Clergy inspired at Auburn UMC Regional Gathering
On Wednesday March 1, dozens of clergy members were greeted with radical hospitality at Auburn UMC in the Lakes Region of the Upper New York (UNY) Conference. This was one of the six gatherings with Bishop Héctor held throughout the Conference this winter.
Pots of coffee, crudities, charcuterie boards, and baked goods were beautifully displayed in the fellowship hall. Auburn UMC pastor Donna Taylor Martin urged the guests to “Please partake in the food as you fellowship with your friends.”
This was the first time that many gathered since the COVID pandemic—the occasion was to meet UNY’s new bishop, Héctor A. Burgos Núñez. After a brief time of fellowship, the diverse group of clergy persons gathered in the warm sanctuary for worship led by the Rev. Ted Anderson, Genesee Valley District Superintendent, on his acoustic guitar; a message from the Finger Lakes District Superintendent, the Rev. Nola Anderson; and a candid conversation with Bishop Héctor.
Brandin Greco, pastor at Mexico and Lycoming UMCs, read the passage from Genesis about Joseph’s brothers’ plot to kill him—this passage set the stage for Rev. Anderson’s powerful message about showing up as our best selves.
Joseph responded to his brothers’ evil treatment with tears for them. He was not vindictive; he did not seek revenge. He allowed the best part of him to rule the worst part of him.
Rev. Anderson said, “They could take his coat, but they could not take his character.”
Rev. Anderson shared president-elect Abraham Lincoln’s speech the evening before the start of the Civil War.
Lincoln said, “The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”
“Joseph’s love was stronger than his memory…he had the radical kind of love that could overcome what was done to him—he found his better angels,” said Rev. Anderson.
“We are in a season when we need to summon our better angels…The world is waiting on us as believers to show up as our best lives,” Rev. Anderson cried out.
“Are you able to summon your better angels?” Rev. Anderson asked.
As guests felt inspired to respond to Jesus’ call to be their best selves, Bishop Héctor introduced himself and further encouraged everyone by sharing his perspectives.
He shared his career background and described his deep affections for his family (his wife Jazelis Adorno, and their children, Fabián, Joel, Marcos, and Valeria).
Bishop Héctor outlined some of his perspectives:
- As a life-long Methodist, Bishop Héctor deeply understands the importance of personal holiness (a priority in the Puerto Rican Methodist Church) and social holiness (which was a priority as he served in local churches as well as leadership roles in the Greater New Jersey Conference). Bishop Héctor said he hopes to inspire and challenge the clergy, emphasizing that is not an option to just have personal holiness or to just have social holiness. “Social holiness is the fruit of a growing relationship with Jesus Christ,” Bishop Héctor said.
- Bishop Héctor leads with the understanding of what it means to be part of a clergy couple.
- As a son of a devout Roman Catholic mother and a father who Bishop Héctor is convinced loves God, but is not religious; Bishop Héctor understands how this is relevant to many people.
- Bishop Héctor is a father of two children who choose not to love the Methodist Church “because we can’t get our act together.”
- Being a clergy person was Bishop Héctor’s second career, which is true for many clergy persons in UNY.
- Bishop Héctor understands what it’s like to be an immigrant and to be discriminated against because of it. Though he has been a lifelong U.S. citizen, he understands the struggle of undocumented immigrants who come to the U.S. to just try to live.
- Bishop Héctor has served at evangelical, centrist, and progressive churches and has served in rural, suburban, and urban settings. He also planted a New Faith Community.
- As a Director of Connectional Ministries in New Jersey, Bishop Héctor witnessed the power of the Connection globally.
- Bishop Héctor promotes ecumenical collaboration.
- Bishop Héctor understands the impact of COVID, having served as a District Superintendent throughout the pandemic.
After sharing his perspectives, Bishop Héctor shared what the UNY clergy can expect from him as a Resident Bishop:
- He is someone who is intentional about loving God; “Please don’t put me on a pedestal. I’m on the same journey as all of you,” Bishop Héctor said.
- He is going to hold the UNY clergy accountable, but he expects to be held accountable as well.
- He hopes the clergy can envision him as a pastor of the Church.
- He believes that one of the main purposes of his role is to help churches to equip leaders within their congregations.
- He hopes to help churches empower and encourage leaders.
- He is not afraid of taking risks and being innovative. “The Holy Spirit works best when we try new things,” Bishop Héctor explained.
Once Bishop Héctor finished introducing himself, he invited the guests to engage in conversation with someone that they hadn’t spoken with in over a month. He asked for them to share with each other one or two ways in which they have seen God at work in the past 30 days and hopes they have for the UNY Conference in the next 18 months to two years.
There was a time of sharing. Positive stories like the growing sandwich ministry at Camillus First UMC were shared.
Hopes for the future were shared…hopes that we can:
- Stay focused on the UMC mission despite the disaffiliation.
- Have a positive attitude despite the negative news all around us.
- Prioritize self-care.
- Conspire with God to remove walls that are not allowing us to do ministry together.
- Continue gathering and make space for more collaboration.
Bishop Héctor encouraged the clergy to make time for more conversations like this as part of their Sunday services.
He ended the time of sharing with encouraging words, “I hope you go out of this place with a renewed sense of hope that God is still at work. Friends, God is still doing amazing things.”
After clergy received communion, they continued to partake in food and fellowship in Auburn UMC’s fellowship hall. The smiles and laughter echoing through the space illustrated uplifted feelings.
Regional gatherings are also being held for laity. Click here to view the full schedule.