As 2017 comes to a close, there is still plenty of work to be done as the remnants of Hurricane Harvey in the Lake Charles area are still being addressed.
"When we think of all those affected by wind and water, their needs are easy to imagine: clean floors, rebuilt walls, a sofa to sit on," says Rev. Tom Dolph, District Superintendent of the Lake Charles district. "What is not so evident sometimes is our need to give. If we have come to discover God’s great love in our life, we need to respond. The best response to being loved is being loving. We are not just responding to a storm, we are responding to love. Why not now?"
Rev. Laraine Waughtal, Director of the Office of Missional Outreach and Engagement spearheads the relief efforts for the Conference Office and reminds everyone that there is not only work in the Lake Charles area after Hurricane Harvey, but also work left to be done after the floods of 2016. "It is not surprising at all that we are still working on the 2016 floods," she says. "The magnitude of over 150,000 homes flooded is a huge project. Even if only 10% of those people need help that is 15,000 homes. We have only been working on repairing and rebuilding homes for a little over a year. Not even a huge contracting company can get that kind of volume of work done in a short time."
The stories of disagreement inside the United Methodist Church over the issue of human sexuality are nothing new as they've been in the headlines for years. However, 2017 saw the first of several meetings of The Commission on a Way Forward.
The Commission is comprised of 32 members who were appointed by the Council of Bishops to assist the bishops in their charge from the 2016 General Conference to lead the church forward amid the present impasse related to human sexuality and resulting questions about the unity of the church.
During 2017, Annual Conference's all across the connection were asked to hold the Commission in prayer for one solid week.
In the fall of 2017, two members of First United Methodist Church in Alexandria were cleaning out an archives closet and found an old 35mm film canister.
Inside that canister was the 1943 film, Christ Is Born, and what resulted is a viral story that caught the attention of Methodists all across the country.
The film was produced in the midst of World War Two with the help of military staff members who were stationed in the Alexandria area. The church contacted Louisiana Public Broadcasting, who graciously agreed to help restore the old film.
As word of this find would spread, the Communications department of the Louisiana Annual Conference produced a film about the story and the United Methodist News Service picked up on the story as well.
In December, the church held a screening of the movie and on Christmas Day, the film debuted on the Conference Facebook page.
#4 Annual Conference
Every year, thousands of United Methodists gather in Shreveport for Annual Conference, a time for worship, fellowship and the business of the church.
2017 was no different, other than some notable changes; primarily a new Annual Conference app that helped navigate those attending to the various churches and to provide conference attendees with agendas.
The theme in 2017 was Bold Imagination, a theme central to Bishop Harvey's episcopal address which called on Methodists to be “Be Bold!” like Joshua as he entered the promised land (Numbers 13:20, NRSV). Bishop Harvey invited all attendees to trust in the Holy Imagination of God and to trust that same holy imagination - found within ourselves and in our congregations.
Rev. Dr. Greg Jones, spoke at both the clergy and lay sessions. Jones, an ordained elder in the Western North Carolina Conference of the United Methodist Church used his book Christian Social Innovation, as a resource for Annual Conference.
To recap Annual Conference, please visit this page.
#5 Violence in Charlottesville
What started as a protest against the removal of a statue near the campus of The University of Virginia escalated to a white supremacist rally and eventually violence between protestors and counter-protestors.
The rally and subsequent events prompted Bishop Cynthia Fierro Harvey to issue a statement that became one of the most viewed stories on the Conference Facebook page.
Her statement read in part,
"As I watch the news feed from Charlottesville, VA come across my phone, my heart aches. Many of you have reminded us of perhaps the weightiest of questions asked at our baptism:
"Do you accept the freedom and power God gives you to resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves?"
Answering this question with a firm 'yes' comes with great responsibility. As faithful followers of Jesus Christ we, by the power of the Holy Spirit, can change the course of history through our prayers, our actions and our voice to resist the powers of evil and never accept oppression and injustice in whatever forms they present themselves."
#6 Bishop Harvey Issues Statement Following Judicial Council Decision
In April, The United Methodist Church’s top court, the Judicial Council, issued a ruling with regard to the election and consecration of Rev. Karen Oliveto, an openly gay Bishop in the Western Jurisdiction.
The court, in a 6-3 vote, ruled that the consecration violates church law but that Bishop Oliveto "remains in good standing” until an administrative or judicial process is completed.
Following the ruling, Bishop Cynthia Fierro Harvey shared a statement that was one of the most viewed stories of the year.
Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
While some may be pleased with this decision, there are others who are not. I invite us to continue to pray for our church and the important work of the Commission on A Way Forward. May the Holy Spirit intercede on our behalf and fill all the broken places in our world and the church we love.
The Judicial Council decision does not change our call from Jesus to love one another. We in Louisiana have agreed that our preferred future and vision is to - make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. It is a vision and preferred future compelled by Christ’s love and involves people from all walks of life.
Is there confusion? Yes.
Is there tension? Yes.
But when tension and confusion arise, I am reminded that God isn’t a God of disorder but of peace. May we rest in the assurance that God's will for us and for the church is one of peace and love. May we all continue to do what we do best, love one another and share the good news of Christ’s resurrection.
Once again we pray, Lord, in your mercy….
#7 Bishop Harvey Elected President-Designate
In November, at the Council of Bishop’s meeting in Lake Junaluska, North Carolina, Louisiana Bishop Cynthia Fierro Harvey was elected president-designate for the council.
The council’s president and president-designate each serve two-year terms and the responsibility for Harvey would begin May 2018 and she would, pending confirmation by the Council of Bishops in the fall of 2019, assume the office of president at the conclusion of General Conference 2020.
Until that time, Harvey will continue to serve as the Council of Bishop’s secretary, her current role, until May of 2018 and remain on the executive committee.
“I am honored by this election,” said Harvey. “This is a critical time in our life and our work and I am humbled to represent the whole church. These are anxious times that call for non-anxious leadership and it is important that we remain strong and steady and lead with the confidence that God is still creating, recreating and still transforming."
As the holidays approached, Bishop Cynthia Fierro Harvey welcomed us into the episcopal residence.
In a video statement, she shared Christmas cheer and invited all of us to find a place of worship this Christmas.
Her video, which can be seen here, was shared over 35 times and was seen by over 2,000 people.
#10 United Methodists Observe Lent
Lent, the period of 40 days before Easter (excluding Sundays), begins on Ash Wednesday and ends at sundown on Holy Saturday, the evening before Easter.
During Lent, Louisiana Methodists all across the connection enter into a season of preparation, self-reflection and repentance when we seek to literally “turn around” and realign our lives and focus toward God.
It is a time to give up things as well as take on new life-giving practices, helping us rid ourselves of distractions and our own selfish desires. By doing so, we seek to live and love as more faithful disciples of Jesus Christ.
One particular pastor, Rev. Fernie Rivera took to the streets as he and other members of First United Methodist Church in Baton Rouge offered ashes to downtowners on their lunch break. The video story reached over 15,000 people.