By Rick Wolcott*

“The church is the hope of the world.” 

A day after the deadly attack in Nice, France and mere weeks after deadly shootings in Orlando, Baton Rouge, St. Paul, and Dallas the message from Bishop John L. Hopkins resonated with those gathered for Friday’s morning worship service at the North Central Jurisdictional Conference in Peoria, IL.

“May we hear not only the words of his lips, but the words of his heart, may they find a resting place in ours that we might see you more clearly, love you more dearly, and serve you more faithfully,” retired Bishop Woodie White prayed prior to Hopkins’ sermon.

At a time when actions are dividing our churches, our communities, our nation, and our world, “our gifts (from God) are to serve the whole and not the parts,” Hopkins said.

“Had it not been for the people of God using the gifts of God, you and I would not be Christian today,” the resident bishop of the East Ohio Conference continued.  “For the saints of old were equipped, did the work of ministry, and built up the body of Christ – which is the Church.

“Our responsibility today is to equip the saints and to help each person use the gifts God has given them so that they might be able to meet the challenges of life and together we might make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.

“We are called to take what was given to us and pass it on to future generations.  We have a legacy to celebrate because of the gifts that were given us,” Hopkins said.

The bishop illustrated his point by holding up a circuit rider saddlebag that was donated to the East Ohio Conference in May.  The bag was used in the 1800s by the Rev. Daniel Lambert. 

“When he traveled from town to town, he preached the gospel, baptized people with water, and invited people to experience Christ in Holy Communion,” Hopkins said.  “In doing so, he unleashed their God-given gifts for ministry.  They no longer belonged to themselves, but belonged to Christ and His Body, the Church.”

Hopkins reminded the audience that the Church is made up of a connection of mission outposts that are to reach out beyond sanctuary walls and impact our communities.

“I love this church because we give away our ministries,” he said.

Following up on his earlier statements about passing down our legacies to future generations, Hopkins told the crowd that he and wife Elaine spent many years trying to “fix” their three sons by correcting some of the boys’ behaviors.

“Now we have seven grandchildren, and we don’t try to fix them at all!  We just love them,” he said, as many heads in the audience nodded in agreement.

“Don’t treat your church like a child and try to fix it, treat it like a grandchild, love it, and it will grow,” 

*Rick Wolcott is director of Communications for the East Ohio Conference of The United Methodist Church.