Episcopal Address 2016

Bishop Cynthia Fierro Harvey delivered her annual Episcopal Address during the AC2016: Rooted and Grounded Communion Service held the morning of June 9 in the Gold Dome on the Centenary College campus in Shreveport.

Bishop Cynthia Fierro Harvey

Episcopal Address

June 9, 2016

God can do far more than any of us could ever ask or imagine.

The past four years have been a living testimony to those prophetic words. 

God has worked in us and through us and in spite of us in ways none of us could have ever imagined--from a new vision and mission, to restructuring, new ways of doing Annual Conference, exciting work between the Board of Ministry and the Cabinet and so much more.

You have been permission giving in so many ways. 

You have trusted me, but most importantly, you have trusted God to lead us.

Did you know that in 2013, we had only 14 clergy under the age of 35?  Today we have 26 under the age of 35.  The average age of our ordination class this year is 40.6--the youngest is 27 [and the oldest is 51.] The average age of the commissioning class is 27.1 with the youngest being 24 and the oldest 31. 

When you have 28 retirements as we have this year, having young clergy to come in behind them is important.  We talked about this three years ago and today we are experiencing the realities.    

We celebrate the start of our new faith communities--reaching people for Jesus Christ in new and unique ways.

The work in the 7th Ward continues as Spirit Church begins to find roots.

The Foundry in the Sterlington area launched last year and is worshipping an average of 125. 

Louisiana Avenue in Lafayette continues to do amazing ministry.

In the weeks to come, you will hear about the incredible ministry in Luling outside New Orleans and a new exciting ministry being birthed out of APEX in New Orleans.

Asbury in Lafayette is exploring an extension of their ministry in the Youngsville area which is one of the fastest growing areas in the state.  Yes, Youngsville and Asbury are working to get ahead of the curve. 

We have responded to floods, tornadoes and more floods.

You have been patient as we have worked hard to make mission field appointments, making sure the right pastor was sent to the right church at the right time. 

It hasn’t always been perfect and we have not succeeded in every case, but each mission field appointment informs the next as the cabinet works to maintain the long view. 

We are learning about transferable gifts and our ability to scale-up.  We are also learning that there are pastors that have the unique ability to serve in larger cities, and some that thrive in more rural communities. 

We will continue to explore ways to affirm and celebrate the unique and contextual ministries of these highly effective pastors in meaningful and tangible ways. 

Friends, you have been fruitful.  You continue to model what it means to be the church.

You are modeling what it means to be rooted and grounded. 

Rooted and grounded in the word of God.  Rooted and grounded in the community.

As we began planning for this year’s conference a year ago, I read an article about redwood trees.  I had been introduced to these beauties several years ago during a trip to Northern California.

The redwood trees of the northern and the north central California coast are the tallest trees on earth.  They may reach over 350 feet in height. 

In order to grow so tall, one might think that deep roots are needed to hold them in place and nourish these giants.

Given the great height the mature tree attains, the root system of the redwood tree is surprisingly shallow.  There is no taproot and the other roots may reach no deeper than 6-12 feet.

The major roots are about 1 inch in diameter and they typically spread 50 to 80 feet.

The trees are able to remain upright for millennia by growing close together with other redwood trees, intermingling their root systems. 

In order to remain standing, they entangle themselves with one another and hold each other up.

We speak often of being deeply rooted, which is frankly what we hope for, but the reality is that often we are not that deeply rooted and we have to rely on one another to hold us up – growing closer together and making sure our roots are intertwined. 

I would love for all of us to be White Oaks with deep taproots but honestly, Redwoods are majestic, stately and stand tall and beautiful even in the midst of storms.

If you have ever been to the Redwood Forest, you will know what I mean.

Often the word “entangled” is negative.  In the description of the root systems of the majestic redwoods, I like the word “entangled.”

Our lives are entangled.  Life causes us to become entangled.  I don’t know of anyone I would rather be entangled with but you.

