“In seventh grade, I was told God makes friends with us; therefore, we should make friends with others,” Missouri Bishop Robert Farr told the Conference in his episcopal address.
That stuck with him and set him on a path with a heart for evangelism. That led him to a passion for church growth. The churches he served as pastor doubled in size. As Director of Congregational Excellence, he worked relentlessly on new church starts and church revitalization. So, it grieves him to see the Missouri Conference become smaller by 100 churches in the past two years. But he is thankful for those who stayed on the team.
“I’m hopeful that everyone in this room wants to be United Methodist,” he said. “Some folks have been masquerading under our banner who didn’t want to be United Methodist.”
With the primary disaffiliation vote over, Bishop Farr acknowledged the Missouri Conference was in the beginning stages of starting over as a new group. There may be a few more disaffiliations, and then General Conference next year to fully begin the era of something new.
“This is our chance to become the light on the hill to find grace and love, not judgment and hate,” Bishop Farr said. “I want us to be the people who change the world.”
Bishop Farr said the world is flat broken, and it’s not going to be fixed by the government but by the church of Jesus Christ. When the church has a variety of people at the table, it will get uncomfortable.
“I’ve been on a three-point charge, and I’m flabbergasted how different churches are five miles apart,” Bishop Farr said. “Just because people go to the same post office doesn’t mean they have the same experience.”
Bishop Farr said when you read John Wesley’s arguments with the Calvinists in his day, they sound similar to some of the arguments within the United Methodist Church today. Wesley believed the Bible to be the inspired word of God, and his guidance for the church came down to doing no harm, doing good and staying in love with God.
Bishop Farr has heard a lot of criticism of bishops during conversations around disaffiliation, including that they don’t believe in scripture. He says it’s not true.
“I hang around more bishops than you have ever seen. I don’t like all of them, and they don’t all like me, but I’ve not run into a single one of them that says ‘I don’t believe in scripture anymore,’” Bishop Farr said. “They may see it differently than me, but they believe in it.”
Bishop Farr said having a church that is open to all people is something the United Methodist Church has talked up for some time. They’ll wear it on a T-shirt. But when you enter the churches, they aren’t always particularly welcoming, even within their group.
“We need to meet people we do not know, make friends and connect,” Bishop Farr said. “That leads to community. That’s where it starts.”
Bishop Farr recalled that when he went to Licensing School recently, one of the students asked him why he stayed United Methodist. He explained that he’s United Methodist because of who we are. He then had his friend, Rev. Cody Collier, a former district superintendent and assistant to the Bishop, employ his excellent oratory skills and read Paragraph 124 and part of Paragraph 125 from the Book of Discipline.
“In covenant with God and with each other, we affirm our unity in Christ, and we take faithful steps to live more fully into what it means to be a worldwide church and mission and in mission for the transformation of the world. As Christians, we commit ourselves to crossing boundaries of language, culture and social economic status,” Collier read in part. “We commit ourselves to a ministry with all people, and we commit ourselves in faithfulness to a gospel to seek to grow in mutual love and trust.”
With Colliers’ emphatic voice, the words came across as a spirit-filled sermon filled with passion and purpose. Bishop Farr recommended everyone read the first 100 pages of the Book of Discipline.
“It’s moving,” he said. “It’s about who we’ve been, who we are and who we can be.”