2021 Annual Conference Opening Worship-Now is the time to courageously share the gospel
The 2021 Upper New York Annual Conference, held virtually, began with an Opening Worship service on June 17. Through songs, storytelling, reflections, and a message from Upper New York Area Resident Bishop, Mark J. Webb, the truth that the world needs God during these hard times was proclaimed. And the message that now is an opportunity to give people Jesus was established.
The theme for the past quadrennium has been “Together in Prayer,” and for this year it is “Together in Prayer: Courageously Sharing God’s story.” In a time of a global pandemic, continued racism, gun violence, and so many deep-rooted, structural inequalities, this service described the need for Jesus.
Many in Upper New York have begun to courageously share God’s story during these trying times
In her invocation of this Opening Worship service, the Rev. Rachel Dupont, said, “We have been challenged…we have been changed…Through it all, we pray and work for the new thing that God is doing. We are reaching new people, finding new ways to worship…though we are apart, we are together in prayer—courageously sharing God’s story.”
Theresa Eggleston is well-known in the UNY Conference and beyond for her powerful biblical storytelling ability. In this service, Theresa shared passages from both the Old and New Testaments, all showcasing that no matter what “God is still God,” that God is forever present, forever forgiving, and should be trusted with the hope provided by Jesus.
Bishop Webb shared an inspiring message, entitled “Give Them Jesus.” He introduced his message by describing the African American Spiritual entitled, “Give me Jesus.” He quotes Eileen Guenther, who wrote, “Spirituals affirm a complete trust in God to make right in the next world what was done wrong in this world.” This spiritual was a witness against slavery and a prayer that God would put an end to it.
Bishop Webb explained how a time like the present, is a time where we need to cry, “Give me Jesus!” He mentioned the devastation of COVID-19, physically, emotionally, financially, and spiritually; the almost-daily gun violence ending lives in such senseless ways; the reality of poverty and deficiencies and our educational systems; the crises around issues of immigration, and so many other broken systems.
Bishop Webb said it is up to the Church to share the truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, “Jesus is the only Savior we should be looking for and offering to the world. The cry has not changed - the answer has not changed – “Give Me Jesus”!
He continued by clarifying, “I’m not preaching ‘if we would just love Jesus more, the problems we face
will go away.’ I’m proclaiming the truth that systems change, injustices are dealt with, violence ends when
people, one by one are radically and totally transformed by the love of God through Jesus Christ. A heart
changed by Christ is a life set in a new direction! Multiple lives changed by Christ is a community set in a
new direction. It’s up to us to offer that invitation, to proclaim the name and way of Jesus and to help
people live into the life they were created for.
Bishop Webb shared the passage of Mark 4: 35-41—Jesus is talking to his disciples in the middle of a storm. The disciples asked Jesus why he isn’t worried that they aren’t perishing in such a terrible storm. He tells them to be still…and the storm stops.
Bishop Webb likened the storm in the Gospel to the times we are facing today; he said, “As we live and serve within a world that is raging with storms, there is a desperation that opens the door for us to trust and receive the Gospel message in a new way. There is an opportunity for us to proclaim the Gospel message, the truth of Jesus Christ in a bold way.
Throughout scripture, throughout human history we see the truth that in the midst of storms, in the
midst of struggle, in the midst of uncertainty God provides opportunities to hear and proclaim the
Gospel. The question is will we be the ones that the voice of God speaks through? Will we be the ones, who with the words and actions of the Gospel, offer the power of light and hope in the midst of
darkness and despair? In the midst of the storms, God provides an opportunity for us to cry, ‘Give me
Opening worship included a reflection by, the Rev. Nancy Dibelius, UNY’s Assistant Director of Vital Congregations for Spiritual Life. Using the imagery of a sunflower, she shared the popular Ecclesiastes verse, “A season is set for everything, a time for every experience under heaven. A time for being born and a time for dying. A time for planting.”
Rev. Dibelius emphasized the season planting; she said, “We have moved through a season that has uprooted many things; the invitation before us now is to plant. God is inviting us to do something new; to perceive, to discern, what that something new might look like…As we hear God’s invitation to enter a season of planting, can we accept that invitation…can we look beyond what has been to embrace the new, the possibility of what could be?”
Can we courageously share God’s story?