In a virtual message to the Great Plains Conference, Bishop Ruben Saenz Jr. thanked the clergy, laity and churches of Kansas and Nebraska for their hard work and cooperation during a tumultuous 2020 and challenged them to grow deeper in their faith, love and discipleship in the future.
“So many of our loved ones and people near and far in our world are hurting. The existential threat of viral infection and possibility of death has opened people to ask deeper questions about the meaning and value of life, peace and justice,” the bishop said during his taped address, broadcast over Facebook Live and on the conference website Sept. 30.
“People who had given up on God and the church are turning again to the church for spiritual comfort and assistance,” he continued. “The Spirit of God is awakening the church to see and respond to a hurting world. Many of our congregations are reporting a multiplication of people they are now reaching through hands-on ministry and social media platforms.”
Bishop Saenz said he has been inspired by the stories of congregations offering “God’s consolation and strength” to their communities, through online worship, drive-by backpack blessings and outdoor movie nights.
The bishop acknowledged that a combination of the postponement of General Conference, the COVID-19 pandemic, and incidents of racial injustice in the country has “created an atmosphere of chronic uncertainty.”
But moving forward, he said, the bishop wants to renew the “foundational virtues or our discipleship for Christ and Christ’s transforming power in the world” in three ways:
We will grow deeper and wider in faith.
We will be grounded in hope and be a beacon of hope for a hurting world.
We will grow in gracious love.
For deeper and wider faith, Bishop Saenz recommended engaging in in-person and online worship, meditating over Scripture, praying, reading, and listening to spiritual resources and spiritual journaling.
He urged churches to be welcoming and supportive places that would play a role in spiritual recovery for those struggling with mental illness; help children read at grade level by the third grade; bring businesses and the unemployed together and distribute microloans to start businesses; and start community gardens to build social ties and combat hunger in their communities.
Growing in gracious love, he said, means showing mutual kindness, respect and dignity to others, employing the philosophies of Micah 6:8, and advocate for peaceful communities.
“God has our work cut out for us, friends,” the bishop said. “All of these actions the Spirit calls us to for such a time as this are bare minimums in our service to Christ in and for a broken and bent world in search of peace with God, with self, and with neighbor. Participating in them will make us one with Christ, one with each other, and one in mission and ministry to the whole world until Christ returns and we feast together at his heavenly banquet.
“While the work God calls us to may be difficult,” Bishop Saenz added, “the rewards will be great.”