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Bishop Cynthia Fierro Harvey's 2022 Episcopal Address
Romans 5:5-11, Romans 12:9-11
It has been three years! I cannot believe my eyes! You are here and in person. You are not in a tiny square on my computer.
It has been way too long and a lot has happened! A lot has changed! And yet a lot has remained the same.
There is one thing that has not changed. God is the God of yesterday, today, and all of our tomorrows.
In the words of John Wesley – best of all God is with us. That has not changed and never will.
There have been many interruptions but we must remember that scripture is filled with stories of God interrupting someone’s life to fulfill God’s purpose.
Craig Gilliam always reminds us that God’s middle name is 'surprise'.
We get that right?
While I will never, ever believe that God has been the cause of what we have encountered these past two years – I do believe God will do something with it and with us.
I imagine every single one of you can tell at least one story of suffering that has produced endurance, character, and hope – and HOPE that never disappoints.
Frederick Buechner reminds us that “Hope stands up to its knees in the past and keeps its eyes on the future. There has never been a time past when God wasn’t with us as the strength, the wisdom beyond our wisdom, as whatever it is in our hearts.”
No one knows that better than a Louisianan.
But sometimes we have a hard time seeing and believing that God is with us.
We have a hard time seeing hope! It is hard to see what is right in front of us.
We have to look hard. Really hard! We have to work at it!
Sometimes it is distorted - it’s like looking through the peephole in your door.
Or you are not exactly sure what you see. Do you remember when we were kids there were those pictures with all the dots and you had to connect the dots to find the boat or the house?
It was the analog version of “the dress.” Remember that a few years ago. Some say the dress is gold and white and others say it is blue and black.
By the way, if you have been dying to know the dress is actually blue and black.
Vision scientists, yes there is such a thing, have been studying this for years.
As I was doing a little research, I found this excerpt from one of the studies…
“Even outside of vision scientists, most people just assume everyone sees the world in the same way. Which is why it’s awkward when disagreements arise—it suggests one party either is ignorant, is malicious, has an agenda, or is crazy. We believe what we see with our own eyes more than almost anything else, which may explain the feuds that occurred when “the dress” first struck and science lacked a clear explanation for what was happening.” (Slate – Pascal Walisch April 2017)
Sometimes what we see is shaped by who we are and how we were formed.
Sometimes what we see depends on where we are standing.
And sometimes what we see depends on what others tell us we should see.
It might also be like walking into a dark room – sometimes it just takes time for our eyes to adjust.
Author, speaker, and inspirationalist, Barbara Johnson says that faith is seeing light with your heart when all your eyes see is darkness.
Far too often and especially in the past two years and still today we have our eyes set on screens and newsfeeds.
We gaze at words and images that don’t speak back to us. We see things through our myopic tunneled vision that speaks into our own echo chambers.
The Gospel calls us to so much more. The Gospel calls us to see the future, not with our eyes but with our heart – a heart of hope.
In order to see with our heart, we have to be in community with one another. And friends the past two years have set us back.
While we did what we could on Zoom, Zoom does not offer us the greatest opportunity to build community.
We can get work done but when our work is people work – Zoom doesn’t always cut it.
The challenges facing the church today are not head issues – they are heart issues.
My favorite part of the Book of Discipline is The Theological Task. I think because it doesn’t deal with legalities but with what it means to be the church – what it means to be the body of Christ. It is at the heart of what it means to be the body.
Our theological task it says is communal. It unfolds in conversations open to the experiences, insights, and traditions of all constituencies that make up United Methodism.
The Theological Task is contextual and incarnational. Our theological task is essentially practical.
Hear what paragraph 125 says (P. 125)
We are a connected body bound together in a connectional covenant in which we support and hold each other accountable for faithful discipleship and mission. Integrally holding connectional unity and local freedom, we seek to proclaim and embody the gospel in ways responsible to our specific cultural and social context while maintaining a vital web of interactive relationships.
We are connected at the very core of our DNA.. We are a vital web of interactive relationships.
If the last two years have taught us anything I believe it is that this binding of heart and mind and body and soul is critical to our witness in the world.
I think it is time to reclaim our vital web of interactive relationships.
It is time to reclaim connectionalism.
It is time to reclaim our vision of The United Methodist Church.
It is time to reclaim our Wesleyan theology of grace, of social holiness.
It is time for a revival!
Louisiana Annual Conference we know how to do this!
