Note from Bishop Robert Hayes Jr.
To Oklahoma United Methodists:
With a national economy in the grip of severe economic struggle, it is increasingly necessary for our denomination’s leaders, including me, to be attentive stewards of the resources that are entrusted to the Church.
Our annual conference’s Finance and Administration Committee (CFA) has already put into motion cost-cutting measures that will reduce our spending yet continue to effectively support our witness and ministries.
You also need to know that our denomination’s Council of Bishops, in particular the Executive Committee of which I am part, recently issued a letter that speaks to this challenging time. It details our efforts and our stance that we, the people called United Methodists, can and must take for Christ in the midst of this crisis.
This statement is important, and so I share it with you today in place of my regular devotional column.
A Message to the People of The United Methodist Church:
The global financial crisis is bringing hardship and suffering to people in every part of the world. For those in wealthy nations, it causes anxiety and uncertainty about declining pension accounts and the threat of lost jobs. Some are coping with unemployment and foreclosed mortgages. And for others who live in places with scarce resources or exist in conditions of poverty, it means empty stomachs, lack of care for urgent health needs, and no prospects to earn a day’s bread.
The International Labor Organization projects a loss of 50 million jobs globally by the end of 2009. The World Bank warns that an additional 53 million people could fall into poverty (living on less than $2 per day) by 2015.
Local congregations, annual conferences, and the general agencies likewise face economic constraints, requiring them to reassess how they carry out ministry and to seek greater effectiveness and economies while keeping focused on loving God and neighbor.
We are no more secure than the most vulnerable among us; no more prosperous than the poorest; and no more assured of justice and dignity than those who live in the shadows of power. We reclaim anew Jesus’ teaching, "As you [cared for] the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me" (Matthew 25:40), as an urgent appeal for how we can live today.
At all times, but especially in fearful and dangerous days, we followers of Jesus are called to live in hope and in the assurance that God is present with us. Facing hard times, the Apostle Paul asked: "Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us" (Romans 8:35).
To the Israelites, having lost everything and living in exile, God offered assurance: "Do not fear, for I am with you; do not be afraid, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, I will help you" (Isaiah 41:10). The psalmists are similarly convinced: "God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear" (Psalms 46:1, 2).
With this firm assurance that the whole of creation lives within the embrace of a loving God, we are confident that the Church’s Four Areas of Focus for mission and ministry, affirmed by General Conference 2008, are among the most important ways we faithfully bear witness to the Gospel. We urgently need principled Christian leaders for the Church and the world. People searching for meaning are seeking new places of welcome and hospitality for worship, prayer, and spiritual growth. It is abundantly evident that United Methodists must engage in ministry with the poor and tackle the diseases of poverty that rob people of the fullness of life, health, and wholeness.
Our faith does not rise and fall with the financial markets but resides in the enduring love of God.
Churchwide conversation is asking that we envision ways to reinvigorate our outreach to a hurting world and offer hospitality to those seeking deeper spiritual understanding. We are engaging in self-examination to "Rethink Church" and strengthen outreach beyond the doors of our church buildings. The general agencies of the church are finding ways together to achieve economies and assure greater effectiveness in support of annual conferences and local churches.
Information on the Four Areas of Focus can be found by contacting the general agencies of the church directly and at www.umc.org/focusareas.
"You shall love your neighbor as yourself" (Leviticus 19:18) calls for individual and corporate responsibility. John Wesley wrote, "The gospel of Christ knows of no religion, but social. No holiness but social holiness. Faith working by love is the length and breadth and depth and height of Christian perfection" (Hymns and Sacred Poems, 1739, paragraph 5).
May we nurture and care for one another and for those to whom we are inextricably connected by God’s grace around the world.
(Editor’s note: This was issued by the office of Bishop Greg Palmer, president of the Council of Bishops. He was guest preacher at the 2007 Oklahoma Annual Conference.)