Bishops of the United Methodist Church gathered around computer screens Friday for the conclusion of the very first virtual Council of Bishops meeting, which was held via Zoom for the past three days.
In the meeting, Bishop Cynthia Fierro Harvey, resident bishop of the Louisiana Conference, became the next President of the Council of Bishops as she "virtually" accepted the gavel from Bishop Ken Carter, who had served as President for the past two years.
"I pray that I might lead with the knowledge that we are intricately connected," said Bishop Harvey. "We are a web of interactive relationships. Our connection has never been more critical. I pray I will lead with integrity, accountability, compassion, love, and grace for all."
The meeting was held, for the first time, virtually over teleconference as COVID-19 postponed the regular Council of Bishops meeting that would have been held just prior to the 2020 General Conference that was recently postponed.
While it was not the ideal way to meet, Bishop Harvey says she was able to sense the movement of the Holy Spirit.
"I very much wish we could be together, and I know that time will come," said Bishop Harvey. "It was clear as I heard the voices from across the globe that COVID-19 has impacted all of us. At one point, 128 bishops, staff were on the call with many others watching online. It was similar to the experience many of our pastors are facing week to week. We are speaking beyond ourselves, sharing the ministry of the UMC, the work of the Council of Bishops, and the movement of the Holy Spirit to a wider audience. We can provide a word of hope and promise to a world in desperate need of the Good News."
The virtual meeting had its upside as it saved the Council of Bishops a significant amount of money. In fact, a group led by Bishop Tracy S. Malone, Resident bishop of the Ohio East Area, has been convened to bring experts from across the world to help the Council do more of these meetings and to excel in their deployment.
While the cost savings are significant, it was not the sole motivator for Bishop Harvey and the Council.
"We will be able to communicate more efficiently," Bishop Harvey told the group in her report. "Meetings like this will hopefully free up more of our time for greater strategic and formative work, especially in light of the time we are leading in."
Another upside to a live-streamed Council of Bishops meeting is the ability for Methodists all across the world to view on social channels, such as Facebook. Today's meeting reached over 12,000 people world-wide, including Methodists all across Louisiana who have been praying for Bishop Harvey.
"I covet your prayers and patience," Bishop Harvey said to those in the Louisiana Conference. "You are amazing faithful followers of Jesus. Know that you are my priority. I will be leaning on you, the Cabinet, Conference staff, and especially Dr. Van Stinson to continue to be a beacon of hope for the people we call United Methodists."
The weight of financial concerns and when the church can and should resume in-person worship weighed heavily on the Council and on Bishop Harvey.
"The worries of the church and its fiscal and spiritual sustainability are global," she reflected. "The question of when we resume in-person worship is paramount for everyone. The recognition that the learning curve has been steep on every corner of the planet is undeniable. The use of technology has allowed many to continue to connect not only with their congregation but others across every stretch of the globe. The innovation and creativity employed by our pastors and laypeople in every place have been extraordinary and life-giving to many in every way. Many people who had never heard the Good News of Jesus Christ are hearing it for the first time."
She continued, "As bishops, we believe our churches are entrusted with the responsibility to care for our neighbor. We believe that the greatest expression of love for our neighbor has to be our priority."
At the conclusion of the meeting, Bishop Harvey shared a pre-recorded message which you are invited to watch below: