“My challenge to you is this: Finish Strong.” These were the words that Barry Black, the first African American chaplain of the Senate, chose to give to the young clergy gathered at the Capitol on March 2nd, 2010. There was an undeniable irony in the fact that we were being challenged to finish strong, when we were only just beginning.
What does it mean to those of us who are forging the way for the rising Millennial generation to finish strong?
What does it mean for the young Elder who is watching the death of a dream because his church plant was too creative to survive within the present polity? What does it mean for the young Elder who is being pressured to go into extension ministry because there are not enough appointments in her Conference, and she is the youngest? What does it mean to finish strong, when you are having such a struggle just getting started? After spending days listening to the stories of struggle and persistence, of creativity and courage, that my peers shared, I found myself filled with the conviction that if anyone can find the answers to those questions, these were the people.
Drawing from Hebrews 12, Chaplain Black explained that finishing strong means to strengthen the weary, to promote peace, to pursue holiness, and to refuse to sacrifice our future for the pleasures of the present. In choosing to invite the young clergy from around the nation to come to Washington, D.C. to talk to people like Chaplain Black, the General Board on Church and Society had done something very rare – it had made them feel valuable. In doing so they had strengthened the weary. I found myself filled with gratitude for the character and determination of the young people that God has called forth to lead this denomination into the future.
When I arrived in Washington, D.C. for the forum, I had found myself tackled to the ground by the overly exuberant welcome of my six-year old niece, a child of Cuban, European, and Native American descent. What does it mean to me to finish strong?
It means to be a part of making the United Methodist Church a place where she feels welcome in any congregation, regardless of the color of her skin. It means to be a part of making the United Methodist Church a place where she not only feels welcome, but also feels drawn to because of its powerful witness in the world of peace and justice and unity. It means to be a part of preparing the way for the ministry that her generation will do in the years to come. May we all strive together to finish strong as we begin again, each day, becoming involved in what God is doing in this world.
*Article by Rev. Hannah Adair Bonner, pastor of Oriole Charge in the Peninsula-Delaware Conference.