“And Are We Yet Alive?” Methodists have opened Annual Conferences with a rendition of this powerful Charles Wesley hymn since our inception in the late 1700s. As we sang this question at the opening worship service of the 2019 North Alabama Conference, the answer was evident. Yes, the North Alabama Conference is alive, energetic, diverse, principled and committed.
We also are a Conference consisting of persons with varying perspectives on many matters. Our life together is not easy right now, which makes it more important than ever to exercise our best spiritual leadership as we live together in community.
I shared in the clergy executive session of the 2019 Annual Conference that the best way I know to show spiritual leadership in the midst of current tensions is by practicing the North Alabama Way, which is part of the Ministry Action Plan that we adopted in 2014 and includes our vision, mission and values statements. You can find this on our Conference website at www.umcna.org/ministryactionplan.
Team matters. Think we/us, not they/them. We are the members of the North Alabama Annual Conference. Many of us have been baptized and all of us are being nurtured and shaped in United Methodist churches in the North Alabama Conference. We work together to fund our North Alabama Conference budget, including significant mission outreach, each year. We baptized 1816 persons in 2018. We support one another when the tragedies of life hit. We matter to each other.
Respond, not react. This is easier said than done, right? I have found that when I feel anger or frustration rising in me usually this is a signal to take deep breaths and monitor my words and actions with extra diligence. Responses are more likely to receive the desired results than reactions.
What we do is of critical importance. How we do it is of equal importance. Some people have said to me that they do not want to be a part of a denomination that disparages each other’s perspectives and actions. Remembering that people of all ages, maturity levels, theological perspectives and life situations are a part of North Alabama Methodism helps us to keep our Christian witness in the forefront.
The higher the expectations, the greater the outcome. I believe that the best predictor of future behavior is past behavior. Building on our best past moments will positively affect our future.
Move as quickly as we can and as slowly as we need to, for as long as it takes. It is important to move toward our vision of making disciples as fast as we can. It is also important that we take as much time as is necessary. Sometimes slower is faster. Other times moving slowly is a delay tactic. Discerning the difference is a sign of spiritual leadership.
Following the process and honoring integrity at all levels of the system. We value process and integrity at the local church, district, general conference and certainly annual conference levels. This impacts how we do our work together.
Annual Conference 2019 showed us that the North Alabama Conference is very much alive. It also illustrated the width and depth of our diversity - which in the current climate is both a gift and a challenge. Practicing the North Alabama Way will help us navigate our differences in a healthy way.
As always, it is a privilege to serve as your bishop.
North Alabama Conference