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2020 Laity Address

Posted: November 17 2020 at 02:13 PM
Author: Elisa Gatz, Co-Lay Leader

Text of video message:

Thank you Bishop for this time to give this laity address. Good morning Northern Illinois Conference, I am Elisa Gatz, one of your Northern Illinois Conference Co-Lay Leaders.  

As we gather in this virtual format, it is yet another reminder of how COVID-19 has changed our everyday lives, and while we are inconvenienced, we have learned new ways of doing things, some of which will stick with us post-pandemic. We have also had a chance to assess what things in our busy lives were really important to us and needed to be done, even if in a different way. Our churches are no different. The onset of the shutdown came at a rapid pace for most, without a chance for pre-planning, we had to learn to adapt on the fly.  

Many of you know I am a physics teacher.  So I am much more comfortable talking about physics to a group of people than I am talking about our work in the church, so y’all are going to get a physics lesson today.  

Isaac Newton wrote his laws of motion in the mid-1600s.  I always tell my students that it amazes me that gravity has been around since the beginning of time and we witness it daily, but it took until the mid-1600s for anyone to understand it and write it down.  Sometimes I think our beloved UMC is like that--we can witness things over and over, but it takes us much longer to act and change.  General Conference Special Session 2019 showed us that we cannot continue without acting and changing.  Let us pray that General Conference 2021 brings us our revolution that not only changes the church, but blows open the doors of possibility.

Newton had a whole host of new physics theories, but his laws of motion are what he is most known for.  Let’s take a look at his famous findings.

The first law is known as inertia. That is a shorthand version of a very long law: an object in motion tends to stay in motion in a straight line, and an object at rest tends to stay at rest unless acted by an outside force.  What is it in our lives that we keep doing because we always have?  What have we grown comfortable with and either don’t notice it or are reluctant to change it because it is, well, comfortable?  I know churches that have had the goal set for many years that they wanted to attract younger families and more diverse families, but they never seem to do anything about that between goal-setting times.  To do so might mean getting out of their comfort zone. When colors of carpet or singing favorite old hymns get more conversation time than how can we make our church more inclusive, that is church inertia.  It usually starts with something like “we’ve always done it this way” or “we already tried that''.  

Now is the time to look at things with a critical eye. The United Methodist Church is changing and we all need to change with it. How can we use our experience to make the transition smoothly?  Online worship is new for many of us…and although this is a large change, it has allowed us to dive deeper in our connections with one another and watch as a new form of ministry takes shape. We’ve learned that just the act of being in the same room with someone can put them in danger, and so we’ve learned to care for others in a new way by wearing masks and social distancing. Wouldn’t it be great if we could continue to monitor all of our actions through a filter of compassion and think of others as we go about our daily lives?  That is also inertia, or John Wesley put it, seeking to do no harm.

The second law is about forces, defined as a push or a pull. How many things have pulled us this last year? COVID-19, the economic downturn and lost jobs have changed much of our lives. The heartbreak of black and indigenous lives lost with the insult of seeing no justice or change becomes unbearable. We see record hurricane seasons year after year and devastating wildfires—our earth crying out for relief from climate change. Now is our time to act.  Being the church is not just about attending Sunday services, it is also about bringing change and opening our eyes to our role in that change.

If I am tired of seeing the protests on TV and I can avoid it by turning the TV off – that is privilege. If my child can do remote learning with our home computer, have a lunch break where they can eat a healthy meal, and have a good learning environment, that is privilege. Most of us here are privileged that we have not encountered devastating floods or burning homes, although the derecho gave us a taste of what that was like, but we are privileged to not be in the thick of the worst effects of climate change. We cannot allow our privilege to blind us to the needs of others; we need to be the force that advocates for and creates change.  Speak up, volunteer, donate and then be the force that makes the changes. John Wesley wrote that one as ‘do good’.

Newton’s third law is stated as “for every action force, there is an equal and opposite reaction force.” Everything that we do has an effect. In physics terms, if I sit on a chair, the chair has to push back up on me to support me. If I’m not sitting there, the chair has no need to push up, except to counter the weight of the air. Likewise, if I am not challenged, I have no need to change my way of thinking or doing.

This past year has been a challenge like no other that we have faced, and we have changed much of our lives. The United Methodist Church is being challenged as well, with declining membership, financial crisis, and an ongoing disagreement that has fractured us. COVID has challenged us and we have responded by worshiping online, remote communion, and Zoom Bible study. We have proven that we can be adaptable and that physical separation does not mean spiritual separation. We need to continue to be open to God’s challenges, those nudges that we can make a difference, we can do better and be better.  We are called as people of the United Methodist Church to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the Transformation of the World, not for the status quo. Then, as John Wesley put it, we are staying in love with God.

At the end of my lessons, I often give homework, and this will be no exception. Your homework is this…take some time to consider what you can do to be God’s hands and voice in your church, your community, and your world. And then turn that meditation into practice. That is our challenge and our calling.  We are in unprecedented times, let it be the time we respond in unprecedented ways.

Before I close, I have a few other things I’d like to say as well. 

Your board of laity has been diligently working on Laity Convocation. COVID cannot stop the leadership of the laity! Plan to join us virtually on February 13, 2021, to investigate church vitality on the other side of the pandemic.

Lastly, Jessie Cunningham and I will no longer be co-conference lay leaders on January 1. I think I can speak for Jessie as well in saying thank you to all of you for the past four years of conversation and learning, and for the people we’ve met that have enriched our lives.  As women of color in leadership, we challenge the conference to continue to look for ways to increase the number of women and people of color in key positions within our conference.

Thank you Bishop, and thank you Northern Illinois Conference!

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