Working at the welcome booth at the airport for General Conference, I was not expecting to encounter a blessing.
All the women bishops had arrived days earlier for a conference in Hood River, so when two bishops, Bishop Peggy Johnson from the Philadelphia area, and Retired Bishop Violet Fisher arrived at our booth at 8 am, we were surprised. They weren’t on our manifest of arriving passengers!
But there they were at the booth, laughing, chatting, having arrived at PDX in order to meet Bishop Peggy’s husband Mike when he arrived and then head into Portland together.
Leaning on the desk, Bishop Peggy having told me a bit about their experience in Hood River, and said how much she loves to preach, saying:
“I preach in a different church every Sunday. I have 800 churches in the conference.”
Can you imagine doing that?
Then she said to me, “You know, I have sermons ready, do you know anyplace I could preach while I am here?”
I did. “How about Westside?” I asked.
“Could I?” She inquired.
“Absolutely,” I said!
It was that simple, and “The Bishops were Coming!” Turned out both she and Bishop Violet came on Sunday! Then Sunday, May 15th, Bishop Peggy will be preaching for Karen at Canby UMC, and Bishop Vi at Lake Oswego.
She asked me about the church. I told our story, how we are church plant, how I had followed the founding pastor, and she said,
“Oh my, there is nothing quite that difficult!” I agreed with that!
And as suddenly as our conversation had begun, we were deeply sharing life. I told her about an especially tough experience that I had had that week, which she received and heard, and she told me stories of her life as well. We connected. And then we discovered we were graduates of the same seminary, just 8 years apart from one another. It was like a family reunion.
Someone after church on Sunday said, “I think you were twins separated at birth.”
Joy and love exude from Bishop Peggy. She connected with our congregation preaching about the Body of Christ — about not excluding others and not excluding ourselves. Having pastored a deaf congregation for 20 years, Bishop Peggy knows all about what it is like to be part of the excluded minority. She is passionate for those who cannot make their voice heard. Imagine a deaf person needing counseling to recover from hurts of the past but unable to receive it for there are so few counselors who speak sign language who can counsel them. And to use an interpreter breaks the connection of the counselor with the person.
She is a promoter of ministry that reaches out to those needing inclusion. At her deaf congregation they had what they joyfully called “Deaf Row.” This was a ministry to those, who like Helen Keller, were both deaf and blind. A deaf person adopted someone both deaf and blind and would sit beside them on this row and sign to them throughout the service so they would “see” through signing.
But equally is the need for us to not exclude ourselves from our place in God’s body – “those weakest are most vital,” Paul wrote. And we have a tendency to exclude ourselves for we don’t measure up, fit in, are failures, are ugly, tall, short, fat, skinny, stupid, smart, etc. There are all kinds of reasons we exclude ourselves from our place in Christ’s Body. Story after story illustrated the need to include ourselves.
God is the great mender of hearts and there were many hearts touched by His Spirit on Sunday, mine included.
I know that many were impacted. God is like that. He uses simple encounters, just brief moments, to send a ripple across the pond of life to change lives. He certainly changed mine. And God reminded me of this – that as we walk on the Way of this life our lives are on course to impact other people’s lives. Perhaps today there are brief moments that will bring change to you and others, you could not expect.
May we not exclude ourselves from what God wants to do through us, and not exclude others, either. Thanks Bishop Peggy!