I love the different seasons in Missouri! Spring and fall are my favorites. Winter is my least favorite, and the hot, humid summers are my second least favorite. However, the transition of seasons is always interesting in Missouri. It’s unpredictable. As they say, “wait a day, and the weather will change.”
In some ways, we find ourselves in an unpredictable season in the United States, our churches, and the post-COVID-19 pandemic. Wait a day, and something else may change. These last two years have been spent planning something, only to replan or reimagine whatever you were initially trying to accomplish. The Missouri Annual Conference has lived in this same uncertainty. It’s like being in between seasons. Fall is coming, but not yet. Summer is leaving, but not yet.
There are a few changes that we are living into in our Conference.
We are moved from nine districts into five. District offices have closed or relocated, and district personnel has shifted to make the new alignments possible. District Superintendents are getting acquainted with their new areas, churches and pastors.
Conference Superintendents have moved to the Conference office in Columbia and will assist the five District Superintendents. This change means that our staff will adjust to a new office layout and new systems being implemented to support the work of the Conference Superintendents.
Approximately 60 churches received a new pastor in July. In addition, two leadership changes at the Conference level (Congregational Excellence and Next Generation Ministries) mean that many people are simply getting acquainted and see where God is leading them.
This fall, United Methodist Jurisdictional Conferences will be held, and new bishops will be elected to fill the vacancies open by newly retired bishops. In our South Central Jurisdiction, three new bishops will be elected at the November conference in Houston, Texas. All bishops will be assigned or reassigned for the next term, which begins January 1, 2023. In this process, there is the potential for a lot of change.
All conferences, including Missouri, deal with churches that want to disaffiliate from the United Methodist denominations and their conferences over the debates associated with the inclusion of LGBTQIA+ persons. Indeed, all churches deal with individuals leaving their congregations over the same debate. For all of us, regardless of our position, this involves some change, hurt, grief and loss. However, it can also allow us to set a new course and move into new spaces in our ministry.
All churches deal with what it means to worship and be in ministry in a post-COVID-19 pandemic season. Hybrid worship models are here to stay. Digital presence and virtual ministry are here to stay. But, doing ministry in this new world, forming disciples and reaching new people spark many questions.
We are living into the in-between season. The old is passing away, and the new has not yet arrived. We are promised that when we are united in Christ, He is bringing a new creation; in us and around us. Second Corinthians 4:16 says,
“So we’re not giving up. How could we? Even though on the outside it often looks like things are falling apart on us, on the inside, where God is making new life, not a day goes by without his unfolding grace.”
God’s providences are greater than we know. I believe this deeply! I look back on my ministry and wonder how did I get here? The only explanation I can give is that God’s providence is at work and is far greater than my own devices. God gets us, just like the TV commercial says, “He gets us.” God’s got our future.
Let’s simply lean into God’s grace and providence. Let’s live with God’s unfolding grace every day, even if the weather outside is uncertain and unpredictable. The seasons are changing, and yet God securely holds our future.
May it be so.
Bishop Farr, Missouri Conference
of The United Methodist Church