2020: a look back with Bishop Bryan


By Kara Witherow, Editor

2020 usually refers to vision, clarity, and focus.

We have unquestionably not had those things this year.

But while 2020 hasn’t brought what was expected, it has created opportunities to grow, learn, and see God in fresh, new ways, said Bishop R. Lawson Bryan.

As he reflected on a year marked by a global pandemic, racial unrest, economic woes, and more, Bishop Bryan said the word that comes to mind is “endurance.”

“I’ve seen endurance on superhuman levels, a divine level,” he said. “I have seen people who simply have endured whatever came about. They did it and kept doing ministry.”

This kind of endurance looks a lot like what is seen in the New Testament, Bishop Bryan said, and despite the darkness of this year, that’s where he’s seen God at work: in the endurance of the people.

“How do you explain this kind of endurance on the part of people who simply don’t give up in the face of adversity? It looks like what you see in the New Testament: People who are persecuted and beaten down but kept on going by the power of God. That’s where I have seen God at work.”

Even though the COVID-19 pandemic was completely unexpected and unplanned, Bishop Bryan has seen pastors and laity rise to the occasion, serving and ministering despite the uncertainty and unknowns.

“In every single part of life there has been upheaval, and we just had to start adapting,” he said. “It’s been a terrible crisis. But our people went to work. They found a way to do ministry. They were determined to do ministry. In these darkest of times, I’ve seen pastors and lay leaders ask the question, ‘What can we do?’ They’re doing ministry, with children, with youth, with adults, and in the community. That’s really where I’ve seen God at work.”

In the midst of the global pandemic, the country has also grappled with racial equality and social justice issues. In South Georgia, Ahmaud Arbery was shot and killed while jogging and Julian Lewis was shot and killed in Screven County.

These are important matters for South Georgia United Methodists to address, Bishop Bryan said.

“I want to encourage us to note how we responded initially and the resources we have for an ongoing response,” he said, stating that 12 Brunswick-area pastors signed a statement he wrote condemning the acts of racism and violence.

He made mention of the Conference’s two task forces – the Multiculturalism Task Force and the Undocumented Neighbors Task Force – that help South Georgia United Methodists become healthier around the issues of racism, immigration, and inclusiveness.

“These are messages made by South Georgia people speaking to South Georgia people,” Bishop Bryan said. “We have the capacity to address, through the people of color in our own conference, what needs to be said and done to come to a healthier place in our communities and society. I invite us to lean into this.”

While people may be more aware of racial issues today than they have in the past, those in the Church are not surprised by them, Bishop Bryan said, referencing 1 Peter 1:18, in which Peter said all can be ransomed from the futile ways of their ancestors.

“Not everything that gets passed on in society is wonderful. Racism is one of them, and it gets passed around from generation to generation,” he said. “If we aren’t aware of it, we can unwittingly feed it and fuel it. But we can be ransomed from it. The Bible teaches that. How does that come about? Through Jesus Christ.”

He encourages South Georgia United Methodists to personalize the fight against racism.

“We need to live out of the scriptures,” he said. “Here in South Georgia we have African Americans, Hispanics, and Koreans in our churches. Why not multiply the number of personal relationships we each have with one another so that we can have the conversations we need to be having?”

In the midst of all that 2020 has brought, Bishop Bryan has noticed South Georgia clergy and laity using their time differently. They’ve told him they’re spending more time studying scripture, meditating on it, praying, and journaling.

“They’re putting down deeper roots spiritually; they are growing spiritual muscles in the midst of this difficult time,” he said. “I don’t want that to change once we’re all vaccinated. Let’s keep using that Bible study time, that prayer time, to let God speak into our lives what we need to hear.”

He also noted that people were using and tapping into the connectional system more than ever before and connecting to one another even though they couldn’t gather as usual.

Perhaps, despite the chaos and confusion of the year, 2020 has, in fact, brought vision and focus.

“More than ever, what I’ve seen us becoming aware of is the mission of Jesus Christ really matters,” Bishop Bryan said.

What the world is wrestling with – hopelessness and alienation, racial disharmony, and the need for growth, development, and healing – is what people of faith are equipped to do, he said.

 “Let’s not stand around wondering when someone is going to do something. We can’t ask people to do what God has uniquely equipped us to do.

“This is our moment. If we live out of the scriptures and out of our biblical and connectional system’s resources we are well equipped to lead the conversation in this day and time.”

Want more of this conversation with Bishop Bryan? Click here to watch a short video Q&A where Bishop Bryan answers the question, “It’s the Christmas season. What do you say to people who - even in the midst of so much cheer - find it hard to have joy?”