The Bishops of The United Methodist Church met November 1-5, at Lake Junaluska, NC. This was a learning retreat that was closed to the press. Below are news releases and excerpts from reports that came from that body this week. Please click on links at the ends of the excerpts to read more at the United Methodist News Service.
United Methodist Bishops Assemble for Fall Learning Retreat
Nashville, Tenn.: The residential bishops of The United Methodist Church will meet November 1-5 at Lake Junaluska, N.C. for a time of learning, reflection, sharing, worship and devotion.
The gathering will continue a focus on the theme of adaptive leadership, which was also the central topic at the bishops’ retreat in 2014. The five-day learning experience will include presentations by Marty Linsky, adaptive leadership expert, co-founder of Cambridge Leadership Associates and co-author of The Practice of Adaptive Leadership: Tools and Tactics for Changing Your Organization and the World.
Also presenting at the retreat and providing the theological context for leadership will be Greg Jones, a professor of theology and Senior Strategist for Leadership Education at Duke Divinity School.
The bishops will meet in small groups, discuss adaptive challenges, and provide peer reflections. They will spend time together in worship and in prayer, as well as have time for individual reflection.
Throughout the learning retreat, there will be regular reports about the day-to-day activities.
United Methodist Bishops Focus on Adaptive Leadership
Lake Junaluska, N.C.: In a time where everything seems to be moving at a bewildering speed, in ways that cause instability, when “the tectonic plates are shifting in deep and profound ways,” the Rev. Dr. Greg Jones says it’s important to focus on the power of the end.
“When you stay focused on the end, all kinds of possibilities open themselves. When you focus on the end, it’s not about us, it’s about God,” said Jones, senior strategist for leadership education at Duke Divinity School.
By “the end,” he’s referring to the Reign of God to which we are called to bear witness.
Jones was addressing the residential bishops of The United Methodist Church, gathered at the Lake Junaluska (N.C.) Conference and Retreat Center in the first of a three-day presentation.
Living in a “multi-nodal” world where the digital revolution is a reality and life grows increasingly more complex, Jones say leaders sometimes get lost because the obstacles seem too great. They stay lost because it’s more comfortable to stay with what’s familiar.
“It’s when we are focused on the end, we discover new ways of engaging the present and the past,” he said.
“If we’re focused on the end, it radically reshapes the present; but it requires a shift from a mindset of despair to a mindset of hope,” he said. “If you’re rooted in hope, then all kinds of possibilities emerge.”
According to Jones, John Wesley was profoundly a person of hope, but he was no optimist. Hope, he said, must be distinguished from optimism.
“Optimism is a trust in who we are to make things better, but if we place our confidence in ourselves, things will fragment and fracture. Hope is a trust in God.”
Jones suggests that ministry focused on the end, and rooted in hope, will have five characteristics that Greg Dees identifies as the heart of social entrepreneurship: First, adopt a mission. Second, align everything you do in service to that mission. Third, be willing to adapt and renovate as you move forward. Fourth, invest resources beyond what you currently have in hand; be bold and take risks. Last, build a heightened sense of accountability towards the outcomes to be achieved.
Worship is a vital aspect of the leadership retreat. As part of each day’s worship service, pastors of area churches are sharing the ways they are connecting with their communities.
During the opening worship on Sunday, the bishops heard from the Rev. Brian Combs of the Haywood Street Congregation
in inner city Asheville, N.C., a creative ministry that has taken wings. Started six years ago in a formerly abandoned United Methodist church, they reach out to the homeless and others living on the margins and create an environment where people come together. A weekly home-cooked dinner attracts a diverse group of diners. The church also offers a respite ministry for people who come out of hospitals and have nowhere to go except the streets, so they can have a place to recover after leaving the hospital.
Monday’s mission moment featured St. Paul’s United Methodist Church
in Asheville, a church that’s working hard at revitalization. The Rev. Darryl Dayson says his congregation “hit the streets, walking around learning the names of our neighbors,” sharing their joys and troubles and inviting them to connect with God and with one another.”
The church is part of a dynamic partnership they call the Asheville Downtown Cooperative, a group of clergy and parishioners who believe they are better together. They share resources and support one another.
“What has blossomed out of this partnership is a beautiful vision of what God can do in our area,” said Dayson. “We have seen what it looks for us to live out this connection. It takes a long time to turn a big ship, but we know Christ is at the helm of that ship.”
The learning retreat for the residential bishops continues until noon on Thursday, November 5. Ongoing daily reports will share information about the retreat activities and presentations.
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African bishops speak out on terrorism, sexuality
African bishops called on The United Methodist Church to confront global terrorism and hold the line on church teachings regarding human sexuality.
“As leaders of the church, we believe that there are far more important issues that unite us than issues of sexual orientation,” the bishops said in “a statement on the state of global UMC and our common world.”
“As a church, we are called to be in solidarity with people who suffer as a result of unjust political systems, wars, famine, poverty, natural disasters, diseases, illiteracy, etc. We believe that we can be united around these issues rather than allow ourselves to be ripped apart by issues of sexual orientation.”
The bishops registered alarm at the rise of terrorist organizations such as ISIS (Islamic State Group) in the Middle East, Boko Haram in Nigeria and Al Shabab in eastern Africa. These groups’ insurgencies have resulted in “massive human rights abuses against innocent, helpless and defenseless families… and the horrible refugee crisis that has engulfed and overwhelmed parts of Europe and Africa,” their statement said.
