“Therefore, go!” the theme of General Conference 2016, was also the message Bishop Peggy Johnson offered during her visits to the six Eastern PA Conference districts in October, as she reported on the state of the church.
Recalling the apostle Peter’s account, in Acts 11:1-18, of being sent by God to go eat with gentiles at the home of a Roman soldier, she encouraged her audiences to also seek opportunities for fellowship with people unlike themselves. While General Conference was a vivid tapestry of cultural diversity, that is hardly the case for many U.S. members and their relationships.
Using visual slides, Bishop Johnson admitted the lack of diversity in her own friendships initially and then showed the results of her intentional efforts to change that. (Her Powerpoint slides can be found on the Bishop’s Page of the conference website.)
She also urged clergy and lay district members to “remain prayerful and faithful to your ministries,” while continuing to “spread the gospel and feed the hungry,” unhindered by the suspenseful controversy of whether the denomination will remain united or divide in the coming quadrennium.
She updated members on the Council of Bishops Special Commission to address conflicts between progressive and traditional views on human sexuality, Scripture and church law, as well as the Judicial Council’s plans to consider alleged violations of that law.
But the bishop also cited positive General Conference highlights, including global growth in new missionaries and annual conferences, $68.5 million raised so far to fight malaria, and new special Sundays to celebrate women in ministry and Volunteers in Mission.
And she reported on historic outcomes from the Northeastern Jurisdictional Conference in July, including: the election of two African-American female bishops; and the Call to Action to “enhance ministry with African-American churches” and to work on dismantling systems of racial bias, white privilege and institutional racism.
Bishop Johnson named two main annual conference themes for the coming year: Prayer and the Call to Action. Or put another way, “Loving the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength” and “Loving your neighbor as yourself.”
She outlined several related foci: fostering cross-racial dialogue, reconciliation and relationships, and nurturing practices of prayer and other spiritual disciplines. For the latter, she gave each attendee the Rev. Mark Batterson’s book Draw the Circle: The 40 Day Prayer Challenge (2012).