By: Doreen Gosmire, Dakotas Conference
PEORIA, Illinois—The 12th North Central Jurisdictional Conference opened with worship at the Peoria Civic Center, and Bishop Jonathan D. Keaton focused on unity during his dynamic and passionately delivered message.
After opening prayer, led by retired Bishop Sharon Brown Christopher, attendees remembered and gave thanks for three bishops who have died since 2012: Bishop Wayne K. Clymer, Bishop Rueben Job, and Bishop Jesse DeWitt. Four bishops’ spouses were also remembered: Mrs. Marjorie Duecker, Mrs. Jane Colaw, Mrs. Jan Ott, and Mrs. Martha Lawson.
“Love your neighbor as yourself,” Keaton, resident bishop of the Illinois Area, said in his message, “A Plea for Unity.” “And who is my neighbor? Everybody.…Can we all get along is another side of Jesus’ command to love God and love neighbor. The behavioral question plagues our communion.”
Keaton, who will retire September 1, shared four key points that call North Central Jurisdiction United Methodists to unity:
We are all called. Recalling a recent experience with an enthusiastic young woman whose vocation is forensic science, Keaton stressed that we are all called. “What is your call and are you following?” He said we must “live our lives according to God’s call or the commitment to be faithful unto death.”
Young people want unity. Young adults between the ages of 18 and 34 have a lot to say about what they would like to see in the church. Keaton read an excerpt from the “Statement on Unity” drafted by more than 300 young people from 34 countries who attended the Global Convocation for Young People in Manila, Philippines. The statement was read during contentious debate at the 2016 General Conference. “First, young people don’t want a divided church, specifically a schism, don’t want our church to focus only on the issues that divide us,” said Keaton. “The church that we have taken our places in is called to a ministry that includes so much more than one issue, our young people said. Some young people believe we can be of one heart though not of one mind; they want solutions that promote global unity.”
God’s church is not a one-issue church. “Paul had to model this behavior in his leadership of a divided church,” said Keaton. “For better or worse, striving for behavioral unity, marinated in the love of God and neighbor, took priority over simmering concerns, hurts, and inequities in the body of Christ.” He reminded those present about Paul’s Damascus experience that led him to be “like a prisoner of war,” noting that Paul was never the same after that. “As a result, Paul brought all his talents to bear on the mission of Christ and his church,” Keaton said.
Jesus shows up in humility and persistence. Keaton reminded attendees that Jesus was, himself, a young adult. “Remember that young man who walked into his home synagogue?” he asked. “They ran that young man out of the church.” Keaton concluded that adults in the church need to set aside their preconceived notions about young people—for example, that they are “unrealistic, naïve, need to wait their turn”—and instead listen to their “clarion call for unity.” Bishop Bruce R. Ough, resident bishop of the Dakotas-Minnesota Area, and retired Bishop Sharon Brown Christopher invited and prepared the gifts for communion.
Music was provided by a team of laity and clergy from the Illinois Great Rivers Conference. The team, led by Rev. Eric Swanson from LeRoy First UMC, has been meeting since September 2015. “We were able to bring together some very talented and skilled individuals—they are a diverse group of clergy, laity, various ages, ethnicity, and churches,” he said. “All of the liturgy that we used today are denominational resources that are not in the Book of Worship or the United Methodist Hymnal. We hope that people will note these resources and use them.”
Click here for a full transcript of Bishop Keaton’s sermon.
Click here to view the opening worship service.
Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church