By Ken Rosenauer
John Wesley considered Communion “the grand channel whereby the grace of his Spirit was conveyed to the souls of all the children of God.”
Along those lines, it follows that the 2019 Annual Conference opened with Communion.
Bishop Bob Farr considered it “a healing moment and a chance to come together” in response to the special session of General Conference in St. Louis in February. He cited the healing in Acts 16, wherein Paul and Silas have been beaten with rods and then tossed into prison. At midnight an earthquake hits, all the cell doors open and the chains fall off the prisoners. Then, they convert the jailer, who takes Paul and Silas to his house and treats their wounds. All around, it’s a God-inspired experience, a truly healing moment.
And healing became the theme of opening worship — healing as well as adventure, with his message titled “The Adventure of Uncertain Times.”
“It is good to see you, and are we yet alive as a Missouri Conference?” the bishop asked.
The chorus of the first song gave additional focus: “Make us one, now in this troubled, frightened hour.” And the prayer of confession noted, “We have closed our hearts to the hurt of one another.” Then, in the second song, those gathered sang, “Christ, the church you gave now is broken.”
Point after point hammered home the emphasis the bishop sought to give to this annual conference.
Bishop Farr shared that he and his wife have been avid motorcyclists for the past 10 years, putting 25,000 miles on his three-wheeled Harley-Davidson trike.
“I like an adventure. I like to do new things,” he told the 1,200 clergy, laity and guests gathered in the Springfield Expo Center. He observed that this weekend we’d be doing things differently, as evidenced by opening with a Communion service.
When he is out on his motorcycle, he is always pretty sure where he is going — though he admitted to being lost a time or two in the Mark Twain Forest. He could not say the same about the United Methodist Church right now.
Yet, he prefers to see the current state of affairs as an adventure.
He shared one of his favorite Old Testament passages, from Isaiah 43. He gave special attention to Verse 2: “When you’re in over your head, I’ll be there with you. When you’re in rough waters, you will not go down. When you’re between a rock and a hard place, it won’t be a dead end.”
He found it noteworthy that the conflicts at the special session of General Conference are not the first time God’s people have found themselves in a hard place. He asserted that no matter what plan was chosen back in February, someone would be hurt.
He is well aware that some of those attending this Annual Conference arrived black and blue, still hurting from the debates, confrontations and votes in St. Louis. He explained that one of the first things Paul and Silas did after being beaten and thrown into jail was to worship.
He wanted delegates in Springfield to do likewise with an opening service of Communion.
In another allusion to Acts 16, he said that the United Methodist Church is having an earthquake. Earthquakes always cause damage. They always cause harm. They always cause disruption.
“How could this happen?” he asked about the General Conference outcome. His initial response to the conflict was embarrassment.
Yet, he cautioned, maybe we need an earthquake. Maybe an earthquake will make us change when we have tried to avoid change. He remains concerned, though, with how we will treat one another when we are broken. How will we treat each other?
It’s important to remember this is a marathon, not a sprint. The United Methodist Church is in a deconstruction/reconstruction mode, and that may be timely and appropriate.
Yet, he said, “we need to be careful not to knock out our Wesleyan beams” — those matters of faith and practice that make us who we are.
He plans to continue working with fellow bishops to let people hold whatever convictions they have.
“How are we going to treat one another?” he asked. “As winners and losers? Or as fellow citizens of the kingdom of God?”
A hymn following communion echoed the theme:
There is a balm in Gilead
to make the wounded whole.
There is a balm in Gilead
to heal the sin-sick soul.
Music for the conference is being provided by The Great Romance, a worship/rock band from the St. Louis area. They travel the country spreading the gospel of Christ through music and more.