This article was originally posted at https://www.unitedmethodistbishops.org/newsdetail/bishop-harvey-calls-on-united-methodists-to-act-as-the-body-of-christ-16472579.
WASHINGTON, D.C. – To say that Bishop Cynthia Fierro Harvey’s time as President of the Council of the Bishops (COB) of The United Methodist Church has been unusual would be an understatement.
Bishop Harvey, who serves the Louisiana Area and who has served as COB president for the past two years, noted the uniqueness of her term when she offered a short litany of “firsts” in her President’s Address at the opening of the COB Spring Meeting.
- The first Hispanic female to assume the office of president – virtually
- The first president to conduct every meeting virtually for two years. “There have been no in-person meetings,” she said.
- This week’s meeting, she said, is the 14th COB meeting and the Executive Committee has met 18 times. Typically, she added, “the COB meets twice a year as does the Executive Committee.”
- Churches went from in person worship to virtual worship “in the blink of an eye.”
- “Masks. No masks. Masks again. And today, who knows?”
- Vaccines. Boosters. War. Political turmoil. Racism. A siege of the U.S. Capitol.
- Three postponements of General Conference.
- No bishops elected in the last six years, with a reduction in active bishops from 66 to 54 in the last two years.
- Tensions running high as a pending launch of a new expression of Methodism is set to go.
Using Romans 12, the bishop called on her colleagues and fellow United Methodists to remember that together, “we are the body of Christ, and when we actively start lopping off parts of the body, we cease to be who God has called us to be.”
Noting that trying to “figure out how to make sense” of separation and the time spent has been “egregious.” Bishop Harvey said that the Book of Discipline is often silent or vague when it comes to addressing separation.
That’s because, she said, “the Book of Discipline is designed to give us direction for how to be United Methodist, not how NOT to be United Methodist.”
Watching online videos from church leaders that start with the premise of understanding the process of disaffiliation saddens her, she said, “in the very pit of my stomach.”
“We ought never pander nor foster division,” she said. “We do not need an enemy to lead! We lead out of and because of the love and grace of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ!”
Bishop Harvey said that she is a “big tent church person” who believes every voice is important to the whole. But, she added, the church needs to be very clear about who it is and who it is called to be.
“The United Methodist Church is founded on a Wesleyan theology of grace, anchored in Scripture, and based in the life and teachings of Jesus Christ and the continuing movement of the Holy Spirit,” she said. “Refuse to accept anyone saying anything otherwise!”
While she wishes that everyone would stay in The United Methodist Church, the bishop knows that some cannot. “I grieve and regret that more than words can express,” she said.
Even in the midst of splintering and separation, Bishop Harvey said that The United Methodist Church, no matter what it looks like in the future, will always have a place for everyone.
“All of its members – clergy, local churches, and annual conferences – will have a home in The United Methodist Church whether they consider themselves liberal, evangelical, progressive, traditionalist, middle of the road, conservative, centrist, or something else. Do not let anyone tell you otherwise,” she said.
Addressing her colleagues, she urged them to continue to fulfill their responsibility to lead the church “that ordained us, elected us and consecrated us. We are The United Methodist Church. We must love one another through this.”
Before the presidential address, the bishops from Africa, Asia, Europe, and North America celebrated the lives of bishops and spouses who have died since the last time they meet. They later also heard leadership reports regarding ecumenical relations, anti-racism, disaster relief, and other mission and ministry work around the worldwide denomination.
The COB meeting continues through Friday.
The Friday, April 29, session will be livestreamed to the public on the COB Facebook page (www.facebook.com/umcbishops/) starting at 9:00 am Eastern time.
Rev. Dr. Maidstone Mulenga
Director of Communications
Council of Bishops
The United Methodist Church
110 Maryland Ave. NE # 301
Washington, D.C. 20002