By Gary E. Mueller
Bishop of the Arkansas Annual Conference
Three words quickly surfaced to describe my feelings during the craziness of the past couple of years. If we were playing Wordle, the new word game app that is so popular I would swear it is being played by every pastor in the United Methodist Church in Arkansas, I simply would set up the puzzle and let you solve it to discover the three words. But since I don’t know how to code, I’ll just go ahead and tell you. The words are: proud, concerned and uncertain.
I’m proud of all the ways you have kept ministry going during the seemingly never-ending Covid pandemic. You’ve been faithful, creative, self-sacrificing and adaptive. And I hope you take pride in what you and other United Methodists have done during the past two years – in a humble sort of way, of course!
I’m concerned you are so bone weary that you may have lost your spirit. This is especially the case for our clergy. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is a real thing. I continue to pray that you will find ways to take care of yourself. I pray even more that you will take care of each other.
I’m uncertain about the future of the United Methodist Church and what will happen to the congregations, laity and clergy of Arkansas. I wish I had answers about how it will all work out, but I don’t. I wish I could fix it, but I can’t. Trust me, I have tried.
While these three words described how I felt much of the time, three new words have now begun to emerge and take center stage. They are: gratitude, confidence and hope.
While I continue to be proud of you, my pride has morphed into profound gratitude to God because I have seen how God has given you just the grace you need, in just the way you need, at just the time you need it. And in the process, God has done what God does best – take something that could bring harm, turn it upside-down and use it for good.
Although I am still concerned about you, that concern has been transformed into a deep confidence in you. You are resilient, gritty and determined, and I know that not only will you survive, you will thrive. Why? Because I have complete confidence in how the Holy Spirit will continue to sustain, empower and heal you.
Even though I remain uncertain about the future of the United Methodist Church, my uncertainty has been replaced by more and more hope. Let me be clear. I’m not naive enough to think the future is filled with unicorns and lollipops or, to put it more realistically, that things will work out exactly the way I think they should. Rather, I am hopeful because I absolutely trust Jesus, what God is actually up to, regardless of what we think God is up to, and the ability of the Holy Spirit to move us into the future God desires.
As I look back, it is clear that one thing has enabled me to morph from being proud to grateful, transformed from feeling concern to confident, and becoming unstuck from uncertainty to hope. It’s God’s grace – God’s amazing grace – that has been at work taking me from where I started to where God is growing me. And I am convinced that God is doing the same thing in you. For God is offering new eyes to see, new ears to hear, new minds to understand, new hearts to respond, new feet to journey, new hands to serve and new mouths to proclaim what God is doing. And now is the season to welcome them with thanksgiving!