Bishop Bruce Ough praised the Dakotas Annual Conference for its bold reach during his episcopal address on Thursday morning, even as he called churches to bolder action.
Statistics from 2018 show a conference committed to sharing the love of Christ in both churches and communities. Ough noted increases in professing membership, youth and adult baptisms, Volunteers in Mission teams, and persons served by outreach, mercy, and justice ministries. He also reported that membership within the conference is becoming more diverse, while the number of non-member constituents is rising.
Still, Ough said, there is more work to do. In order to fulfill this year’s theme of “Dare to Reach, Love Boldly,” the Bishop pointed the Annual Conference to the story of Jesus’ conversation with a Samaritan woman told in John 4.
“This is a conversation that never should have taken place,” he said. “But that is the very point of this powerful and provocative story.”
In order to talk to the Samaritan woman, Jesus had to overcome 700 years of division and numerous cultural boundaries. If he went to such great lengths to speak to a woman he had no business talking to, then our first step in reaching new persons is to enter into similar conversations—particularly across the theological silos that have developed within the United Methodist Church.
Jesus does not approach the conversation with the Samaritan from a position of power. Rather, he uses his own need for water to open a door to relationship. As they talk, she becomes more aware of her own need for the living water Jesus offers—something she didn’t even know existed beforehand. This, according to Bishop Ough, is an example of the power of prevenient grace.
“We need to trust that Jesus is more thirsty for us than we are for him,” he said. “We can dare to reach others because Jesus sends us only to those places and persons where he intends to go.”
Ough noted the paradox that with each encounter with God, our thirst for God is at once quenched and heightened. He encouraged those present to return daily to conversation with Jesus, asking him to fill our cups so that we can share with others, just as the Samaritan woman shared her encounter with Jesus with her neighbors. Our authentic God stories, Ough believes, are essential tools for sharing the gospel in the unique mission fields across the Dakotas.
“When you return home, pay attention to who is new to your community,” he said. “Listen for those who are caught in cycles of despair and depression, addiction or abuse, or who are giving up on life.”
Ough asked those in attendance to identify specific people they would reach out to as a part of the Miracle Offering slated for Friday morning.
The bishop concluded with an exhortation to “go to the well” in search of relationships with our neighbors, chances to share our God stories, and opportunities to show God’s love in tangible ways. His closing prayer invited participants to begin these things with prayer.
“Show me how you are calling me to share your healing, saving, reconciling, joy-inducing grace with them,” Ough and those gathered prayed. “Help my words and my witness provide an invitation to experience life with Christ.”