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Vital congregations—a call to action

By Bishop Mary Virginia Taylor

Across the state of South Carolina, a casual glance at the more than 1,000 United Methodist churches might suggest that we have many different types of churches.

Some are small, and others are large. Some churches are located on downtown city streets, while others are bordered by cultivated acres and livestock filled pastures.

Although they may look different on the outside, every one of those congregations is exactly the same on the inside. Go past the front doors, and you will discover the gathering of the faithful. In the mountains, Midlands and Lowcountry, it is always the same. Within the church walls are committed disciples who dearly love Jesus Christ and dearly love their church.

In the 12th chapter of the first letter to the Corinthians, Paul describes this interior stuff of which vital congregations are made. He writes, God s various gifts are handed out everywhere; but they all originate in God s Spirit. God s various ministries are carried out everywhere; but they all originate in God s Spirit. God s various expressions of power are in action everywhere; but God himself is behind it all. Each person is given something to do that shows who God is: Everyone gets in on it, everyone benefits. All kinds of things are handed out by the Spirit, and to all kinds of people! The variety is wonderful: wise counsel, clear understanding, simple trust, healing the sick, miraculous acts, proclamation, distinguishing between spirits, tongues and interpretation of tongues. All these gifts have a common origin, but are handed out one by one by the one Spirit of God. He decides who gets what, and when. 

This fall, at the charge conference for your church, hopefully you have heard or will hear something about the Vital Congregations Planning Guide. This guide is the result of a Call to Action by the Council of Bishops and leaders of our denomination.

This initiative strives to keep us focused on our task. We want every United Methodist Church to become more energetic, vigorous, dynamic, spirited and alive. We want to live into God s hope for His church.

A call to action always seeks to answer the unspoken question, Now what?  It challenges us to take the next step. The church has always had a call to action. Sometimes we refer to it as being proactive. God dares us to not just be reactive, always waiting for something to happen before we do anything. Instead, God directs us to plan for ministry and be intentional about doing God s work.

Jesus fulfilled His ministry by being proactive. He was constantly on the move seeking those who were hurting. As he traveled, Jesus often found himself addressing folks with various hardships, injuries and struggles.

The Call to Action invites us to be constantly vigilant in identifying the people and places where the church can address real needs. Many of our churches have food ministries. Meals are cooked and served from some of our church kitchens, while other congregations distribute food baskets. Later this month, some parishioners will gather around tables in the fellowship hall to serve their annual Thanksgiving feast to the lonely, hungry and homeless of their community.

Churchgoers will provide firewood for their neighbors this winter. Others regularly schedule time to visit a while as they deliver Meals on Wheels to shut-ins. In these days of economic crisis, there are increased requests for financial assistance by individuals who are not able to meet their obligations.

In the name of Jesus Christ, our churches again and again reach out to those who are hurting and struggling. The obstacles that people confront are as numerous as the people. The list of ways to serve is limited only by our own imaginations and the nudging of God s Spirit.

I commend for your study and reflection the Call to Action that is found in the Vital Congregations Planning Guide. I hope you will read it, discuss it and, where appropriate, use it for the glory of God and the benefit of all.

My prayer continues to be that we all will find new and creative ways to fulfill that to which God calls us.

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