Let’s write our own story in 2020
FROM THE BISHOP
R. LAWSON BRYAN
The old year ends and the new year begins during the 12 days of Christmas (from Christmas Day to Epiphany Day on January 6). This seems particularly fitting since the coming of Jesus marks the culmination of the Old Testament and the beginning of the New Testament. Standing on the shoulders of our Hebrew heritage, we hold the Christ Child and, like Mary and Joseph, move forward into a new future.
Certainly, we wonder about what this new year will hold for us. As United Methodists we are aware that 2020 will be an historic year with General Conference in May, our South Georgia annual conference in June, the Southeastern Jurisdictional Conference in July, and, if needed, a special called session of annual conference in August to make any decisions necessitated by the outcome of General Conference. I encourage us to view this year not as a time of uncertainty but as a time of great certainty. The way to do this is to recognize that while the General and Jurisdictional Conferences are extremely important, the annual conference “…is the basic body of The United Methodist Church.”
As the basic body of the Church we can make a conscious decision to write our own story. Writing our own story means that we will respectfully receive and reflect upon whatever comes from GC2020 for it represents the work of our elected delegates, but we will not be defined by it. What will define us? Well, that is what you have been teaching me over the past three and a half years. Here are just a few examples of what I have learned from you about the story we want to write in 2020:
- We value the South Georgia Conference as our spiritual home and we want to be Alive Together in Christ both now and in the future. Therefore, we commit ourselves to remain connected to each other to give space for God to move in us and through us.
- We live in the confidence that grows from remembering what happened on February 6, 1736: John Wesley landed near Tybee Island and planted the seeds for what is now the worldwide Methodist movement. Though Wesley felt like a failure, the truth is that God was preparing him for the remarkable Aldersgate experience. Click here to see the video I recently made at the spot where Wesley came ashore on Cockspur Island.
- By our conduct we want to honor the faithfulness of generations of laity and clergy who have given their time, talent, gifts, service, and witness to the cause of Christ. For example, Bishop Arthur J. Moore served the North and South Georgia Conferences starting in 1940. It was not an easy time as the nation recovered from the Great Depression and then became engaged in World War II. But Bishop Moore was undeterred by these realities and moved our conference forward in many ways. In 1949, he orchestrated the purchase of the land that would become Epworth By The Sea. We have a legacy of faithfulness, and we want that legacy to define us.
- The laity and clergy in our 588 local churches want to grow numerically and spiritually by making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. We are not single-issue Christians, but rather we want to see all persons in every category of life come to know Jesus Christ as Savior and serve him as Lord. We want hope-filled churches bringing hope to the communities of South Georgia.
This list is suggestive, not exhaustive. What would you add? What will be your story in 2020? What will be your local church’s story? What will be our story as an annual conference? Ten years from now I hope others will look back to 2020 and ask, “How did South Georgia do it? They remained connected, wrote their own story, and found their way forward together.”
To help write the South Georgia story, the Leadership Forum Task Force will continue meeting and reflecting on all the matters that will come before General Conference 2020. In fact, the next meeting is set for January 13. The Task Force will be asking, “What plans and/or proposals align best with the story we are writing in South Georgia?” Then, the Task Force will seek to provide a process that each local church can use to understand the outcome of GC2020 and its implications for our annual conference. In addition, we will invite other annual conferences to join us in strategic conversations aimed at maintaining the connectional identity that is so important to us as United Methodists. Drawing on all these resources, we will work together as an annual conference to discern what we might call “the South Georgia plan”— the path that best enables us to remain Alive Together in Christ.
The key to having a happy New Year is to make a conscious decision to write our own story. Let us determine now that we will give ourselves time to pray, communicate, ask questions, pray, understand implications, have strategic conversations with other annual conferences, and pray some more – so that any decisions we make will be responsive rather than reactive.
I am grateful to be Alive Together with you in the story that Christ is writing in South Georgia.
Happy New Year!
R. Lawson Bryan