Love was the primary theme of Bishop Cynthia Harvey’s Episcopal Address during the 2023 Annual Conference. The speech was inspired by Mark 12:28-31, where Jesus identifies the most important commandments: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength” and “love your neighbor as yourself.”

“You’ve heard it over and over again. It’s all about love. All you need is love,” Bishop Harvey began.

The Annual Conference represents a gathering of people commanded to love, she explained, and that spirit is palpable. In fact, the event this year has been dedicated to revival and renewal.

 “Could you feel the love in this place as you walked in?” she asked. “As you settled into your seat, could you take in the breadth of the love that is in this place?”

Harvey acknowledged that much has changed since the last Annual Conference – and lamented the difficulties of the past year.

In the midst of heartbreak, Bishop Harvey still finds hope. She pointed to a number of new faith communities that have formed in the past year. And, she expressed her gratitude for those who lost their church homes and yet turned around to organize a safe and welcoming space for other United Methodists.

“Your unwavering commitment to being the church and exemplifying love for your neighbors fills my heart with deep gratitude,” Harvey said. “This is sacred hospitality that has and continues to make a tangible difference in the lives of those in the Texas Conference. You are being the church.”

The new faith communities, the Bishop explained, are examples of “sacred surprises of the Spirit.” She said this type of surprise carries “the profound assurance of divine guidance and love.”

Harvey explained that sacred surprises often arrive in liminal spaces, or periods of transitions. The UMC is in the midst of such a change, she said.

“We are at a critical juncture,” Harvey continued. “We are in the process of leaving one room but not having quite entered another.”

She explained that transitions are often messy – but that they also show resilience. “There are new frontiers ahead,” she said. “This is where transformation happens. As uncomfortable as it is, this is the place that propels us . . . The landscape is very different and will be even more different as we continue to take the next faithful step.”

As the Texas Annual Conference (TAC) moves towards the future, Harvey said the first step needs to be deep listening to one another. “It’s okay to not have all the answers, to not have it all figured out,” she said. “And it is even okay to admit that we could be wrong.  We don’t have to pretend to have our stuff together. We are all broken, we are all people in search of something bigger than us.”

Harvey called for members of the TAC to revive their identity and renew their connection. She asked the delegates to welcome all with a love that means everyone – that is truly inclusive and welcoming.

“What about a love that leads us into a more loving and kinder future – a future where we do less harm to one another – a future where we do less harm to our witness for the kingdom of God?” she asked. “We are at a place where we can revive the church through relationship, through connection, one to the other.”

While the TAC is now smaller, Harvey said, “our vision is big. Our reliance on the movement of the spirit is huge and our love for one another, greater than ever.”

She believes the Conference now has the opportunity to write a new story, one filled with hope, promise and possibility.

“There are people and places all around us that need to know the love of Jesus,” she said. “Let us not squander this opportunity.”

Harvey asked members of the TAC to act as examples of what it means to be United Methodists. “People are watching us,” she said. “They are watching to see how we recover, how we treat each other, how we encourage one another, how we love each other, how we love our neighbor.”

She challenged the TAC to continue its commitment to mission and to ensure children are fed, safe and educated. She added, “Let’s care for those suffering from mental illness, addiction, homelessness, a broken immigration system and make sure they find help in our United Methodist Churches.”

Harvey called for continued disaster relief and renewed commitment to social justice, fighting racism and supporting climate justice.

“Let’s give people something to really talk about,” she said. “With grit, determination, love and the guidance of the Holy Spirit, let’s outdo one another in uniting this Conference and the UMC and our work for justice and full inclusion.”

Love can conquer fear and hate, Harvey said. “All things are possible through God who gives us strength, courage, boldness, vision – all the things we need when we need it most,” she said.

Harvey prayed for a renewed presence of the Holy Spirit in the TAC – for courage, understanding and harmony. 

“I pray that the Spirit of God in this place permeates every fiber of our being – and of our being together,” she said. “I pray that Spirit helps us reclaim our connection, our identity, our love for one another and for the world.”

With love at the helm, all is possible, Harvey continued. “Let’s square our shoulders to a future filled with possibility, a future that has already been laid out for us – a future rooted in our revived, love-filled spirit as God’s people,” she said.