By Jessica Brodie
GREENVILLE—Lifting up the majestic and transformative beauty of the redwood tree, which starts out from a seed tinier than a tomato’s and grows into a massive and hardy testament to life, Louisiana Resident Bishop Cynthia Fierro Harvey preached an ordination service Monday at Annual Conference that ordained or commissioned 26 clergy.
Just like the redwoods—which have shallow roots but have managed to nestle together to create an entwined and entangled root system fostering the kind of growth that makes them giants—Harvey said Christians must also stay in close connection with one another.
“Our world situation today calls faithful followers of Jesus to remain close together and remain entangled in the best sense of the word,” Harvey said, encouraging the 26 clergy to do just that.
Sixteen elders, one deacon, eight provisional elders and one provisional deacon were commissioned or ordained June 5.
Ordained as elders in full connection were Eugene Aaron Aiken, Yon Taek Bae, Lawrence Cantey Jr., James Derrick Cattenhead, Meredith Marie Dark, Kristin Marie Dollar, Angela Marie Etheredge-Erwin, Ernest Winfred Frierson, Enrique Roberto Gordon, Daniel Robert Griswold, Cheryl Wilhelmenia Giles Johnson, Brandon Craig Lazarus, Allen Nesmith, Christine Louise Reeves-Pendergrass, Tenny Hutchinson Rupnick and Walter Edward Strawther.
Ordained as a deacon in full connection was Kimberly Inez Norbeck Evans.
Commissioned as provisional elders were Meegian Alicia Gossard, John David Jordan, Ann deRosset Kovan, Susan Biggert Maddox, Angela Regina Ford Nelson, Nathan Smalls, Carole Anne Walters and Laura Howard Whitt.
And commissioned as a provisional deacon was Meg Bryce Jiunnies.
In her sermon titled “You Can Run But You Cannot Hide,” Harvey shared with the ordinands that the redwoods have intrigued her since her first trip to northern California many years ago.
“That teeny, tiny, itty-bitty seed grows into a mysterious and amazing tree that can reach ages of over 2,000 years and regularly reaches ages of over 500 years of age,” Harvey said, noting that redwoods are resistant to natural enemies—insects, disease and even fire. They have a thick bark and an unusual ability to regenerate.
But the most important element that enables the redwood to survive is its biotic community—the tangled life it leads with roots nestled together with others.
“A healthy redwood is surrounded by other healthy growth,” Harvey said.
In a uniquely important way, she said, Christian brothers and sisters are entangled in similar ways—because of our United Methodist connection and because we are in covenant with our baptism.
“We are creating a biotic community—new life that will raise a community of faith that will rise up, stately, for a really long time,” Harvey said. “One of the best things about the United Methodist connection is in fact that we stay entangled; we stay connected. It’s something I don’t ever, ever, ever want to give up.”
She said God can do far more than any of us could ever ask or imagine; all we need to do is step out on faith and be willing to let God work through us.
“A teeny tiny seed can do this, you can do this, we can do this, because we walk by faith, not by sight,” Harvey preached.
But we have to risk being entangled with each other and with God, she said, for God likes to get in our business, even when—like Jonah—we don’t like it so much and we want to flee like he did to Tarshish.
“But God always prevails,” Harvey said. “Often the pathway is not clear, and it’s hard to imagine a small seed becoming a majestic hardwood, a whale becoming a method of transportation for transformation.”
But we must press on, go, with the certainty God will not let us settle for the status quo, she said.
She encouraged ordinands to stay focused on the mission as the church shifts and changes with the times.
“Do not allow the things of the world—or worse yet, the things of the church—to paralyze us, to keep us from walking by faith,” Harvey said.
She closed her message by asking the body to join her in an exercise: lift up their voices in their best effort at the note middle C. She instructed all to close their eyes, listen to others around them and really concentrate on finding that note. Within moments, they had achieved it.
That, Harvey said, is the beginning of finding a place of entanglement, of creating biotic community, of finding life together, of searching for that which we hold in common with one another.
“We can’t settle for anything else than that,” Harvey said. “We’re like redwoods—entangled in a way that makes us one, standing firmly and tall in the promises of God.”
The offering taken at the Service of Ordination and Commissioning went to the South Carolina Conference Seminary Students Scholarship Fund of the South Carolina United Methodist Foundation. More than $11,000 was collected for that offering.
Prior to the collection, the Rev. Jeffrey Salley spoke about the need for the scholarship fund, noting seminarians graduate with an average debt of $66,000 and that the estimated average cost of attending seminary costs $35,000-$55,000, yet they have a median clergy salary of $49,792. Last year because of this offering, Salley said, the conference was able to award four scholarships to students attending seminaries in South Carolina
Vessels of Praise from St. Mark UMC and the St. Mark UMC Voices of F.I.R.E. provided music for the evening; Craig Coelho was song leader.