I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that has been given you in Christ Jesus, for in every way you have been enriched in him, in speech and knowledge of every kind— just as the testimony of Christ has been strengthened among you— so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ. He will also strengthen you to the end, so that you may be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful; by him you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.
Now I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you should be in agreement and that there should be no divisions among you, but that you should be united in the same mind and the same purpose. (1 Corinthians 1:4-10)
“Called into the fellowship.” I am challenged by these words. Following our clergy session of Annual Conference, and preparing for the actual Annual Conference on the 24th, my mind is filled with the fullness of our clergy covenant community – ordained, commissioned, and licensed – who serve so faithfully in the Wisconsin Conference. We are a diverse bunch. We represent a wide variety of theological, social, cultural, racial, ethnic, and biblical perspectives and spheres. God’s abundance and creative Spirit pervades our clergy covenant community, guaranteeing that we reach an astoundingly broad number of people. United Methodism has never been at its heart and core an exclusionary faith movement, but follows John Wesley’s edict to “offer them Christ,” whomsoever “them” might be.
During our clergy session each year, our pastoral leadership reflects on the “Historical Questions” developed by John Wesley in the 1700s that ordinands have been asked every year since at least 1784 (these can be found in ¶336 of our 2016 Book of Discipline). Some of the key questions could, and should, be asked of every Christian disciple, but they are foundational for those called to serve as clergy. “Are you going onto perfection, and do you expect to be made perfect in love in this life?” “Are you resolved to devote yourself wholly to God and God’s work?” Will you diligently instruct children, visit from house to house, recommend fasting and abstinence (some of these promises evolve over time to fit the context)? Do you know the doctrine, polity and their relationship to the Holy Scriptures? Will you be diligent and punctual and stay out of debt? All these questions are aimed at defining the clergy covenant of United Methodists today and Methodism through the ages. These Historical Questions provide a short catechism for United Methodist pastoral leaders.
We don’t keep all of these commitments to the letter of the law, but they are a reminder that ministry is never a 9-to-5 job, where we do whatever we feel like, whenever we feel like. This is a vocation, not a job. This is a calling, not a profession. This is a lifestyle, not simply our work. Your clergy leaders have made a foundational commitment to give their lives to God through radical Christian service. This is no small thing.
I am fully aware that there are serious disagreements and disputes among our clergy. I know that we have dividing walls of theology, scriptural interpretation, economic and racial equity, and approval of certain doctrine and polity. We are not “of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind” (Philippians 2:2), but we are all servants of one Savior and Lord, Jesus the Christ, and this is what lifts us above our divisions to continue to serve faithfully in clergy covenant community.
I commend and celebrate the leadership and commitment of our pastoral leaders. Through their sacrifice and dedication, our churches continue in ministry. By their guidance and efforts, the priesthood of all believers and the ministry of the laity is strengthened and affirmed. I call upon all throughout our Wisconsin to pray for our clergy – our elders, provisional members, our deacons, our local pastors – who have answered God’s summons. Thanks be to God!
Additionally, I want to call on us to be in prayer for those afflicted by our current pandemic. The numbers in Wisconsin have increased alarmingly, and even our president has contracted this disease. Regardless of politics, let us pray for everyone who has suffered through COVID-19, for the families, for those who grieve the loss of loved ones, and for an end to this destructive and pernicious disease. Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.
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).