Bishop Jonathan D. Keaton

Bishop Keaton is the episcopal leader of the Illinois Area of The United Methodist Church. Elected in 1996, Keaton served two terms as bishop in the Ohio East Area and two terms in the Michigan Area. He was assigned to the Illinois Area beginning Sept. 1, 2012. This weblog is a compilation of Bishop Keaton's columns for The Current, pastoral letters and other writings.

Blog Posts

Graduation, Sept. 1, 2016

To say or write the word GRADUATION is to release a torrent of precious memories. Diplomas from high school, college, and graduate school and congratulations from friends and family come to mind. From college graduation and commencement in 1968, my sojourn runs from Arkansas to Northern Illinois to East Ohio to Michigan to Central and Southern Illinois. Within these graduations are a thousand thoughts, hundreds of emotions, and unforgettable moments sequestered in my pantheon of memories. Now that the end of my active episcopacy draws nigh at the stroke of midnight on August 31, 2016, another graduation occurs.

Give God the Glory

Life is full of surprises. The joy and happiness, successes and accomplishments offer constant reminders of vows voluntarily taken at my Ordination and Consecration.  For those compelling vows, I thank God.  None of my struggles, illnesses, disappointments and faith challenges leaves me with anger, regret or bitterness.  Would I change the path of my ministerial journey?  Nay! I would do it again the same way! To God be the Glory!

Statement on shootings in Baton Rouge, Minnesota and Dallas

By now, you have heard reports of several shootings involving citizens and police in Baton Rouge, La.; St. Paul, Minn. and most recently, Dallas, Texas. Shooting deaths, families heartbroken, television coverage, suspects killed, fingers pointed, demonstrations and prayers prayed to Almighty God have challenged the church and the world to find a better way.

Looking Back

Four years ago, we arrived dead tired.  Moving from the capital city of Michigan to the capital city of Illinois was a challenge.  Packing the house, leaving our two daughters behind, saying goodbye to the good folks in Michigan, embracing our new leadership role in IGRC, moving in the Springfield residence etc. left our energy reserves virtually depleted.  Once again, we obeyed the call   trumpeted anew in the theme of the 2016 General Conference,  “Therefore Go.”

Get Up

Healing stories in Mark’s gospel are not fictive. They are real, not imagined. A man asks Jesus to heal his daughter. She dies, but our Lord raises her up. Without permission, a woman hemorrhaging for twelve years touches the hem of his garment and receives healing instantly. She is no longer the same.

The Fields Are Ripe For The Harvest

Now that it’s just about time for me and my beloved Beverly to say goodbye, I want to talk about “the fields are ripe for harvest. It’s a subplot buried within a famous Bible story of the woman at the well.

A Way Forward

General Conference 2016 of The United Methodist Church concluded without a holy war.  For all the drama predicted from a supposed schism, radical structural change envisioned by a new version of Plan UMC (it failed the Constitutional test again), an unsuccessful attempt at tenure episcopacy for U.S. bishops to a predicted raucous debate and protracted demonstrations on human sexuality, General Conference had its skirmishes but no war.

Looking for a miracle

I was not looking for a miracle, but one happened at a toll booth.

A good name

Illinois Great Rivers Annual Conference (IGRC) or its predecessor bodies, the former Central Illinois and Southern Illinois conferences and their lay, clergy and episcopal leaders have earned a good name around Africa University. With God’s help and yours, we will finish this campaign on time.

Terra* not Terror

*Terra means earth in light of Psalm 24:1

A Christmas Refrain

When Rodney King fielded questions about his legacy from the BBC, he responded, “Some people feel like I’m some kind of hero. Others hate me. They say I deserved it. Other people, I can hear them mocking me for when I called for an end to the destruction (the LA riots), like I’m a fool for believing in peace.”

Gospel Parallels

Suppose United Methodists encounter Jesus on the road like the rich young ruler. Instead of eternal life, United Methodists ask our Lord “how can we grow the church?” “Implement the Great Commission,” Christ retorts. With ONE MIND United Methodists reply “Been there, done that.” Undaunted, Christ expects more. “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all humankind unto me.” Believing that, which worked in the 18th and 19th centuries no longer works in the so-called Post-Christian era, United Methodists grieve our membership loss as if it were a life sentence.

