From the desk of Bishop Fairley, firstname.lastname@example.org
To my brothers and sisters in Christ,
In his opening prayer for the church at Philippi, Paul shares these words: “I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ.” In these hours after General Conference, I still believe this to be true. Regardless of what your heart feels with the decisions of General Conference, there is a work that only the Church can do. Sisters and brothers in Christ, legislation might point to the fact that out of this General Conference, things might look different or like the “same old, same old” – things that cause you to be happy, sad, disappointed, anxious, and yes even grieving right now. I will not even begin to try to unpack at this point all that has happened.
I will only briefly state now what legislation passed. General Conference approved an amended version of the Traditional Plan. It maintains our current language in the Book of Discipline regarding human sexuality. Delegates also approved recommendations from Wespath regarding pensions and liabilities if churches and clergy decide to leave our connection.
In light of this, what I need most right now are not explanations or spin. I know the spin, responses, and reactions are coming or have already begun. I know that many of us have already decided in our hearts what we will do. What I need right now is for God to hold my right hand. Even as I seek out my own feelings, I do so with the deep understanding that God has begun a good work in us. This is God’s great “Nevertheless” that is found in Jesus Christ. The great theologian Karl Barth says it this way: “….joy in Philippians is a defiant ‘Nevertheless!’ that Paul sets like a full stop against the Philippians’ anxiety….”
When I use the word “defiant,” I must make it clear that I don’t mean winners and losers. I don’t think this is what the General Conference was meant to proclaim. However, even in the midst of these changes we know the end of the story. The work has been completed in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Therefore, the mission goes on. Nothing changes our mandate to “Make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.” It is clear to me that the way in which we live out that mission must change. Therefore, it is imperative that we walk toward the fulfillment of that mission with the words of the Psalmist on our hearts, and lips:
“Nevertheless I am continually with you; you hold my right hand” — Psalm 73:23. Whatever is yet to come, in spite of everything, he who began a good work in us will bring it to completion. “Nevertheless,” we will not despair, we will not drown. “I (we) will not die, but live, and declare the works of the Lord” -Psalm 118:17 KJV. “Nevertheless” I am continually with you.
In the days ahead we will together discern what this means for the Kentucky Annual Conference and for the General Church. What if God is calling us to remember that we were always meant to be a movement, called not to offer the world the institutional stale bread and stagnant water of hopelessness and despair but to offer the world living bread and living water that calls forth love, justice, peace, reconciliation, transformation, salvation, and repentance?
As I prepared myself for General Conference, and now as I prepare to lead after General Conference, these words from Karl Barth’s sermon “Nevertheless I am Continually With Thee” (preached in 1954) stand out for me.
“’Nevertheless I am continually’ implies: at all times and in all circumstances, whatever happens, through thick and thin. Hence, not only occasionally, not only in the morning, but also in the evening when the darkness and the night falls, not only in good times but also in bad times, not only when the good news pour in but also amidst the flow of distressing news, even in the grip of disappointment and dejection.… All of us are invited, the so-called good and the so-called bad, those who are happy and those who believe they are unhappy, the pious and the admittedly less pious. …”
In the best of times and the worst of times we can all live into God’s great “nevertheless.” I pray we can move forward into the future God has promised. What a great thing it would be as we begin this new journey to throw in the face of all the uncertainty, all the doubt, all the pain, disappointment, and despair God’s great “Nevertheless.” Now my brothers and sisters, the healing begins and even there God’s “Nevertheless” is present with us.
I love you all,
Bishop Leonard Fairley