As we move into the week including Thanksgiving, I find myself wanting to share my list of items for which I am grateful in my ministry as your Bishop:
- I am thankful for congregations which reach out to the "least, last, and lost" in their communities. For example, I recently participated in the consecration of the “Homeless Jesus” art work which is located next to our Roberts Park United Methodist Church in downtown Indianapolis. It is a powerful piece of art which depicts a homeless person asleep on a park bench, but the exposed feet reveal the crucifixion marks of Jesus. The next time you are in downtown Indianapolis, I encourage you to stop and see “Homeless Jesus” and to reflect upon the meaning of this art.
- I am thankful for the saints who have gone before us. I participated in the memorial service for Martha Lawson, widow of Bishop David Lawson, both of whom were from Indiana. David was elected a bishop of our UMC in 1984 and served as Bishop in Wisconsin and in Illinois. It was a good memorial, and Polly Hodapp, widow of Bishop Leroy Hodapp, was present. At age 91, she now lives in Franklin UMC Community, and she would welcome cards and notes from her friends.
- I am thankful for generous United Methodists. Example: the “Building Discipleship Centers” Campaign approved by the 2015 Session of our Indiana Conference is off to a good start. We are in the “quiet phase” but making good progress toward the $6 million goal to build a new Discipleship Center at Epworth Forest. The Campaign also includes “victory goals” to complete the Buck Lodge at Epworth Forest, to build the lakes project at Indicoso, and to establish a Scholarship Fund. Once we have finished the “quiet phase” of major gifts, we will be announcing those totals and moving into a “public phase” of seeking gifts of all sizes from interested persons. As approved at the 2015 Session, there will NOT be a local church phase where we “tax” local churches for a share of this campaign. This is a “special gifts” campaign which will be fully-funded by individual donors. I am grateful for those generous donors.
- I am grateful for our religious freedom, and I believe it must be extended to all persons. The issue of religious freedom arose at the 2015 session of the Indiana General Assembly, and it became quite divisive. In an attempt to help our state move forward in a positive direction, several of us judicatory leaders (bishops and leaders of other denominations) have composed a statement in which we celebrate how our Indiana state constitution protects religious freedom. Our statement affirms that this foundation of religious freedom allows us to advocate for including additional categories in our state laws protecting the civil rights of all persons, and we believe that adding gender identity and sexual identity is appropriate and will not intrude upon anyone’s religious freedom. Our statement will be released to the public soon, and it is similar to efforts of some other religious groups. I want our UMC members to know that I believe our statement will help our state of Indiana to move forward toward the delicate balance of religious rights and civil rights for all.
- I am grateful for pastors and churches who are faithful in their tithing and supporting our UM connection. Our churches and pastors have received notification from our CFA (Council on Finance and Administration) that our local church giving to the Conference Tithe is behind the giving of last year, and CFA anticipates a short-fall of $400,000 for 2015. That notification should be a reminder to all of our pastors to help lead their congregations to be faithful in their payment of their conference tithe. At our recent Clergy Covenant Day it was helpful to hear Rev. Rob Fuquay, senior pastor of St. Luke’s UMC in Indianapolis, talk about his personal commitment to tithing and to leading his congregation to maintain their tradition of “always paying in full.” I appreciated Rob’s witness, and I join him in reminding our clergy that they are the ones responsible to lead their congregations to be faithful. There is plenty of time for our congregations to fulfill their giving to the Conference Tithe for this year.
- I am grateful for new and revitalized congregations reaching people for Christ. We are on track to have at least three new chartered congregations to celebrate at our 2016 Session of the Indiana Conference. That is exciting, because new congregations are one strategy for reaching people for Christ. In addition, I regularly receive reports of congregations going through our “Fruitful Congregations Journey” process to revitalize our existing congregations – often those reports are about the congregations adopting their FCJ goals and plans. I am grateful for churches which focus upon reaching people for Christ.
- I am grateful for those working on the transition of bishops. It now looks like we will have 4 new bishops to elect at the 2016 Session of the North Central Jurisdictional Conference. Bishops retiring at that conference include me, John Hopkins, Jonathan Keaton, and Deborah Kiesey. Having four new bishops among the nine episcopal areas of our NCJ will mean a great deal of change and new opportunities. I continue to pledge my best support to whichever bishop is assigned to serve the Indiana Area as my successor. We have a good transition team, chaired by Cindy Reynolds and Doris Clark, working to help provide for a smooth transition.
- I am grateful for opportunities to gather with our clergy. Our clergy are invited to register for “Our Life Together” annual clergy retreat which will be held on February 22-23, 2016. The clergy, through an online survey, have selected four of their own to preach during that retreat, and they are: Frank Beard, Derek Weber, Alex Hersey, and Lisa Schubert-Nowling. They have also asked me to serve as “keynote speaker” and to lead two sessions on “Transitions” in our personal lives and in our ministries. Clergy can register on our INUMC.org website. I cherish these times with our clergy.
- I am grateful for prayer and the opportunity to pray for others. Every Conference of the UMC throughout the world has been invited to choose one day for prayer for General Conference. Of course we are not limited to praying on that one day – but that day we are to energize our whole Conference to pray together for General Conference. Our Indiana Conference day will be Sunday, January 24, 2016. We will be asking our Prayer Coordinator and Conference Prayer Team to design ways for all of us to be involved – but please note that day and plan to pray for General Conference on January 24th.
- Finally, on a personal level, I am grateful for answered prayers. Let me thank you for your prayers for my daughter, Laura, who gave birth to our 5th grandchild (Alec Adrian Peace) on June 29th. Laura had some severe medical issues after giving birth, but both she and little Alec are now doing well. Our family appreciated the prayer support we received.
That's a long list, and I could add many others. We are blessed, and we are called to be thankful.