It is because of our entanglement that we are stronger. 

When we get wrapped up in each other’s life, it is then that God can do far more than we could ever ask or imagine.

The world is changing so rapidly. We need to hold on to each other for dear life.

We have made good progress, but I ask you to buckle your seat and keep your arms and legs inside the ride because we have a way to go. 

We continue to move, not necessarily fast, but deliberately and intentionally.  We still have a way to go. 

We still have over 50 percent of our churches with no profession of faith.  Not good!

We still have churches declining at such a rapid rate that they cannot sustain their current facilities or personnel.

If we don’t GO NOW, we will be left behind.  We have to continue to innovate, to create, to risk – to make a new way. 

The world is changing faster than we can keep up with.  Think about it for a minute

The internet as we know it is only two decades old.

Facebook began in 2004.

Instagram, 2010.

Now let’s get to really important statistics in our timeline

In 1971 the first Starbuck’s opened; there were 116 stores in 1991,

4,709 in 2001 and in 2015, there were 22,519!

Today’s world is fast paced, exciting and dynamic.  Changes occur frequently and quickly. 

We have to stay in tune with the latest trends, the impact of world events on people’s hearts, the impact of the world on people’s moods.  What are their greatest needs?  What do people hold of highest value?

The church is no longer the centerpiece of most of our communities

People don’t go to church 52 Sundays a year

We are lucky if they attend church one Sunday in every six

Our major givers are dying at a pretty fast pace and it is getting harder and harder to replace them because today’s givers aren’t inspired by the value propositions of the past

Many churches who had multiple elders in the past can hardly afford a part-time local pastor

It takes a different kind of leader to lead the church today.  It takes an entrepreneurial leader that will not settle.

I am not here to plug Direct TV but I am here to illustrate what happens when you settle.  The world passes you by. 

Author and entrepreneur Jim Rohn once said, “If you are not willing to risk the usual, you will have to settle for the ordinary.” 

I don’t want to be ordinary.  Vanilla?  Do you?  I want our ministry, our life and work to be extraordinary. 

In the book “Getting Beyond Better, How Social Entrepreneurship Works,” Roger Martin and Sally Osberg talk about social entrepreneurs. 
They say that Social Entrepreneurs begin by recognizing an injustice or suffering that inspires them to tap into their own resources, their own wheelhouse to better understand the root causes of injustice and create a model for change that they can then scale up. 

This sounds a lot like our call, doesn’t it?

But I remind you that these kinds of leaders envision metrics of change beyond the usual statistics like wealth, power, decrease in disease or - in our terms – worship attendance, membership, Sunday school attendance – all that stuff on Table 1 of your charge conference report.

Now, don’t misunderstand me. I have said it many times before, these are important measures – indicators of vitality. But I don’t believe they are the sole indicators of vitality.

I continue to ask myself whether we are asking the right questions?  Are we measuring the right stuff?

We have to lead today with a tenacious curiosity and relentless questioning. 

Why?  Why?  Almost like a two-year-old.  And you can’t answer, “Because I said so!”

We have to be like CSI detectives, peeling away at what we see in order to get to what we don’t yet have eyes to see. 

When we don’t know what to do, we tend to DO more. 

We are great at the technical stuff. We feed hungry people – which is good, but do we know why they are hungry?

We are providers of social services that address noble causes.  We DO a lot of stuff but in DOING, are we leaving the existing system in place?

Are we simply ameliorating the effects of poverty, providing food for families in desperate need? 

Again a good thing, BUT, are we leading transformational change when they have to come to the food pantry week after week? 

Trust me, the world would be a far worse place without the food pantries in our churches, but we need to address the root causes of poverty and go deeper. 

But this requires entanglement, relentless questioning and tenacious curiosity. 

It is messy, controversial, rubs us the wrong way and forces us to ask more questions--harder questions that we cannot ignore.

We have to disrupt the system, otherwise we will wear ourselves out doing more that does nothing to cause transformational change – that does nothing to change the system. 

