By Lindsay Peyton
A Future With Hope: Confidence in Times of Uncertainty
Bishop Scott Jones’s Episcopal Address at this year’s Annual Conference was a call to action. He implored members to find hope – even when times seem hard. He challenged all to explore possibility in what may seem like despair, and he instructed everyone to remember their calling as disciples of Jesus Christ.
“Remember your baptism and be thankful,” he said.
Jones gave an example of his own struggles with despair and search for faith after the passing of 38-year old United Methodist pastor, the Rev. Alan Zugelter, who came from Missouri to MD Anderson for an experimental protocol for Leukemia.
The pastor and his wife Ashley stayed at Jones’ home during treatment. “While he was a guest at our house, Mary Lou and I fell in love with him and Ashley,” Jones said. “They became our friends.”
Still, Zugelter’s health deteriorated. “As the month went on, he got weaker and weaker,” Jones said. “Despite my fervent prayers, my friend died.”
At Zugelter’s funeral, the pastor quoted the liturgy: “Jesus said, I am the resurrection and I am life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, yet shall they live, and whoever lives and believes in me shall never die.”
“How does one cope what this kind of disappointment?” Jones asked. “If God is love, he ought to answer my prayers the way I wanted.”
The bishop explained that Christianity could seem “counter factual.” He said the Bible encourages confidence in the face of uncertainty. “When there’s darkness, we talk about light,” he said. “When there’s hurt, we talk about forgiveness. When there is sin, we talk about pardon.”
Jones said the tradition of finding hope can be traced back to the Old Testament and quoted from Jeremiah 29:4-14, when the Jewish people were exiled from Jerusalem to Babylon.
“Disaster had struck,” Jones said. “In the midst of disaster, Jeremiah comes with the word of God.”
Even though the Jews were turned away from their temple and their homes, Jeremiah told them that the Lord said to seek solace in the city where they were strangers, adding “For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.”
Jones said that there are days when he feels that the UMC is in exile, that it is not the same church. “It’s been a hard year,” he added. “General Conference was not a pleasant experience for me. It was painful for many.” He explained that he continues to listen to both sides of the argument.
“Our church welcomes lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered, queer, intersex and asexual people as members, and we teach that they are persons of sacred worth who should be accepted and included,” he said. “But for many that is not sufficient inclusion and they want to be part of a church that performs same-gender marriages and ordains otherwise qualified LGBTQIA+ persons.”
Jones said that none of the current solutions speak to him. “My heart is breaking,” he said.
A quote from the “Lord of the Rings” keeps running through his mind, he added:
“One does not get to choose the times in which one lives. One only chooses what to do with the times one is given.”
Similarly, the Stockdale Paradox, named for admiral Jim Stockdale, states, “You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end—which you can never afford to lose—with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.”
Jones explained that Christians have to be focused on God’s plan to redeem the world and save it, to trust God and adapt to the situation. “You’ve got to focus on God and not look back on what you lost,” he said.
Jones asked all to look at the big picture, the God’s-eye view and to continue the mission of spreading the transformative love of God. To accomplish that work, coming together is a necessity.
“We are stronger together than we can possibly be apart,” he said.
In the upcoming year, he said the Texas Annual Conference will work to strengthen its clergy and lay leaders and to uplift its African American and Latino churches. In addition, continuing the programs for “We Love All of God’s Children,” will build up the youngest disciples.
In closing, Jones related one more story of hope — Bonnie Jones Shinneman’s call to be a missionary.
“I’m talking about my mama,” he said.
When Jones’ father died at the age of 52, his mother dove head-first into ministry work, Jones explained. She spent time in Bolivia, increasing opportunities for healthcare and education.
“My mother cared deeply about mission; she cared deeply about people in need,” Jones said. “She decided to go forward and find out how God was going to use her.”
He asked conference attendees to do the same – to focus on the work of spreading God’s message. “I want to remind you that God has promised to give you a future of hope,” he said.