Suffering produces endurance, endurance character, and character hope!
We are people of hope. We personify hope. We INSPIRE hope! It is who we are!!!
It is revival time! It is resurrection time!
Let’s lay our differences aside and be who God has called us to be – the body of Christ for the world!
Let’s make this about the heart. Let’s make this about the very heartBEAT that gives life to God’s people.
I love what Antoine de Saint-Exupery, author of The Little Prince says, “One sees clearly only with the heart. Anything essential is invisible to the eyes.”
Friends, we have to see, like really see, with our hearts not just our heads and even our eyes.
It is our greatest chance of catching a glimpse of hope.
Sometimes to see things clearly you also have to know and understand your purpose.
The clearer your purpose, the clearer your vision.
Sometimes we settle for what we know and what we see - not what is possible.
We live in the cone of uncertainty. It is our daily bread.
While uncertainty breeds doubt and distrust we, the people of God of the Louisiana Conference know better.
Life in the cone of uncertainty is a great teacher.
We learn that God is continuing to work in and through us in ways that seem impossible.
When others might see uncertainty we see possibility.
While we might face the future – exhausted, weary, downright tired – uncertainty teaches us to face the future unafraid!
We are a people of hope knowing that hope NEVER DISAPPOINTS.
Hope is what inspires a spirit of revival. A spirit of possibility for a future that is more than we can ever imagine.
I love what Native Americans – the Iroquois -call the Seventh Generation Principle; decisions we make today should result in a sustainable world seven generations into the future.
My number one strength finder is futuristic. I am always coming to you from the future. But I cannot even begin to perceive seven generations into the future but God sees a future of renewal, revival, and of hope for God’s people.
God sees a future filled with people who are light to those who live in darkness. YOU! are a light in this very dark world.
You bring sight to the blind, release to the captives.
The Spirit of the Lord is upon YOU because the Lord has anointed YOU!
He has sent YOU to preach good news to the poor, to proclaim release to the prisoners and recovery of sight to the blind. To liberate the oppressed and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor
Friends, that is God’s vision YOU!
It is God’s vision for the kingdom, God’s vision for the UMC, and God’s vision for the Louisiana Conference.
We must claim that future.
God’s purpose for us is that we live a life of purpose.
A life of promise.
A life of hope.
A life of innovation.
A life of curiosity and creativity.
A life for all of God’s people
Don’t settle for anything less!
God is calling us to much more than even is –
Let me slow down a minute…I can hear what you are thinking … but Bishop Harvey – things are so uncertain, unknown – the world has gone to hell in a handbasket
First, there was COVID, and then more COVID and more COVID...
And even before that we were experiencing decline in the UMC...
And then there was and still is division in the church...
There are new expressions of Methodism popping up...
We experienced a contentious election in the United States...
We experienced political turmoil across the world...
We watched with horror the siege of the capitol on January 6...
Racism has continued to infect our communities...
Persons of color are being killed at an alarmingly disproportionate rate...
Mental and spiritual health challenges are unparallel...
Jobs have been lost at a rate not experienced in most of our lifetimes...
Travel is harder and more expensive than ever...
The supply chain was stalled and has not yet returned to normal...
There is a war going on like nothing we have experienced in most of our lifetimes...
We were in the cone of uncertainty seven times last year!
Almost every parish in the state has been impacted by natural disasters.
While we would like to think of the proverbial one-in-a-million odds that a child in Louisiana will die this year?
And that would be too many…We are wrong! The odds are that one in roughly 2,778 children will die in Louisiana this year. Compared to one in 4,000 in the US.
Friends, this is unconscionable.
Then there is the General Church...
We have had three postponements of General Conference.
Rumors are flying rampant. Untruths are being told!
Words that hardly ever entered our lexicon have become commonplace – disaffiliation, comity agreements.
Some of you know more about the Book of Discipline that you ever imagined.
What we know is that in all this God, the God of hope, the God that inspires – God is with us and sustains us for the facing of another day, another tragedy, another challenge, another complex situation that seems insurmountable – AND… ….we know all manner of things shall be well.
I introduced my Tia Cuca to the Council of Bishops a few weeks ago in my last president’s address and have been talking about her a lot.
I hear her all the time these days. Tia Cuca and I would sit on her floral velvet sofa, the one with the yellow gold and brown flowers - we all had them back then or at least we did en El Barrio – we would settle in to watch the evening news – It was usually Walter Cronkite.
