Stephanie Griffin Gives Final Lay Leader Address
Celebrating the active role laity have played in recent years, Stephanie Griffin challenges leaders to stay the course on behalf of the next generation of Christ followers.
“Today is a celebration of a successful season of planting and harvesting in the Texas Annual Conference,” Lay Leader Stephanie Griffin shared with conference attendees. “Over the last four years, we have planted many seeds and harvested some amazing fruit that have yielded new seeds for the next generation of planters.”
Referencing James 5:7-8 she encouraged leaders to wait patiently for the Master’s arrival. You see farmers do this all the time, waiting for their valuable crops to mature, patiently letting the rain do its slow but sure work. Be patient like that. Stay steady and strong. The Master could arrive at any time.
Stephanie reminded delegates that the Texas Annual Conference is strategic in discerning where to plant seeds.
She believes the first field is the field of fruitful, missional, congregations. “We have planted seeds from the Vibrant Church Initiative and they have evolved into many hybrids that have been cultivated for each individual congregation and mission field,” shares Stephanie. “Today, laity are more aware of the harvest that lies outside the walls of the local church and are seeking to become better at recognizing our neighbor and reaching out in love to share the gospel. More and more congregations are participating in processes that help them evaluate their strengths and weaknesses so that they can make disciples for Jesus Christ to transform the world.”
She celebrated the vibrant churches across the conference that are filled with followers of Christ who are making a loving difference in their schools, community, and the world. Adds Stephanie, “As laity, we are planting seeds of love by investing in our local schools. Over the last 4 years, we have grown our presence in our community schools by reading programs, summer feeding programs, backpack programs and programs that provide mentors for children. We are known for our mission to invest in children.”
With gratitude, she reminded attendees that the laity of the Texas Annual Conference have generously responded to floods and tornados in our own Annual Conference boundaries, to water missions in Haiti, No More Malaria across Africa and to the refugee crises around the world. “Vibrant Churches reflect the love of Christ outside their walls. And even now new seeds of opportunity are being readied for planting as we seek to build relationships with all those who we reach out to help. A partnership of doing with... not for, a community of gift sharing and faith forming is coming our way from the Center for Missional Excellence.”
Additionally, conference laity are involved in planting in the field of New Church Starts. “We know that a new plant is tender and needs to be nurtured and given an extra amount of attention to become fruitful. There are congregations who are and have been the mother that gave a new church the healthy DNA to be a vibrant outreach of Christ in the community,” she adds.
The Texas Annual Conference is planting seeds to form lay and clergy leaders that can meet the needs of the mission field in the changing environment of the 21st century and beyond. Notes Stephanie, “Different areas of the conference face different challenges. There are areas where there is a need for Certified Lay Ministers to provide for congregations. The director of Lay Servant Ministries, Anna Rhode, and the center for Congregational Excellence have put in place a uniform path of course work and mentorship for laity who are called to serve in this capacity.” Adds Stephanie, “We are developing workers to plant seeds and harvest the fruit. In the metropolitan areas of the conference we have the challenge of being the church to multi-cultural, multi-language populations. It will require us to be open to change.” Her challenge: new, innovative, and risk taking, ventures have always been the catalyst for growth in discipleship.
She was proud to summarize that the Texas Annual Conference has, under the leadership and passion of Bishop Janice Riggle Huie, recognized the vital importance of Investing in the Young. Shares Stephanie, “The Emerging Leader Endowment is the perfect way for all of us to invest in the future leaders of the United Methodist Church. It will provide a permanent opportunity for us to identify and recruit young, gifted, diverse people, to develop their ability to serve as transforming leaders, and to equip them with practices and tools that will sustain them over a lifetime of ministry. As laity, we can plant into this field by giving generously to this endowment.”
Leading by Example
She shared an ideal example in John Chapman. “You might know him better as Johnny Appleseed, a man who became a folk legend,” she says. John traveled through Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Illinois planting trees from the sack of apple seeds that came from his home orchard. “But one of the most interesting facts is that Johnny did not grow apple trees in the conventional way of his time,” she shares. “You see, that way was to graft a cutting to a young sapling. When the graft would take the sapling would always become the exact tree of the graft. Johnny’s apples were sour apples used mostly for the making of hard cider and not fit for eating.”
During Prohibition most of the apple orchards grown by Chapman were destroyed but not all of them and his penchant toward propagation by seed lent itself to creating varieties of hardy American apples like the red delicious and the golden delicious that are better fitted for eating or pie making.
Had Chapman and the settlers opted for grafting, she explained, the uniformity of the apples from a grafted tree would have produced a staid and relatively boring harvest. "It was the seeds, and the cider, that gave the apple growers the opportunity to discover by trial and error the precise combination of traits required to prosper in the New World. And so brothers and sisters as we go forward into this next quadrennial, I challenge you to plant seeds that we might discover the precise combination of traits required for the United Methodist Church in the Texas Annual Conference to continue our legacy of leadership and produce fruit that will be transforming in the New World.”
In conclusion, Stephanie added her thanks for the opportunity to serve as Conference Lay Leader these past four years. “Serving has been my joy and blessing. I look forward to joining each of you as we continue to move forward trusting God and being obedient to the great commission. God Bless each of you as you serve Him.”