By Jessica Brodie
Just as it began, this year’s Annual Conference ended on a note of celebration, lifting up the memory of 101 ministers, retired ministers, clergy spouses and others who passed away since the last in-person Annual Conference, June 2019.
In a recorded service broadcast at 7 p.m. June 7 after the business session ended, the service started with handbells, piano chords and a holy, reverent processional. Bishop L. Jonathan Holston presided, with Director of Connectional Ministries the Rev. Millie Nelson Smith as liturgist and the Rev. Joe Long as memorial preacher.
Nelson Smith issued the call to worship, and after the opening hymn, “Sing with All the Saints of Glory,” gave the opening prayer and Scripture readings: Genesis 18:16-33, on whether God would destroy Sodom if any were found to be righteous within, and John 4:25-30 and 39-42, on how the woman at the well realized Jesus was the Messiah and brought many others to believe, too.
Long preached on “Fertile Soil and Shining Sparks,” drawing from a story he’d heard about football player Kenny the “Snake” Stabler, known for his charismatic, free-spirited lifestyle. Stabler had visited a tribute to Jack London, author of “White Fang,” “Call of the Wild” and other well-known survival-themed novels, where he read a quote from London.
“I would rather be ashes than dust!” London had said. “I would rather that my spark should burn out in a brilliant blaze than it should be stifled by dry-rot. I would rather be a superb meteor, every atom of me in magnificent glow, than a sleepy and permanent planet.”
When asked by a reporter what he thought of those words, Stabler reportedly replied, “Throw deep.”
“That’s the way Kenny lived life—going for the big play, seeking to make the touchdown,” Long said.
For while we are human, we often crave the ability to truly live, to shine, to be that brilliant blaze in spite of our “dust and ashes” state of mortality. After all, as humans, we were created from dust, and one day our bodies return to that state. But we long for more and, indeed, do more—especially when we are serving as that conduit between people and God, doing things that help people grow in God’s name.
“Friends, we are dust and ashes, but in many ways we are like sparks that Kenny Stabler talked about, and these who we remember in this ceremony are persons who, like Abraham, stood in that gap between Almighty God and the people. They connected people to God and God to people. They were mortal. They were but dust and ashes, but they sought to connect God and humanity. And, like Kenny, like Jack London, some are shining sparks, some have been spectacular, outstanding in their skills and abilities, remarkable, glowing with the glory of God.”
Long then lifted up a number of the saints memorialized in the service, including the Rev. Jack Washington, who could ignite a room with his presence; the Rev. John Hipp, whose strong voice and bold and compassionate leadership showed his tender heart and love of life; the Rev. Thomas Pearson, who had a way of speaking the truth wrapped in a zinger that made you moan and laugh at the same time; the Rev. Wyatt Minton, whose provocative questions stirred thoughts and conversations; Barbara Borom, who helped make district events fun with skits and pranks; Marsha Lee, who always included people in the good times; and the Rev. Marilyn Boyer, who led her congregation in consistent involvement in the community.
“They were sparks that glowed!” Long preached.
But they were also soil—fertile soil, precious and supportive, creating an environment of growth, love and security.
“Their example and constant witness is for us a source of hope and life,” Long said.
“They were people who—in quiet, supportive, sometimes not recognized but effective ways—made a difference in people’s lives. They were but dust and ashes, but sometimes they were shining sparks and they were fertile soil. They helped our faith to grow.”
After the sermon, the Mount Horeb Ensemble performed “Because He Lives.”
A procession of memorial banners followed, as well as the lighting of a memorial candle on the altar and the ringing of a bell in memory of the deceased.
One by one, the names of the departed saints were read aloud.
The 47 men and women who passed away 2019-2020, since the last in-person Annual Conference in June 2019, who were honored at this year’s memorial celebration were as follows:
Active ministers Herman Alex Black, Marilyn Le’Cene Boyer, April Lee Hall, Donald Eaddy McAllister Sr., Alester McKinney and Wyatt Clifton Minton III;
Retired ministers Philip Loren Bostrom, Barry Lewis Brown, Joe Kirkpatrick Brown Sr., William Burke, George Powell Busch, Joseph Frazier, Arthur Melvin Gilliard, Clifford Russell Gilmer, Ernest Edwin LeMaster, Alice Louise Deissler Linder, Grace Lewellyn Lovell, Robert Edward McAuley, Rebecca Jean Huguley McBee, Theodore Bye McEachern, James D. Medley, Jack Allen Poole Sr., Gareth Delwyn Scott and Jack Christopher Washington;
Clergy spouses Barbara Jean Phelps Borom, Robert Michael Culp, Ruth Ann Keller Frey, Lloyd Herbert Ivey, Joyce Caroline Dunlap Patterson, James Clay Sistrunk Sr. and Binner McClellan Tart;
Surviving spouses Carolyn Griggs Belding, Mary Elizabeth Chreitzberg Crenshaw, Gladys Davis Powell Fludd, Anne Blackburn Fryga, Bernetha Morris Graham, Elizabeth Cobb Holler, Eleanor Haynes Holmes, Grace Evelyn Lesley Houston, Prince Ola Lee, Joyce Herndon Tysinger Long, Ernestine Walker McDowell, Elizabeth Gail Pittman Rush and Mary Gault Smith; and
Others including John Christopher Detwiler (honorably located), Thomas Sumter Miller and Ernest Wroten Prewett Jr. (honorably located).
The 54 men and women who passed away 2020-2021 were as follows:
Active ministers Donald Eugene Alexander Jr., Mark Asbury Bowling and Guy Michael Scales;
Retired ministers Charles David Barrett, DeArmond Emory Canaday, John Scott Cloninger, Willie Furman Dicks Jr., Edgar Heberton Ellis Jr., John Law Epps, Robert Auburn Hall Jr., John Wesley Hipp, William Alford Jones, Stephen Ray Jordan, Happy William Louis Long, Forrest David Mills, William Terry Mitchell, Arthur Wesley Murphy, Thomas Jefferson Pearson Jr., Eugene King Scoggins, Garland Loyal Smith Jr., Rance Pelham Sprayberry, Thomas Shadrach Summers Jr., Charles Porter Teague, George William Watson Sr., Thomas McKendre Williams Jr., Needham Rodgers Williamson and Robert Morris Wofford;
Clergy spouses Elaine Belangia, Catherine Cox Cavin, Patricia Duncan, Julia Anne Ervin, Lee Cantley Farmer, Marsha Lee, Betty Newton, James Saylor, Gary Toothe and Stuart Vance;
Surviving spouses Eloise McMillan Brown, Mildred B. Cannon, Bernice Carter, Eliza M. Cave, Lella Frances Fowler, Beatrice T. Graham, Nancy Halter, Ralph Hatchell, Louise Holden, Jacqueline James, Virginia LeMaster, Dorothy Mainous, Lula Major, Lois Rawls McNair, Mary Virginia Cannon Moody and Wynette Stiltz; and
Other, Mary Jane Lever.
A postlude, “For All the Saints,” concluded the service.