We would watch on a small black and white television on the tiny wooden table and she would release a heavy sigh, hold me close and say, “Mija, what is the world coming to?”
I hear her still today as we watch the news with horror as children are killed in an elementary school. I think of the parents whose sons and daughters didn’t come home, throw their backpacks on the sofa and ask for a snack.
I listened to the hearings before congress last week. I actually had to pull the car over as I wept listening to one parent after another tell their story.
In what universe should a child have to put blood from her dead friend on herself so a shooter will think she was dead!
What about the grandmother who never made it out of the grocery store in Buffalo, NY with her eggs for breakfast the next morning.
The hospital in Tulsa, Oklahoma where doctors and nurses who care for the injured became victims themselves.
When does this end? Thoughts and prayers are important. I will always ask us to add our prayers to the prayers of others!
But we have to be more and do more. It is time for people of faith to respond in tangible ways.
There was a time when Methodists would speak and America would listen.
Let me take you back in time – the year was 1908 – children as young as FOUR were working in factories and coal mines.
The church, our church, the Methodists, we knew this was wrong and in 1908 the social creed called for an end to child labor and also a fair wage.
The creed was bold and it included this:
The Methodist Church stands for equal rights and complete justice for all in all stations of life.
For the abolition of child labor.
For a living wage in every industry.
We still have work to do!
What we do and what we say matters!
We must make our voices known and heard. It is beyond time!
These stories go on and on…and they shouldn’t have to.
It is hard to see hope. It is hard to even imagine hope.
Yet, we know that even or especially in all this, God is with us – with the families, with the children, with the teachers.
Our body is broken yet broken people serving broken people is what the gospel is all about.
As broken as our world might be we know that by the power of the Holy Spirit we are people of hope.
I have been asked more than once in the last few weeks – where do I see hope?
In the midst of the chaos – some we cannot control and much that we have created – in the midst of it all GOD IS AT WORK!
I see hope and am inspired when I am with people like you!
You have responded with resilience to one disaster after another and several at the same time.
Three-quarters of a million dollars have gone to restore not just people’s homes in SWLA but their lives.
While this is not nearly enough we have seen the money stretch through coalitions and partnerships so that lives might be transformed.
Southeast Louisiana continues to recover from Hurricane Ida. Creative solutions to multiply efforts are being led by Bill Howell and Bob Deich.
If you want to see servant leaders that lead from the heart – just spend 10 seconds with these two!
Dr. Gloria Fowler and the transformation team continue to live up to their name. Whoever would have imagined launching new faith communities during a pandemic?
People of endurance, character and hope….that’s who
Bridge Church in Lake Charles still has no building following the hurricane. That hasn’t stopped them from starting a house church movement. They now have two house churches and continue to multiply.
Mid City Church was to launch the Sunday of the COVID shut down in March of 2020. That didn’t stop them they continued to meet and have created a unique online community and developed small groups that are transforming lives and the community.
Legacy Church in Haughton struggled having launched just a few weeks before the world shut down. At the same time, Love Chapel needed a pastor and a team with good DNA – the result was a merger and a resurgence of ministry making a difference in this growing area of the state.
Comunidad Cristiana, a ministry of St. Matthew United Methodist Church. St. Matthew witnessed a growing Hispanic population in New Orleans and saw a possibility inspired by hope to reach an underserved community. They have begun to leave footprints of United Methodism on the lives of the people.
Southern Wesley on the campus of Southern University will begin to rebuild relationships on the campus. I cannot wait to see how God will pour into the hearts of this important area.
There has been Fresh Expressions of church – Messy Church, Dinner Church, Pet Church, Sacred Sober Sisterhood, Playground Church, Coffee Shop Church…. And the list continues to grow with innovative and creative ways to reach people and plant the seeds of hope that Inspire.
Twelve churches are in the transformation process
21 African American pastors meet regularly to share in the realities facing their ministry.
You are making a difference!!!
You are making sure children are safe - that they are fed. Children are thriving in school because of you.
Those suffering from mental health crises, addiction, and homelessness, have found hope in your churches.
Courageous conversations that address racism, climate justice, social justice – must continue and be strengthened with greater resolve by faithful United Methodists like you.
While some have worked to divide our church there are those who have done more to unite the church in its work for justice and full inclusion than ever before with grit, determination, and the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
The persons sitting in our pews continue to be the body of Christ in more significant ways than has ever been experienced.
