What a wonderful weekend that demonstrated the power of our United Methodist Connection in Indiana. Even amidst a global pandemic, we were able to connect, on-site in Marion, at regional sites around the state, or from the places of comfort and convenience; Part One of the Indiana Annual Conference Session was convened. It was during this session that we heard ministry updates, a powerful witness from a young adult about the transforming love of Jesus Christ, and witnessed the celebration of calling for those colleagues who were Retiring, and those who were being Commissioned and Ordained. If you were unable to participate, the 2020 Indiana Annual Conference videos can be found at this link.

It was during the Celebration of Ministry Service, Saturday afternoon when Bishop Trimble gave witness and proclamation with a message entitled “Climbing our Second Mountain”. As Bishop Trimble was giving examples about the many significant hikes he has participated in, I began reflecting on my own experiences and a few personal hikes that were memorable. The two that were most profound occurred in 2016 and 2018, while on Holy Land Pilgrimages.

My first experience of traveling to Israel on a Holy Land Pilgrimage was life-changing. The opportunities to hear the history and see the scriptures come alive were incredible. Along the tour, came an opportunity to visit a place called Masada. When driving up to the location, one notices the grand mountain, and a group of us simply asked our guide if it was climbable; he said YES, and that is all that was needed. Just for context, “the Masada Snake Path is one of the most iconic hikes in Israel. Starting from the base of Masada, a famous fortress which stands beside the Dead Sea, the Snake Path winds its way up approximately 400 meters from the lowest place on earth, the Dead Sea.” (Description and Reference is taken from Tourist Israel website). The excitement to do something that many did not think was possible was energizing, at first.

Starting at 300m below sea level, the path snakes up the side of the mountain to 400m above sea level, it was pure adrenaline that propelled me to begin the climb, and halfway up the mountain, the adrenaline wore off and fatigue began setting in. It was too far to go back and still a-far-ways to arrive at the top (and there was no cable car to pick you up along the way, you had to finish). Taking each step toward the goal, I began questioning the meaning of life and my poor decision-making (like climbing a mountain when there is a perfect cable car). Before I could get too deep in my despair, there were words of encouragement coming from fellow climbers who were passing me on the journey. They simply said…you can make it, keep going! And after ninety minutes, we did finally make it to the top. Again, I traveled to the same spot in 2018, thinking the second time would be a breeze; it was equally as hard because I knew the end result, but the climb was manageable because of those who were on the journey encouraging me along the way. I believe we all need those words of encouragement, as we are facing many different life challenges.

My learning from climbing Masada, I believe translates into our current context. I can imagine that we all would want COVID-19 to “go away” so that we can return to some sense of normalcy. I am afraid that to define normal right now would only create false hope for us and others. Friends, we are still in this global pandemic, where there are new positive cases and additional deaths as a result of COVID-19. We are seeing many entities and organizations, such as our congregations, making the difficult decisions, on a daily basis, with the information that is available, to ensure no harm is being done; and remaining nimble because plans are ever-evolving. During these times, may I encourage us to KEEP THE MAIN THING, THE MAIN THING! May we continue to be focused on the mission of Jesus Christ, and continue to operate with an abundance of caution for all our neighbors. May we, as faithful Christ-followers, not get caught up in the debates regarding safety and care for others, but may we truly demonstrate the love of Jesus Christ and being unashamed about sharing how Jesus Christ has changed our lives (even while wearing a mask and practicing safe distancing).

I love this nugget from 1 Thessalonians 5:11 (The Message), it states, “So speak encouraging words to one another. Build up hope so you’ll all be together in this, no one left out, no one left behind. I know you’re already doing this; just keep on doing it.” This is our charge for right now, let us take us the mantle of encouragement (“give support, confidence, or hope”), knowing we are IN THIS TOGETHER!

As we continue to journey through the unknowns and complexities of our current times, may we continue to encourage each other (lay and clergy), may we continue to extend grace to one another (lay and clergy), and may we spread the love and light of Jesus Christ (lay and clergy) to all whom we may encounter on a daily basis. I just wonder, if we were committed to this challenge of encouragement rather than stirring up conflict, just how different our world would be. It just makes me further wonder, if, we who profess to be disciples of Jesus Christ, do not extend the encouragement…who will?

In Humble Service,

Dr. Aleze M. Fulbright
Conference Superintendent serving Central and West Districts