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Opening worship delivers call to persevere

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With the age-old traditions of 238 years of ministry and discipleship providing a foundation, the people of the Baltimore-Washington Conference raised their hearts in worship as they gathered virtually for Annual Conference.

 From homes and 606 churches in Maryland, Washington, D.C., and the panhandle of West Virginia, they put-aside the challenges that have weighed down their well-doing and set out to “Persevere in Hope, Faith and Joy.”

 Bishop LaTrelle Easterling, the conference’s episcopal leader who will preside over the three-day Annual Conference session, praised the clergy and lay leaders for all they have accomplished in this season of heartache, fatigue, and anxiety that “lingers in the spirit.”

 The bishop listed just a few realities creating these feelings: More than a million deaths from COVID; the anniversary of the death of George Floyd and others with black and brown bodies; shootings in Buffalo, Ocean Park, and Uvalde; unrest and war in Ethiopia, Palestine and Ukraine; censorship, patriarchy, and discrimination.

 “All of these things swirl around us, and even on our best days we cannot push them out of or conversations nor our consciousness,” the bishop said.

 She called upon members of the BWC to follow the advice given by Paul in Hebrews 12:1-3, to press on and “run with perseverance the race that is set before us.”

 To do this, Bishop Easterling said, we must recognize that our faith is not tested, nor does it grow, during the easy and good times. Rather our faith is most tested “when we cannot catch our breath, and the song will not form in our throat, and the tears well up without provocation. In those times, when we don’t think we can take another step.”

 In those moments, the bishop said, “we must look away from the distraction, away from the challenges, away from the obstacles, and look to Jesus.”

 In large part, the people of the Baltimore-Washington Conference are succeeding. They are engaged in significant ministry and mission, the bishop said.

 “That is our reputation, that is our identity, that is our witness,” said Bishop Easterling. “Even in this difficult season, we are finding the stamina to not just limp along, not even to just walk. No, we are finding the faith to keep running our race.”

 People of faith in the BWC thrive by following the wisdom of the old saying, “Stop telling God about your problems and start telling your problems about God,” Bishop Easterling said.

 They also stay engaged with God by following the example of pastors like the Rev. Rodney Hudson of Ames Memorial UMC in Baltimore.

 Bishop Easterling lifted up his story as an example of what is possible. Over the past several years, Hudson partnered with other United Methodist churches, like Glen Mar in Ellicott City, Mt. Zion in Highland, and Emmanuel UMC in Scaggsville, to create the Resurrection Sandtown Project to develop and empower one of the poorest neighborhoods in Baltimore, the bishop explained.

 He leveraged new and existing relationships in the community and beyond, made some unpopular decision to make sure people in the community had a place at the table, and has been consistently proximate with his neighbors, even amid troubling times, like the unrest following the death of Freddie Gray in 2015.

 And because Hudson laid this foundation, last month the Cooke family, who owns Northeastern Supply, donated their $2.2 million building across the street from the church to Hudson and the Sandtown Resurrection Project. 

 “Don’t tell me what God can’t do – even in liminal times!” Bishop Easterling said.

 Hudson is not alone in his faithfulness. Over the past year, the bishop said, Baltimore-Washington Conference churches have received new members, baptized babies into the faith, increased their stewardship and formed stronger parish bonds. They renovated sanctuaries, built arboretums, and repurposed buildings to meet community needs. They embraced the work of antiracism, welcomed immigrants, and advocated for stronger laws to protect our most vulnerable. The first cohort of Catalyst participants graduated, churches found new pathways to vitality, and Next Level Leaders are being trained and stepping up.

 In short, United Methodists in the Baltimore-Washington Conference are persevering and thriving in vital mission and ministry.

 Nothing has prepared church leaders for the challenges they now face. “And yet,” said Easterling, “we keep looking away to Jesus, the author and perfector of our faith, who shows us the way. … There is no quit in us, Baltimore-Washington Conference,” the bishop declared. “We persevere in hope, joy, and faith!”