As we anticipate longer days and the coming of spring, I encourage you to spend time in reflection of all that has happened in what seems to have been two very short months at the start of 2021.
- The COVID-19 pandemic continues, but there is renewed hope for a different future as the most vulnerable in our communities and the essential workers who have kept our society going over the last year have received vaccinations. What wonderful news that the majority of adults in our country may be vaccinated by early summer.
- The pandemic of institutional and systemic racism continues, but there is restored hope for a different future as we focus on intentional work in the Virginia Conference to address our history and strive for greater understanding and advocacy.
- The political division that grips our country continues, but there is rekindled hope as our first ever National Youth Poet Laureate, Amanda Gorman, challenged us as she delivered her inauguration poem:
“We close the divide because we know, to put our future first,
we must first put our differences aside.
We lay down our arms
so we can reach out our arms
to one another.”
Renewed hope emerges when together we stand with those who struggle, whether that struggle is with health, employment or injustice of any type. Listening to one another, understanding one another’s needs and dreams, and working side-by-side to address concerns are required of all of us. Creativity, innovation, and nimbleness are needed more than ever from the laity and clergy in our congregations. Our lives are filled with constant change. All of this requires that we live into our call to be lifelong learners, disciples who continue to study and question as we grow in our relationship with God through Jesus Christ.
Restored hope intensifies when we realize that before we can transform the world, we must first do the hard work of recognizing where transformation needs to happen in our own lives. Are we really listening to one another and doing all that we can to understand one another’s personal stories? Are we willing to talk about our past and learn from it to create a different future? Relationships built with understanding and mutual respect come from shared stories and experiences. Serving together creates the space and connection for trust to be formed, for reconciliation to occur, for lives to be changed, for communities to be transformed.
Rekindled hope ignites when we use our shared influence as partners in ministry, laity and clergy together, to take the gospel message into the world through our words and actions. To become what we need to be in this time, we must be willing to take risks, to ask hard questions, to offer steadfast leadership when there are many more questions than answers. We must remember that as the people of God called United Methodists, our call is to “convince the world of the reality of the gospel or leave it unconvinced.”(Section 2: The Ministry of All Christians, ¶130. Faithful Ministry, The Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church – 2016)
The challenges of our time call us to a revitalized commitment to partnership in ministry. Differences in how we understand our faith and how we experience events of the world will always be part of our life together in the church. However, our united mission as disciples of Jesus Christ should always be the central focus.
20 “I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, 21 that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, 23 I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.John 17:20-23 (NRSV)
I ask you again to enter into a time of reflection as winter closes and the signs of new life that come with spring begin to emerge. Join me in prayer that, united as one, the United Methodists of the Virginia Conference will demonstrate the kind of holy living that our founder, John Wesley, understood as our primary task: loving God and caring for one another with Christ-like love.
Peace and Blessings,
Martha E. Stokes, Conference Lay Leader
Email – firstname.lastname@example.org
Cell Phone – (804) 366-7162