The bishops also said that they are “deeply saddened” because as they see it, the Bible and the Book of Discipline, the denomination’s policy book, are being ignored in how some United Methodists minister with lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals. They noted that church teachings only affirm sexual relations in monogamous, heterosexual marriage
, and not in same-sex unions or polygamy.
Sierra Leone Area Bishop John K. Yambasu, who coordinated the statement and is one of its signers, said the bishops hope their words might prompt more conversation among church members.
“For far too long, the voice of the African church has been silent, especially on global issues,” he told United Methodist News Service “We felt that at a critical moment like this we needed to come out with a voice so that the global church will hear. And then it might provoke more conversation at every level of the church for us to be more intentional as a denomination to facing the realities of the day.”
San Francisco Area Bishop Warner Brown Jr., the president of the Council of Bishops, said his African colleagues were speaking out of their context. He also told UMNS that the full council, which includes active and retired bishops, has not had the chance yet to discuss the statement.
"One of the unfortunate things about the debate that exists around human sexuality is that it has given the false impression that that is the only issue we want to discuss," he said. "We are actively working together, including people who may disagree on human sexuality, on issues of justice and healing."
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Bishops explore the topic of leading from the soul
Lake Junaluska, N.C.: We need to focus on what it means to lead from the soul, the Rev. Dr. Greg Jones told participants of the bishops’ learning forum in the last of a three-part presentation.
“We’re in the business of leading from the soul to nourish other people’s souls and equip people to continue to deepen the reservoirs of what Wesley called ‘holiness of heart and life,’” said Jones. “We’re called to lead from the soul because that’s what is the depth of who we are created to be and our relationship to God.”
Part of the challenge for leaders is that it often depletes the soul to engage in leadership activities.
He quoted Ron Heifetz, author of Leadership Without Easy Answers, who says leadership is like walking along a razor’s edge in that you feel the cuts.
Jones said that it is only out of practices that replenish the reservoir of our souls that we discover and nurture the intimacy with God that enables leaders to remain focused on what it means to help nourish others souls.
Leading from the soul is about the continual replenishing of that reservoir which only happens when one is engaged in patterns of thinking and feeling and perceiving and living.
Learning throughout life
A shift is needed to a model that’s about learning throughout life.
“It is what is at the heart of the Wesleyan standard of what it means to go on to perfection . . . it’s a matter of unlearning all those habits of sin and brokenness that marked our life pre-conversion so that we can learn the patterns of holiness of heart and life,” said Jones.
He added that we have gotten preoccupied with expertise rather than actually exploring what people have already discerned in their wisdom and whether they’re committed to growing and learning wisdom throughout their life.
“All of us ought to be on a journey of learning wisdom from whatever point we come into the church, whether it’s as infants and toddlers, all the way to our dying breath,” he said.
Jones suggests the hunger among the laity for the formation of souls is incredibly strong. “There is a yearning and a desire that we are ill-equipped to deal with."
"When lay people find a congregation that has a robust sense of what it means to form people as Christians and to challenge their imagination, they don’t want to let it go."
He shared a story about a woman who drives 80 minutes each way four times a week because that is what is shaping her life.
Bishop Robert Hoshibata and Bishop Sandra Ball worked together to integrate the daily worship themes throughout the learning forum in ways that supported the theological context and helped to empower spiritual leaders through the adaptive challenges they face.
After conversation with the Rev. Dr. Greg Jones about his presentation content, they talked about images that came to mind and Scripture that would support the day’s learnings.
Wednesday’s worship centered around the call to be humble servants.
“Today the image of being humble servants just spoke to us as we strive more and more to bring about changes in our churches and our conferences and the denomination. One of the things we need to remember is to be humble and not think too highly of ourselves,” said Bishop Hoshibata. “The altar was designed to reflect very humble, simple but powerful images; so burlap instead of silk and satin and the rope is all tangled up, kind of like our lives – not perfect but beautiful indeed.”
Participants shared a love feast of cinnamon rolls and apple cider as they reflected together upon these questions: How have you experienced the love of God in Creation? How have you recently experienced the love of Jesus Christ in your life?”
The Rev. Julia Trantham, Minister of Education and Spiritual Development at Cullowhee (N.C.) United Methodist Church, shared with forum participants how a summer outreach project is providing a safe space for more than a dozen sixth- through twelfth-graders.
The Matthew 25 summer camp is a free educational enrichment program staffed by 60+ volunteers that meets twice a week in July. Camp attendees get a meal, learn life skills like swimming and cooking, complete service projects, and have some fun – whether its whitewater rafting or a trip to the mall.
“During the first summer, we wondered if two days a week could really make a difference,” said Trantham.
The answer to that question, she would learn, was a definite ‘yes.’
She and a young camper were laughing and talking after a day spent eating pizza and bowling.
“Suddenly he grew quiet and looked at me,” said Trantham. “He said, ‘If you all hadn’t been my friends this summer, I probably would have tried to kill myself again.’ It was in that moment that I realized the power of Jesus’ love to start healing these kids and transforming their lives.”
The retreat concludes
On Wednesday afternoon, the bishops continued working on case studies and practicing the techniques learned during the retreat. The retreat concludes Thursday with an evaluation and closing worship.