Perhaps some of you saw my recent video that compared two basketball moves: a pivot and a pause. An offensive player pivots away from their opponent to an open space on the court to take a jump shot, make a pass or drive to the basket. This is in contrast to pausing and then suddenly sprinting forward past the defender (also known as a stop and go move). https://youtu.be/0-cim_Hkrmc
We are in a pivot or pause moment in North Alabama Methodism as it relates to post COVID-19 ministry as well as dismantling racism. Perhaps, like me, you have heard our current situation aptly described as two viruses that we must overcome. As overwhelming as this seems and feels, it is the task to which we have been called as North Alabama United Methodists.
You are invited to join the North Alabama Conference’s leadership team in a time of seeking the Holy Spirit’s direction for how we pivot as a church in our current reality. Though our vision and mission will remain the same, our strategies are being revisited during this time when we stand in between what has been and what will be.
What has been: We all feel the pain and grieve the loss of some positive dimensions of the past. We hold in tension that aspects of what was front and center for our parents and grandparents are less effective in reaching our children and grandchildren. Details of what this means vary from congregation to congregation.
Simultaneously, we repent for parts of our past and present that hurt our public witness. In this moment in our national history, the sin of racism in the church is at the top of our list of collective failures.
What will be: Opportunities abound for the church to do innovative, incarnational ministry in response to what is bubbling up in our world. A deep hunger and thirst exist in our culture for what our Savior Jesus Christ and his church offer: support in this time of crisis, hope, good news, accountability and transformation.
Standing in the in-between: None of us has lived through a liminal in-between time like the one in which we find ourselves. This space is so difficult and unfamiliar that we are tempted to return to what worked for us in the past. However, the leadership team and I are inviting you to a different response.
What if, in the middle of this pandemic, as we are on one hand in the process of re-opening our church buildings and on the other hand continuing to develop a strong virtual presence, we ask God’s Holy Spirit to breathe new Pentecost life into us as individuals, congregations and an Annual Conference? What if in the midst of doing all of our current ministries, we also spend time dreaming bold, courageous dreams about what God is calling our churches and Annual Conference to be in the future? I am talking about God-sized dreams like reaching several thousand new people for Christ each year, discipling scores of United Methodists to the next level in their walk with Christ and dismantling racism in our communities. What if during these 18 months prior to the postponed 2020 General Conference we take inventory of our relationship with God and others, confess our failings and experience anew the fullness of God’s love and grace, not just as individuals but as congregations and a denomination?
The COVID-19 pandemic and recent killings of Rayshard Brooks, George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery, did not cause the in-between time in which we find ourselves. However, these events have sped up the process of us recognizing it.
As Christ-followers, this in-between time is not something to fear or reject. Rather, it is an opportunity to discern the future to which God is calling us.
I am convinced that we are in a defining moment in our local churches and Annual Conference. We can pause until the pandemic is history and then resume our previous ministries and trajectory. Or we can pivot to an open space that increases our opportunities for reaching others for Christ and dismantling racism.
Over the summer I will share with you several understandings that the North Alabama leadership team and I hold about this time in which we find ourselves as well as applications and action steps that we encourage our churches to join us in considering. For now, though, I simply invite you to join us in deep prayer that God’s Holy Spirit will guide us as we pivot forward into the future.
As always, it is a privilege to serve as your bishop.
North Alabama Conference