An Interview with Bishop Gary Mueller

Our sister site, The MethoBlog, has been reporting from the Youth 2015 event which is going on this week in Orlando, FL. One of the participants in the event is Bishop Gary Mueller, the leader of Arkansas Episcopal Area, who sat down with us for a short interview about the importance of events like Youth 2015, and his expectations for next year’s General Conference. 

Bishop Gary Mueller of the Arkansas Episcopal Area talks with Alisi Vuetibau at Youth 2015, going on this week in Orlando, FL

Bishop Gary Mueller of the Arkansas Episcopal Area talks with Alisi Vuetibau at Youth 2015, going on this week in Orlando, FL

UMR: Why are you here at Youth 2015?

MUELLER: There are a couple of reasons. In Arkansas we have a significant conference wide ministry with young people and I just try to show up and be present with our youth and spend time with them in a relaxed setting because I think it’s important for both them to get to know the bishop. It’s also very important for me as a means of personal renewal. At Veritas, an event in Arkansas where we will have 1,500 to 1,800 youth in attendance, they were talking about the Youth 2015 event and how we were going to bring a whole bunch of kids and I thought I needed to come for a couple of days to spend time on their turf in their ways. So I came to just be with them, talking and doing stuff with them . . . and a lot of that now has been broken down into taking selfies with them.

The other thing is that I have been incredibly renewed through worship and the speakers. I find that when I am with youth at this kind of event I am a part of the church in a very special way. My coming is to be present to them, but also for them to mentor me and help me learn how we can relate to a generation that we’re not doing very well at relating to.

UMR: What do you think you are learning from the youth here, both personally and spiritually?

MUELLER: There is a joy around their worship. It’s very passionate, with no pretense. There is a real desire to meld together loving God and loving others, and how loving God calls you to go love others, and how loving others causes you to grow in your relationship with God which leads to a deepening cycle of living as a disciple of Jesus Christ.

UMR: What can the Youth 2015 group do in terms of helping the United Methodist Church think about its future?

MUELLER: One of the advantages of having big events like this rooted in the United Methodist Church is that kids that live outside the UMC wonder if there is much reason to be a part of our church, and when they come to a place like this where their is a consistently excellent experience . . . a spiritually challenging experience . . . an uplifting experience . . . they begin to get a sense that we can be a church that impacts the future, and so part of what I think happens is that our youth can know they are not alone. Being caught up in something this big sends them open with excitement and energy and makes a real difference for them.

They come and they are introduced to some faith growth ideas, what it means to be disciples and theological grounding, that deepens their appreciation of what it means to be a Christian in the United Methodist and Wesleyan tradition.

UMR: What’s been your favorite moment so far?

MUELLER: Most of them have been favorite moments, but the worship times have been very special, especially singing and praying. The speakers and preachers have been excellent. Of course, my favorite thing is the time I’ve gotten to spend getting to know new people, getting to spend time with Arkansas youth and their leaders who are here, and just connecting and being real in a relaxed place.

UMR: Would the Council of Bishops benefit from coming to this event?

MUELLER: Absolutely!

UMR: Changing gears a bit, we are moving into a General Conference year. There was a lot of cynicism coming out of the 2012 General Conference in Tampa, with the feeling that not a lot was accomplished, and even questioning about whether the General Conference is a viable institution. What are your hopes for General Conference and where do you think we are as a church in dealing with our challenges?

MUELLER: As I think about General Conference, I think that observing the three general rules of the church would be wonderful — let no harm be done, that good be done, and that we do attend upon the means of grace and experience through worship and prayer and holy conversation, leading us to a renewed sense of who we are.

I think that part of the dynamic that goes on is that it’s not just what General Conference is doing, there is also the dynamic of how the Judicial Council relates to that. I guess that one of my hopes and dreams that we have a General Conference where there is appropriate, vigorous, and rich conversation about significant issues. There can be disagreements, but even then we talk with the spirit that actually manifests the fact that we are part of the body of Christ. We have great opportunity to live out the fact that we ARE the body of Christ. We don’t get to tell others that they aren’t part of the body, or suggest that we are going to leave the body. It is incumbent on us to embrace the reality of our place in the body through the power of God’s Spirit. How we do what we do is a really critical piece.

I hope that there is serious prayer going into this General Conference, and a lot of humility, and an openness so that when God surprises us we embrace it.

I think for me the most important outcome would not be in dealing with a specific piece of legislation or even a cluster of pieces. It would be that we gain we gain some sense that we have more ability to be nimble, and to be able to respond to the Spirit’s moving so that we can truly spend our time and energy engaging the mission field and making disciples who make disciples.

UMR: Is that about restructuring?

MUELLER: There is always the work of clarity about your trajectory and how you align things with that. I think that sometimes we focus on alignment issues as if they will do everything, and so that becomes the end. When you have clarity of whose you are and who you are and what you are doing and it’s about making disciples who make disciples, who are equipped for the transformation of the world, then there is a need to talk about alignment around finances, structure, and a whole number of things, but those are to enable us to do the other.

UMR: We are hearing reports that a number of Annual Conference have experience changes in the makeup of their delegations, with a number of “old hands” not being elected, and more younger clergy in attendance. What are your thoughts about these changes and their affect on the General Conference?

MUELLER: I think it’s first and foremost very hopeful. I think there are a number of people who will need to get on-board pretty quickly and learn the realities of how that system works. I would be my prayer that those who have served previously would spend time with the new people and help them understand that basically General Conference is a legislative body with a legislative process, and understand how you work with that . . . that you pick and choose what issues you are going to work on and you help people understand how you pull that off.

UMR: Any suggestions for new delegates?

MUELLER: I would spend time praying. I would be familiar with the material. Learn how General Conference really works. I would urge them to work on a particular issue about which they are passionate and then go deep and work hard to bring about some change.

UMR: And bring comfortable shoes!

MUELLER: Yes, bring comfortable shoes, and a pillow to sit on!

 

Jay Voorhees, Former Executive Editor

The Rev. Jay Voorhees is the Executive Editor of The United Methodist Reporter and the Chief Creative Officer for CircuitWriter Media LLC which operates this site and MethoBlog.com. Jay is an ordained elder in the Tennessee Annual Conference. Jay has written on life and the practice of faith in The United Methodist Church at Only Wonder Understands since 2003.

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