Online retreat helps Kentucky, Red Bird, North Carolina representatives plan for bishop-sharing

September 02, 2021
By Alan Wild
About 20 representatives from three conferences met via Zoom this week to collaborate and dream about the possibilities of collaborating on ministry during the 18 months that Bishop Leonard Fairley will be serving as Interim Bishop in North Carolina in addition to his normal duties in Kentucky.

The leaders from the Kentucky, Red Bird and North Carolina Conferences met online Monday and Tuesday, Aug. 30-31, for meetings that was partly designed to figure out logistics, but were designed to be more retreat and relationship-building time together, said Rev. Tami Coleman, Kentucky’s Annual Conference Secretary and one of the facilitators.

The participants came away feeling good about their time together.

“After spending two days with many of the Conference staff from North Carolina and Red Bird, I’m excited about the opportunities for collaboration and mutual support as we share Bishop Fairley in this season,” said Rev. Kevin Burney, Kentucky’s Assistant to the Bishop and Director of Ministerial Services.

“I’m convinced that the churches of Kentucky and North Carolina will not only survive but will have opportunities to thrive during this time in which we will share Bishop Fairley,” Burney added.

The strategizing and logistics-planning have been in the works since it was announced that Fairley would have expanded duties until early 2023 because of four vacancies in the Southeastern Jurisdiction of the United Methodist Church created by retiring bishops. One of the retirees was Bishop Hope Morgan Ward of North Carolina. The retirements were effective Sept. 1.

This week’s retreat originally had been planned to take place at the Conference Center in Crestwood. But when COVID-19 cases surged late in the summer, planners shifted first to having each delegation gather and meet with the others via Zoom. Then late last week, planners made the decision to have everyone meet individually on Zoom, Coleman said.

“I was so thankful for all our colleagues who collaborated so well. I know we’re all Zoom-fatigued,” said Coleman, who served as facilitator of the retreat along with Rev. Beth Hood, North Carolina’s Assistant to the Bishop.

Those who participated were the directors of communications, Connectional Ministries, Ministerial Services, bishops’ assistants and administrators, Annual Conference secretaries, and Conference lay leaders.

Both days began with worship, led by Fairley and focusing on Genesis 28, the story of Jacob and his encounter with God. Hood said that even though God was present, Jacob almost missed him and “we were challenged to look for God even in uncertain and unfamiliar places. We were reminded that there is no wasted season. God does God's best work in the chaos.”

The second day’s worship time focused on Psalm 139, Hood said: “We were encouraged to trust the God who has searched us and knows us. Wherever we go, God got there first.”

Participants met together, with their counterparts, and also as a delegation to figure out what collaboration looks like during this season, Coleman said. Some specifics were addressed, such as how the bishop’s calendar will be handled, but it was more about forging relationships and dreaming about possibilities, Coleman said.

In Kentucky, many of Fairley’s typical duties will be handled by Burney. Other duties will be temporarily absorbed by Revs. William Moore, Director of Connectional Ministries; David Garvin, Director of Administrative Services; and Coleman, as well as other Conference staff. While in North Carolina, Fairley also will be accessible as needed via Zoom and other communications methods.

The plan is for Fairley to spend a month at a time in each location. He and his wife, Dawn, arrived in North Carolina on Wednesday. Fairley is a North Carolina native and came to Kentucky from there in 2016.

“I left the gathering confident that blessings will come in this new season of sharing episcopal leadership,” Hood said. “Our commitment to collaborate, communicate, and celebrate the goodness of God will surely lead to ministry that exceeds what we could ask for or imagine.”