Saturday, June 12, 2010

Ordination at the Methodist Annual Conference

Hmmm... where to begin? The past two days have been a frenetic flurry of activity, hanging out with the Florida Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church. The emphasis (Bishop Whitaker's theme for this year) was "Eradicating Extreme Poverty". Pretty much everything about the conference supported the theme, and my job was to write about it all (5-6 stories) for the Florida Methodist News Service.

Yesterday's blog post highlighted my meeting with Bread for the World president David Beckmann. I followed that up with a fascinating conversation with Stan Doerr, president of ECHO (Educational Concerns For Hunger Organization). I'll likely comment on ECHO later, but today I'm going to talk about the service of ordination and commissioning I covered yesterday evening.

Over 40 pastors were presented for various stages of the long candidacy process. Licensing, commissioning to provisional status as deacons and elders, and full ordination as deacons and elders. The Lakeland Center was full with conferees, visitors, and supports (bus-loads in some cases) representing family and the ministers' local churches.

There was a lot of pomp and pageantry. The service opened with a processional, a veritable phalanx of robed clergy moving in like an occupying force - which in some respect they were. The district superintendents and other luminaries camped out on the stage and an atmosphere of anticipation and expectation filled the auditorium.

The Praise Band was most excellent and Bishop Whitaker preached a good sermon on "Table Manners" from Christ's story about the Great Banquet. But the high point of the evening was the service of ordination.

That afternoon I asked one of the ordinands how he expected the ceremony to affect him. He said it was very important marker in his ministry, that it meant a lot to him to have arrived at this particular moment, but - essentially - it was just a change of title. So I watched him closely when he knelt for the "laying on of hands", and I prayed for him as the bishop prayed for him - with both his hands resting on his head. When he stood up it was obvious that something powerful had happened.

Such is always the story when people humble themselves and offer the next stage of their lives to God in prayer. Ordination is more than a ceremony - it's an action of the Holy Spirit and it comes with substantive spiritual authority, and it does make a difference.

At the conclusion of the service an invitation was issued for those who felt God's call to be leaders in the future of the church. "To lead the church as we embrace a new paradigm of ministry" the Bishop said. Over the next ten minutes 20-30 came down. Young and old; men and women; all shapes, sizes and races.

It was a good way to end my couple of days with the United Methodists. I'm always encouraged when I visit with spiritual leaders of all denominations. God is full with creativity and purpose - we simply need to catch the vision with more consistency.

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