God’s providence over our lives is good. Self-abandonment is not easy. It requires a daily renewal of ourselves to God’s grace and love in our lives submitting everything to the Divine Presence revealed in Jesus the Word made flesh.
I am sharing one of my favorite pictures taken at Lake Junaluska at the time of my election in 2008. This picture represents bishops that I admire and respect who prayed with me and placed their hands on me – Bishop Charlene Kammerer and Bishop Lawrence McCleskey – both of whom served as bishops of our Western North Carolina Conference. This picture was taken eight years ago, yet it represents a sacramental moment in which God was moving before me, I believe, preparing me for service in the same conference they served. It is a reminder to me of the Unseen Divine Presence preparing the way for us even when we are unaware that God is with us – Emmanuel.
As some of you already know, I sincerely embrace Philippians 1:3-11 as a reminder that the ministry to which we are called is a partnership in the gospel, from the first day until now. I have reminded everyone with whom I have served that the verses reflected in Philippians captures my hope for our work and ministry together:
- I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the Gospel
- Having JOY from the first day until now
- Confident that God who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion
- It is right for me to feel this way about you all
- I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus
- This is my prayer – that your love may abound more and more
- That you will be filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ.
As I have said before, and I affirm again, my obedience to God through the guidance of the Church allows me to enter into this time of change and transition with the affirmation of St. Paul, “Now I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that what has happened has really served to advance the gospel” (Philippians 1:12), and as a result we can “speak the word of God more courageously and fearlessly” (Philippians 1:14).
Thank you, God, for this sacramental moment.
With gratitude and expectation,
Paul L. Leeland
Resources for Vital Congregations
Lewis Center for Church Leadership
Lewis Center for Church Leadership: Books
Lewis Center for Church Leadership: Serve Your Neighbor
GBHEM Leadership Resources
Living Faithfully: Human Sexuality and the United Methodist Church
Englewood Book Review
Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations
Ted Talks: The Golden Circle
Ted Talks: The Power of Vulnerability
Ted Talks: The Price of Invulnerability
Meditations on the Ministry of All Christians
Be A Disciple
A Disciple’s Path; A Guide for United Methodist
Lewis Center for Church Leadership: Adult Christian Studies from the Wesley Ministry Network
Traveling Together: A Guide for Disciple Forming Congregations
Living As United Methodist Christians
Methodist Doctrine: The Essentials
Reclaiming our Wesleyan Tradition: John Wesley’s Sermons for Today
John Wesley Sermons: Anthology
Get Their Name
Evangelism & Theology in the Wesleyan Spirit
Canoeing the Mountains
Fresh Expressions: Dinner Church
Lewis Center for Church Leadership: Reach New Disciples
Lewis Center for Church Leadership: 50 Ways to Reach People
Community: The Structure of Belonging
RESOURCES TO CONNECT WITH THE COMMUNITY:
Institute for Emerging Issues
Congregations 4 Children
The Royce and Jane Reynolds Ministry Fund Grants
The Duke Endowment
The Appalachian District Church Vitality Team has been prayerfully seeking ways to help support you and the ministries of your local congregation during this COVID-19 pandemic. Together they have diligently researched and connected with others throughout the conference and our denomination to identify resources and offer them to you. We hope they will be helpful to you and bless you greatly in leading your churches and communities through this unprecedented time. We are very grateful to the District Vitality Team and other contributors for their great work on this resource.
This faithful team has created three documents, two of which you are receiving today. They include:
- Family Home Worship – designed to help families establish a regular worship space within their homes as well as a time where they can worship together.
- Tech Strategies – to help guide you in selecting effective tools and resources within your budget to best communicate in the digital world.
We believe these resources will be of great benefit to you. Also know that the District Vitality Team is available to answer any questions you might have in regards to the documents attached. If you have questions, you may email Rev. Howard Fleming at email@example.com.