Let us not think so highly of ourselves to think that we can thwart the work of the Holy Spirit.
It says right here in this Book that suffering produces endurance, endurance character, and character hope! And hope never disappoints.
God has seen YOU, has called you by name, and said, “Hey, you, yes you good Louisianans, hope filled people, --- trust me, I got this. I got you. I got you.”
We are called to be the body of Christ. We are to bring people together not tear them apart! This is what it means to be the body of Christ.
This is what it means to be a people that not only understand suffering but know endurance, character, and most importantly hope.
Here is your sign - We have life in front of us. There is revival ahead.
A life filled with hope and possibility – a life that inspires - where the vision of a new heaven and new earth will live itself out in you and me.
We have the opportunity to be the body of Christ for a world that needs to understand and experience the incomprehensible love of God.
I believe in the United Methodist Church and I believe in you.
This may sound familiar to you and it is because I have said it before and I will say it again and again.
I believe in the United Methodist Church and I believe in you.
Continue to be the people of God that boldly and courageously tell the story of a church that is big enough for the left, the right and the in between.
We cannot be a traditional church or a progressive church or a centrist church. We cannot be a gay or straight church.
Our churches must be more than echo chambers made in our own image arguing with each other while neglecting our central purpose.
While I will always wish we could all remain in this church, I am clear some cannot. I grieve and regret that more than words can express.
I am a big tent church person who believes that every voice is important to the whole. That every part of the body is important to the whole.
I also realize that it is time to bless and send our sisters and brothers who cannot remain under the big tent.
My responsibility and in corporate terms my client is the United Methodist Church and I have a temporal, spiritual, and fiduciary responsibility to protect our greatest assets and I am not only referring to money or fiscal assets.
We, all of us, bishops, clergy and lay people are the stewards of the past, the present and the future.
I am not willing to risk the future of the United Methodist Church or its leaders especially its clergy; specifically our clergy that still have 30, 40 years left to serve and our surviving spouses.
Every single one of you matter.
You matter to the kingdom.
You matter to the United Methodist Church. You matter to the Louisiana Conference.
I am going to get personal – you matter to me.
I need you to be part of the revival of the church that baptized and confirmed you, that married you, that helped you raise your children and buried your loved ones.
I am a bishop of the United Methodist Church responsible to lead the church that ordained me and consecrated me to this office.
The church that married Dean and me. The church that has helped us in times of trial, celebrated with us in times of joy.
The church that helped bury our loved ones. Baptized and confirmed our daughter and helped us raise her.
We are the United Methodist Church!
We must love one another through this!
Be one people, rooted in scripture, centered in Christ, serving in love and united in the essentials.
Our best witness is to love each other as Christ loves us, to show the world the supernatural power of the Holy Spirt to bring us together despite our differences. THIS is what it means to live out the gospel. THIS is what it looks like to be a people of hope a people who are inspired and propelled by the Holy Spirit.
This is what it means to be THE UNITED METHODIST CHURCH!
A church confident in what God has done and is doing in Christ Jesus for all humankind.
A church committed to personal and social salvation and transformation.
A church that is courageous in dismantling the powers of racism.
A church where all will have a home whether they are black, white, brown, Asian or anything else. Young, old. Gay. Straight. Whether they are broken or not. Whether they have their stuff together…or not.
Whether they consider themselves liberal, evangelical, progressive, traditionalist, middle of the road, conservative, centrist, or something else.
DO NOT LET ANYONE TELL YOU OTHERWISE!
The United Methodist Church is a church steeped in its Wesleyan heritage knowing that the living core of the Christian faith is revealed in scripture, illuminated by tradition, vivified in personal experience, and confirmed by reason.
Be passionate and resolute!
Speak with clarity and certainty.
Don’t disparage one another.
Be guided by grace.
Be crystal clear, laser focused.
The United Methodist Church is founded on a Wesleyan theology of grace, anchored in Scripture, and based in the life and teachings of Jesus Christ and the continuing movement of the Holy Spirit.
Refuse to accept anyone saying anything otherwise!!!
Do. Not. Settle!
Be a people of hope, people who inspire hope. People of purpose.
Trusting in God who has created and is creating. Who makes all things new
It is time for revival!
Be on fire in the Spirit as you serve the Lord!
It is time for revival!
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