Dear Clergy and Lay Leadership of the West Virginia Conference,
Let me begin by giving thanks for each one of you. You have been salt and light, working to season every aspect of life in these difficult times with God’s life giving Spirit. This year has been difficult and with God’s strength and help, you have led congregations and communities through a great variety of challenges. This Tuesday, and the days following, we have another challenge, leading people through a divisive election.
We want you to know, that we, your Bishop and your Superintendents, are praying with you and are here to support you. Together, we can do all things through Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:13). In polarized and contentious times, we are not called to withdraw, but to be salt, be light, to make a difference for Christ. Like the flicker of a thousand lights in the city on the hill, or the powerful taste of a spoonful of salt in the evening meal, we are called to usher in, place at the center once again what Christ put at the center: Love of God and Love of neighbor.
At this point we do not know which candidates will get a larger number of votes. We also do not know what the reactions of individuals will be regardless of who wins. We can anticipate that some will grieve, and others will rejoice, some will be angry, and others will be satisfied. We also recognize that there may be disruptions, maybe even fighting and violence in some communities after the election.
Indeed, we are called to be prophetic witnesses of God’s grace, justice, and righteousness. While doing so, we are also called to a higher standard of engagement and interaction with our neighbors, even those with whom we may disagree. We are called to be peacemakers, and our very presence, even amid disagreement, should invoke civility and calm. Wherever possible, our voices should de-escalate situations rather than escalate.
Each of us, no matter what happens in this election, can be salt and light, to console the hurting, to check on our neighbors – known and unknown, like us or not like us. Each of us in these days has an opportunity to flavor our communities, on-line communities, spiritual communities, physical communities, with the peace and love of God. We need to call people to prayer and to encourage peaceful, nonviolent, nonthreatening, life-valuing responses.
As Wesleyans in our theology and practice, we are called to three simple rules. The following are some ways to employ these rules in your leadership.
Do No Harm
- See others as people, and not an issue. Understand that they matter to God just like you do. Pastor and minister to everyone the same regardless of their views.
- On the hard issues, teach and preach through story, through curiosity and listening, not admonition.
- Be witnesses in your communities as you are led by God, and let others see the Jesus within you.
Do All the Good You Can
- Lead your congregation to participate in a prayerful vigil up to, during, and after Election Day.
- Have Zoom and conference calls following the election for those who need to talk with others about their feelings, fears and hopes.
- Be present with the people in your community. Be the pastor or minister for not only the members of the congregation in which you serve, but for the whole community.
- Identify something missional for your congregation to do this week individually and/or together.
Stay in Love with God
- Pray, fast, read the scriptures.
- Each day from now through the election, find at least one glory sighting, one God sighting and be thankful! Identify the opportunities and the blessings of each day.
- This Sunday, tell a story about loving your neighbor, and model the story.
- Offer a healing service.
- Send the Prayer of St. Francis to your congregation and invite them to pray it daily for the next seven days. (The United Methodist Hymnal #481)
You are each God’s holy one, chosen, beloved, and valuable: in fact, God’s salt and light! You each have been called for such a time as this, called to lead God’s people through all the challenges we are facing. And let us remind you, salt is more able to flavor and light shines brighter, when we work together.
As you continue to lead, you too will need prayer. Your Superintendents and I will continue to pray constantly for you, for all our clergy, for all our lay leadership. We recognize that you will need a place to share disappointment or appropriate thanksgiving. Please connect with one another. Reach out to any of us. We are prepared to speak by phone or Zoom with anyone who needs a conversation partner, as well as respond to prayer requests, concerns, joys, and questions by email.
Amid everything that is going on in this world, please take care of yourself! We encourage you to take time for yourself. You are important to us, to the mission and ministry of Christ, to your congregation and your community. Take time to pray and reflect, time to heal and time to be restored in these challenging times. You are an important part of the leadership and ministry of the Church.
Bishop Sandra Steiner Ball, Joe Kenaston, Martha Ognibene, Scott Ferguson, Okey Harless, Loretta Isaiah, Amy Shanholtzer, Joe Hill, Rick Swearingen, Melissa Shortridge