I am not a prophet in the sense of predicting the future, and there is probably too much prognostication this time of the New Year. However, let me offer a few thoughts about what this year 2008 will bring:
1. 2008 will see the election of a new President here in the US. This elongated political process will finally be over (that is good news), but not until we have our usual months of politicians traveling all over the US telling us how bad things are and promising that they are the answer to our problems. This happens every four years, and you can actually track things like drops in the stock market, increasingly unhappy congregational members, and general malaise in our culture during this quadrennial exercise of airing our problems. Without being too cynical (I hope), I really don’t expect all of this political rhetoric to be very helpful, and I don’t really expect the change of the presidency (or the few congressional changes that may happen) to make much difference. I believe that nation-states are no longer the real powers in the world – that power lies in the hands of ordinary people who are increasingly connected (see books like “The World is Flat”) and in the hands of multi-national corporations. But we will elect a new US President, and I will vote because I still am naïve enough to believe it might make a difference.
2. 2008 will see the United Methodist General Conference gather for its quadrennial meeting. Again, I don’t want to be cynical, and I really do have high hopes that this General Conference may be more focused upon our mission of “making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.” However, I also know that the real power of our denomination is at the local church level, and I believe that we United Methodists make a difference in the world at the grass roots level – which is also becoming increasingly global in connection. Yes, I believe that our general agencies and our global structures are becoming more aligned with the mission of our church, and I am hopeful that the 2008 General Conference will be a good experience (at least from what I have seen of the preparations). But General Conference is always at least 10 years behind the real movement and momentum of our denomination, and so I will go to General Conference with realistic expectations.
3. 2008 will bring the quadrennial gathering of the Jurisdictional Conferences where we United Methodists in the US elect new bishops to replace retiring bishops. In the North Central Jurisdiction meeting in July, we have only one new bishop to elect, and so that may be a lengthy process. After the new bishop is elected, the Jurisdictional Committee on the Episcopacy will meet and assign all 10 of us active bishops to our Areas of service for the next four years. Bishops are itinerant, so I never know where I will be assigned until that Committee makes its report, but the Indiana Area Committee on the Episcopacy is requesting my return to Indiana, and I am requesting to return to Indiana, so I hope that 2008 will bring my assignment for a second 4-year term to the Indiana Area. But I am itinerant … so I won’t know until those assignments are made.
4. Here in Indiana, 2008 will bring a vote by both the North Indiana and the South Indiana Conferences on the Imagine Indiana Design Team’s proposal to implement the votes in 2007 to move toward forming one new conference in Indiana in 2009. The Imagine Indiana Design Team is working hard to finalize this implementation plan, and there will be lots of efforts to share the plan around the state for everyone to have time to study, discern, and then vote on the plan. A major part of their plan will focus upon local churches and how the new conference would strengthen the ministry of local churches – through Ministry Clusters for the local churches, Covenant Groups for all pastors, and regional Service Centers to bring staff and resources closer to local churches. It is a plan which seeks to “flatten” structures and make use of newer technology – for more effective ministry.
Another exciting possibility being considered by the Imagine Indiana Team is to have a state-wide presentation of the plan in all 92 counties, using local churches with web access and video projection systems to see and hear the Imagine Indiana presentation at the same time all over the state. We are the only denomination with a presence in all 92 counties, and so this media event seems appropriate, and it would also be a demonstration of the newer technologies that the Imagine Indiana Team wants us to use in a new conference (including web-streaming of this event so that anyone with a computer and internet access can watch over the web, too). The tentative date for this state-wide media presentation is Palm Sunday evening, March 16th. More information will be forthcoming about this event.
5. 2008 will bring lots of surprises. The only sure-fire prediction for 2008 is that there will be events, tragedies, opportunities, and experiences which no one is predicting. That is the wonderful thing about the future. The wise little creature Yoda in the Star Wars movies said it well: “Hard to see, the future is, always changing.” Despite our best plans for 2008, there will be surprises, changes, serendipities, and uncertainties.
So, get ready for 2008. Be prepared for a roller-coaster ride. Expect interruptions. Don’t be afraid of surprises. The future is coming. It is hard to predict and even harder to plan. But the Good News is always true: God is with us. Thanks be to God!
from Bishop Michael J. Coyner