Dear members and friends of The Desert Southwest Conference,
Grace and peace to you in the name of Christ, our Rock and Salvation!
Although the month of June may seem very far away, some of us are already looking ahead and planning for our Annual Conference session in June. Someone once remarked that the Annual Conference, the yearly gathering of laity and clergy is “the bishop’s party.” The implication was that it was the bishop’s event and that it is my privilege to invite the members of the Annual Conference and any others who want to attend to come for a celebration of our collective ministry together. I interpret that to mean that the days we spend together should be used creatively for the work of God’s Holy Spirit to inspire and support our efforts to grow vital congregations engaged in mission and ministry.
More than just being a time for hearing reports about what has been accomplished, our Annual Conference will hopefully be a time to experience what God is calling us to be in the days to come. It should be focused on the future! We’ll listen to God’s voice through worship that will model the very best of what God expects of us in worship. We’ll hear how God’s creative spirit is tugging at us to form new faith communities so there will be more new disciples of Jesus Christ. We’ll be introduced to ideas and resources to bring excitement and energy to vitalize existing congregations. We’ll learn how to be effective lay and clergy leaders for Christ and for our congregations.
As your bishop, I look forward to this yearly gathering. It should be for all of us a time to be in fellowship with one another, to learn new ideas and insights, to experience worship and deepen our faith, and to engage in holy conferencing around a theme that will inspire us and recharge us for our ministry of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.
This year the simple but evocative theme that calls us together is “Imagine… ”
Many things come to mind as I anticipate our gathering in June and as I imagine what might be accomplished in our time together. Let me mention just a few. Imagine No Malaria will be prominently on our agenda. See and hear how our Desert Southwest Conference is playing a major role in the United Methodist effort to raise $75 million toward the eradication of deaths from malaria. We can accomplish this miracle through our participation together! No More Malaria. Imagine!
Imagine… each of the congregations of the Desert Southwest Conference excited about being in ministry outside our doors—reaching out into the communities where we have been placed, demonstrating our commitment to acts of social holiness. We could significantly reduce hunger and poverty. Our churches would become actively involved in alleviating homelessness in our midst. Just imagine what good might be accomplished in the name of Jesus Christ!
Imagine… lay and clergy hearing afresh the call of Jesus Christ in their hearts and souls; moved again by God’s call to commit our lives in service to God, the Church and the world.
Imagine… clergy commissioned, ordained, and sent to ministries of The United Methodist Church ready to lead a movement of the spirit that will rekindle faith and invigorate the ministries of our congregations.
Imagine… lay persons infused with the Spirit excited to return to their homes willing and empowered to evangelize: to share the Good News of Jesus Christ and invite others to feel that same spirit.
These are just some of the imaginings of my heart and soul as I seek God’s inspiration for our Conference in June. The truth of the matter is that the Annual Conference session is not the bishop’s party! It is Christ’s party and we are all invited to come and worship, pray, learn, fellowship, and engage in holy conferencing together. We come at Christ’s invitation and hopefully we will take home with us the gift of inspiration and energy as we return to the places where God has placed us. Once there, we will inspire and lead others to imagine what God is doing in their lives!
That is the Annual Conference session I am imagining!
To guide us as we anticipate our time of holy conferencing, here are words from Holy Scripture that support our theme:
For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth takes its name. I pray that, according to the riches of his glory, he may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love. I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or IMAGINE… to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen (Ephesians 3: 14-21).
In the spirit of Ephesians, I pray that in our annual gathering as United Methodists of the Desert Southwest Conference, God will call us anew to a ministry that is full and rich, and that we will be empowered to do much more in ministry than we could ever imagine!
Let’s pray: Holy God, you are our Creator and you are still creating! Inspire us anew as we seek to be your faithful disciples, engaged in life-changing ministry in our communities and world. Assist us in all we do through the ministry of Jesus Christ, that we might care for the poor and the marginalized; reaching out with compassion for the hungry and homeless. Give us grace that we might more and more reflect the redeeming love of Christ. Open our minds and hearts to the fullness of what it means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ in whose name we pray. Amen.
In Christ’s shalom,