Praying For The United Methodist Church
I visit and preach in churches across the state of Florida. And increasingly I find myself kneeling at an altar in one of them—before a service, or during the service, when there is an invitation, or between services—to pray for the church. These prayers began to take an expansive form after I was nominated to serve as the future president of the Council of Bishops, beginning in 2018. Three petitions shape my prayers:
- the faithfulness of the church
- the fruitfulness of the church
- the unity of the church
The faithful church listens to the orthodox traditions of the law and the prophets, and especially in the ways these are interpreted by Jesus, and most radically in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7). Orthodoxy can be abused, in our temptations toward empire or our captivity to ego, but this is our error—this does not negate the need for orthodoxy, which is the consensus of the church’s vision about God and neighbor, and our relationship with each. Orthodoxy is not sufficient in and of itself; our right opinions “are the slenderest part of religion”, John Wesley wrote, and yet our thinking, praying and praising form a root system that helps us to bear fruit.
My prayer is that those who gather in Portland share a common orthodox faith—one that envisions the Triune God, incarnate in Jesus Christ, at the center; one that professes our need for salvation through his grace; one that depends on the power of the Holy Spirit which is not a feeling or emotion, but rather the source of spiritual gifts and the voice that guides us into the truth. This common orthodox faith is present for us in the depth and diversity of the scriptures, which lead us in paths of righteousness and reform and renew us as God’s people.
The fruitful church knows that she does not exist for herself, but to nurture and give life to new generations of men and women who will discover paths of faithfulness. For us, this is marked by the Methodist way of being Christian—we believe that there are ordinary channels through which the grace of God flows—reading scripture, receiving communion, offering praise to God, being accountable to other disciples, living with the poor, seeking to transform unjust systems. These practices, repeated faithfully, become habits and disciplines, and in God’s time and through God’s providence, they bear fruit. A fruitful church is clear about her mission: to make disciples of Jesus Christ, for the transformation of the world (Book of Discipline, 120).
I am praying for a fruitful, generative church, one that grows spiritually, missionally and numerically. The diminishing presence of the disciples of Jesus in many strategic regions of our nation and world is cause for lament and self-examination. The signs of life—new disciples, younger disciples, more diverse disciples—are occasions for rejoicing, stories to be shared and practices to be replicated.
The unity of the church is God’s gift (Acts 2) and Jesus’ prayer (John 17). There are many who confess that unity is not a present reality, or admit that it is not desirable, and state that unity comes at the cost of a compromise they cannot accept. Some place unity in opposition to truth, and yet this is artificial—the Lord who prays for the unity of his disciples, in order that the world might believe (John 17) is the One who is the way, the truth and the life (John 14).
The culture is our nation is increasingly fragmented. The climate of our political processes is undeniably toxic. The condition of relationships within families is often fragile. The church at every level, from a local congregation to the general conference, often reflects these realities. The call to unity in the present moment is a response to the challenge of the Apostle Paul: “Do not be conformed to the world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds” (Romans 12). And the call to unity, for disciples, is inseparable from the ministry of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5) that is God’s dream for the world.
How are we to think and believe? How are we to worship and pray? How might we live with each other? These are at the heart of my prayers for the church, and specifically for her faithfulness, fruitfulness and unity. Because I know—and am known by—a merciful God, I believe that God desires these qualities in us. I have the sense that when I pray, I am joining in a prayer that the Holy Spirit is already breathing. Perhaps this is why these three qualities—faithfulness, fruitfulness, unity—come to me so naturally, almost as natural as breathing when I stop to kneel and pray.
Across the Florida Annual Conference, we have set aside today as a time to kneel, wherever we are, and to pray for the 2016 United Methodist General Conference. I hope you will join me—and I am bold to say, I hope you will join the Holy Spirit—in prayer for the faithfulness, fruitfulness and unity of the United Methodist Church.
Resident Bishop, Florida Area
The United Methodist Church