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‘Can these dry bones live?’: Opening worship at NCJ 2022

Worship

The North Central Jurisdictional Conference began on Wednesday, November 2, with opening worship focused on the conference’s theme, “We Press On,” and a sermon from Bishop Bruce R. Ough.

DOREEN GOSMIRE
Director of Communications, Dakotas Conference

Nov. 2, 2022 | FORT WAYNE, Ind. – Bishop Julius Trimble opened the North Central Jurisdiction, honoring the indigenous people of Indiana.

“As we gather in the presence of God. We honor the indigenous people who settled in the Fort Wayne area and who went here before us. With deep respect, we honor the people of the Shawnee, Miami, Wea, Potawatomi, Delaware, Wyandot, Kickapoo, Piankashaw, and Chickasaw nations,” said Bishop Trimble.

More than 600 gathered to worship and hear a message titled “God Has Us Right Where God Wants Us,” from Bishop Bruce R. Ough, retired, at the Grand Wayne Convention Center. Ough invited attendees to explore Ezekiel 37:1-14, The Valley of Dry Bones.

Ough said, “Ezekiel ponders, can something be too far gone? Is it too late? In the context of constant warfare, hunger, and death in Ezekiel’s landscape, he ponders if the people can be restored; if they can know healing?”

Bishops praying
Bishop David Bard leads the bishops in prayer before the beginning of opening worship. ~ncj photo/Mark Doyal

Ough told those present that we share an Ezekiel landscape, a landscape that is filled with polarity and turmoil. He recalled a moment from the movie Top Gun when the main character, Maverick, calls out, “Talk to me, Goose.” A dark moment where death approaches and succeeds.

Maverick stands in an Ezekiel movement alone, distraught, forlorn. He is seeking encouragement and a call to the mission, the purpose. Ough asked attendees to compare Maverick’s moment to our lives today.

“Is it just me? Or are we experiencing a “Talk to me, Goose” inflection point in The United Methodist Church, our society, and the world? Is it just me? Or are we desperate to shack off pandemic and schism and decline weariness and rediscover direction, courage, and confidence to reengage God’s mission,” said Ough.

Similar questions remain today; Ough told attendees. As we live in uncertain times with economic chaos, divisive rhetoric, and accusations of blame, the words of the United Methodist hymn “Are We Yet Alive” are pertinent—are we yet alive?

“God’s question to Ezekiel echoes in our hearts and head, can these bones live again? Is everything too far gone? Is it too late for us? Are the bones too dry, too broken, too trampled upon,” said Ough. “How do we press on when we are overwhelmed by disaffiliation, souls are parched, and we are so very, very tired.”

“We Press On,” the theme for the North Central Jurisdictional Conference, is a call for United Methodists in the North Central Jurisdiction to step up, to live out a future of hope.

“We cannot press on—we cannot prophesy to the dry bones—if we do not remember and repeatedly rehearse who we are, such that we can never forget,” said Ough.

Ough appealed to those worshiping to ask who we are. He illuminated ways to live our lives as United Methodists by being people who see hope, bring healing and peace to a broken world, exemplify grace and are forgiving, embody unity, stop gun violence, steward God’s creation, seek racial justice, feed the hungry, clothe the naked, ask hard questions, love our neighbors throughout the world, do no harm, do good, and stay in with love with God.

“God has us right where God wants us,” said Ough. “The word is that the dry bones in our lives and our United Methodist Church will live again.”

Bishop Ough preaches
Bishop Bruce R. Ough, retired bishop now serving as Executive Secretary of the Council of Bishops of The United Methodist Church, preached on Wednesday and invited attendees to explore Ezekiel 37:1-14, The Valley of Dry Bones. ~ncj photo

Ough challenged those present to listen for God speaking, remember who we are, and make it possible for the dry bones to live again.

“Will you prophesy and bear witness to what is still possible with God? How will you answer,” said Ough. “When we go forth in the Lord’s Spirit to prophesy in the place of desolation, despair, and division, the bones shall rise and shall be given the breath of life. Let us press on.”

Those who have gone to the church triumphant since the 2016 North Central Jurisdiction were memorialized, including Bishop Emerson Colaw, Bishop Judith Craig, and Bishop Mike Coyner. Bishop spouses Virginia Clymer, Betty Boulton, Ian Schowentgert, Polly Hodapp, Brad Kiesey, and Jarji Tuell were also remembered. Delegates Rev. Susan Brown and John Lawson were memorialized.

Worshipers broke bread together and were invited to three prayer stations—identity, journey, and anoint. The identity prayer station provided a space to remember baptism. A finger labyrinth guided prayer at the journey station. Worshipers were anointed with oil and blessed at the anointing prayer station.

Liturgists for opening worship were Rev. Dr. Derek Weber, director of Discipleship Ministries for The United Methodist Church, and Rev. Annettra Jones, associate director of diversity, missions, and justice ministries for the Indiana Conference.

Music was provided by a brass quintet Elijah Deneke, trumpet; Akira Murotani, trumpet; Katherine Loesch, French horn; Brian Johnston, trombone; and Andrew Hicks, bass trombone. Rev. Dro Geoffry North was the organist. Attendees sang “Stand by Me,” number 512 from The United Methodist Hymnal, and “We are Marching (Siyahamba).”

“We must keep rehearsing who we are. We must remember where our narrative comes from because there are lots of people trying to tell us a different narrative,” Ough said to worshipers during the benediction. “God calls us to be the light of the world, to bring life to every place that has dried up. So go, my friends, and press on.”

Access a copy of Ough’s sermon.

View Opening Worship.

View photos from opening worship.

Listen to an audio recording of Bishop Ough’s sermon.

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The Michigan Conference