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Living the Connection: Imagining together

by | Jun 1, 2013 | Not In USe

Bishop Bob Hoshibata is the resident bishop of the Phoenix Area of The United Methodist Church and provides leadership to The Desert Southwest Conference.

Bishop Bob Hoshibata is the resident bishop of the Phoenix Area of The United Methodist Church and provides leadership to The Desert Southwest Conference.

We are being called to a time of Holy conferencing! Since the earliest vestiges of the Wesleyan movement, coming together to conduct the business of the Church in the spirit of worship and praise has been a hallmark of our United Methodist and our predecessor churches. Our gathering to do just that takes place soon in Glendale, Arizona, at the Renaissance Hotel.

I am looking forward with great anticipation to this first annual conference as your bishop! What energizes me about this event is the potential to send each of us excitedly returning to our places of ministry, inspired and eager to practice what we have learned and discussed about making our churches vital – – alive with faith and actively proclaiming the Gospel in word and deed.

The theme for our conference this year is Imagine . . . This theme was selected by your leadership because it is profoundly simple and yet evocative of many ideas and actions. Our days of holy conferencing will be around this theme as we invite you to dream about how God is leading us forward into our future.

We know all too well that the United Methodist movement has slowed down in recent decades. There have been many surveys and studies that tell us that unless we do something to turn the tide, our United Methodist presence in many communities will be lost. Already, there are towns and cities where churches have been closed or now face closure; where our churches are declining, while very close by, new populations are growing and other faith communities are thriving!

For too long, we have been complacent and have seen that it is much too easy to do things the way we have always done them. Change is an inevitable character of life; but the church is very slow in embracing change. Critical questions that we need to ask ourselves are addressed by our strategic direction and will be part of our conversations around tables at Annual Conference:

Where are the places where new persons can be reached for Jesus Christ, and how do we encourage the laity and clergy to start something new in your community? Are we speaking to others about our faith?

How can we develop new leadership, more effective leadership, excellent leadership among the laity and among the clergy who lead our churches?

Are we inviting others to dream and envision what God wants for their lives and for their communities?

Are our congregations reaching out with heart and hands of love to engage in direct service? Are they learning and teaching what Christ tells us to do in response to the needy around us? Are we engaged in advocacy for those without voice in our society?

Do we worship God with all our heart, soul, and strength? Do we know Jesus Christ in our lives and do others see Jesus in us? Is there real joy in our times of worship?

I believe that the first step in creating vital churches once we understand that we need to make some changes before it is too late, is in the visioning of what we want to become. Hence, the importance of imagination in our ministry together.

Our theme invites us to Imagine . . . what a vital church is like! It beckons us to dare to dream big dreams, like being a partner in the Imagine No Malaria campaign for the eventual elimination of deaths caused by malaria. Can you Imagine . . . church worship services that reflected the ethnic and cultural diversity of the community outside that church’s campus! Can you Imagine . . . what our world would be like if each congregation was stepping forward into the community with acts of generous kindness feeding the hungry, providing shelter for the homeless, and walking with those marginalized and living in want. Imagine . . . with me the transformative love of our Savior Jesus Christ permeating the world to overwhelm the violence, evil, and hatred pervasive in our society and our world. Imagine . . . our laity offering their gifts generously for ministry; eager to get outside the walls of the church, sharing their faith with others. Imagine . . . excellent worship in every United Methodist ministry in or conference so that everyone would know God is alive and active in the hearts and souls of those in our pews and pulpits.

These imaginings only begin to describe my hopes for our Annual Conference! With your prayerful support and your excitement for Jesus Christ, what we dare to Imagine . . . can and will become a reality. Our exciting faith-filled journey together to create vital churches starts as we Imagine . . . See you later this month in Glendale!

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