By Jessica Brodie
You will disappoint others and feel inadequate. You will make choices and someone will disagree with you. You will question your call. People will love you, but they won’t think much of your family. You will be late for dinner often.
“I wish someone had told me about the hazards of ministry or gave me cautions or even a warning label,” preached Dr. Robin Dease to the crowd gathered in person and online to remember the 53 departed saints who have joined the Church Triumphant.
But while the sacrifices pastors and others in ministry must pay can be dear, losing your life to follow Christ is what matters, and salvation is the grand prize.
Dease brought a word on costly and sometimes painful sacrifice to the intimate in-person crowd of family and other loved ones gathered at Union United Methodist Church, Irmo, May 15. The prerecorded event was broadcast at the close of Annual Conference June 6 as a way to collectively honor the ministers, retired ministers, clergy spouses and others who passed away since last year’s Annual Conference.
Not an office but a lifestyle
In her sermon, “I’ll Be Late for Dinner,” Dease led the Service of Thanksgiving and Memory drawing from the Gospel lesson in Luke 5:1-11, when Jesus called Simon Peter and the sons of Zebedee, James and John. After a fruitless night of fishing, Jesus told them to let down their nets on the other side of the boat. When they did, their catch was so large their nets began to break and their boats almost capsized. The fishermen left everything to follow Jesus that very day.
What is key to remember about this story when it comes to honoring the lives of our 53 departed souls is the sacrifice inherent in their choice. These men left everything—wives, homes, livelihood, social climbing, all they held dear, everything—to follow Jesus.
And that’s what we still do today.
“I am learning the life of a minister is not in the office; it is a lifestyle,” Dease said.
And while as ministers often think they need to save a life in order to do ministry, what Christians are really called to do is lose their life for Christ’s sake.
The weight and accountability for the lives and souls entrusted to them can feel heavy.
“But someone needs to be the circuit rider,” Dease said. “These things can’t be done within a 40-hour work week. The labors are too great and the workers too few.”
A costly existence
Pastors must fill a myriad of responsibilities in the church, community and family, and often it is their family who gets the least of their time and energy.
“The cost of following Christ comes with a price,” Dease said, noting it brings a life of self-denial, submission to Christ, dying to self, sacrificing for the kingdom, adversity, rejection, persecution, separation.
The master of earth and sky brought Simon Peter and the sons of Zebedee to their knees in awe and humility, and they left everything and followed him—as did the 53 men and women honored at this year’s memorial service.
“They took up the call, left everything and followed Jesus in an unpredictable way and into what would prove to be a costly existence,” she preached.
But that’s what we are all called to do, Dease reminded all gathered. Jesus said in Luke 14:26, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple” (NIV). Indeed, following him must come before every responsibility we have, even the ones we hold sacred.
“Salvation is free but receiving it costs everything,” Dease said, lifting up the names of the departed saints. “They did not avoid the pursuit of the call. … They said time and time again, ‘I’ll be late.”’
They were late so someone could see the face of God, because they knew if they were faithful, there was a crown of righteousness waiting for them.
Looking at those gathered in person, Dease lifted gratitude for the loved ones who took this journey of ministry with those who have passed away.
“They labored hard, and so did the ones who served beside them. But they were faithful, and their labor was not in vain.”
The light of immortality
Prior to Dease’s message, Hartsville District Superintendent the Rev. Telley Gadson brought the opening prayer, welcoming all to the service, asking that all gathered “may feel your presence as did the followers who knew Jesus in the breaking of the bread, and we may experience the fire within that sent them out to share good news.”
After the anthem, “O Breathe on Me, O Breath of God,” Gadson led the body in “The Prayer of Promise: A Memorial Litany,” her original composition.
“God wavers not in keeping God’s promises. They are sure and worthy of full acceptance. Dimly we see in the mirror of mortality, but the light of immortality leads us home to God from whence we came,” she led.
The people replied, “Even with the width of faith and the breadth of hope, we need the strength of God to face the sorrows of grief.”
The sacred ties that bind
After Dease’s sermon, LaToya Adams of Mount Hebron UMC sang “Give Me Jesus.” A procession of the Memorial Banner followed, with the names of the 53 ministers, retired ministers, clergy spouses and others read aloud.
A candle was lit on the altar and a bell rung in memory of the deceased, which included 23 retired clergy: Thomas Richard Bailey, Larry Allen Barnes, R. Richard Blocker, George W. Farrell Cox, Marion B. Crooks Jr., James Franklin Hood, Jerry D. Jackson, Larry Alfred Jenkins, Charles Luther Johnson Sr., Phil Mace Jones, James Ernest LeMaster Jr., John Leon Newton, Clarence D. Padgett, Anne R. Parrott, Fredericka Whaley Phipps, Norman Keith Polk Jr., Earnest James Reece Jr., David Eugene Reed, Conrad Allen Senn, David T. Templeton, Leon Edwin Thompson, Robert Thompson and Mark Anthony Williams;
Eleven clergy spouses: Shirley G. Bines, Mary Grace L. Brown, Angela M. Bruce, Harriet C. Cox, James Russell Erwin Sr., LaSandra S. Grimsley, Joyce White Ivey, Eleanor Adams Jenkins, Helen Gribble Short, Michael A. Stephens and Alice Faye Wicker;
Seventeen surviving spouses: Martha B. Ballentine, Gladys Lefft Boone, Lois M. Bradham, Ruth B. Brock, Betty Strom Carey, Kechia M. Dicks, Jewel S. Floyd, Peggy Jean Granger Floyd, Elizabeth Wimberly Goewey, Linda G. Heape, Margaret Lewis Hendricks, Sharon Arnette Hughes, Ada Belle LeMaster, Hattie B. Polk, Cornelia Quarles, Dorothy E. Sprayberry and Ramona J. Potter Waddell; and
Two others: James Jeffrey Merck and Marvin R. Moore.
Bishop L. Jonathan Holston led prayer after, lifting up all God’s servants who have faithfully lived and died, thanking God for the sacred ties that bind us to those unseen who encompass us as a cloud of witnesses.
“We pray that, encouraged by their example and strengthened by their fellowship, we may be diligent followers and that nothing will be able to separate us from your love in Christ Jesus our Lord,” he prayed.
Union’s Leaps of Faith Liturgical Dancers performed to the closing hymn “Hymn of Promise” with members of the Union Chancel Choir, Union’s organist Joey Rothfuss and Union Director of Music Ministries Don Kirkindoll.
A postlude, “Christ Is Made the Sure Foundation,” concluded the service.