By Jessica Brodie
GREENVILLE—Praising the all-encompassing, never-ending, extravagant love of God, the Rev. John Hipp, Florence District superintendent, preached the Memorial Service at Annual Conference Tuesday afternoon.
“No one—not your loved ones, not us gathered in this hall, not anyone around this globe—will ever be left out because of God’s extravagant love,” Hipp said. “It does not matter color or gender or age or ability or disability. God’s extravagant love is for all. And it never runs out.”
Hipp lifted up the 36 clergy, spouses, surviving spouses and others, including his own close childhood friend, Sally Currence Hays, among them.
“That’s what we celebrate this day: God’s extravagant love manifested in a wedding in Cana of Galilee, continuing this day to be poured out in the hearts and souls of those we love and remember and in our very own selves,” Hipp said.
Hipp said in our lives we often search for extravagance, equating it to places like Tiffany’s or a friend’s Lamborghini, or the exotic trip he took his wife, Carol, on to Hawaii for their silver wedding anniversary.
“Those of you gentlemen out there who have ever been the father of the bride, you know what extravagance is all about,” he quipped.
But extravagance is not limited to those things, Hipp preached.
In fact, he said, sometimes the closest we come to true extravagance is when we experience the sort of life-changing, close relationships with others who are near and dear to our hearts.
“What a remarkable thing it is to say in life, ‘Oh, that relationship was so extravagant because it made a lasting impact on my life,’” Hipp said.
Indeed, extravagance is rooted in love—in the extravagant, all-consuming, sacrificial and fully generous love displayed by our Lord.
That love is reflected in the wedding in Cana where Jesus turned water into wine so good the chief steward asked why the hosts had saved the best for last. And it is reflected in the way that Jesus laid down His own life for us on the cross.
“When Paul teaches about the gifts of the spirit, you know what he preaches? Love,” Hipp said.
He noted that Bishop Jonathan Holston’s mantra—a more excellent way—is in 1 Corinthians 12 and comes just before Paul’s main point: that the more excellent way is in Jesus and in love.
“Love is obvious and evident in the lives of those who are listed in your program today,” Hipp said.
Hipp shared how his mother is in her 90s; she is old and feeble and frail and cannot remember much at all. Yet he knows beyond a shadow of a doubt God’s extravagant love is gifted to his mother every day.
He shared about his grandson Taves, age 3, who is autistic.
“As I sit and observe my grandson I often wonder what kind of world his little mind is imagining and experiencing. I probably in all my lifetime and all his lifetime won’t know,” Hipp said. “But friends, I believe with my whole heart and believe to my core that every day that little boy lives, God loves him extravagantly.”
Indeed, he said, in God we always find the extravagant love that is the best—never second-rate, never leftover, never left on the shelf. And that is something we can hold onto as we mourn and miss those who have passed on to the Kingdom.
During the service, the Chancel Choir of Virginia Wingard United Methodist Church lifted the Lord and His promises in song. The Rev. Leatha W. Brown read John 2:1-11 as Scripture lessons. Bishop Jonathan Holston led the body in the affirmation of faith, the Apostles Creed.
Then, at the close, a bell rang and loved ones stood as Bishop Holston lifted each saint’s name before the body.
The active minister honored during the service was James Ronald Cannion.
Retired ministers honored during the service were William Francis Anderson, Donald Randall Bailey, Willie Joe Barr, William Kime Coble, William Guy “W.G.” Cowart Jr., Joe Gibbs Sr., Carl N. Harris, Gene Austin Harris, Eugene Covington Holmes, William Steve Hughes, Clinton Jones “C.J.” Lupo, James Michael Morris, Billy Ray Osborne, Calvin Quarles, Thomas Fant Steele Jr. and Van Buren Thomas Jr.
Spouses honored during the service were Inez Calhoun Bowser, Carrie Bell Evans Geddis, Sybil Fuller Hall, Sally Currence Hays, Gerda P. Hook, Cecelia Self McAlister, Edith Mildred Reaves Pearson and Eartha L. Thompson.
Surviving spouses honored during the service were Annie Laurie Bell Atkinson, Gladys Belk Blackmon, Naomi Louise Breedlove, Vergene Jenkins Colloms, Carolina “Nina” Martin Couch, Virginia James Graves, Mary Lee Newton Herndon, Ruth Ellen Cox Jordan and Sunnie A. Cheeks Voorhees.
Others honored during the service were Rosemarie Whitener Nivens and Dr. Michael C. Watson Sr.