Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Our Mission Together: Remembering Bob and Next Steps

The following is the text of the speech I gave before the open discussion at the Bob Memorial Breakfast at The UMC's Indiana Annual Conference: June 7, 2018.

On behalf of all of team FPM and my family, I thank you for coming this morning. Rev. Glen Robyne contacted me right after Our Life Together in February saying that he and a group of clergy colleagues had hatched the idea of a Biking Bob memorial breakfast during Annual Conference as a chance to gather together and talk about what’s next for the movement. Long story short, here we are—a beautiful sight indeed—and I’ve been asked both as Bob’s daughter and as the president of Friendly Planet Missiology to share some wisdom he taught me and to talk about ways we all can apply Friendly Planet’s missiology here in Indiana.

My father loved strategy games and logic puzzles—Solitaire, Spider, Mine Sweeper. He was unbeatable at Euchre and Risk due to his ability to see past the surface and understand the underlying system and mathematical probabilities at play.  He even insisted that mastering Monopoly would somehow make me a wiser person. I suspect he could had been successful as a professional gambler, although casinos would have quickly branded him a card counter, which frankly, he was.

Dad truly was a gambler.  He took a gamble on underdogs and congregations in crisis.  He took a gamble on working with The United Methodist Church and church leaders in Congo. He bet on the long game, knowing that he may die before the payout came.  

Dad taught me that some truths are universal, and some are not—and that which is which is often counterintuitive. Everywhere he traveled he saw that people yearn for acceptance, validation, appreciation—the assurance that they aren’t alone. He taught me that while shared interests and values are factors in building friendships, when it comes down to it, people like people who like them. That was perhaps the true secret behind his miraculous ability to bring diverse groups of people together and to form alliances across political and cultural divides. Dad looked for the good in people and found it in surprising places. He believed that if colleagues in Congo could build peace by making pastoral visits to notorious warlords, then folks in the Indiana Conference could take a page out of that playbook and be boldly prophetic as well. 

Dad will be remembered for many things; stories of his bicycle journeys to visit the pastors and lay leaders of remote seemingly-forgotten congregations in Katanga have already become the stuff of legend. But what few realize is that what he did in Congo, he was doing in Indiana too. He quietly rode all over the Indiana Conference—meeting clergy one by one in local lunch spots.  He listened to their laments and coached them through their discernment process. He was a pastor for pastors.  

When the Friendly Planet board started talked about next steps in this post-Biking Bob reality, we talked about a number of priorities:  1) The continuing relationship with our North Katanga and Tanganyika Conference colleagues and supporting their initiatives—from women’s empowerment centers to church and school construction to university scholarships to, of course, bicycles.  2)  The mission to teach individuals and congregations healthier mission models—through books, blogs and educational gatherings in addition to modeling our missiology in Indiana, Congo and wherever else the Spirit leads us.  3) Implementing our mission model in concrete ways here in Indiana.

Out of this was born the vision of the Indiana Circuit Riders, who take their inaugural ride this morning. In a nod to the circuit riding Methodist preachers of the past, these circuit riders are committed to the sacred task of itineration. The formula is straightforward:  Pick a church leader who you suspect could use a boost, ride out as a team to visit her or him, and then, in Methodist fashion, eat a meal together while swapping stories and giving words of empathy and encouragement. You don’t even have to be a cyclist to join—just show up at the chosen restaurant, church or picnic spot or volunteer to pick-up any riders who tucker out mid-way.  It may seem like a small thing, but let me tell you—to that pastor who was wondering if anyone even noticed or cared about the sacrifice they were making, it is huge, and the ripple effects are even larger.

You want to know how to be a disciple of Christ who participates in the transformation of the world?  Start locally. Start by looking around your town, your district, your conference, or your denomination (the world keeps getting smaller) and taking notice of the other folks working in the trenches of ministry—be it leading a congregation, running an abuse shelter, working on prison reform initiatives, teaching in an underfunded school, or any other vocation that can drag you down and leave you feeling that society does not have your back.  Identify a few of those people, call them up and say “I really appreciate the work you are doing, and I would like to be your friend. I promise I’m in this relationship for the longhaul. What can I do to ease your burden?” Who wouldn’t love to receive a call like that?

Sisters and brothers in Christ.  The core missiology of Friendly Planet Missiology really is that simple—and that tough.  Be a true and loyal friend to your neighbors. And if you want to know who your neighbor is, I defer to what Jesus had to say on that subject.
Inaugural ride of the Indiana Circuit Riders

Rev. Glen Robyne, FPM's new Cyclist in Residence for the Indiana Conference

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