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Southeastern Jurisdictional Conference opens with emphasis on following God’s agenda

Southeastern Jurisdictional Conference opens with emphasis on following God’s agenda

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

Southeastern Jurisdictional Conference opens with emphasis on following God’s agenda

July 16, 2008   News media contact: Tita Parham* 
800-282-8011    Orlando {0882}

An e-Review Feature
By Tita Parham

LAKE JUNALUSKA, N.C. — A total of 504 delegates representing the annual conferences of the Southeastern Jurisdiction gathered in Stuart Auditorium at the Lake Junaluska Conference Center to begin the jurisdiction’s quadrennial gathering and accomplish one main task: electing a bishop to begin serving the jurisdiction in the 2009-2012 quadrennium.

Florida Conference Bishop Timothy W. Whitaker and Bill Walker (right), co-leader of the Florida Conference delegation, help serve communion to delegates and guests July 16 during the opening session of the 2008 Southeastern Jurisdictional Conference at Lake Junaluska, N.C. Photo by Erik J. Alsgaard. Photo #08-0926.

Everything during the opening session July 16 was designed to remind delegates about the spirit in which that business should be conducted.

After the active and retired bishops of the jurisdiction processed in with representatives from each annual conference, each bearing elements of the morning’s worship and Holy Communion service, Bishop Charlene Kammerer, episcopal leader of the Virginia Annual Conference, urged delegates to remember what really matters when electing a bishop.

Using Luke 22:24-27 as the text of the morning’s first meditation, Kammerer asked delegates to consider what it means to be a servant and leader in the Kingdom of God.

In the Gospel reading the disciples are arguing about who among them is greatest. Kammerer said the disciples were “quarreling about precedence and priorities, all in the looming shadow of the cross and what’s to come.”

It was an especially poignant conversation, given that it was the last time Jesus was with the disciples.

Jesus explained to the disciples that the greatest will become like children and leaders will be the ones to serve. Jesus said he did not come to lead as a king in the standards of daily life the disciples understood, but to be a servant.

“What that means for us,” the bishop said, “ is that we are joining Jesus at the table of Christ” in that mission of servanthood.

In doing the business of this conference, Kammerer said it will not matter “how long we’ve been members of the church, the offices we hold … whether we are old, young, Hispanic or Asian.” What matters most, she said, is that “we are all sinners.”

“What matters is are we willing to get our hands dirty” serving others, she said. “Are we willing to be peacemakers and reconcilers in a world of conflict; are we willing to love all people, accept all people, offer our lives of service as Jesus did?”

The bishop said servant leaders listen to the will of the group, instead of inserting their will. They possess empathy for others and healing qualities.

Bishop Charlene Kammerer, episcopal leader of the Virginia Annual Conference, urges delegates to “let us lay aside all thoughts of power and rightful place at this table where Jesus is host” before the service of communion and in preparation of the first ballot to elect a bishop. Photo by Erik J. Alsgaard. Photo #08-0927. For longer description see photo gallery.

Understanding what it means to serve

Kammerer shared the story a young man named Keith, who was a member of a church she served in Florida. Keith came to understand what it meant to be a servant of Christ after a transforming communion experience.

Keith, she said, was a shy, single young man. He had a good job. He began attending the church through a friend and was a faithful participant. He began tithing “right away” as a new member, Kammerer said, and was actively involved both in a Disciple Bible Study group and a nurturing Sunday School Class. But Keith never took communion. He felt he was not worthy.

Keith was an ex-con, Kammerer explained. He had killed a woman while driving drunk. He had been so drunk, she said, that he could not remember the details of the accident.

“Keith was just a mess emotionally,” Kammerer said. “He could not forgive himself.”

It wasn’t until after attending the church for two years that Keith began to realize “Jesus came for people like him,” Kammer said. “Not the good people; not the righteous people.

“He began to understand the agony Jesus felt; he began to feel Jesus loved him.”

He also finally felt worthy to take communion. “Keith’s face … was radiant,” Kammerer said. “He was experiencing Holy Communion as a genuine means of grace.”

The bishop said that experience made him more able to become a servant of Christ — to serve others.