We have to lead differently, more so than ever before. 

Leadership is a behavior.  Our role as leaders is to nurture and transform the leadership of others--to empower the saints for the work of ministry.  A very wise woman once told me, “The only thing you can control is who you are.” 

The question a leader should constantly ask is, “How can I behave differently in order to make progress on our work, our shared ministry – all that is in front of us?” 

Craig Gilliam, my confidante, mentor, coach, my own personal Yoda and friend says that modeling is one of the most powerful things a leader does!

Leadership is less about making decisions and more about how we spark a new way --how we inspire. Inspirational leadership. 

In his newest book Christian Social Innovation, Greg Jones, past Duke Divinity School Dean, says that we Wesleyans have had in our DNA a commitment to integrative thinking that holds together ideas and practices that others tend to make oppositional.

Can we hold two conflicting ideas in tension?  We live in a yes/but world. 

We will experience a new movement when we shift from yes/but to yes/and. 

Times of tension force us to go outside the proverbial box, or fishbowl.
But, sometimes we confuse the urgent with the important.  When things are shifting—slipping and sliding away—we  tend to get more technical and a lot less adaptive. 

We start talking about structure, staffing—oh, if only the structure was different. If we only had a different leader.  In times like this, we confuse institution with structure.

We cannot let ourselves get caught up in this kind of thinking, it often leads to despair and to fear. 

We default to what we know. What can be because new ideas, innovation, risk, creativity are a threat to the status quo – our institutional understanding.

We don’t want to feel threatened so we go back to the way it has always been!

Alan Roxburgh in Missional Mapmaking says that we do different things but use the same old map that no longer can take us to where we want to be because the landscape is no longer the same—making  the same assumptions makes even the new things that we do not really new nor effective.

Social entrepreneurs work toward alignment with the mission –

with a desire to renovate, innovate, risk. They will almost do anything to assure alignment with the mission. 

When we align with our mission, it might mean we have to give up on some things we love.  Things we have loved for a very long time!

News Alert: This is not our greatest place of comfort. 

Apportionment payout, average worship attendance, membership – again very important, but are these the most relevant measures for today?

We are going to have to come up with a THIRD METRIC. Gil Rendle says if you can’t measure it, you had better be able to tell a story about it.

I hope you have been following the #WeAreMore campaign that has focused on the stories of incredible ministry happening around the South Central Jurisdiction. These are stories that need to be told. Perhaps our story is the THIRD METRIC.

I know it is risky for me to hold up one church because there are so many we could highlight. 

But Louisiana Avenue United Methodist Church is a model of entrepreneurial leadership. 

Two years ago, it had 8-12 worshippers and we thought it was heading to closure. 

We sent a pastor who had some pretty outrageous ideas. Today, they worship over 200 – and they are taking it to the streets and are reaching far more than 200!  I haven’t seen a place on a charge conference form for that! Have you?

I would call Robert Johnson, the pastor and his congregation social entrepreneurs, people living in the world of Christian Social Innovation.  I would call them Redwoods entangled with one another.  Pastor Johnson leads from the soul and leads his congregation to lead from the soul. 

They won a Wesley last year and this year I want to personally award them a Wesley for their IMPACT ministry.

(View the video for Louisiana Avenue UMC, Lafayette)

What started as a conversation about using a food truck model for church has resulted in church on wheels. 

Louisiana Avenue Folks, you will receive your actual Wesley in the first plenary session this afternoon!

Last fall, during the Pope’s visit to the U.S., he said something that caught my attention. 
I didn’t write it down--I was driving. But he said something like, “A good shepherd should smell a whole lot like his (or her) sheep.”

I would say that a good leader should smell a whole lot like his or her sheep.  When we are in relationship to our sheep, we will learn of the greatest suffering and injustices.

This is risky business because when you get entangled with your sheep, God may ask you to do something you are not quite prepared to do. 

