When Bishop Jung was appointed to the Wisconsin Annual Conference, he made it his goal to visit every United Methodist congregation in the state. Coordinator of Circuit Ministries Don Greer, who began his job around the same time, saw an opportunity to get involved. “I knew that for me to be effective in my job, I had to do a lot of ground-level research,” he said, “so in my plan to try to be everywhere, I was assisted by the fact that we got a new bishop who wanted to go everywhere. And we saw the possibility of putting it together.” Two years later, Bishop Jung and Don Greer are ending their 54-circuit, 460-congregation tour, and are beginning to reflect on the impact the journey has left on them and the people that they visited – above all, witnessing the connections churches are making, both with their communities and with the Wisconsin Annual Conference. “It's a rare opportunity to actually visit every congregation in an Annual Conference,” Greer said. “It has been a joy to be a part of it. I appreciate the opportunity that it's given me to see the state, to go to churches and places that don't even have an address, and to learn how to navigate the connection of the United Methodist Church.” Bishop Jung and Greer's final visit will take place December 18-19 in Circuit 9. Bishop Jung invites all of the churches in Wisconsin to share in a litany of celebration with their congregations on Sunday, December 28, 2014, the Sunday after Christmas and the last Sunday in 2014, to give thanks to God for our connection to each other and our shared mission in the world.

Connecting with the Community

At every church, Bishop Jung would ask, “What is your joy as a congregation?” Many churches gave one of two answers: that their church feels like family, and that their church is engaging in their community. “When churches work together with other churches or the neighboring community, and bring the gospel into their life, that is such a celebrative joy,” Bishop Jung said. “Our churches are making a difference and going beyond their limit to reach out to their own neighborhood with the love of Christ.”

It seems every church is finding their own niche in their community. “Often, I heard Bishop Jung say that it is the mission that defines the church more so than the church that defines the mission,” Greer said. “There was a real strong encouragement on his part that our congregations really do claim their context and understand their ministry in relationship to the world and the local community around them, and reach out to people where they are in ways that only our congregations can do.”

These ministries included providing shelter to the homeless, offering meals and fellowship to the community on election days, starting a food pantry and hosting it at the church, or fostering a community garden. “There was a lot of diversity of ministry,” Greer said, “and even those that do traditional ministries, like community gardening or food pantries, all have different ways of doing it. You’ve got to do it the way that works where you are, but we all share in the big picture.”

Connecting with New Members                                                   

Greer said that he and Bishop Jung also witnessed how churches are yearning to expand their audience and reach out to new members. “I think churches are in a deep quest for faith, as well as how to be relevant and continually engage with the new, diverse, and young people in the surrounding community,” Bishop Jung said.

Greer said that he witnessed some churches thinking outside of the box by hosting services on Wednesday nights, for example. But no matter where he went, he said churches almost always identified growing the church as a priority. “It was a comment that we heard in congregations that were predominantly aging congregations, but we also heard the same comment in churches that were multi-generational congregations who were effectively reaching younger people and included younger families, too. So it's interesting to me that that the need was named whether or not the church was actually able to do it. They still saw that as a need.”

Connecting with the Annual Conference and Bishop Jung

As a result of the church visits, Greer said he hoped that the churches would come to understand their connection to the Annual Conference – and to Bishop Jung - on a deeper level. “One thing that's happening is people are experiencing the presence of the Bishop with the people, and I think that's a huge gift,” Greer said.

It’s clear that the precious time spent with each congregation was meaningful to Bishop Jung as well. “Being with my people and visiting their churches and communities has been such a privilege. I feel that the shepherding ministry has really been happening through this journey in my life,” Bishop Jung said. “I am celebrating that such a faithfulness and bright part of ministry is going on in all of Wisconsin.”

Greer said he was fascinated by Bishop Jung’s ability to connect with the members of the churches that they visited. “He has a steel trap memory. And he's very perceptive about what's going on in the room. It was so unique, I think, to watch a new bishop visit and recognize people and connect with people that he used to know, and know the back story behind the congregation and some of the appointments. And to literally discover in the church visits, that he was with people that he’s been with for many years. The depth in that and the capacity to help us move forward as a church is something that's a real gift right now to the Wisconsin Annual Conference, because I don't think Conferences usually get that.”

“I would hope the Conference is grasping through Bishop Jung's visit with each congregation that, truly, we understand our Conference to be the people,” Greer said. “One of the things that he often said when visiting different congregations was, ‘I am here because you are here.’ And I can't think of a thing clearer than to say that; it is not what we generate at some higher level that makes the difference locally. It's the way in which we live it out with people, through congregations where we are.”