Bishop continues ‘district days’ with stops in Columbia, Anderson, Marion

Photo by Dan O’Mara

By Allison Trussell

LEXINGTON—Laity and pastors from the Columbia District gathered March 2 at Lexington United Methodist Church for Bishop L. Jonathan Holston’s Columbia District visit.

The district visit was part of the conference’s ongoing bishop’s “District Days,” held since November to strengthen and foster effective leadership in the UMC.

The visit highlighted the conference’s four priorities: developing leaders, engaging our communities, connecting with and growing disciples, and measuring and evaluating current realities and missional possibilities.

Holston recognized that the UMC is in a time of transition, but even in transition, we have hope that God is at work.

“Church was never created to be our pleasure. The church was created for God’s purpose, … to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world,” he said.

Don’t lose sight of who God has called you to be, he added. We are people of faith, people of hope, people of God. We may not think alike, but can we love alike?

He recalled the story of Apollo 13 and noted that sometimes people need a tragedy or near-tragedy to bring things into focus. The lesson learned from the mission is you use what you have to solve the problem.

“My friends, we are at that point in our denomination and our annual conference,” Holston said. “What I want you to know is that you are capable of doing far more than what you think because we serve a God who is abundant in nature.” He encouraged the leaders to embrace the unchanged mission of creating disciples. “We’re going to have to use what we have.”

The bishop’s visits have centered around Ruth Haley Barton’s book, “Strengthening the Soul of Leadership.” Barton defines soul as the part of you that longs for more of God than you have right now. When leaders lose their souls, Holston said, so do the churches and organizations they lead. “When we allow the stuff of the world to get into our way, we stop inviting people to make a decision for Christ. We stop inviting them to be a people of God because we have ceased to be a person of God.”

He concluded with two questions for the group: Who is in your community? and How are you engaging your community?

The Rev. Fran Elrod, Columbia District superintendent, discussed developing leaders among the clergy and the laity, noting that both sides need nurturing and recruitment to succeed. “Strong congregations start with strong leadership,” she said. Leadership should involve creating and implementing partnerships outside the church walls to engage the community.

Engaging the community requires continually evaluating who we are and how we can serve better, said the Rev. Walter Strawther, congregational specialist for the Columbia and Hartsville districts. Authentic engagement should begin and end with benefit to the community and meet the community where it is. Engaging is listening, not telling.

The Rev. Millie Nelson Smith, director of Connectional Ministries, agreed, noting engaging leads to relationships, then to discipleship journeys. “Individually, we can’t change the world,” she said, “but when we become better, the world becomes better. A good man leaves the world a better place.”

The Rev. James Friday, director of Congregational Development, offered some tools to evaluate current realities and possibilities. Each church has two mission fields, he said. One is inside the congregation. “If they are lost, how can they go out?” he asked. The second field is outside the congregation. His office can help churches find local demographics and community characteristics.

The Anderson District’s visit was held March 16 at St. John’s UMC, Anderson, and the Marion District held their day March 23.

The Spartanburg District event is April 6, the Orangeburg District event is April 13, and Sand Hill UMC, Ridgeville, will host the Walterboro District event May 18.

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