Like the people at Chatham United Methodist Church.  A church with people who decided to reach out to their community.

Opening a neighbor’s pool to the children of the community.  And the unexpected happened—soon there were more of “them” than of “us.”  Some parents could not climb that hurdle. 

But as the kids became more entangled, they wouldn’t settle for anything less and the summer program thrived.The Chatham UMC receives this Annual Conference’s second Wesley Award.

(View the video for Chatham UMC)

Amazing things happen when we see things not as problems to be solved, but as opportunities to be seized.  

Just think about Jesus’ feeding of the 5,000.  The disciples clearly thought, “Houston, we have a problem.” Lots of people and not enough food. 

What started off as a problem of scarcity ended in a story of God’s abundance. 

What problems do you have in your faith communities that can be seen as opportunities to share God’s abundance?

Last year, I worshipped in one of our newer churches and there was a need for more nursery workers. 

The pastor pointed out to the congregation that many of them had been praying for God to send more nursery workers.  He then called them out, saying that they had all the nursery workers they needed – they were sitting right there in the congregation!  They could stop praying for God to send more nursery workers. God already had, they were already there!

The church had all it needed to be vital. It was all around them—they just needed to step forward. 

When we are leading our faith communities into a life of vitality,

we will draw upon the power found in the community of the baptized to make disciples of Jesus Christ that will not just transform the world, but radically transform the world. 

We have to engage in the lives of people in our communities.  We have to get entangled.

Wendell Berry once said that a community is not something you have, like a camcorder or a breakfast nook.  No, it is something you do.  And you have to do it all the time.

Like the people at Elizabeth Sullivan Memorial.

When a small church in a community is struggling with aging membership and limited financial capacity, it just takes one!  One person, one idea, one willing to serve God.  The widow’s garden provides a fresh harvest for the community and has more than doubled in size. It involves not only church members but community partners, school children and the God who calls us to entangle ourselves and DO community. 

(View the video for Elizabeth Sullivan Memorial UMC, Bogalusa)

The third Wesley goes to the people of Elizabeth Sullivan Memorial UMC, the people that wouldn’t settle.

Life changing ministry does not have to be complicated—it just has to be transformative. 

Social entrepreneurship and Christian innovation is not about creating more or bigger, prettier places of worship. It is not about more programs, but it is about becoming more culturally relevant, responding to the needs of the community, reaching for the heart of the matter and being that which matters to a world that is hurting and searching for things that really matter.

There are people looking to us for those things that matter and that will bring them closer to God and closer to one another.  BUT....

There are so many things that cause us to become un-centered or unhinged from our relationship with one another and from God.

General Conference 2016 was a stitch in time that came dangerously close to causing us to become unhinged from our relationship with God and one another.

This General Conference talked of schism and division.

There is a lot of hurt, a lot of trash-talking and name calling that prevents us from truly leading—it prevents us from leading from the heart.

We actually spent more time talking about the rules than we did the mission of the church.

But in the end, the General Conference chose to set aside what divides us and take a stand for unity.  Not even our differences keep us from being the body of Christ in the world.

For the first time in its history, the General Conference made a request of the bishops, and the bishops responded with a strong stand for unity. 

They, like the rest of the Conference, and frankly the rest of the church, do not share unanimity but they are unanimous that we are stronger together than we are apart and will work intentionally over the next two years to bring about a way of justice and reconciliation for all people—standing on the promises of God!

If ready and if appropriate, there will be a called session of the General Conference, and in the meantime, the bishops are committed to continue to explore ways to live in grace with one another while upholding the Book of Discipline. 

We believe that we are more than legislation, more than 10 days in Portland.

We are a global church with over 40% representation from outside the US.

We have been able to make incredible headway in the battle against the killer diseases of poverty like Malaria.

We are building hospitals, schools and universities all over the world.

We are more!

Nothing can separate us from one another or from the love of God—not even General Conference. 

I often wonder if Louisiana could model for the rest of the United Methodist Church what it means to be in covenant with one another, what it really means to be entangled in one another’s life?

