Bishop Gregory Palmer, the newly assigned bishop of the West Ohio Conference of the United Methodist Church, urged Toledo pastors and lay leaders to overcome the disconnect some people perceive between what Jesus taught and what churches are doing.
In his first sermon in the Toledo area since being assigned to the the conference Sept. 1, Palmer said, “It pains me that people say they love Jesus but not the church, because there ought not to be much difference.”'
Speaking Sept. 22 to members of the denomination's Maumee Watershed District, Palmer stressed that church leaders and members need to draw closer to Jesus in their daily lives so that there is no difference between the values we see in Jesus and the values we see in our churches.
In a sermon based on John 15, Palmer said to take to heart the words of Jesus in verses 4 and 5: “Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing.”
Jesus intends for us to be productive disciples, Palmer said, and that happens when we abide in God. The invitation is to be full-time Christians and to remain close to God through prayer and spiritual discipline. We need to spend more time “hanging out with Jesus,” said the bishop, and then we will see more fruit in our churches (translate “fruit” as more new people who are faithful disciples).
The new bishop has his work cut out for him as the episcopal leader of the West Ohio Conference. At their Annual Conference Session in June, 2012, membership stood at 193,258, down 6,742 from the previous year. Worship attendance was at 111,043, down 1,350 from previous year.
This downward trend has been going on for decades in all major mainline denominations and most geographical areas. (The southeastern states would be the least hit by the decline.)
Palmer, however, does not seem deterred by the numbers. He did not dwell on the negative. Rather, he chose to give a pastoral word of encouragement to the crowd that gathered to welcome their new Bishop to Northwest Ohio.
Palmer received his undergraduate degree from George Washington University in Washington, D.C. and his master’s of divinity degree from Duke Divinity School, Durham, N.C. Ordained a deacon and probationary member in the Eastern Pennsylvania Conference in 1977, Palmer was ordained an elder in full connection in the East Ohio Conference in 1981.
Palmer was elected to the episcopacy by the North Central Jurisdictional Conference in 2002, and was assigned to the Iowa Area until 2008. He was bishop of the Illinois Great Rivers Conference from 2008 until his new assignment in Ohio.
He and his wife Cynthia will live in the Worthington area, where the West Ohio Conference headquarters are located. He succeeds Bishop Bruce R. Ough, who was appointed bishop of the Minnesota Annual Conference and the Dakotas Annual Conference effective Sept. 1.