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Bishop's Column: Run the Race, Pass the Baton

Posted: October 22 2022 at 03:38 PM
Author: Bishop John L. Hopkins


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Bishop John L. Hopkins delivers his final episcopal address to the Northern Illinois Annual Conference in June 2022.

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.”   Hebrews 12:1-2 (NRSV)

Faith in Christ is something to pass on to others. It is like a baton in a relay race that we receive from someone and pass on to another runner. It is having an experience with Jesus, knowing that God has changed your life, and sharing it with someone who will carry the message forward.

When I arrived in Northern Illinois by Zoom on January 1, 2021, I was surrounded by “so great a cloud of witnesses.” The baton I received from Bishop Sally Dyck was full of heartfelt love and service. Her faith and your faith warmed my heart. I wanted to honor those who came before me in the faith and this conference. Like many of our pastors, I had to quickly learn how to shift to listening and leading online. “Lights, camera, action” replaced “can we talk for a moment.” Despite the limitations imposed by the COVID pandemic, we built trust, learned together, shared our faith, and relied on each other.

It has been an honor and a blessing to serve with you over these past two years. At first, I thought I would be your interim bishop for one year. However, like many of those who came before us, the race we run is often longer than we anticipate. Hebrews 12:1 encourages us to “run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith.” We do not run the race alone. We keep running by focusing on Jesus. Our goal is to pass God’s love in Jesus Christ on to others. 

I thank you for sustaining me in my leadership among you. Your prayers, presence, gifts, service, and witness kept my eyes upon Jesus when some members sought to divide our church to save it. My faith journey began in a Methodist Church when I was 12. I continue to keep the vows I made to Christ and his Church when I was 13. I wholeheartedly believe, “The Church is of God, and will be preserved to the end of time, for the conduct of worship and the due administration of the Word and Sacraments, the maintenance of Christian fellowship and discipline, the edification of believers, and the conversion of the world. All, of every age and station, stand in need of the means of grace which it alone supplies.” (The Book of Worship for Church and Home, UMPH, 1964, 1965)

I received the baton of spiritual leadership in the Northern Illinois Conference from Bishop Dyck, who received it from Bishop Jung, who received it from Bishop Sprague, who received it from Bishop Duecker, who received it from Bishop Dewitt. Now it is time that I pass the baton to another bishop.

This month on November 5, a new bishop will be named to follow me on January 1, 2023. That bishop will look back at me with an outstretched arm as I hand off the spiritual leadership of the Northern Illinois Conference of The United Methodist Church. Like all runners, I will take a deep breath from temporary exhaustion and smile that someone continues to pass on faith in Christ to a new generation.

Your ministry is not to applaud those running but to be in the race yourself. Praise God for the “cloud of witnesses” who have passed Christ on to you. Keep running with perseverance as a sign of your trust in Jesus. Reach out and support those who run the race with you. Most of all, honor and support your next bishop as you have supported me. I will always remember you in my prayers as you follow the leadership of a new servant of Christ.

To learn more about the Northern Illinois Conference's new bishop once announced, visit ncjumc.org

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