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We cannot just stand
at the doorstep and wait

At the Synod for the New Evangelization Sarah Davis came as representative of the World Methodist Council

It wasn’t difficult to find her in the Synod hall since she was the only woman wearing an ecclesiastical collar and earrings among the rows and rows of Cardinals and Bishops in their red and violet skullcaps. Sarah Frances Davis is a bishop of the African Methodist Episcopal Church.

At the General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops for the New Evangelization, held from 7 to 28 October 2012, Davis, as their vice-president, represented the World Methodist Council. She was one among many of the so-called “fraternal delegates” from fourteen different Christian Churches and ecclesial communities. While Pope Benedict XVI has met many women bishops from other denominations, Davis was the first woman bishop to participate in a Synod since Paul VI initiated the practice of inviting Christian leaders of the world to speak about some of the most pressing issues.

Having served as the first woman pastor for seven years in a large Methodist Church in San Antonio, Texas, Sarah Davis is used to being a pioneer. There she developed a ministry centered around prayer and a preparation of the faithful through quality formation. Known as the “Bishop of prayer”, she organized and promoted a number of public encounters for prayer, including the Day of Prayer in African Methodism, celebrated annually 13 April.

“I think that a person who is able to pray is also able to rest in the presence of God”, she told us during the first days of the Synod. “I am touched”, she continued with a cordial smile and the typical southern drawl, “not only because the Pope is emphasizing the importance of knowing Christ, but also to have a personal relationship with him. If we have this relationship, then we can maintain a loving relationship with our brothers and sisters. I think that in order to face the evils and challenges of the world, we should encounter it where we are able to see others as Christ sees them.”

Interestingly enough, Sarah was struck by the similarities between what the World Methodist Council is facing and the challenges and questions discussed by the Catholic Bishops from all continents. “We hear more and more spoken about how we must go out to those who don’t have the language or the memory of the Faith that we have. We can no longer think that we can just stand at the doorstep and expect that everyone come to us. We have to go out and recognize that they are not where we are; and if we love them enough then we will dedicate time to reaching them in a pertinent way.”

The World Methodist Council has counted over 80 million members in the different Methodist denominations from over 90 countries. After working for four years in the Southern part of Africa Davis is now serving as the presiding prelate of the 16th Episcopal District, a very large area which is comprised of South America (Guyana and Suriname); Windward Islands; the Caribbean Islands; and Europe (London, the Netherlands and France).

Davis addressed the Fathers of the Synod saying, “In 1971, the World Methodist Conference initiated a new mission and gave a renewed motivation to evangelization, with the firm conviction that ‘the great command of Christ (...) to preach and teach the Gospel and make disciples was the Church’s principle task”. This is more important today than ever before, emphasized Davis, since “the world is wounded, lost, distracted, confused, sick and fallen in disgrace and has a desperate need to be healed, and for hope and salvation. In a time like ours there is no other name to announce than Jesus’ name”. And this undertaking must bear in mind all the physical, emotional, economic, social and spiritual demands that people have. It must always be permeated by the Holy Spirit.

Moreover, she reminded the bishops that the success of the new evangelization is strictly connected to the credibility of the evangelizer, “it will be the evangelizers who are placed under the microscope, not the processes, not the programs, nor the plans developed out of this synod. People want to know that what the evangelizers are advertising has already worked in their lives.”

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