A call to further the mission that already has been started by Jesus Christ highlighted the formal introduction of Bishop Ruben Saenz Jr. to the Great Plains Conference on Oct. 15.
“We have a lot of unfinished work to do,” Saenz told several hundred clergy, laity, conference officials and guests at a service at St. Mark’s United Methodist Church in Lincoln.
Basing his sermon off John 21: 15-17, Saenz said the people of the church need to counter those walking away from the faith by giving them a “fresh encounter with Christ.”
The church, he said, should take a greater role in fighting poverty, hunger, violence and injustice.
“We cannot stop at advocacy and legislation,” Saenz said. “We need a fresh vision and a fresh encounter that calls us to that.”
Saenz called on those in the conference to “build – not burn or destroy – bridges.”
The Great Plains’ new bishop, who comes from the Rio Texas Conference, said he enjoys “people watching” at airports and shopping malls, and sees a cross-section of backgrounds and experiences.
“You love all these people,” Saenz said of Jesus. “And I don’t think I could,” he said of human shortcomings.
To further develop Jesus’ calling is to reach out to everyone, he said.
“We can do it with joy and excellence,” Saenz said, “with a love of Christ and with a love of Christ’s lambs.”
“People of the Great Plains,” he said, “we are not finished.”
Saenz’s 20-minute sermon received the immediate endorsement of the Rev. Anne Gatobu, who followed him on the program by offering a prayer for the new episcopal leader.
“People of the Great Plains,” said Gatobu, pastor of the United Methodist Church in Ashland, Nebraska, “are we blessed or what?”
Likewise, those who heard Saenz’s sermon – many of whom had met him for the first time – were impressed.
“I enjoyed his focus on social justice and how much he cares for the poverty-stricken,” said the Rev. Jacob Cloud, pastor of the United Methodist Church in Hiawatha, Kansas. “I got to go on a mission trip with Bishop Saenz several weeks ago (to flood-ravaged areas of south central Kansas) and saw his passion for the needy and that he was mucking out stuff out of houses right there with the rest of us. That shows leadership that I really appreciate from him.”
“I’m very pleased with what I heard today. I think he has a sweet heart. The work isn’t finished, and the work is all of us,” said Abby Henre, wife of the Rev. Robert Henre, pastor of Seward United Methodist Church in Nebraska.
The Rev. Ron Harris, pastor of United Methodist Churches in Aurora and Bradshaw, Nebraska, said he was impressed with the bishop, particularly his background that included owning his own jewelry store.
“I think it’s interesting that he has a business background and a little bit of ‘worldly’ experience,” he said. “I think that’ll be a real blessing.”
The 90-minute service included a communion served by Saenz and the district superintendents, as well as ceremonial presentations of a wooden pastoral staff, Bible, water pitcher, bread and cup, towel and basin and a stole, all elements of the bishop’s leadership roles.
Music included a 30-voice choir from throughout the conference, a six-child choir from Seward and interpretive dancers who performed to the Lord’s Prayer during the offering, whose proceeds went to the conference’s educational partnerships.
Contact David Burke, communications coordinator, at email@example.com.