FORT WAYNE, Indiana—Bishop David Alan Bard, president of the College of Bishops, launched into his episcopal address declaring that we find ourselves in odd space. We are in an odd space historically, politically and denominationally. We are on the precipice of mid-term elections in the United States where deep polarization and mistrust of our election system is undermining democracy that leave us ill-prepared to meet the challenges of climate change, gun violence, economic vitality, and racial justice. We are in an agonizingly protracted space of disaffiliation in the United Methodist Church that does not always bring out our best, and we are in an emerging space of what the United Methodist Church will become.
Bishop Bard named his own commitments and called the body into moving into this emerging space with grace, curiosity and creativity. In describing this kind of space he said, “the word I love for this is 'capacious'—a capacious heart, soul, and mind. Capacious—speaking to both roominess and growing capacity. I am committed to working with you in the Spirit to create space that is genuinely creative and capacious, a space of curiosity and intelligence and adventure, a space that increases our capacities for kindness and thoughtfulness.”
This emerging, capacious United Methodist space is one that is rooted, magnanimous, evangelical, and disciple-making.
“The space we create moving into the future will be and must be rooted in our faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. It will be and must be rooted in the history of our Christian faith, rooted, and grounded in Scripture, tradition, reason, and experience, with Scripture as the constitutive witness to Jesus as the Christ. When it is so rooted, it will allow for creativity and curiosity.”
Bishop Bard used the image of the table to describe a magnanimous, evangelical, and disciple-making space.
“Magnanimous space might be like the banquet Jesus describes in Luke 14, where we are sensitive to the space, offering others the better places, and making sure to include those often excluded.” And yet, this inviting all, must be accompanied by a clear answer to what we are inviting people to. “We are inviting people to an adventure with Jesus. We are including people in the work of Jesus in the world—the work of peace-making, of reconciliation, of justice, of breaking down dividing walls, of beloved community, of beauty, of hope, of love.”
The bishop challenged us to chop up our old decision-making tables and turn them into firewood that would create a warming fire where storytelling would be central. We should listen intently to one another, share food person to person, and join in singing and laughter.
And yet, not everyone will want to share this space, the bishop acknowledged. He exhorted the body that how we navigate this time of separation will shape our emerging space and have an impact on how evangelical that space will be. Will we make room for people to change their minds, to think in new ways, to be moved by God’s Spirit? It’s not easy to live into this emerging space.
“There will be uncomfortable moments in our transformational journeys with Jesus, but transformation is what Jesus is about—transforming us individually toward holiness, transforming our communities toward God’s beloved community.” It is towards this new space, this spacious and gracious, creative and curious, magnanimous, evangelical, disciple-making space that we press on by the grace of Jesus Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit. We press on because Jesus Christ has made us his own!