These two are not on the same theological spectrum, but there is a great deal of love and respect going on here. 

Hear what Juan says about his brother Pat: “Dr.  Day and I often disagree on issues facing the church and the world, but I am thankful for him, his love for Jesus and his church, and his willingness to mentor young pastors like me.  Unity makes us stronger!”

While they sat next to one another at GC, perhaps the only thing they agreed on was crazy socks. 

They might have cancelled each other’s votes most of the time.  But they are brothers united in Covenant.  They won’t settle for the ongoing narrative alive in other places in the church!

We don’t always talk about this and I don’t think you really know how truly unique these covenant relationships are in Louisiana.

I celebrate them, honor them and pray to God they might serve as a model for how the rest of the church ought to behave. 

I stand firm believing that God’s power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine. 

Sometimes it requires going outside what we have always known. 

It means not being sucked into others’ behavior—the name calling and finger pointing. Or giving into peer pressure like 8th graders, but standing firm on what you believe and still loving one another.  It means we have to explore a new way.  Perhaps the new way is simply LOVE!

Going outside of our own proverbial box is risky business.  We might discover something new about ourselves and our neighbor.

The people at Noel Memorial UMC learned this by risking and getting entangled with their neighbors and not settling for the way we have always done it.

Noel members have formed relationships with those shopping in the Christmas Shoppe.  They have built friendships that go far beyond anything they could have ever asked or imagined.

They probably smell a whole lot like their sheep, too. 

(View the video for Noel Memorial UMC, Shreveport)

The recipient of the fourth Wesley Award is Noel Memorial United Methodist Church. 

It is in our deepest imagination that innovation can find root in a sense of hope. 

It is here that the broken can begin to be healed. 

It is here that we discover the power of the Holy Spirit who is making all things new. 

We need to be “Go” communities of faith not “Come” communities of faith.  You cannot have community without people, but getting people to come is not the end goal.  We must create communities that invite people to come and experience being deeply known and loved.  Perhaps even when their own ability to know has been shattered.

See how First UMC, Baton Rouge invited Alzheimer patients and their caregivers to an experience of being deeply known and loved.

(View the video for First UMC, Baton Rouge)

The fifth recipient of this year’s Wesley is First UMC, BR. 

Amazing what happens when we sing a familiar song, or recite a familiar verse of scripture. 

Often the unknown world becomes known and familiar again--even if just for a moment. 

Are you beginning to get a sense of what it means when you don’t settle?

There will be additional Wesleys awarded throughout the week.  Stay tuned for more life-changing stories. 

In any of these instances, and so many more in your churches, settling is not an option. 

Think about these, mostly men, they were not Settlers.  First, the Louisiana Methodist Episcopal Church South at their annual conference in 1882 in New Orleans.

Second, the mostly black delegates to the 1921 Annual Conference. 

Aren’t you glad they didn’t Settle!?

This year we celebrate 60 years of the ordination of women!  I am grateful every day for women like Marjorie Matthews the first bishop to be elected in 1980. Friends, that was not that long ago. 

Minerva Carcano, the first Hispanic woman elected bishop. 

Leontine Kelly, the first African American woman to be elected bishop. 

And some of the women who have personally shaped me—Carol Cotton Winn, the first woman ordained in Louisiana; Marie Williams; and my hero, Janice Riggle Huie.

And the list goes on, but not for long, because we still have a way to go my friends.  

We are not settling!

We need leaders that are willing to risk, that are willing to fail. 

Leaders that are not willing to settle – but who will lead with tenacious curiosity and relentless questioning. 

Leading requires trust in God, and trust in each other as God’s people. Only then can we lead with bold confidence.  Trust is required if we are going to be entangled like the mighty redwoods.

Lead with bold confidence and an entrepreneurial spirit! 

Take a stand in the unknown, trusting in the Spirit to move!

God can do far more than any of us can ask or imagine.