In 2009, the Council of Bishops of The United Methodist Church issued a pastoral letter and document on "God's Renewed Creation: Call to Hope and Action." The pastoral letter should have been presented to every local church by now. The foundation document should be studied by every local church as soon as it is feasible. The Council recommended that churches study the foundation document during Lent of 2010.
I am aware that the schedule of the Council of Bishops and the schedule of local churches make it difficult for them to coordinate with one another. By the time the Council issued its recommendation for a Lenten Bible study, many churches had already developed plans for their Lenten observance. Accordingly, I ask every church to do a study of "God's Renewed Creation," but it can be done at any time during the next year. It would fit a Lenten study in 2011, but it could be done during some other season of the Christian year. Since the theme of the 2011 Florida Annual Conference will be "Transforming the World by Living as Peace-Makers," each church should study "God's Renewed Creation" before the 2011 Annual Conference.
I want you to be aware that Cokesbury has published a study guide for "God's Renewed Creation." This publication contains the pastoral letter, the pastoral letter for liturgical settings, and the foundation document, as well as a guide for group study for six weeks and a guide for teachers of children. It can be ordered from Cokesbury for a cost of $5.50 each. Also available as a resource is the Web site www.hopeandaction.org.
This will be a different kind of study than is available at most churches. I believe that it will broaden the scope of the curriculum of the Church School, which consists of not only Sunday School, but also all settings for learning as disciples of Jesus Christ.
One of things we need to watch is to make sure that the members of our churches are receiving a holistic view of the Christian life. The main key to such a view is the doctrine of the Trinity. So often we slip into a kind of practical unitarianism. It may be a unitarianism of the Son or of the Spirit as well as of the Father, which is the classical form. If there is any tendency toward a practical unitarianism among most of us, it is probably toward that of the Second Person of the Trinity, i.e. toward Christomonism, or a focus upon Christ to the extent that there is a negligence of the First and Third Persons of the Trinity, the Father and the Holy Spirit. I believe that this study on "God's Renewed Creation" will be helpful to us because it takes seriously the doctrine of creation which we associate primarily with the Father (although the Father creates through the Son by the power of the Spirit). We need to relate our experience of being disciples of Jesus Christ to the whole of creation.
I can remember when I was a pastor leading a study of the predecessor to "God's Renewed Creation” which was called "In Defense of Creation." I was nervous about how it would go since that statement called for the elimination of nuclear weapons during the latter part of the Cold War in 1987. I was pastor of the Farmville United Methodist Church, which is located in Farmville, Virginia, the home of both Longwood College and Hampton-Sydney College. In my group there were two professors who were physicists, and one of them spent his summers at Los Alamos working on the atomic projects for the Department of Defense. While there were very different viewpoints expressed, I remember how much the members appreciated being part of a church where they could discuss the central ethical issues facing the world.
I am convinced that the church matters. God created the church to fulfill the mission given to Israel to be a light to the nations. Because the church matters, we who are the church should seek to avoid triviality or preoccupation with merely internal concerns of the church itself, and address the things which matter to the world.