Bishop defines reality and says 'thank you'
Bishop Gregory V. Palmer used his third Episcopal Address to report on the progress of four initiatives which he proposed at the 2010 Annual Conference and then said “thank you” to the Annual Conference for “showing up and responding in so many ways to the needs within our conference and around the world.”
The Bishop reported that $1.5 million in pledges and financial commitments have been secured in the first six months of the $2.3 to $3.5 million Imagine No Malaria campaign, with 45 percent of IGRC congregations participating.
“You are awesome, you are extraordinary, you are my people, you’re the gang I want to hang with every day and every hour. You made pledges, you filled out cards, you distributed cans, you made phone calls, and you have countless miles you’ve traveled some of you to talk about the difference INM is making is not into some far-off future,” Palmer said. “By God’s grace your willingness to trust a vision that didn’t belong to me but to the whole church given by the Holy Spirit that can transform the world, but particularly that part of the world called Africa, and that we can join with lots of other partners some of whom we’ll never know, in eliminating deaths due to malaria by 2015.”
Utilizing the 2000 movie Hardball as an illustration, in which a group of young people are molded into a Little League team, actor Keanu Reaves says, “I am just blown away that you showed up,” Palmer said members of the IGRC continue to show up.
“I came by today to say thank you for showing up, for Imagine No Malaria, but for so much more because week in and week out you show up in church, in Bible Study, at committee meetings, at work in the district and in the annual conference,” Palmer said. “You are bearing witness to the love of Christ in your communities and your places of work, in your civic engagements, and in your volunteerism, some of which is in the church and beyond the church. You are showing up everywhere, and I came by this afternoon to tell you that when you show up and we show up together to do what only we can do as God’s people in Christ, we help to dream and to make a different world. So let’s keep showing up.”
In addressing the initiatives offered at the 2010 Annual Conference, Palmer reported:
- Conflict Transformation – Palmer acknowledged that work on this initiative has not been done in a way in which “there is a tangible outcome-based report to share but my commitment and zeal for it is renewed, and it is among my earliest priorities as we move into the next conference year.”
- Conference Dashboard of vital statistics -- an average of a little over 300 congregations have engaged it on a regular if not weekly basis. “I hope that as you do that work it is more than mere data-gathering and busy work, but it creates some grist for the mill of thoughtful conversations about what does this information, or what do these facts, in some cases, what do these numbers mean?” Palmer said. “They are a lens through which we need to see, gain greater clarity, insight, and understanding that will move us to the kind of collaboration that invites us in local congregations, regions, districts, and in the annual conferences to make strategic decisions.” Quoting Jerry Steed, president of the Board of Trustees at Garrett-Evangelical Seminary, Palmer noted that “facts are our friends; what we need to know are actionable facts – those that can help us make strategic and leveraged decisions.”
Palmer also identified several constraints to the system of deploying pastors for appointment:
- Contraction of the salary pool. “I think there are any number of really sharp and smart reasons for why that is happening, but I invite you to pay attention to that in local context and know that others of us are looking at the aggregate or overall fact of contraction in the salary pool for all of the clergy in the life of the annual conference, and what that means for our ability and capacity to provide the kind of pastoral leaders that we have and that we need in each and all of our congregations and the congregations that are yet to be."
- Resistance to receiving pastors due to gender, cross-cultural/cross-racial considerations and age. Palmer said of the first two: “One of the places that we get to live out those commitments are by building inclusive communities in our congregations, and sometimes that can be, not always, directly related to the response of who is appointed as pastor. So when women are appointed to your congregations, people of color appointed to your congregations, if they happen not to be congregations of all women or all people of the same color or ethnic heritage as the pastor. It is an opportunity, but it ought not be treated as a problem to be solved, but a gift to be embraced.”
Regarding the issue of age, the Bishop said the resistance has slowly been creeping into the take-in process with a church. “Now my friends, I want you to take just five seconds and look around you, and you look good,” Palmer said. “But I’ve got to tell you, I ain’t mad… yet, but I’m a little appalled when a pastor past 55 gets pushback from being named the pastor because she or he is 56 or 57. Increasingly people are working longer, in fact the United Methodist Church has raised the retirement age at the last General Conference. I’m not suggesting to you that there is not a healthy and appropriate cut-off point for everyone. But if our task as superintendents is to try to align the very best leadership we can to each congregation, and it is enormously challenging work, simply because of its complexity, not because we don’t have good churches and good people to work with. This is not about that we don’t need younger pastors, because we do. But we also need to track where we are headed in the future. And young, middle-aged, and more maturing, let me take you to the bottom line -- pastors come out of local congregations. I don’t birth pastors. District superintendents don’t birth pastors.”
Palmer also identified the Church’s propensity to do nothing because it isn’t perfect. “We in the church have got to grow the kind of courage that helps us be free of the imprisonment and the chains of not doing anything because we don’t think it’s perfect right now,” he said. “We are always into the future going to be building bridges as we’re walking on them. “