In January of 2006, I was appointed by Bishop Jonathan Keaton as a district superintendent in the West Michigan Conference. Both excited and terrified at the thought of what lay ahead for my ministry, I went away on retreat to St. Simons Island in Georgia, a holy place for United Methodists. During this time of solitude, I walked the beach for miles every day, pondering my call and God’s grace.
A major discernment from that week away was to regularly communicate with the clergy and laity on my district once I became a superintendent. I did not want to send out a newsletter filled with information, however. I wanted to share my heart. On July 11, 2006, I published my first blog and have written almost five hundred weekly essays since.
Now, ten years later, I am a bit older and, hopefully, wiser. But, again, I am both excited and terrified. Last week I was one of four clergy elected to be a bishop in the North Central Jurisdiction of The United Methodist Church and have been assigned to the Iowa Conference as of September 1. As I transition into this new role over the coming weeks, I will be posting some of my favorite blogs from the last ten years. I anticipate retooling Leading from the Heart as a way of communicating my heart as a United Methodist bishop.
My first blog was published on July 11, 2006. “In the summer, I have a practice of taking a walk every night that I am able. It is a time to let God speak to me through the beauty of God’s good creation. I don’t power walk. I simply saunter along, opening my eyes and heart to all that surrounds me. At times, I will replay the events of the day and ponder issues of concern. However, I attempt to quickly clear my mind so that I can make room for God’s presence to surround me with joy.
“Tonight I was walking after 9 p.m., just as the sky was beginning to turn yellow and orange. As I gazed at the sunset, I thought to myself, ‘These are the most amazing clouds I have ever seen!’ Wispy, swirling, dancing, grace-filled clouds, beckoning me to come out and play, reminding me of the promise of a Holy Spirit that blows where it wills, urging me to rest in God’s love and then go out to serve.
“Please take the time to rest and savor the very best that Michigan has to offer this summer. Walk, run, play tennis, hit a few golf balls, fish, feed the birds, sail, swim, eat an ice cream cone, read a good book, enjoy a picnic with friends. Most of all, remember that God saw everything that God had made and called it good.”
As I prepare to begin my ministry as an episcopal leader, I offer the words that I shared with the delegates shortly before my election as a bishop last week. “The heart of my ministry is modeling the radical, suffering love of Jesus for all people as experienced around the table of the Lord. It’s the Heavenly Banquet, the Peaceable Kingdom.
“Suffering love is not just the foundation on which we build everything, but it’s also the energy with which we proceed, and it’s the final goal toward which we strive. The spiritual writer Richard Rohr says that love has two lovely daughters, twins called grace and mercy. Like identical twins, they are often indistinguishable. Grace is the inner freedom to be merciful, and mercy is grace in action. Both are children of love. Radical, suffering, unconditional love.
“Can we United Methodists create a church that will witness to everyone that we not only love the world but we actually love each other as well? Are we willing to let go of self, ego, pride and our tightly held convictions in order to see God in the face of someone who is not like us? Can we stand firm that God’s love is also found in the very least of God’s children and that God’s call is to transformative action to bring in God’s kingdom on this earth through Jesus Christ?
“This is the challenge and the task of The United Methodist Church. And it is the challenge and task to which I have offered my life and ministry.”
Wherever you live or serve, may you find ways this summer to feed your spirit, lead from your heart and be a walking witness to the radical suffering love of Jesus.
Walking, I am listening to a deeper way.
Suddenly all my ancestors are behind me.
Be still, they say. Watch and listen.
— Linda Hogan