By Melissa Lauber
Bishop LaTrelle Easterling, left, with the Rev. Conrad Link, superintendent of the Cumberland-Hagerstown District, right.
Banjo and trumpet music, questions, conversations and fried chicken at “The Blue” were among the highlights of the first stop on Bishop LaTrelle Easterling’s welcome tour, meeting the people of the Baltimore-Washington Conference.
The new bishop met with the clergy of the Cumberland-Hagerstown District at The Blue, a worship and youth center of First UMC in Berkeley Springs, W.Va, where the Rev. Doug Hoffman is pastor.
Looking out on the green fields outside the large blue multi-purpose center, Easterling envisioned a revival and shared her dream with the pastors. This sharing set the tone for a frank discussion of faith, joys and challenges.
Bishop Easterling introduced herself as a preacher of social justice who is proud to be evangelical and loves to offer Jesus and tell the “old, old story.”
“Yes,” she said, “you have a bishop who is a Jesus freak.”
The pastors of the Cumberland-Hagerstown responded by sharing their thoughts on ministry in the Western Region of the conference.
Several pastors lifted up concerns about economic struggles facing the people. South Cumberland, they pointed out, is one of the poorest areas in Maryland. Joblessness, homelessness and other struggles have led to a sense of hopelessness for many area residents. In addition, some present expressed interested about the destructive effects heroin is having on people’s lives in the region.
Churches shared stories of how they are working in their communities and the bishop applauded these efforts. She encouraged them to be outwardly focused and increase efforts to move ministry and mission out of the church building into the community, finding partners in the ecumenical and secular arenas to work with them.
She praised the clergy who strive to “have the heart of Christ,” and reminded them that “only what you do for Christ will last.”
Some of the clergy shared their frustration about sometimes feeling removed from, or left out of, annual conference efforts and initiatives, saying people in their churches feel ignored, unheard or disconnected. Others acknowledged that this attitude might be an entrenched one that didn’t full reflect today’s realities.
Easterling pledged to continue recently enacted conference efforts to engage those in the district more broadly and deeply, and promised to “draw the circle wide,” to include all within the bounds of the Baltimore-Washington Conference and beyond. She also challenged the pastors to enter more fully into the connectional system and realize that while the conference can help with priorities, the daily work of ministry will be done by pastors and people in the pews.
“With God, and together, all things are possible,” said the bishop. “That’s not a cliché, it’s the truth.”
As the sharing continued, pastors shared Good News of working with the community to provide shelter to the homeless, gathering with other churches to do Lenten series, providing vital ministry to older adults, meeting the spiritual needs of some deaf people in the community, and new and dynamic, faith-sharing Bible studies at Frostburg State University.
Before the conversation began, the Rev. Conrad Link, superintendent of the Cumberland-Hagerstown District, shared a passage from John 12: “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.”
Meeting together as clergy, they did.
The bishop will continue to meet with people on the other seven districts between now and mid-November. The next meeting will be held in the Frederick District on Wednesday, Oct. 5, from 5 to 8 p.m., at Jackson Chapel UMC in Frederick.