Bishop Matthews proclaims grace at installation service

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

BY MELISSA LAUBER
UMCONNECTION STAFF

Surrounded by history, pageantry, symbols of the faith and the prayers of countless United Methodists, Bishop Marcus Matthews was installed as the episcopal leader of the Baltimore-Washington Conference in a worship service Sept. 22 at Metropolitan Memorial UMC, the national church of United Methodism, located in Washington, D.C.

As the 22nd resident bishop to serve the Methodist church in this region, Matthews stands in direct line to Methodism’s first bishop, Francis Asbury, who was consecrated in 1784.

To the crowd of more than 500, Matthews preached a homily titled “It is Grace.” His remarks told the story of how a variety of events in his life conspired to send him to serve in Washington, D.C., a city that first captured his imagination when he was a sixth-grader, fascinated by the monuments on a school field trip to march in the cherry blossom parade.

His sermon traced the presence of grace as it acted and interacted with events throughout his life that brought him from a boy in Florence, S.C., to become a pastor in the Baltimore-Washington Conference, and go on to be consecrated as a bishop and later return to lead the 177,000 members of the 641 United Methodist churches in Maryland, Washington, the Eastern Panhandle of West Virginia and Bermuda.

“It is always the grace of God that precedes us,” the bishop said. “Grace justifies us and washes away our sins and imperfections. It sustains us for as long as we remain on the path God has placed us.”

As he assumes leadership of the conference, Matthews stressed that he will be seeking the input of United Methodists from throughout the region to create a compelling vision. “It’s not so much what I want for you and this Baltimore-Washington Conference,” he said. “But it’s about seeking collectively what God wants and what God would have us do on this journey together.”

Toward this end, shortly after his installation, Matthews launched a listening tour throughout the conference encouraging United Methodist laity and clergy to candidly share their thoughts, concerns and hopes.

However, there is one thing that he would encourage every individual and church in the conference to do immediately. “It’s really very simple,” he said, “remember to keep Christ first in all that we do.”

At his installation service, Matthews paid tribute to Eunice Mathews, the wife of the late Bishop James K. Mathews, the bishop who ordained him and consecrated him when he became a bishop in 2004.

Mrs. Mathews is the granddaughter of the late Rev. E. Stanley Jones, a Methodist missionary and theologian who was born in Baltimore and served in India. In writing his spiritual autobiography, Matthews said, Jones realized that his whole life story began and ended on the day he met Christ. “It was after he discovered that fact that the true story line could begin to take shape.”

“His story is instructive for the rest of us,” Matthews said. “Whenever we put Christ at the center, we will always end up at the right place.”

Several people during the worship experience agreed with Matthews and praised him as a Christ-centered leader.

Jim Winkler, the general secretary of the Board of Church and Society for the denomination, praised Matthews for his commitment to faith and justice and invited him to continue to pursue opportunities to “get in trouble for the sake of the Gospel.” The Rev. David McCallister Wilson, president of Wesley Theological Seminary, welcomed home Matthews, who is an alum of the school; and N.L. Bishop, president of Jefferson College of Health Services, shared his experiences as Matthews’ friend and prayer partner over many years.

The Rev. Willie Jolley provided music and a testimony that spoke of Matthews’ devotion to God.

Jolley shared how his father had died and his mother was having financial trouble sending her two sons to college. She appealed to Matthews, who was serving as an associate pastor at Asbury UMC in D.C., and he found a scholarship for Jolley to attend college and seminary, and which led to a unique ministry as a motivational speaker.

“I learned long ago that if you take an apple, cut it open and lay it on the table, you can count the number of seeds that came out of that apple,” Jolley said. “But you can never count the apples that will come from those seeds.” This is the kind of impact Bishop Matthews has on people, Jolley said. “He blesses people on the front end and inspires them. He changes lives.”

Throughout the service, there was a celebration of homecoming. Matthews served in the Baltimore-Washington Conference as an assistant pastor at Asbury UMC, as pastor of Jones Memorial UMC in Washington and Epworth Chapel UMC in Baltimore, as director of the conference Council on Ministries and superintendent of the Baltimore East and Washington West districts.

After being elected a bishop in 2004, he was assigned to serve the Philadelphia episcopal area and in 2008 he was assigned to the New York West Area.

His wife, Barbara, is a native of the Washington area, as are Matthews’ two children and five grandchildren.

Matthews says he is returning to the Baltimore-Washington Conference as a different man than when he left, and he’s excited about the possibilities.

“Always remember,” he said, “first to invite God into your lives through prayer and let us also always remember to keep Christ first in all that we do. Then we shall place ourselves in a position for the Holy Spirit to do something awesome through us.”