“And are we yet alive,
And see each other's face?
Glory, and thanks to Jesus give
For his almighty grace!”
As the early Methodists gathered for Society meetings they would often begin with this famous Charles Wesley Hymn, “And Are We Yet Alive?” This tradition is still carried on by many Annual Conferences, Clergy Sessions, and even by our General Conference global gatherings.
This song is a beautiful reminder that we are connected to God and to one another. As I have been travelling across our Annual Conference, trying to get to know this Episcopal Area, I am discovering that there are many pockets of vitality and life. Rumors that we are dead are indeed premature!
The IGRC is teeming with life from Coal City to Cairo. I’ve become a firsthand witness to our strength and vitality. While we still have much work to do, my personal assessment is that we have more life and vitality than we claim. Our challenge is in bringing our sections of strength and stability together in such a way that it fuels those areas that need revitalization and renewal. We cannot claim health in one part of the body while another part is in a state of atrophy. We dare not tout individual success in “our church” while the whole Conference is experiencing loss and continued decline.
We are a “Connectional Church.” Wesley’s hymn is spot on, “What troubles have we seen, What conflicts have we passed, fighting’s without, and fears within, since we assembled last?” I love the simplistic beauty of those words. Charles Wesley was not afraid to name the reality. Everything was not always rosy and peace-filled. The presence of turmoil and tension did not separate the early church from its mission, and my hope is that our current struggles will not lead us into division.
In just a few short weeks we will gather for our Annual Conference. This will be my first Annual Conference as a Bishop. I am excited and nervous. My excitement comes from being out and among our churches and ministries. We are alive and vital, and I can’t wait for us to share stories of what God is doing in, among, and through us. We are making disciples; feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, going into the jail cells, expanding our Senior Care ministries, promoting peace and justice, and reaching children and youth, as we work to be the hands and feet of Jesus.
Annual Conference will not be “business as usual.” Yes, we will have all the items that are “highlights,” but we will not be bogged down by debate and procedures that waste time and keep us from addressing issues related to accomplishing our mission. My hope is that you will get some tools for the ministry toolbox, swap stories of best practices and success, celebrate milestones, remember loved ones, receive new appointments, and that you will leave “fired up” for the Lord. I am not interested in presiding over fruitless sessions that simply rearrange the deck chairs on the Titanic.
Annual Conference should answer Charles Wesley’s question, “And Are We Yet Alive?” with a resounding, passionate, “Yes!” I look forward to seeing you and to sharing with you the joy and excitement that I am discovering exists across the Conference. If you are unable to join us physically, please visit us via our live stream internet connection. Please be in prayer for me and for our Conference. “Let’s get fired up!”