By Bishop Mary Virginia Taylor

The services of worship during the General Conference of our United Methodist Church are always meaningful. It is wonderful to praise God with brothers and sisters from around the world. The visible reminders that the Spirit of God is at work in near and distant places are magnificent. As at the first Pentecost, the Holy Spirit continues to breathe life into the church.

A particularly memorable moment came for me when Bishop James King began his sermon one evening with the single word Invite. He then repeated this command of Jesus in many different languages: Invitez. Einladen. Invitas. And although I cannot understand Korean, Russian, Swahili, or Norwegian, it was the same command: Invite.

Some form of the word invite is found 86 times in the Bible. Some of the biblical stories are reminders that every invitation is not necessarily good. There are some warnings in the Old Testament about inviting all kinds of evil consequences into our lives. Some invitations need to be declined, but others need to be joyfully received.

Paul describes God s message to him on the Damascus Road: I m sending you off to open the eyes of the outsiders so they can see the difference between dark and light, and choose light, see the difference between Satan and God, and choose God. I m sending you off to present my offer of sins forgiven, and a place in the family, inviting them into the company of those who begin real living by believing in me.

It is amazing to me that Jesus welcomes and encourages us, but then leaves it to us to respond. It is our choice. The way of Jesus is always invitational. As he called the first disciples and as he calls us, we are invited to come and follow, but we are never forced to do it.

The 2012 S.C. Annual Conference will focus on Invitation to a Changed Life. This theme comes from the fifth chapter of Luke. Jesus said, I m here inviting outsiders, not insiders “ an invitation to a changed life, changed inside and out.

So what does change look like for United Methodists in South Carolina? The possibility of changed lives for those who will receive treated bed nets is real because of our offerings for Imagine No Malaria. Eradicating malaria and saving lives is very life- changing. Our dollars will make a difference. Please be generous.

General Conference may not have approved all of the proposed changes to the Book of Discipline, but the discussion about needed changes has begun. There is widespread agreement that the church must do some things differently.

From the beginning, Methodists have believed that God is not finished with us yet. Sanctification and going on to perfection have always been our goals. We all want to be better servants of Jesus Christ. Everyone wants their congregation to be a place of hope and life.

How can our churches become more vital? This year s Annual Conference will be an opportunity for us to consider again what God is inviting us to be.

I am excited that Dr. Gil Rendle will guide us as we begin to look at this. Dr. Rendle is the author of five books and church consultant on issues of change and leadership. He is an ordained United Methodist minister, having served as senior pastor of two congregations in Pennsylvania for 16 years and as a denominational consultant for The United Methodist Church for nine years. Currently, he is senior consultant with the Texas Methodist Foundation. He will invite us to see our world differently.

Of course just seeing is never enough. The invitation of Jesus is always to make a difference and change lives for good.

Invitations are always nice, but they can thrill our hearts when they come from certain people.

Recently, we drove to Lexington to visit our family. As we got out of the car, we were greeted by the sweet voice of our 2-year-old granddaughter, Daisy: Come on in the house, Papa. Come on in the house, Mimi. If hearts can grin, I believe ours did at that invitation.

For each of us, may the joy be even sweeter as we hear Jesus say again, Come unto me!

Get Periodic Updates from the Advocate We never sell or share your information. You can unsubscribe from receiving our emails at any time.