Approximately 600 clergy from across Kansas and Nebraska gathered for our annual Orders & Fellowship clergy gathering. This year's event took place Jan. 16-17, 2019, at the United Methodist Church of the Resurrection's Leawood campus. Here are some notes from the event.
Bishop Ruben Saenz Jr.’s sermon that led off the 2019 Orders & Fellowship gathering challenged the clergy of the Great Plains to keep the “wolves” at bay as United Methodists enter a pivotal year.
He pointed to an op-ed by David Brooks published in the New York Times on New Year’s Eve, calling 2019 “The Year of the Wolves” for the partisan politics that threatened to tear the country farther apart.
“Will 2019 be the year of the wolves for the United Methodist Church — the year when savage, and previously unimaginable things might happen that cause the church to scatter?” he asked. “Or, will 2019 be the year of the Shepherd, a year when sheep from other sheep pens are also led by Christ, listen to his voice, and become one flock, with one shepherd?”
Whatever the outcome of the special session of the General Conference in February in St. Louis, Bishop Saenz said, United Methodists must remain strong.
“2019 will not change us, it will reveal us,” he said. “It will show forth who we really are.”
The United Methodist Church of the Resurrection was host for the 2019 Orders & Fellowship, with most of the plenary sessions taking place in the church’s 3,500-seat sanctuary, which will celebrate its second anniversary in March.
The Rev. Adam Hamilton, Resurrection’s founding pastor, explained the symbolism of much of the sanctuary, including its renowned, 100-by-40-foot stained-glass window.
“The idea in creating this place was to create the Gospel in architecture,” Hamilton told his fellow pastors.
A subtle garden theme is present throughout the sanctuary, he said, from its light green seatbacks to three gardens – from Genesis, the Gospel of John and Revelation – depicted in the window.
Jesus Christ, dominant in the center of the stained glass, has outstretched arms that welcome parishioners, Hamilton said, but as they leave the arms signify “Go into the world and do the work of the kingdom.”
After an 18-city town-hall meeting tour of the Great Plains last summer and fall, Bishop Saenz answered questions from pastors in the conference during Orders & Fellowship about the special session of General Conference set for Feb. 23-26 in St. Louis.
The bishop said he was touched by meeting parents of children who were LGBTQ. Some of them overcame their initial objections to love their children unconditionally, he said, while others felt declaring their sexuality was biblically and morally incorrect.
While some bishops in the United States had taken a stand in favor of one of the three proposals presented by the Commission on a Way Forward — One Church, Connectional or Traditional – Bishop Saenz said he has not publicly favored one over the other.
“Some people want me to ‘lead,’” he said using air-quotes, “as long it’s their way.”
As for the special session, “I’ve decided just to be present,” he said.
In one of the most emotional moments of the Orders & Fellowship, all of the pastors were asked to lay their hands on the clergy delegates to the special session, while Bishop Saenz led a prayer asking for guidance for them in St. Louis.
The Rev. Kevass Harding bared his emotional soul in the closing sermon of Orders & Fellowship.
Vowing to speak from “a profound personal level” in his sermon, the pastor of Wichita Dellrose United Methodist Church told his fellow pastors that he had been diagnosed as borderline clinically depressed. That’s not rare for those who preach the Gospel, he said – Martin Luther King Jr. and Mother Teresa were also diagnosed with clinical depression.
“I was sick up here,” Harding said, pointing to his head.
A pastor at Dellrose for 20 years, Harding said he hit his low point in 2000, when he removed his ordination certificate and diplomas from his office wall, ready to quit ministry.
“I was done with you guys,” he said. “I was done with the church.”
His wife, walking by his office door, watched him and convinced him to remember his call and remain in ministry.
Harding said he had to overcome the stigma of talking about mental illness, including the opinions that others might have of him.
“We’re told big boys don’t cry,” he said. “That’s a lie straight from hell.
“We must remember God has a history of delivering God’s people who cry out for mercy,” Harding added.
Harding said he found comfort by digging deeper into the Bible.
“If you’re looking for a self-help book, I’m a witness,” he said, holding his copy of Scripture. “Here it is.”
Harding said there are three R’s — remember, recognize and realize — in dealing with one’s own mental health.
“I will no longer have to suffer in silence,” he said. “God is with me, whether you like it or not.”
His sometimes animated and often heartfelt sermon earned Harding a standing ovation from his fellow pastors.
Here is the video of Rev. Harding's 30-minute sermon.
Read more about the keynote speaker's remarks to the clergy and the bishop's personal story about getting fit.
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