The Sacrament of the Moment

September 12, 2016

As my wife, Janet, and I transition into the Western North Carolina Conference we are overwhelmed with the gracious reception, encouragement, and hospitality expressed through visits, cards, texts, phone calls, emails, letters, and welcome gifts extending a genuine acceptance into our newly appointed conference. Thank you.  Your warm embrace has created a time in which we have been reflecting on our journey together in ministry.  I suppose every time we experience changes in our congregations we find ourselves contemplating how God’s presence has been unfolding from the first day until now. When I was elected, consecrated, and appointed to serve as a bishop within The United Methodist Church in 2008, I found myself pondering on many unique moments from the past that had brought me to this present moment.  I suspect many us can look back on past incidents and see how God’s Presence has orchestrated these events in bringing us to the present.  What is more difficult for me, is to recognize the Unseen Divine Presence that is with us now preparing us for the future. Jean Pierre de Caussade, an eighteenth century priest and author of “Abandonment to Divine Providence” wrote about “the sacrament of the moment”, reminding us of God’s presence in every moment thus allowing us to truly abandon ourselves to everything that happens to us because we truly believe that God’s providence over our lives is good.  Self-abandonment is not easy.  It requires a daily renewal of ourselves to God’s grace and love in our lives submitting everything to the Divine Presence revealed in Jesus the Word made flesh. bishop-leeland-from-scan-72-dpi I am sharing one of my favorite pictures taken at Lake Junaluska at the time of my election in 2008.  This picture represents bishops that I admire and respect who prayed with me and placed their hands on me – Bishop Charlene Kammerer and Bishop Lawrence McCleskey – both of whom served as bishops of our Western North Carolina Conference.  This picture was taken eight years ago, yet it represents a sacramental moment in which God was moving before me, I believe, preparing me for service in the same conference they served.  It is a reminder to me of the Unseen Divine Presence preparing the way for us even when we are unaware that God is with us – Emmanuel. As some of you already know, I sincerely embrace Philippians 1:3-11 as a reminder that the ministry to which we are called is a partnership in the gospel, from the first day until now.  I have reminded everyone with whom I have served that the verses reflected in Philippians captures my hope for our work and ministry together:

  • I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the Gospel
  • Having JOY from the first day until now
  • Confident that God who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion
  • It is right for me to feel this way about you all
  • I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus
  • This is my prayer – that your love may abound more and more
  • That you will be filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ.
As I have said before, and I affirm again, my obedience to God through the guidance of the Church allows me to enter into this time of change and transition with the affirmation of St. Paul, “Now I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that what has happened has really served to advance the gospel” (Philippians 1:12), and as a result we can “speak the word of God more courageously and fearlessly” (Philippians 1:14). Thank you, God, for this sacramental moment. With gratitude and expectation,

Paul L. Leeland