I'm 5 months into my new appointment and learning what it means to be a circuit rider throughout North Georgia and beyond. I now serve the North Georgia conference through the Connectional Ministries office with focus on missions and outreach. I also serve part time with our UMC Global Ministries with emphasis on Mission Celebrations and strategy from a congregational perspective. Both roles allow for a fair amount of travel and plenty of interactions with clergy, laity, and church leadership to practice loving God and loving our neighbors as we do ourselves.
A lot of my work in North Georgia revolves around assisting the conference and districts in building up our Bridge partnerships. These are special conference-to-conference relationships that Bishop Watson and our NGUMC launched in 2013 which allow us to take strong steps into connectional mission. Imagine the possibilities if 50 United Methodist churches, or even entire districts, worked together for a few years on an outreach partnership. This could be consistent prayer, participation, and funding which would not only deploy us into outreach, but would also rally us together in a grassroots, unified, missional cause. I am finding that many churches only define mission as projects, so some of this consulting and coaching gets into bigger conversations- with more potential- for being part of the missio Dei and the role of the church in the first Bridge in their own community (but this might best be a topic for another day).
Of course, one quickly learns that the mission active churches already "have their plate full." And many churches will say they don't do international mission as they have their hands full with their own issues. Surprisingly some clergy "run the other way" as I'm now one of those "conference people" and only suppose I want funding! I continue to be somewhat surprised out how independent many congregations have gone in terms of mission. It strikes me as someone who plays for the Atlanta Braves, but invests their time, energy, and funding developing another baseball team! Of course, most soon realize that it can be very difficult to rally more than 10-20 churches to the independent cause. Connectional mission offers many positive opportunities which we are realizing once again as we seek to serve God's Kingdom well.
There have been some wonderful developments the last few months with the Bridges:
-The strong numbers of churches across the conference who embrace the Action Ministries Bridge as our in state option.
-the dynamic ministries in The Philippines and El Salvador have garnered a good cross section of partners including NGUMC, Candler School of Theology, and LaGrange College.
-LaGrange District rallying together to support the El Salvador Bridge.
-Griffin District stretching forward to help the Bahamas Bridge grow beyond youth team support of Bahamas Methodist Habitat (our starting point with the partnership) and now moving to better partner with the Bahamas Methodist Church.
- The Rome-Carrollton District adding on with Atlanta-Emory in support of the Portugal Bridge. The recent leadership training of clergy and laity of the Portugal Methodist Church seemed to be a strong next step in the partnership.
-The great potential as Atlanta-College Park District and friends step up to advance the East Africa Bridge as we encourage the ministries of the Kenya United Methodist Church and Start With One Kenya.
-World Methodist Evangelism has potential to be a significant partner with all of these international efforts as training and "best practices" become a priority to creating indigenous, self sustaining Methodist conferences.
-foundational discussions related to building a new Bridge in the Middle East.
We have an incredible opportunity with the Russia Bridge to encourage the work of the seminary and Moscow District in ways which will have far reaching impact for Russia and all of Eurasia. While these mission opportunities have some similarities, they are all wonderfully different from each other as NGUMC experiences the culture, context, and stage of the Methodist movement.
We still need clergy and churches to enthusiastically build on these Bridges. We need those churches who have years of mission to join up and help as lead churches and teaching churches. We need churches, and clergy, who have learned one style of mission which they are comfortable with to take on some new challenges.
We need church leaders who can help us "fan the flame" of the Methodist movement in mission to be active for these NGUMC partnerships and within their district and conference as we mobilize this potential army to work together more effectively for the Kingdom of God. The impact both here and around the world could be substantial. Perhaps, one day, we might even look back on these efforts and see God at work, and a miracle/s, that we can only marvel at as we tell the story of how God used us in new and unexpected ways.