A Joyful Journey

Bishop Bard’s tips on filling the ‘suitcase of the heart’ as members pack for Annual Conference.

Michigan Area

All my bags are packed I’m ready to go. (Peter, Paul and Mary)

As I write this edition of my monthly blog I am preparing for the upcoming meeting of the Council of Bishops in Dallas, Texas, the gathering of United Methodist bishops from around the world.

I’ve made my lists of necessary items – clothing, toiletries, work folders and electronics, and all. I will be preaching Sunday April 30 at a church in Dallas where I served as a youth pastor while also working on my Ph.D. so I need to bring my robe and sermon. I am looking forward to being back at that church for the first time in over 20 years. I also look forward to being with the Council for the second time.

While preparing for this meeting I am, like many of you, preparing to hear the decision of the United Methodist Judicial Council regarding Bishop Karen Oliveto of the Mountain Sky Area in the Western Jurisdiction. It is quite a coincidence that the bishops will be gathered together as this decision is rendered. I am anticipating a full range of reactions including grief, anger, sadness, mourning, joy, hope and despair, regardless of how the decision goes. I am ready to offer a response following this decision, and, in fact, you may have already read those words before reading these.

In any event, these past couple of days, my thoughts have often wandered to this decision, even as my heart and soul have also been in prayer for The United Methodist Church. I have meditated frequently on this verse: Finally, all of you, have unity of spirit, sympathy, love for one another, a tender heart, and a humble mind (I Peter 3:8). I am holding this verse at the heart of my mind and soul.

Thinking about other things makes packing for a trip a challenge. I make lists and check things off as they are packed. This is usually successful for me, but there have been times when I have been certain I packed something only to be surprised later. Last year, heading for the meeting of the Minnesota Annual Conference, I was 60 miles away from home when I realized that I had packed everything – coats and pants, clergy robe, legislation, Robert’s Rules and The Book of Discipline – everything except shirts and ties. Thankfully, our Annual Conference was held in a community with a few department stores!

In just a couple of weeks I will be packing again, as will many of you. We will be packing for Annual Conference in Traverse City. I will again makes lists: shirts, ties, coats and pants, robe and stoles. I will be preaching twice, so need to bring sermons (once they are prepared!). I will want to have Robert’s Rules and The Book of Discipline so I can preside well. I am very excited to be with you at Annual Conference. It will be my first chance to meet some of you and I look forward to that. I also anticipate with joy greeting those I’ve already met.

How about if as we pack, we also are intentional about packing unity of spirit, sympathy, love for one another, a tender heart and a humble mind. I think of another powerful section of Scripture, creatively rendered by Eugene Peterson in The Message.  So chosen by God for this new life of love, dress in the wardrobe God picked out for you: compassion, kindness, humility, quiet strength, discipline….  And regardless of what else you put on, wear love.  It’s your basic all-purpose garment.  Never be without it. (Colossians 3).

What if we included these in the suitcases of our hearts? We have many decisions to make as we gather later this month in Traverse City, decisions about how we will be the Michigan Conference together so that we connect to enhance Christ-centered mission and ministry, to nurture bold and effective leaders, and to encourage and engender vibrant congregations. What we decide matters. So, too, does how we make decisions together. I am anticipating excitedly how God’s Spirit will work as we gather, and we will know that the Spirt is most present when in the midst of all that we do we unpack sympathy, tender hearts, humble minds, compassion, kindness, quiet strength, and our basic all-purpose garment, love.

I’m going to do my best to pack all these, and let them out as we are together. I hope you will too. You know what, none of these take up much room in the suitcase or the car, either. They only ask for space in our hearts, minds and souls.