By Jessica Brodie
With masks, social distancing and limited attendance, the South Carolina Annual Conference’s Service for Ordination and Commissioning looked a bit different this year. Nevertheless, 20 men and women were commissioned or ordained as provisional members, deacons and elders at a service filled with powerful preaching, music and prayer Aug. 8.
Held at St. John’s United Methodist Church, Aiken, the service was led by South Carolina Resident Bishop L. Jonathan Holston along with Mississippi Resident Bishop James Swanson, who delivered the sermon.
Holston noted the last five months have wreaked havoc on lives and communities, and this socially distanced service is just one of many adjustments the church has had to make this year.
“This is a significant day, a gathering both virtual and in person,” Holston said. “I wish we could all be in one big arena where we could greet and hug one another, but I’m grateful for your willingness to participate in this service.”
After a reaffirmation of their baptism, the 20 men and women being ordained and commissioned were presented to the bishop and those gathered by Conference Lay Leader Barbara Ware, Chair of the Board of Ordained Ministry the Rev. Fran Elrod, Chair of the Order of Elders the Rev. Kathryn Hunter, and Chair of the Order of Deacons the Rev. Karen Jones.
Ten were ordained as elders: Kenneth David Freeman Jr., Cynthia Wolfe Muncie, Sammy Omar Pazi, Nathan Smalls, Elizabeth Fulmer Sullivan, Frances Hillary Taylor, Brenda Joyce Thomas, Carole Anne Walters, Lisa Montque Way and Cheryl Elaine Yates.
Eight were commissioned as provisional members preparing for ordained ministry: James Thornton Brown II, William Douglas Herlong, Cameron Thomas Levi, Tae Suk Park, Bryan Wray Pigford, Woongchul Daniel Ra, Andrew Warren Sizemore and James David Taylor III.
And two were commissioned as provisional deacons: Emma McClain Murphy and Soon Suck Nix.
In his sermon, “Life Giver,” Swanson spoke about how this unique time we are in—both in the midst of a coronavirus pandemic and fighting our way through a season of racial unrest—is also an opportune time to find ourselves and rediscover our true calling to be sisters and brothers with one another.
Quoting the Gospel selection for the day, John 10:1-10, on Jesus’s analogy of the good shepherd and his sheep, Swanson reminded all that Jesus invited us to come not just so we may have life but so we may have it to the fullest.
And, Swanson said, “Jesus is calling us to be not only those who emulate Him in wanting life but wanting to give others life abundantly.”
But people were confused and did not understand what Jesus was saying when he used this shepherd-sheep analogy, Swanson said. After all, Jesus was not talking to crowd of shepherds or those familiar with skill set of shepherds, who live a sacrificial life for their sheep.
Swanson explained that sheep and shepherd enjoy a kind of symbiotic relationship with one another, he said, particularly back when Jesus walked the earth. From milk to wool, the sheep provided gifts for the shepherd and their families. The shepherd placed a high value on their mutual relationship; sheep were not just a commodity but also something that provided for his own wellbeing. They felt bound to protect them.
But caring for sheep was not easy, something Swanson learned when he visited the Holy Land. Unlike the pictures he was accustomed to in storybooks, most of the land there is filled with rocks, hilly outcroppings with little grass. But, as he witnessed as he spent time in the land, the sheep knew their shepherd, and knew he would lead them to the grass they needed. The shepherd called them and led them by his voice, and the sheep trusted and followed.
“I began to understand what Jesus said: the ‘sheep know his voice’ (10:3) and will follow the shepherd they know,” Swanson said.
It’s about relationship and trust, not only when it comes to sheep and their shepherd, not only when it comes to our relationship and trust with Jesus, but also when it comes to pastors and their congregations. It’s a give and take, a special bond.
“All you newly ordained people, you need to understand this relationship—you need them (people you’ll be leading) as much as they need you,” he said.
It applies to all things, including danger. The shepherd must lay down for his sheep, sometimes literally. For instance, night is a time for sheep to rest, and the shepherd must find rock formations to lead the sheep to huddle inside of these formations for the night. Sometimes, if there was no gate to keep them inside, the shepherd would himself lay down and become the gate to protect his sheep from predators.
Likewise, pastors must do this today in safeguarding their people from predators, and they must draw upon the supernatural power of the Lord to do this.
“You need power beyond yourself because some predators are more powerful than you,” he said. “But if you’ve got power, you can hear the predator coming before it gets there. You provide the protection.”
He ended by reminding ordinands to proclaim hope and a future always.
“Remember: You are life givers! Proclaim! Show them!” Swanson said to applause. “Come on, church—we are world changers!”
After the sermon, the service continued with the commissioning of provisional members and then the prayer of commissioning and laying on of hands, and then the examination of elders and the prayer for elders and laying on of hands.
The sending forth concluded with the singing of “Lord, Whose Love Through Humble Service.”