Good Friday 6-26-15

In the presence of the unseen Guest, IGRC added it glow to the flame of Coal City UMC and the community to “let our light shine.” I won’t forget good Friday 6-26-15 for a long time.

United Methodists stand with AME after church shooting

In the wake of a tragic shooting of nine people attending Bible study at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C., the Council of Bishops of The United Methodist Church is reaching out to their colleague bishops in the African Methodist Episcopal Church with a message of prayer and healing. The bishops also called upon United Methodists to support victims of violence and to work to end racism and hatred. Their message echoed that of a pastoral letter on racism issued by the Council to the people of The United Methodist Church in early May.

First Things First

Last year, I mentioned a humorous narrative about disciple-making courtesy of Larry Hollon, former General Secretary of United Methodist Communications. Hollon asked “Why did Jesus choose fisher persons for his disciples?

Another Lent ends

Some theologians say Lent ends on Holy Thursday. Others hold fast to Holy Saturday. Lent lasts 40 days. The first day of Lent is Ash Wednesday. Six weeks later excluding Sundays, Lent is over. Then, it’s Easter. Christ rises triumphantly from the grave to reign forever. Looking back, did the richness of this liturgical season prepare us for Easter? Were the sacrifices promised in earnest kept in earnest? Or, did resolutions and/or sacrifices made in earnest slip away buried by the busyness of life and living? Maybe the one sacrifice kept became “living water.” Has our prayer and self-denial led us to a closer walk with Christ?

Faces of India

I looked out on a congregation that had the entire family in church -- every generation was represented. To preach, the Methodist Church of India required its preachers to take off their shoes proclaiming that we were “standing on Holy Ground.” As in Africa, Europe, the Philippines, Korea, Mexico, Panama, Brazil, Israel, America, San Pedro Sula prison in Honduras (said to be the most dangerous prison on earth); I saw the FACE of Christ in the FACES OF INDIA. How Great Thou Art.!

Christmas Letter 2014

In a world that has experienced the deaths of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice and Rumain Brisbon, Bishop Jonathan Keaton reminds us that it takes a village to make for peace.

Looking Back to Look Ahead

Larry Hollon, General Secretary of United Methodist Communications presented an informative report to the Council of Bishops and the Connectional Table November 7, 2014. I have drawn a number of facts and comments from his report that ought to help us keep our focus on “Making Disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world”.

Divine Initiative

Of late, I have preached a number of Birthday Sermons for local churches. Histories of faith-filled persons who took the initiative to build a church or enhance its ministry touched me deeply.

Making Dreams Possible

Did you ever see Walt Disney’s Pinocchio? One voice and excerpted lyrics rocked my world. Nestled in the comforting and quiet pathos of a nocturne, Jiminy Cricket sang passionately and prophetically, “When you wish upon a star, makes no difference who you are, anything your heart desires, will come to you.” Those words and that cartoon taught me to believe in the power of a dream.

Some Thoughts on Superintending

Usually, there are three major seasons in the life of a District Superintendent: Charge Conference Appointment and Summer time for pastoral consultations.

The substance of commencement

TOTAL PRAISE to God is better than Cum, Magna and Summa Cum Laude put together. “God is not through with us yet.” Beverly and I thank God for the privilege of serving among you. Let’s keep the faith. (It’s the substance of things hoped for!!!)

A nagging question...for reflection

Add this nagging question to your prayer life and Christian walk daily, “Do you still want to go where God leads?” Jesus needs to know!! So does the body of Christ.

Finish What You Have Started

The United Methodist Church and its Global Partners have imagined a world without malaria. We haven't succeeded yet. Malaria is a mosquito borne disease caused by a parasite. Victims experience fever, chills and flu-like illness. Left untreated, death occurs.

Gifted Saints: short stories

My life and faith have been shaped by GIFTED LAITY. So has yours. Men and women in my neighborhood, family or church composed these short stories where our lives intersected in Ft. Smith, Ark.

The Ministry of the Laity (laos)

I invite the Laos to take up their God-given ministry, to function as the body of Christ and/or the people of God unafraid to love God and neighbor with an even greater passion. Should we accept God’s challenge in faith, we’ll accomplish “far more than we can imagine or think.” To do so, it takes the entire body of Christ gifted and committed to be in ministry and mission for God.

