Bishop Tom Berlin's message: Reach out to those who live on Loveless LaneLeadership Missions and Outreach
“One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?”
“The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” – Mark 12: 28-31
A follower of Jesus Christ is called to show love and share love. As Christ first loved us, so we should be about love-times-two. That’s the only way to bring positive change to a hurting world.
That was the theme Bishop Tom Berlin struck Saturday as he was installed as the new Resident Bishop of the Florida Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church.
According to Judi New, the Conference archivist, he Is the 12th Bishop since three conferences united in 1939 to form the Florida Conference, Southeastern Jurisdiction, of The Methodist Church.
“The number 12 for this is just perfect,” she said.
Mixing humor and poignancy to the congregation at First Lakeland UMC and those watching via livestream, Bishop Berlin used text from Mark 12: 28-34 as the foundation of his message. The key to that passage is Jesus’ command to love the Lord with all your heart AND love your neighbor as yourself. It was a call to service and caring for the members of the more than 500 United Methodist churches in the state.
"What's it like to live on Loveless Lane?"
Bishop Berlin began his message with a story about his home in Virginia. He served there since his ordination in 1988 before he was the first of three episcopal candidates elected to Bishop at the Southeastern Jurisdictional Conference in November.
He was then assigned to the Florida Conference, replacing Bishop Ken Carter.
Bishop Berlin told of a little street called Loveless Lane.
“All the years I’ve lived there, I’ve never turned down that lane. It’s a little foreboding,” he said. “What’s it like to live on Loveless Lane? I just worry about that.”
But what is it like to live there even when your street has a different name? Too many people understand that reality far too well.
“Loveless Lane, it’s pervasive. It can be found in premiere neighborhoods and the places time left behind," he said.
“The list of problems people face on Loveless Lane is so long—mental health, addiction, food scarcity, lack of housing; people on Loveless Lane are usually spiritually lost. When you face that much despair, it gets really hard to hold on to hope. And many don’t know that God loves. Many don’t know how to love the people they want to love. The equipment is not there. Sometimes on Loveless Lane, people don’t even love themselves.”
Thus, it becomes the calling of the people of Christ’s church to show that love in action.
“All around the world, a lot of people are living on Loveless Lane,” he said. “Loveless Lane is not just a starter home for some people. Some of them take up residence and live there year after year.”
He added, “I’ll give you a secret, church. Want to hear a secret from your new Bishop? Loveless Lane is a mission field. Loveless Lane is not the place we are called to avoid. Loveless Lane is the place where Jesus has already gone and expects us to follow.”
A heart for caring and service
Bishop Berlin served churches of all sizes in his native Virginia. For the last 26 years, he was the lead pastor of the large Floris UMC in Herndon, Va., near Washington, D.C.
Bishop Berlin has written nine books and served on multiple boards and outreach ministries. At Floris UMC, he helped establish an international outreach now known as the Child Reintegration Centre.
The ministry now serves more than 600 children and provides school fees, medical care, mentoring to caregivers, and training so their families can be self-supporting and independent.
After beginning his four-year term in Florida on January 1, Bishop Berlin has spent much time becoming acquainted with his new state. One of his first visits was to the South West District, ravaged last September by Hurricane Ian.
He also quickly visited St. Mark’s UMC in Ocala to meet with the Fresh Expressions team, pledging continued support for the growth of this ministry. Bishop Berlin is currently in the process of visiting multiple churches and districts throughout the state.
“Florida is a big state, did you know that?” he said as the congregation chuckled.
The ritual ceremony began with music and symbolism.
Bishop Berlin received a pastoral staff as a symbol of the good shepherd. He took a Bible to proclaim the Word, water to be renewed in his baptism, bread and a cup to keep the church in communion, and a towel and basin to symbolize service.
He took a pastoral stole to be a pastor, preacher, and teacher. He took The Book of Discipline as a charge to guard the faith and seek unity.
And the Rev. Dr. Sharon Austin presented him a gavel to preside in the Annual Conference “and guide us in our common mission of love, justice, and service.”
Bishop Berlin concluded the ritual with a vow to his new flock: “In the power of the Holy Spirit, I promise to be for you as a means of reconciliation and healing, that all those who are burdened or oppressed may be made whole and able to rejoice in the new life in Jesus Christ.”
Joe Henderson is the News Content Editor for FLUMC.org
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