I know that there is nothing magical about the flip-over of the calendar from one year to the next, and I know that many New Year's resolutions are not kept (some studies say the average time a person keeps a resolution is about 40 days at best). However, as we move into 2016, I do find myself looking forward to these Top Ten things:
- I am looking forward to the upcoming appointment season which starts with the Cabinet retreat on January 11-13. I believe that trying to match pastors and churches is just about the most important thing I do, even though it is so much more challenging than it was when I first served as a DS in 1990. It is impossible to provide a perfect match for over 1,100 churches, and the appointment system cannot give every pastor the promotion they may desire – but it is a good system of placing our clergy and our churches together around the mission of our church. Please pray for our Cabinet as they work prayerfully to make these appointments.
- I am looking forward to leading another group (over 180 are signed up) on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land in early February. Every time I go, I learn something new and find inspiration in fresh ways. Please pray for our group to have a safe and inspiring trip.
- I look forward to the clergy gathering called "Our Life Together" on February 22-23 at St. Luke's in Indianapolis. We will have great preaching from four of our own clergy selected by our clergy in a survey last fall. Those four are: Frank Beard, Alex Hershey, Lisa Schubert-Nowling, and Derek Weber. I have been asked to serve as "keynote" speaker for the event, and I will be making two presentations on "Transitions in Ministry" and "Transitions in our Personal Life."
- At that same OLT event, we will have a kind of "news conference" at which time we will announce the results of the "quiet phase" of our capital fund campaign for "Building Discipleship Centers" – and that will launch the "public phase" during the 100 days leading up to our 2016 Annual Conference Session in June. If all goes well, we can look forward to some ground-breaking events in late summer of this year.
- Speaking of Annual Conference, I really look forward to leading and presiding for my final Annual Conference Session June 9-11 at the Indianapolis Convention Center. I have already been asked to baptize one of the children of our clergy (Hannah Swisher) and there may be others since several of our young clergy have celebrated the arrivals of babies recently. We will also have a large group of clergy to be commissioned and ordained – always my favorite parts of Annual Conference. I also hear that there may be some kind of "roast" or something related to my retirement, so I will be eager to see what that means.
- I am trying to look forward to General Conference in May in Portland, Oregon. To be honest, my prayer is that our General Conference will be a "do no harm" event (that is the first of the Wesley rules), and especially I pray for God to guide the GC to make wise decisions and to make them in a way which honors Christ.
- I am looking forward to preaching in local congregations in Indiana – and my Sunday schedule is now basically "full" for the months of 2016 leading up to my retirement on September 1st. Preaching and being with our local congregations is one of my favorite things as a bishop.
- I look forward to the North Central Jurisdiction Conference in July where we will be electing four new bishops to replace the four of us (Bishops Hopkins, Keaton, Kiesey, and myself) who are retiring. At that time we will also learn which bishop is assigned to serve the Indiana Conference as of September 1st.
- Yes, I am looking forward to my retirement on September 1st, but not in the sense of "counting the days until I am finished." Rather, I am eager to see what God may have in store for me next. I plan to take the first 3-4 months as a kind of sabbatical to make the transition spiritually, mentally, and emotionally – but after that I will be open to discerning how God's continuing call in my life will lead me into new areas of service.
- I look forward to spending more time with my grandchildren. One of my colleagues has said about being a grandparent: "it is even better than advertised." That is certainly true, and it one of the things I anticipate with joy in 2016.
What will 2016 bring for you? How are you "looking forward" to this New Year? I believe we must look forward to see where God is leading us, even as we look back with appreciation and amazement for how God has led us in the past.
May 2016 be a year in which we all discover God's guidance presence in new ways.