Bishops Celebrate Innovative Ministry and Reaffirm Mission in State of the Church Address

By Liz Lennox

In their State of the Church Address, Bishop Cynthia Moore-Koikoi and Bishop Sandra Steiner Ball directly addressed the clergy and laity of the Susquehanna Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church. Highlighting the diverse make-up of participants from various geographical and social contexts, the bishops shared a message of resilience, unity, and renewal amidst the challenges faced by the church.

They acknowledged the profound grief felt by many because of the loss of churches due to membership decline and disaffiliation, but encouraged hope and comfort through God. “If God is near to us in our grief,” they reminded, “we have access to spiritual resources to help us not be paralyzed, but rather, to keep living abundantly and move forward.” Those spiritual resources will help us to grow in love and compassion and strengthen our sense of urgency in our discipleship and mission to which we have been called as a church.

The bishops began by pointing out that 28% of people within the Susquehanna Annual Conference boundaries now identify as having no religious faith, a figure higher than the national average. They emphasized that this represents not merely a challenge but a potential harvest ripe for ministry.

“As a community of believers, we serve a mighty God who has plans for us – plans to prosper us and not harm us, plans to give us hope and a future,” they said. “As Christians, we know that the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard our hearts and minds. As United Methodists, we know that we are connected through the love, grace and saving power of Jesus Christ. This is the state of the Church: we are connected with God and one another in the love, grace, and saving power of Jesus Christ.”

Addressing the recent General Conference, the bishops noted the significant difference in the tone and tenor of the event. They remarked on the true spirit of Holy Conferencing as delegates listened to and spoke with one another with respect and love in the midst of different viewpoints. They highlighted a number of changes, including the removal of restrictive language concerning the ordination and marriage of gay and lesbian persons, reflecting a more inclusive church. They reaffirmed that the changes make room for both traditional and progressive viewpoints, and that pastors and churches will have greater autonomy to make decisions for themselves when it comes to holding and officiating same-gender marriages.

“We recognize that some may feel grief, trepidation, or anxiety about the removal of the restrictive language,” they said. “As United Methodists in the Susquehanna Annual Conference, we remain committed to upholding our Wesleyan values of love, grace, and inclusivity. There is a place for everybody at the table – congregations and clergy who are more traditional, those who are more progressive, and everybody in between. Being an inclusive church means that we embrace those who rejoice at this change and those who grieve it. Being an inclusive church means that we respect the right of clergy and congregations to make decisions about these matters.”

The Bishops also addressed other decisions made by the General Conference, including the decrease in funding for general agencies and other budget matters. They shared that a decision was made to reduce the number of bishops in the United States, which means that the Susquehanna Conference will most likely become part of a two-part episcopal charge (to be determined at Jurisdictional Conference in July).

Despite the overarching issues of faith decline and internal debates, the address underlined numerous local initiatives and successes that underscore the idea of a plentiful harvest. Diverse ministry and outreach efforts like confirmation classes, interactive services tailored for diverse neurological needs, and environmentally focused programs illustrate dynamic, context-sensitive ministries across the region.

The bishops invited the conference to reclaim the essence of the church as a transformative force in society, guided by the radical love of God as shown through Jesus Christ. They reminded everyone that despite differences, the core mission remains the same: “to recommit ourselves to bringing people to Christ, discipling people in Christ’s ways, and helping them put on the mind of Christ.”

In their address, the bishops affirmed God’s ongoing work in their midst and offered a hopeful outlook on the church’s role in transforming lives and communities. “The state of the church reminds us that we are called to be a people who embrace and freely share the radical, world transforming love of God multiplying it in order to share it with all people,” they concluded. “May it be so!  And may we continually focus on, embody, and bear witness to the power of God’s love in Jesus Christ –  the power that can transform human hearts, communities, nations and the entire world in ways that bring joy, Good News, courage and hope.”