Concluding an abbreviated and revised Annual Conference session conducted by telephone, Bishop Ruben Saenz Jr. told the Great Plains it needed to continue to “Catch Fire” — the unofficial title given to the one-day meeting.
“I believe the Holy Spirit is calling us in this new season of our church’s life to Catch Fire for a Spirit of justice, for mercy, and the truth of God’s love in Christ for all people. I believe that the Holy Spirit is calling us to catch fire to be the voices for the voiceless, the vulnerable, the silenced, and the exploited in our world,” the bishop said in his closing sermon, delivered in a video arranged prior to Saturday and published both on the conference’s Facebook page and on its website.
“I believe the Holy Spirit is calling us to catch fire as we commit ourselves to advocate for the dignity, value and essentialness of the people that live among us, but that live on the margins of our society,” he continued.
The coronavirus pandemic, the bishop said, has not only brought out the best in people as volunteers going above and beyond to help others, but spotlighted the inequities of a society where children don’t have their daily school lunch for nutrition, nor have a computer, smartphone nor internet access to study remotely.
“We are a resilient and powerful nation that has a collective will to come together for the greater good when we are called upon,” the bishop said.
Speaking from Acts 6: 1-17, the bishop talked about several widows in the Bible, including Mary, the mother of Jesus. Luke wrote that Greeks complained about the Hebrews because the Greek widows were being neglected in daily food distribution.
“Something needed to be done to mirror Christ's reconciling work and remedy the injustice and the emotional harm, the pain of disrespect, and the deprivation of provisions the Hellenist widows believed they rightly had equal access to as part of the Christian community,” Bishop Saenz said.
The apostles listened to the advocates for the Greek widows and quickly corrected the injustice, he said.
It gave insight into the commitment of the church to fight for “inclusivity, justice, mercy, and the truth that God makes exception of no one, and neither should God's Church,” the bishop said.
The closing service included a video interview with Joseph Ogole, leader of the Ushindi United Methodist Fellowship in Kansas City, Kansas, a Congolese congregation worshipping at Metropolitan Avenue UMC.
The fixing of appointments for the 2020-21 year was completed, and the 43 clergy entering retirement were honored as part of the worship video. Retirees this year are:
Don Almond, Tammy Aubushon, Paul Babcock, Claudia Bakely, Bob Banks, Brad Barrows, John Blackwell, Lila Bottolfsen, James Brackett, Daniel Bye, Dennis Davenport, Rebecca Davison, Bill Driver, Juan Garcia, Beverly Hieb, Tamara Holtz, Sheryl Johnson, Melody Kimbrel, Linda Kusse-Wolfe, Dale Lewis, Dennis Livingston, Gary Main, John Martin, John Martyn, Gary Merritt, Jose Manuel Miranda, Kathy Noble, Kenneth Parker, Randy Quinn, Joni Raymond, Michael Ricci-Roberts, Warren Schoming, Mark Schutt, David Shrum, Geniese Stanford, Russell Tompkins, Jane Voelkel, David Watson, Sandy Webster, Dennis Wheeler, Galen Wray and Sherry Wright.
Video and written reflections of the retirees are available here.
Bishop Saenz acknowledged that the pandemic has hampered churches wanting to say goodbye to pastors moving on to new congregations and those who are retiring.
“All of us are in need of some sense of closure,” he said. “The retiring clergy and the clergy moving on to new appointments have not had the opportunity for the church to properly express their gratitude and their thanksgiving, not only for their present ministry but for all their years of ministry.”
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