Thursday Wrap-Up: Identity in Christ and Odd Space

November 03, 2022

By: Rev. Cindy Gregorson and Karla Hovde

The sound of drumming called the North Central Jurisdictional Conference to worship on the second day of their gathering. It was a day of recognizing our diversity and unity, and one of centering ourselves in our identity in Christ. “On Christ the solid rock, all other ground is sinking sand” was the refrain Bishop Tracy Smith Malone echoed as she began her sermon. She went on to say, “Every day, we have a choice to make. Yes, we do every day…We have to remember, and we have to decide how we will reflect Christ.” She added, “There is a freedom and healing that comes from surrendering our lives to Christ.” She went on to invite us to live into the promise of 2 Corinthians 4: 7-18. “God’s glory is all around us. Yes, we are in the middle of a crisis, but we are also in the middle of an opportunity. God is about to birth something new. We have to look for God and see where the Spirit of God is at work!”

“Odd space” is how Bishop David Bard, president of the College of Bishops, described the times we live in as church and culture in his episcopal address. So how do we live in such a space? We are called to a larger heart, a capacious heart. A heart with a capacity to be spacious and gracious, and curious and creative. In this odd space, Bard posited, whatever is emerging in the future United Methodist Church, it needs to be genuinely rooted in our historic faith.

“Rooted in our historic Christian faith we know we have good news to share in Jesus Christ, good news that redemption is possible, forgiveness is possible, new life is possible, transformation is possible, beloved community is possible, justice is possible.” The bishop concluded that yes, this is odd space, but it is as odd as “a member of a minority group in the backwater reaches of a vast empire, executed for defying that empire, becomes the crucified and risen Lord. Toward this odd space, we press on.” 

Election of third bishop

Rev. Dan Schwerin, Wisconsin, who was elected as the third and final election on the sixth ballot also spoke to our Christian identity. He gave thanks for his baptism, as it is there that we discover our reliance in Jesus Christ and how we discover each other and the newness before us. He said this moment depends on all of us. "As we step forward in our baptism call, all of us discover each other and a newness. Because as long as we have a relationship with Jesus Christ, we have a relationship with each other and deepen our relationship with God."

The challenge of Christian nationalism

Identity in Christ was considered through the lens of Christian nationalism, racism, and white supremacy in a conversation led by Bishop David Bard of Michigan and Minnesota and Bishop Julius Trimble of Indiana. Bishop Trimble asked the body to consider, “where is our identity in relation to who Jesus was and who Jesus is” particularly as Christian nationalism is a dangerous conflation of theology and political ideology. After offering a framework on the intersection of racism, white supremacy, and Christian nationalism, all in the room were invited to gather in small groups to discuss how to help congregations have conversations about white supremacy and Christian nationalism. Bishop Bard shared a document of definitions, which may be helpful when having similar conversations in the local church.

Walker Brault, Minnesota lay delegate, reported his group discussed what role the flag played in our spaces of worship and what work we have done in our own churches to ensure that we are keeping God first and not creating another idol for us to worship. 

"I look forward to our continued conversation as a Jurisdiction, in our annual conference, and in our local churches to address the impacts of racism, white supremacy, and Christian nationalism and the ways we as a church have intentionally and unintentionally perpetuated these evils,” he added.

Rev. Paul Perez from the Michigan Conference and Rev. Annettra Jones from the Indiana Conference shared examples from all 10 NCJ conferences about what anti-racism work is being done, which they called glory sightings.

Highlighted in the Minnesota Conference was the multi-racial, mostly millennial New City Church which lives outs it commitment “through racially diverse and queer clergy and lay leadership, worship that centers marginalized voices, and intentionally anti-racist programming. Multiracial small groups, called Life Together Groups, focus on building community across difference. Anti-racism training is a prerequisite for white participants, in order to reduce racialized harm, such as microaggressions.”

Jones left the body with the message to fund the work. She reminded us that our budgets are theological documents that reveal what we truly support. Consultants, staff, and training need the funds to be effective.

Perez reminded the body that anti-racism work is gospel work. The work will take generations to complete, but it is our task to find what we can do and to pass the work on to the next generation.

Rev. Woojae Im, a clergy delegate for the Minnesota Conference and pastor of Church of Peace in Richfield, shared that to BIPOC people, white supremacy is an everyday reality.

“Open your eyes and ears to the marginalized people and invite them to be your teachers, guides, and friends,” he said. “There is no West or East in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Celebration of the ministry of Bishops Sally Dyck, Laurie Haller, and Bruce Ough

The day ended with the celebration of the retirement of three bishops. Bishop Sally Dyck and Bishop Bruce Ough had officially retired at the end of 2020, and Bishop Laurie Haller, Iowa, who is retiring at the end of 2022, each offered reflections and were given gifts and thanks from the Committee on Episcopacy. The spouse of each bishop read a scripture chosen by the retiring bishop: Ephesians 3:14-21 for Bishop Ough, Philippians 4:4-9 for Bishop Haller, and Romans 12: 1-2, 9-21 for Bishop Dyck. On behalf of the College and Council of Bishops, Bishop David Bard thanked them for their deep commitment to Jesus Christ and to the church.

Rev. Cindy Gregorson is the director of connectional ministries/clergy assistant to the bishop for the Minnesota Annual Conference. Karla Hovde is the communications specialist for the Minnesota Annual Conference.

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