The diversity, faithfulness, hope, and glory of the Baltimore-Washington Conference were on display Oct. 25 as members gathered online to celebrate the opening of its 237th Annual Conference Session.
The focus was “we come,” as individuals and churches shared songs, art, prayers, and even a Wesleyan love feast, led by the Revs. Heerak and Narae Kim and their daughters. In a myriad of images, United Methodists came from the mountains of Appalachia, the shores of the Chesapeake Bay, from farm fields and skyscrapers, from wharfs by the lakeside, forest paths, the front stoops of Baltimore row homes, cafes, railroads tracks, national monuments and churches of all shapes and sizes. They came to worship.
And, in their midst, Bishop LaTrelle Easterling, presiding bishop of the Baltimore-Washington Conference, proclaimed the resilience of the BWC’s 615 churches and thanked them for their courage and faithful witness.
“Beloved, in this season of persisting pandemics, perpetual postponements, debilitating divisions, fictive fissures, expectations that exhaust, and conflicts that confound you are still standing. As one, you have conducted at least 84 worship services virtually or as a hybrid experience since the pandemic started,” she said. “You have met the needs of your flock and their family and friends through faith, creative collaborations, ingenuity, and sheer grit.”
Preaching on Galatians 3:23-28, Bishop Easterling expounded on the ideas of the Law of the Israelites, which provided a moral compass, and the freedom brought to believers by Jesus Christ, who “came and overcame,” in “an apocalyptic acts that forever transformed and changed history. … In this new community created by the Holy Spirit, the markers that once separated Jews from Gentiles had been invalidated, or speaking more precisely, obliterated. God’s purpose was and is to create a single new people who are ‘one in Christ Jesus,’ bound together in faith and love -- bound together by the Holy Spirit.”
The indwelling of the Holy Spirit is an essential part of our faith, and our life together as the church, the bishop said. “The Holy Spirit will take us much farther than eyes would ever see, feet would dare trod, minds could possibly imagine, and pre-conceived notions would allow. The Holy Spirit leads beyond the borders of our finite imaginations into a realm and reality only possible with God.”
She stressed that “freedom in the Spirit is not simply freedom from, but freedom to: freedom to trust God more deeply; freedom to love without condition; freedom to reject human machinations of security, worth, beauty, dignity and the final destination of our souls.” she said.
In the presence of the Holy Spirit, Bishop Easterling said, our souls are aligned with God and we are bound in faith and love and we see the folly of the divisions that separate us, as community, as culture and as church.
“If you are using binary categorizations to argue for a hierarchical status of worth, then according to Paul you are perverting the gospel now offered through the revelation of Jesus the Christ,” Easterling said.
Dualistic thinking about gender, culture, race, and economics was destroyed by Christ. “Once Christ came and died on the cross, those who are baptized in his name emerge as new creations. Categorizations of human hierarchy are washed away as we are separately submerged and rise as one in Christ. We are now one nation, people united in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
This love and unity in Christ, and connection in the church, are what compels congregations in the Baltimore-Washington to mission and ministry – even in this difficult season.
“Baltimore-Washington Conference, we have not cowered, we have not collapsed, we have not conceded, no we rise,” Bishop Easterling proclaimed. “We are rising to claim a new day, rising to model what it really looks like to live, love, and liberate as one. Rising to leverage our gifts and blessings and resources to help others rise as well. Rising to grow in grace as we heal the wounds of the past and in that healing, join hands as the beloved community. We are rising, Baltimore-Washington Conference, and don’t you let anyone with a contrary, contorted, conflicted message tell you otherwise. We rise united!
“The state of our conference is strong,” the bishop concluded. “We are still one!”
An offering for the United Methodist Committee on Relief ,collected during opening worship, raised $1,434.