For the last four years, our Virginia Conference of the United Methodist Church made up of over 1100 churches has been led by Bishop Young Jin Cho. Bishop Cho will be retiring later this year. As his tenure comes to an end, I have been asking myself: what was Bishop Cho’s greatest contribution to our conference? There are many events and examples I will remember and appreciate about his ministry but what stood out the most? Establishing a spiritual foundation built on prayer.
Prayer and spiritual discipline plays a critical part in the life and ministry of Bishop Cho. Over the last four years, through his leadership, a goal was set for churches to become “Prayer Covenant Congregations.” Which means to encourage individuals and churches to engage in prayer and spiritual disciplines. The Covenant starts with each of us spending one hour each day in prayer and other spiritual disciplines.
In addition, churches are invited to become “Prayer Covenant Congregations” by:
1. Having at least one group that prays each week for the renewal and revival of the congregation, the conference and The United Methodist Church.
2. Offering at least one class on prayer annually.
3. Participating in conference or district prayer training events.
4. Moving toward at least 10% of the laity practicing one-hour daily spiritual disciplines.
5. Indicating commitment to this covenant through approval by the Church Council.
The Prayer and Spiritual Disciplines Covenant provides a spiritual framework for our conference that defines our purpose and ministry. As more congregations and individuals devote themselves to prayer and spiritual discipline, we open ourselves to the movement of the Holy Spirit which will change the direction of our churches as we seek to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.
“Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4: 6-7; NLT)
One person wrote: “God has lovingly transformed my life, by making my life more peaceful, more content, I worry less, I am more compassionate, I feel more confident, my life is simpler, I am more enlightened and I have more faith in God.”
A pastor wrote: “We have an email prayer group that prays for needs as they arise. We see answers constantly. One man had a critical surgical procedure with little hope of surviving but recovered. Prayer is more than words and repetition. Prayer is wanting God’s will to be done and continually seeking to be aware of God’s will in any situation.”
Many churches hope to build on this foundation of prayer and spiritual discipline and continue our faithful devotion to the covenant and improve our spiritual disciplines as we continue to seek out the will of God.
In the future, our ongoing work is guided by the following questions:
1. How can we continue to emphasize the importance of prayer and spiritual discipline as a continuing part of our faith rather than simply following a program or a short-term commitment?
2. How can church training events progress from teaching about prayer and spiritual disciplines to sharing how God is guiding us in the midst of our prayer and spiritual disciplines? How are we being impacted by what is learned?
3. How is God continuing to guide us toward carrying out our mission of making disciples for Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world?
One pastor wrote: “I find myself more deeply in love with my prayer time. I am excited about the possibilities of who we can be as the church when prayer is the center of our day. “For, ‘in Him we live and move and have our being’; as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we too are his offspring.'”(Acts 17:28, NRSV) The possibilities when the church begins to live and move and have their being in prayer. Living life as a prayer.”
Another pastor: “We connect with the power of God through prayer. I believe I am becoming more aware of the importance of having spiritual disciplines in my life. One of our church members has a sister with terminal cancer. We have prayed for her for several months. We recently heard that her condition has improved and the cancer has greatly diminished. We were encouraged.”
Bishop Cho has been our spiritual leader and guide for the last four years and has been an inspiration but particularly in the area of prayer and spiritual discipline he has been a mentor and spiritual guide to thousands of people throughout Virginia and many parts of the world.
“Our congregation,” wrote a pastor, “has made the commitment to be a Prayer Covenant Congregation and we are emphasizing prayer more. We are encouraging and reminding everyone to pray for the spiritual condition of the world, American and our churches. In addition, we focus on the prayer requests given to us. As a result of our renewed emphasis on prayer, we are more aware of our need for prayer and continue to grow in our faith.”