I am on vacation at the Outer Banks and took a walk on the beach tonight, thinking about the recent Jurisdictional Conference. Vacation is a fine thing to do after completing the General/Jurisdictional Conference cycle. It was an act of mercy that the Lord commanded periods of Sabbath for everything from crops to land to humans. It is God’s way of saying, you’ve done your part. Lie fallow for a while. Read a book. Take a nap. By all means, try not to speak, unless you want to complement the view.
My walk was silent, although punctuated by an occasional chuckle along the way. I hesitate to admit that I chuckle by myself. It could be sign that someone needs to avoid Methodist gatherings for a while. I was thinking of Jurisdictional Conference. There were so many surprises. From the beginning there was a joyful mood amongst the delegates. The song leader and band set the tone of the gathering. Rarely have I heard hymns sung so heartily. At one point, while singing Great Is Thy Faithfulness, a well-loved hymn that is not on my top 10 list, I had to stop because it was just so beautiful. It wasn’t just the music. Jonathan Holston, an African-American delegate from North Georgia, was elected on the first ballot. When we have that level of consensus on the ballot #1, something is definitely in the air. By the end of the first day, four of the five new Bishops had been elected. It did take another 18 ballots to elect the final Bishop, but that is nothing new. It was stunning that it was Young Jin Cho, the endorsed candidate from Virginia who moved from 15 to 287 votes in 12 ballots. His election came when Tim McClendon, a frontrunner throughout the day, withdrew with a degree of graciousness that was moving.
I serve on the Committee on Episcopacy, a group that used a new process this year to assign Bishops. We reviewed the needs of every Annual Conference and offered candidates for each episcopal assignment. The group had made a covenant that they would not even discuss these assignments prior to our meeting. There was to be no deal making, no lining up of votes, and no swapping or trading allowed. We prayed repeatedly, spoke earnestly, and discerned assignments with a desire that they would be good to the Holy Spirit and serve the Jurisdiction as a whole. By the time we finished, all the assignments enjoyed a unanimous and joyful vote from committee members.
I call it the un-General Conference because it was a rare display of unity amidst the diversity of our gifts and graces. The real surprise for me was that our candidate for the episcopacy will now serve as our Bishop. In one of his speeches, Dr. Cho stated that as Bishop he would ask his clergy to engage in prayer and spiritual disciplines for an hour a day. One of our delegates shared with another, I wish I had a Bishop who would tell me to pray for an hour a day! This led delegation members to sign a pledge to engage in prayer and other disciplines for an hour a day and to lift up our new Bishop and the ministry of the churches of the Virginia Annual Conference in prayer. This was during the time that Young Jin had about 17 votes to his name. Who knew that the man who promised to challenge his pastors to reorder their spiritual lives would become Bishop Cho, and be assigned to the Virginia Annual Conference? We don’t have to wish for that Bishop anymore, because for the next four year, he is ours, or we are his, depending on your perspective.
I was chuckling about this on the beach because it is one of those moments that you realize that in the church, anything can happen, that God has a sense of humor, and that you have no idea how it is going to turn out, but you do have a sneaking suspicion that the Holy Spirit is up to something. When God is on the move, I have learned to align myself to the wind of the Spirit. Today, I have spent about an hour in the disciplines. Of course, I am on vacation. Come Monday, the real challenge begins. You can join in the prayer covenant for your life and the life of the church. I think that it will do all of us a world of good, and I welcome the Bishop who will soon lead us.