“When we come to this table,” Kammerer said, “let us lay aside all thoughts of power and rightful place at this table where Jesus is host.”

Clues to discerning God’s will

After communion and the organization of the conference, delegates participated in a second service to prepare themselves for the first ballot to elect the bishop.

Bishop Larry Goodpaster, episcopal leader of the Alabama-West Florida Conference, offered “clues” to delegates to help them discern God’s will in their upcoming vote.

“The election, consecration and assignment of bishops now rests in your hands,” he said.

Goodpaster said there is a “paradox” in what the delegates were about to undertake — a feeling of political campaigning versus the “hope that servant, spiritual leadership emerges.”

He said there is a yearning for divine guidance, especially with all the “colliding forces that storm around us.”

Bishop Larry Goodpaster, episcopal leader of the Alabama-West Florida Conference, tells delegates during his mediation in preparation of the first ballot to elect a bishop that scripture offers three clues to guide the process: be still, pay attention and seek God. Photo by Woody Woodrick. Photo #08-0928. For longer description see photo gallery.

“So, Jurisdictional Conference,” Goodpaster said. “Where do we find clues to help us navigate through colliding forces?

“We bishops invite you to cast this process in a mode that moves from the political … to prayer and discernment.”

He said the clues to that discernment can be found in Scripture, the first of which is to “be still and know that I am God.”

That command, the bishop said, is not easy in a world full of noise and a culture filled with people “full of sound and fury signifying nothing,” in the words of William Shakespeare.

“How can we sense the movement of God in the midst of all the noise?” he said. “What if we simply sat in quiet contemplation for a period? What if we did not try to control the conversation, but instead listen for a quiet nudging?”

The first clue, he said, is “be still.”

The second clue, Goodpaster said, can be found in Romans: “Do not be conformed to this world, but transformed” by God.

By not being conformed, by being filled “not with noise, but grace,” he said, Christians can turn their attention to God.

Living by the mind of Christ, he said, “alters everything we do, even the way we elect bishops.”

The second clue, then, is “pay attention,” he said.

Goodpaster said the third and final clue is found in Colossians: doing everything “for the name of the Lord.”

“Are we casting ballots in the name and spirit of Jesus?” the bishop asked. “Are we preserving an institution or advancing the Kingdom?”

Goodpaster said the verse invites delegates to seek God before doing anything.

“It’s never about winning contests or outlasting opponents or bringing glory to your conference,” he said. “It’s about discerning the word of God in the Methodist Way.”

That way, he said, guides the mission and ministry of the conference and focuses on three key principles: do no harm, do good, and practice or attend the ordinances of God.

Goodpaster said the third principle is critical to the first two. Ensuring that guidance from God can be done through worship, prayer, scripture reading, communion and fasting, he said.

“It’s about being in the presence of God and finding there the presence to ‘do’ ” he said. “Even our voting.”

The ‘doing’

Delegates had the opportunity to put those clues into action before the first vote.

Florida delegates prepare to cast their vote for bishop during the first ballot. Photo by Erik J. Alsgaard. Photo #08-0929. For longer description see photo gallery.

After the singing of three songs and hearing selected readings from Mother Teresa, Thomas H. Troeger and Henri Nouwen, delegates engaged in a time of prayer and reflection.

They were then ready to take the first ballot, the last item of business before the end of the morning session.

Bishops in The United Methodist Church in the United States are elected and assigned every four years at five concurrent Jurisdictional Conferences. The jurisdiction is electing a bishop to replace Bishop J. Lawrence McCleskey of the Western North Carolina Conference, who is retiring at the end of this quadrennium.

The Southeastern Jurisdiction runs from Kentucky and Virginia, then east of the Mississippi River to include Georgia, Tennessee, the Carolinas, Florida, Alabama and Mississippi. There are 13 annual conferences in the Southeastern Jurisdiction with 13 bishops. In the United States, there are 50 active bishops; worldwide, there are 69.

A full listing of episcopal assignments in the Southeastern Jurisdiction is available at by clicking on the SEJ button.

**Parham is managing editor of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.