Thursday NCJ Conference highlights include the election of Rev. Dan Scherwin, the third and final bishop, and conversations on Christian nationalism, racism, and white supremacy.
REV. CINDY GREGORSON
Director of Connectional Ministries and Clergy Assistant to the Bishop, Minnesota Conference
Communications Specialist, Minnesota Conference
Nov. 3, 2022 | FORT WAYNE, Ind. – 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. (Watch the full sermon here.) 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 Scherwin, from the Wisconsin Annual Conference, was elected as the third and final bishop on the sixth ballot and also spoke to our Christian identity. Watch his acceptance speech here.
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 and Bishop Julius Trimble of the Indiana Conference. 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.
Rev. Paul Perez, clergy delegate 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.
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 then pass the work on to the next generation.
Bishops Sally Dyck, Laurie Haller, and Bruce Ough Honored
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.