Come and Eat

First Breakfast, First Fruits, and First Month payment of 2014 payments gives rise to an understanding of ministry at another level. Even as the church works hard to supply its own needs, the needs of others are so paramount that they choose to remit 100 percent of their 2014 apportionment obligation in the first rather than the last month of the year. And what are apportionments? A General Church brochure describes apportionments as the share each annual conference or local church pays to support international, national and regional (annual conference) mission.

Jesus Christ or Coca-Cola?

Regardless of the soft drink’s present influence, Coca-Cola doesn’t have a chance to outperform our awesome God in the long run. Admittedly, I found myself wishing if not praying that God would grant IGRC the faith and commitment to claim its market share of folk in Illinois for authentic discipleship in Jesus Christ. Somebody invited, trained, equipped, supported and/or nurtured lay folk from Fairview Heights Christ UMC, to use their gifts in San Pedro Sula for healing body and soul, abroad and at home; Dios de la alabanza.

Beyond imagination: An end to malaria

Illinois Great Rivers’ share of the $75 million goal is roughly 3.4 percent or $2.5 million. As of Aug. 31, IGRC has raised more than $2.1 million. Left on the table is $389,791.85 to be raised. Local churches have pledged $252,569 of that amount. $167,222 is unpledged. We have to finish what we started. When we do, I will be prouder still!

Take Disciple Bible Study Behind Bars

 Recently, Illinois Great Rivers and Northern Illinois Conferences agreed to a joint approach of “equipping the saints for the work of ministry.” We launched an initiative to conduct Disciple Bible Study in the statewide prison system.

Acts of the Holy Spirit: A Top 10 List

We had a wonderful spirit-filled Annual Conference June 5-8 in Peoria, due to the dedicated work of numerous volunteers, clergy and laity. Most importantly, we were led by a power greater than ourselves. So, I have laid the good to great things that happened directly at the feet of the third person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit.

Statement on Boston Bombing

Bishop Keaton urges United Methodists in the Illinois Great Rivers Conference to remember those that lost loved ones and those who provided assistance as first responders in the aftermath of the Boston bombing April 15 by asking each congregation to lift up these individuals in prayer Sunday, April 21.

God is Good

Our denomination has built Africa University through prayer, presence, apportionments and special giving. More than 4,000 graduates have been sent into the world from Africa University. The current student body numbers 1,200 with 700 more involved in long-distance learning. Money and students are part of the lifeblood of educational institutions.

Best of all, I learned afresh that my best sermon in a while didn't just happen; it was "the work of God."

Christmas Near

Bishop Jonathan Keaton shares an original poem for Christmas 2012.

I'm Dreaming of an INM Christmas...

Reverie aside, I am challenging the 860 churches of Illinois Great Rivers Conference and myself to raise $141.000.00 by the end of the year. If every church found a donor to give $164, we’d go over the top. I’ll be the first donor. Best of all, it would be a perfect Christmas Present for more of our neighbors in Africa wanting to be saved from death by malaria. We could shout Hallelujah crossing the finish line before singing Auld Lang Syne beginning the New Year.

We Are Easter People

I remember one of the last Council of Bishop’s meetings Bishop Duecker attended. We rode together on a bus to the Memorial Service. During our conversation, Sheldon said his wife wanted me to preach her funeral service I gasped; took a meditative deep breath and agreed. Quite frankly, I was surprised. Among those who knew her a lot, I knew her the least. The Duecker’s had a plan.

Pastoral Letter on Hurricane Sandy

Give what you to our church wide effort to address massive human needs so that folk know the church universal cares about them. As Tom Hazelwood, UMCOR Assistant General Secretary for U.S. Disaster Response said, "As large as the monster Sandy is, the church is larger and more powerful in its preparations, its spirit and its capacity to be here for years to come.

Our Converts are Few

Christ’s joyful challenge of disciple-making causes my heart to ache. What pains me all too often is a familiar realization in numerous Methodist circles, our converts are few. Surely, I am not bereft of the skills, commitment and/or vision of Mr. Wesley, John the Baptist and Lydia who started a house church in Acts 16.

Or, am I?