by Bishop Bob Hoshibata
The 37th Annual Conference of the Desert Southwest Conference will soon be convened. This year, we will again be meeting virtually because of the COVID-19 pandemic. History will look back at the last two years and will have many things to say about this extraordinary time that few of us have ever known. Among the comments I hope historians will note for future generations is that we were challenged, but because of the many gifts and the strong and resilient spirit of the faithful United Methodists of the Desert Southwest Conference, the ministry and mission continued courageously, undaunted by the pandemic.
With this hope in mind, the theme for our Annual Conference is “Many Gifts, One Spirit,” and the three scripture foundational passages selected for our gathering includes the passage from I Corinthians 12:4-7, where the apostle Paul encourages the church of Corinth to understand that within the body of Christ, the Spirit of God leads the faithful to use a diversity of spiritual gifts for the good of all. Paul says:
“ Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.” (NRSV)
The past year has been a time of testing. We have had to endure many challenges. Some of those challenges are being mitigated by the advent of vaccines. But other challenges have been met head on because we have used our many and varied gifts for the church. One exciting example is that the proclamation of God’s word has taken on a new dimension through streaming and online worship. Although many of us had never led or participated in worship in these new ways, we stepped up to create exciting and inspirational worship. What a gift this has been for the church in the midst of a pandemic.
Along with the COVID-19 pandemic, our nation experienced an explosion of violence. Last year, the Desert Southwest Conference made a bold proclamation that we were a conference focused on working for the eliminating racism. That proclamation has led to an outpouring of support for the Desert Southwest Conference’s RACE Coalition which emerged from our commitment to combat racism in our nation and the world. The work of the Ethnic Local Church Committee and the Commission on Religion and Race together encouraged a rich variety of experiences to begin our journey. The RACE Coalition will lead us in pressing on in that journey by offering our Conference an extraordinary opportunity for all of us to grow in our commitment to address and destroy the evil of racism.
A second scripture passage from I Peter offers us words of admonishment and encouragement for this effort.
“Finally, all of you, have unity of spirit, sympathy, love for one another, a tender heart, and a humble mind. Do not repay evil for evil or abuse for abuse; but, on the contrary, repay with a blessing. It is for this that you were called—that you might inherit a blessing. For “Those who desire life and desire to see good days, let them keep their tongues from evil and their lips from speaking deceit; let them turn away from evil and do good; let them seek peace and pursue it.” (I Peter 3:8-11)
As we look ahead to our future, it is clear that there are many gifted persons in our Conference. Each one has been given gifts by God. For example, when the pandemic began, many of us wondered how we would ever be able to develop stewardship and keep our churches financially stable. This has been a challenge we are still working on, but by the grace of God, many of our churches have been able to maintain our financial stability. That does not mean that churches are not struggling; but the fear that many had has been tempered by the generosity and the careful management of spending and especially because of the extraordinary generosity of the people of our congregations. We celebrate the showering of many gifts of our people for the sake of the church’s mission and ministry.
We give God thanks for the leadership of laity and clergy who have given not only of financial resources, but also the resources of time, talent, energy, and faith. These are among the spiritual gifts we have seen generously offered to the ministry of the church. These gifts are given because of our unity in the spirit of Jesus Christ, who calls us to love generously and graciously.
Last year, that gift of generosity was made known in the outpouring of support and compassion for the Navajo nation. Since the announcement of the 2020 Annual Conference Mission Project, over $121,160 has been given so that the Navajo nation might have clean water. This year, we are again counting on your gift of generous compassion. Our 2021 Annual Conference mission project aims to raise funds to assist the campus ministries of the Conference reach out with love and financial assistance for students who also face the daunting challenge of food insecurity, heightened by the COVID-19 pandemic. More information will be available with the annual conference materials.
These are just a few of the ways we have been gifted by our generous, loving God with an array of diverse talents we each have. Yes, God is good. But our gifts must be received and utilized with our hearts in a right relationship with God and with our sisters and brothers. A third scripture passage inspires us to do our ministries with the right spirit in our hearts. In Matthew’s gospel, that right spirit is described:
“So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister and then come and offer your gift.”
We must have a heart at peace and be in right relationship with others in order to use our gifts for the ministry of Jesus Christ. As we celebrate together at our virtual Annual Conference next month, I am hopeful that we will feel and experience the Holy Spirit uniting us in love for God and for each other as we celebrate that we are blessed and called, that we are a conference of faithful followers of Jesus Christ, with many gifts, but one spirit.