“Then Moses said to Aaron, ‘Say to the whole congregation of the Israelites, “Draw near to the Lord, for he has heard your complaining.”’ And as Aaron spoke to the whole congregation of the Israelites, they looked towards the wilderness, and the glory of the Lord appeared in the cloud. The Lord spoke to Moses and said, ‘I have heard the complaining of the Israelites; say to them, “At twilight you shall eat meat, and in the morning, you shall have your fill of bread; then you shall know that I am the Lord your God.”’
My blessed brothers, sisters, and siblings in Christ Jesus, I give you my thanks and appreciation. I am honored and proud to be the bishop of this great Wisconsin Conference. Together this past weekend we spent time wandering in our wilderness of confusion, disagreement, discernment, and desire to be a faithful church. It was not an easy time. There were ups and downs, times to celebrate and times to repent. We struggled in our work to be civil and respectful, and I was reminded to say clearly what behaviors would be acceptable – respectful disagreement and civil confrontation – and the unacceptable – bullying, disrespecting, and injuring. But we came through it all together, and we saw the glory of the Lord in the cloud. Everything may not be clear, but we see God in our midst!
I am still processing all that happened, but I rejoice again in our worship celebrations, the excellent and challenging Bible study provided by our brother, Peter Miano, the energy and faithful spirit of our young people, and the obvious, widespread desire to do justly and rightly to all people.
Our Annual Conference indicated in clear terms its dissatisfaction with the actions of General Conference to pass the Traditional Plan. Together we strategized ways to be faithful with our apportionment giving, to witness to our desire for full inclusion of LGBTQIA+ peoples, to bring the language of our Book of Discipline in line with our lived reality, and to move forward into a more loving and grace-filled church. It is clear that we have a long way to go, that we must make amends and apologize for hurtful actions, but that there is deep commitment to work together for a better, more loving church.
This is true not only of the LGBTQIA+ people who question whether The United Methodist Church really cares about and for them but is equally true for many of our racial and ethnic people who deal daily with destructive acts and attitudes of racism. In some of our Christian communities, hurtful and hateful words and actions communicate to both clergy and laity leadership that they are not welcome, not respected, and not supported. This is not true everywhere and of a majority of people, but racism in any form, in any place, and at any time is not an acceptable expression of Christians. Part of our wilderness is particular and institutional racism, and it is a priority for Wisconsin Conference to work to eliminate racism in all its forms.
We elected a slate of General Conference and Jurisdictional Conference delegates that reflect our desire to change and move forward. We elected a diverse and future-focused delegation of thoughtful, faithful, and dynamic clergy and laity. Pray for your delegation as they prepare for General Conference 2020. We have an amazing bunch of people to represent us.
We are committed to work on a Wisconsin option – a Wisconsin way forward to be a faithful and loving church, with great vision for mercy and justice ministries, for reaching new people in new places, and to strengthen our existing ministries, we reaffirmed our desire to be good stewards of all we possess. Our Launch Out! campaign is still very much a priority, but we voted to “pause,” to give time for local churches to address their response to our general church decisions.
We affirmed our desire to stay in Sun Prairie and to own our Conference Center. In the midst of massive and disruptive change, we still hold our Conference Center. By God’s grace, we will find new and better ways to address our administrative needs. We still face severe budgetary challenges. We still have less than we need to fully fund all our key ministries. We are in different places in our desire to financially support the denomination and connection. But we are in all these things together, and are working together on a Wisconsin way forward.
We are in a time of turbulence and change. This is wilderness at its wildest. Tempest and storm, intense heat, high winds – together we acknowledged that we cannot get through without God’s help and guidance. But God makes us strong. God keeps us strong. What looks so overwhelming at the moment will seem less intimidating as time goes by. We have dynamic young leaders. We have powerful cross-cultural leaders. We have clergy and laity leaders committed to the faithful ministry and witness of the Wisconsin Conference. Is everyone happy with where we are? No. Many are unhappy. But we are still faithful. This is a measure of faith – following Jesus, serving God, loving neighbor whether we are happy or not.
Wilderness time is not fun time, but it is rich time. Wilderness time is not comfortable time, but it is valuable time. Wilderness time is not stable time, but it is essential time. Our deepest desire is not just to survive the wilderness, but to thrive. We come through wilderness stronger, wiser, better prepared and more confident. I am encouraged by our time together. As a Conference, we have spoken. As a Conference, we have witnessed to inclusiveness, justice, and a place for all at God’s table. Do we still disagree? Yes. Is there still pain? Yes. But do we believe – truly know – that God is with us? Undeniably YES. Thanks be to God. Amen.
Grace and Peace,
Bishop Hee-Soo Jung
Bishop Hee-Soo Jung has served as resident bishop of the Wisconsin Annual Conference since September of 2012. Prior to leading the Wisconsin Conference UMC, Bishop Jung served eight years as bishop of the Northern Illinois Conference (Chicago area).