Bishop Swanson’s Reflections on General Conference

I just read the Bishops reflections on General Conference and I am encouraged.


Why am I so hopeful?

By Bishop James Edward Swanson Sr.

In the Word and Table Service of the Eucharistic Prayer, the celebrant prays these words:

By your Holy Spirit make us one with Christ, one with each other and one in ministry to all the world until Christ comes in final victory and we feast at his heavenly table.

On April 23, some 994 delegates and about 5,000 others gathered in the Fort Worth Convention Center to begin to find ways to make this prayerful petition a reality among those of us called United Methodist Christians.
You see, every four years delegates from 50 different nations, 129 annual conferences, and five continents – representing 48,000 congregations and 11.4 million members – assemble to pray, confer, worship, vote, and seek God’s direction for our church.

In 2008, General Conference met under the theme, “A Future with Hope.” During this time I experienced a range of emotions, from sadness to joy, anxiety to calm, tears of grief to tears of joy. Yet I came away from General Conference with more hope for our church than at any time in my more than 35 years of ministry.

Why am I so hopeful? (I am so glad you asked.) I am hopeful because despite our differences, we were able to focus attention on four areas that I find exciting. These areas are: starting new churches; leadership development; global health (in particular, stamping out the killer diseases of poverty); and engaging in ministries with the poor.

I applaud the Council of Bishops for rallying our energies, resources, and prayers around these four areas. I witnessed our general boards and agencies developing strategies to give attention to these four areas. I saw a seven-year-old girl challenge us to follow her example by giving at least $10 to buy a treated mosquito net to protect African children from malaria.

I heard choirs sing a variety of songs in praise to God – inspiring us to smiles, tears, shouts, and adoration for the God of our salvation. I saw hands lifted in praise to Jesus and pleas for the Holy Spirit to descend upon us. I saw persons with opposite opinions on key issues embrace and seek to be Jesus’ disciples, even as they disagreed.

But, what I appreciated most of all was a clear call to “make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.”

Oh yes, there were moments that brought me pain and discomfort, but the moments when I witnessed Jesus and felt the power of the Holy Spirit have given me strength to run on in Jesus’ name. Yes, I could have done without the long hours and endless amendments to the amendments. But through it all, there was no doubt that Jesus was with us. I do believe that many of you were back here in Georgia, Virginia, and Tennessee praying for us, and I thank you for your prayers.

Now we head on to Annual Conference in Holston, and I ask that you join me in our “40 Days of Preparation.” If you are unaware of our 40-day Bible study, please ask your pastor or lay representative, so that you may join us in studying the scriptures and praying for God to be with us as we seek to “Offer Them Christ.”

I am convinced as never before that God can be with us in power, at Annual Conference, just as he was with us in Fort Worth.

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