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Report from the Border

This week I am at the Forum for Active/Residential Bishops in San Diego, California.  The gathering is a continuing education event for residential (non-retired) United Methodist Bishops worldwide.  It is a time for discussion and learning. Yesterday there were three excellent presentations on critical ministry issues facing bishops, cabinets and conferences.  Bishop Mike Coyner led a session on clergy effectiveness and accountability.  Bishops John Hopkins & Robert Schnase shared best practices in appointment making.  Bishop Janice Huie shared innovative ministry the Texas Conference is engaged in around the subject of developing the next generation of clergy leadership.  For my part, I think that the time for active bishops to work together in a continuing education retreat setting is exceptionally valuable. We have also had engaging presentations from outside leaders.  Brian McClaren (pastor, professor, and author of number of books including A Generous Orthodoxy and Why did Jesus, Moses, Buddha, and Mohammed Cross the Road  addressed the group.  He challenged us to be engaged in the task of building a Christian identity that is not based on hatred of the other.  He invited us to look at experiments on how to be the church (noting some in England and Cuba).  McClaren challenged bishops to "be obsessed" with gathering (getting/recruiting!) young, spiritually alive, new leaders. The other outside speaker we listened to with rapt attention was retired Lt. General James Dubik.  He is a leader of The Leadership Roundtable for Church Management (a Catholic leadership development forum) and was one of the senior generals in Iraq before his retirement.  I have had the privilege of listening to him before and was once again blessed and taught on a high level.  Try this one on:  "Leading change is creating problems that force you to make decisions that force you to become the organization you want to become."  His leadership insights from both the U.S. Army and work with the Catholic Church are tremendous. Yesterday afternoon we experienced a time of hands on learning.  Breaking into four groups, we traveled to the U.S./Mexico Border and participated in a communion service at Friendship Park (dedicated as a park by then First Lady Pat Nixon) literally on the ocean's edge of the border.  I listened as, through the fence, Jolynn visited with a mother holding a young child. The mother, a United Methodist, had other children living as U.S. citizens in Los Angeles, Little Rock & Massachusetts; ages 12, 10, and 6.  She and Border Fenceher husband (along with a 2 year old) are not citizens and cannot visit their children.  The hard reality of the border fence and the tangled arbitrariness of our immigration policies was brought home on a painful personal level.  Interestingly enough, conservative leaders from the San Diego Chamber of Commerce have joined with immigration rights activists in pushing for economically vibrant and morally sound immigration reform.  Regardless of where one stands on the political spectrum, it is time to move forward with reform in a manner consistent with family values and Christian convictions. As you read this, the bishops will continue work on learning best practices for conference and church leadership.  Our Forum of Active Bishops learning retreat ends Thursday at noon.  Thursday afternoon I will chair a gathering of the COB (Council of Bishops) Congregational Vitality Leadership Team (CVLT).  We will continue working on strengthening and transforming local congregations and building new churches as "new places for new people."  Friday, I will participate in a meeting of the Executive Committee of the COB (which I am on by way of leading the CVLT) and the General Secretaries of our Boards and Agencies.  Together the bishops and general secretaries will continue the work of aligning all segments of this vast worldwide church (which is growing rapidly in Africa and Asia even while it declines in Europe and North America) for the mission of "making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world."  There is a new and refreshing wind blowing in the church! Saturday I fly home, and Sunday I preach at West UMC and Wesley Chapel (Gholson) UMC.