Gainesville, Sept. 21 -- In this climate of national partisanship, social division and religious decline, Florida Conference Bishop Ken Carter recently sent out an altar call during one of several statewide town hall meetings, emphasizing that it’s time for every Methodist to become a bridge builder in the communities they serve.
During a 90-minute gathering at Trinity United Methodist Church in Gainesville, the Bishop spoke to more than 350 people from around North Florida about the state of the Florida United Methodist Conference and its hopes for the future.
“A bridge can be a beautiful thing,” he said. “Jesus is the bridge between God and humanity.”
He also spoke about the question for all Methodists: “How can I be a bridge builder in my own family, my workplace, my church and my community?”
Using the metaphor throughout the evening, Bishop Carter spoke about the need for churches to reach out to non-believers and be more inclusive to all people. “It is not that we build a bridge so that they can come to us, it’s so we can go to them,” the Bishop added.
|Florida Conference Bishop Ken Carter responded to a variety of questions from participants at the Sept. 21 town hall in Gainesville. Photos by Julie Boyd Cole|
Carter also answered a series of questions submitted that evening by attendees concerning the state of Methodism and his visions for the future.
“At one time, we were a movement,” he said. Talking of changes over the years in the Methodist church, he stated that we had “became a lot more rigid, a lot more set in our ways.
“Now we are entering a new phase,” he said. “We’ve got to bend. We’ve got to get back to where we were (and ask) how do we become a movement again?”
As the church faces the challenges of an upcoming presidential election, Carter asked everyone to pray for the country’s leaders and asked them to discuss topics such as marriage equality, part of the changing social landscape, in such a way that does not drive people away from the church. He added with churches facing decline, we need to build bridges as a form of reaching out to others.
Bishop Carter spoke of his optimism that programs like Fresh Expressions and initiatives like The Way Forward will help the denomination grow and remain connected.
“We are a connectional church, and there is something dangerous about not being connected,” he said.
He also spoke of the conference’s desire to match pastors to the right congregations, to help streamline the process of ordination for pastors in order to help younger men and women seek the call. He spoke of the importance of African-American churches.
“We need to uphold and strengthen each other,” said Carter, who preaches almost every Sunday in a different church around the state.
Speaking to the current political climate in an election year, he reminded the crowd that both George and Laura Bush, Republicans, and Hillary Clinton, a Democrat, are Methodists who practice faithfully. “We are not Fox and MSNBC,” he said. “We are not to be partisan in the church. As your church approaches the election, spend some time in prayer for the nation.”
Pastor Theophilus Rivers, a newly appointed pastor in Newberry, said he came to the event in order to hear what the Bishop had to say. “I want to know where we are going, where we are headed and what is the expectation of us as United Methodists,” he said.
Pastor Don Hanna of St. James United Methodist Church in Palatka and his friend Don Hansford both agreed that the Bishop’s talk was inspiring. “We have got a lot of work to do,” Hansford said.
As the evening came to a close, Bishop Carter ended with “my prayer is that we will look back and say we started a movement. I pray for our unity and a mission that extends to the ends of the Earth.”
Town hall meetings were scheduled in Orlando on Sept. 22, Fort Lauderdale on Sept. 25 and Cape Coral on Sept. 26.
--Julie Boyd Cole is a freelance writer based in Gainesville.