Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on towards the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus. Let those of us then who are mature be of the same mind; and if you think differently about anything, this too God will reveal to you. Only let us hold fast to what we have attained. Brothers and sisters, join in imitating me, and observe those who live according to the example you have in us.
Our Annual Conference time this year was time together in the wilderness. The wilderness theme was reinforced as we faced temptations, challenges, threats, adversity, and we confronted some hard and dangerous truths. In our wilderness experience, we discovered many areas for change and improvement. We met real and honest feelings about racism, homophobia, white privilege, and distrust. Our Bible study leader, Peter Miano, warned us of ways we misuse and abuse scripture for harmful and destructive purposes – and invited us to respect our Bible more, using it as a tool for building a relevant and inclusive church.
It would be easy to see all of these monumental issues as overwhelming and discouraging, but the Apostle Paul offers us needed inspiration – we are not going to be defined by our past and present deficiencies, but in every way possible we are “moving onto perfection” as we address these things head on. We elected a delegation of General Conference and Jurisdictional Conference members who will represent our Wisconsin Conference and the clear mandate to be inclusive, repentant of any and all discriminatory practices that are doing harm to our racial/ethnic and LGBTQIA+ members. We are not a Conference anchored to an irrelevant past, but a Conference committed to becoming pertinent and faithful in a constantly changing world.
Our Task Force on the Wisconsin Way Forward will continue to fine tune and improve our Wisconsin Option – an option of renewed healthy connectionalism that rejects schism and calls us to stay joined as one body in Christ. It is my commitment, and the commitment of our cabinet and staff, to work hard to rebuild trust, to heal relationships between congregations and conference ministries, and to build lasting bridges while tearing down dividing walls. Conference leadership will not “do this for” the Conference, but in large and small ways we will do this together.
We will continue to work on living the General Rules – doing no harm, doing good, and attending to the guiding Spirit of God. We will not tolerate bullying, hurtful speech, mean-spirited gossip, and injurious attacks. We will strive to speak the truth to each other, but to speak the truth in love.
I cannot help but be excited about our future. Yes, healing must happen, but we have such great opportunity to become the church God needs us to be. We are partnering with our Minnesota Annual Conference neighbors to cross borders and create new models of effective and transformative ministry. We have the Missional Church Consultation Initiative (MCCI)and the Impact program to strengthen our existing ministries. We have the Institute for Congregational Development (ICD) and the Spanish language equivalent (IDC) for church planters and new ministry launches. We have vital health and welfare ministries, camping ministries, campus ministries, and missionally focused projects within and beyond the Wisconsin Conference, including some amazing disaster response efforts.
It would be so easy to get stuck in all the things we are NOT. But Wisconsin Conference is not failing. We are not losing ground. We are not going to let the divisions and hurts destroy us. For we are a people of great faith, redeemed by God’s amazing grace. Together, we are going to dream God-sized dreams for our future. In many ways we may not see eye to eye; we may deeply and seriously disagree. But in the most essential ways, we seek together “the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.” We proved at this Annual Conference that we can struggle together to seek and do God’s will. I believe we are turning a corner and heading toward better days. We reclaim our mission and purpose to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world! Thanks be to God.
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).