In C. S. Lewis’ epic tale, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe , one of the first creatures the children encounter is Mr. Beaver. Beaver has great wisdom and insight even in a time of the land frozen and in the grip of the White Witch. Quite soon in the conversation with Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy, Beaver comments, “They say Aslan is on the move — perhaps already landed.” We do not know, at that point, that Aslan is the great Lion - the Christ figure of the Narnia story. Strikingly Lewis writes:
“And now a very curious thing happened. None of the children knew who Aslan was any more than you do; but the moment Beaver had spoken these words everyone felt quite different…At the name of Aslan each one of the children felt something jump in its inside.”
So it is in our day. I believe God in Christ through the power and presence of the Holy Spirit is moving in our world and in our churches. The changes and new opportunities underway in the Central Texas Conference cultivated by the Forward to a New Spring initiative are a joy to behold and be a part. Beyond the District Discipleship Teams that I discussed in a previous blog, the finishing touches are just about complete for an online Mid-Winter Retreat for our youth, we have announced BOTH/AND - the first event in a webinar series aimed at helping churches, clergy and lay leadership effectively “restart” as the COVID pandemic begins to subside (much more on that to come in the next few weeks!), and there are new and exciting opportunities and ministries in support of our mission/WIG to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world springing up all across the conference.
A Tearing and Blessing
In all the excitement and change, there is also anxiety and fear. Sometimes change can be bittersweet. One of those bittersweet changes for me is related to the makeup of the Cabinet. As you’ll recall, the Forward to a New Spring plan adopted by the 2020 Annual Conference called for the creation of District Areas and the reduction of District Superintendents from six to four*. (*3 geographic DSs and 1 New Church Start DS). As a part of that restructuring, Dr. Lisa Neslony and Rev. Brad Brittain have moved from their roles as DS of the West and South Districts respectively and have resumed their ministries in the local church as Senior Pastors of St. John the Apostle (Lisa) and St. Barnabas (Brad) United Methodist Churches.
As Bishop, I am quite thrilled for the people of and the communities around St. John the Apostle and St. Barnabas. Lisa and Brad are dynamic leaders, wonderful preachers, and I’ve nothing but the utmost confidence in their abilities to lead these two vital congregations forward in our Wildly Important Goal of making disciples of Jesus Christ. That is part of the sweet (as is our recent announcement of Rev. Philip Rhodes joining the Cabinet in July). The bitter is that I will miss their wisdom, energy, counsel and camaraderie as part of the Cabinet. I share immense gratitude both to and for Dr. Lisa Neslony and Rev. Brad Brittain in their ministries as District Superintendents. They will be missed!
When Lisa joined the Cabinet in July 2016, I knew that she was fantastic in team settings and highly committed to learning and, above all, has a great commitment to Christ. I was excited about weaving her calming and deep spiritual maturity into the fabric of our Cabinet team. Lisa brought a love and commitment to the people and congregations of the West. In the very best sense of the word, she was their champion all the while holding the Conference mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ at the center of our life together.
Similarly, when Brad joined the Cabinet four-and-a-half years ago, I was enthused by what he would bring to team. He was particularly poised to guide the South District – a district with a high number of new congregations, growing suburban/urban churches and a significant number of small town and rural congregations. Furthermore, his “relatively” young age helped us to better connect with the emerging generations of our conference. His open spirit, winsome sense of humor and reflective insight have been a great blessing not only to the South District but to the work of the whole Cabinet and the Conference.
Jolynn and I are blessed with four delightful grandchildren. The youngest, Adam, is 3 and has an unfailingly cheery personality (that is when he isn’t throwing his version of a three-year-old temper tantrum). While we were unwrapping presents on Christmas Day, Adam moved from person to person helping to rip off the wrapping paper. (Ripping paper off was far more exciting and fun to Adam that seeing what was inside!) Each time the ripping was complete, he would enthusiastically thank the person getting the gift for the opportunity to unwrap it together.
Something like that is how I feel about the latest changes in the Cabinet. There is a tearing and a blessing. I want to thank both Lisa and Brad for all they have done for their districts, the Central Texas Conference, the Cabinet and me personally. I hope you all join me in prayers of thanksgiving as well as for their ongoing ministries.
"Aslan is on the move and perhaps has already landed."
The Lord is opening a door for us in the Central Texas Conference and providing the chance to try new things and experiment with new ideas, technologies and structures to reach people with the gospel of Jesus Christ in new ways. The Holy Spirit is moving in our midst and I celebrate being a part of God’s new day with you in the Central Texas Conference.
This is a time of new beginnings and new possibilities – a New Church for a New World. The Word of God through the prophet Isaiah are once again being lived out. “Look! I’m doing a new thing; now it sprouts up; don’t you recognize it? I’m making a way in the desert, paths in the wilderness.” (Isaiah 43:19)