By Jessica Brodie
FLORENCE—Following Jesus can be costly—so costly it makes us question our calling, confronting long-held assumptions and even our bed-stone theological beliefs. But the blessings it brings are worth it.
That was the word from Bishop Gary E. Mueller, resident bishop of the Arkansas Conference, who with South Carolina Resident Bishop L. Jonathan Holston led a service celebrating 18 newly commissioned and ordained clergy and honoring 41 retirees.
Mueller brought the message during a combined service on Pentecost Sunday, June 5, attended by an intimate crowd of those being commissioned or ordained and their clergy sponsors, family and other loved ones, including Bishop Young Jin Cho, there as a clergy sponsor of an ordained deacon candidate.
“Tonight, some of you are on the cusp of being commissioned, some are on the cusp of ordination, some on the cusp of retiring, and you should celebrate. It is a magnificent night,” Mueller said. “In one sense, you are at the end of one part of your journey, but also the beginning of the next.”
An eternal moment
Mueller shared how in some ways, his own ordination—May 26, 1981—was much like today’s, though he had more hair, it was in a church and not an arena, and he was listening to the service instead of preaching it.
“It was like time stood still, an eternal moment of God’s time, and I stepped into that.”
Today, he said he still finds himself going back to that time, allowing himself to be renewed and to remember who he is and whose he is.
“My prayer is that as hands are laid on your head and you are given authority, it will be an eternal moment that carries you forward the rest of your ministry.”
Back when he was ordained, however, Mueller confessed he had a limited understanding of what it meant to be a pastor—and much of that was influenced by his privilege as a young white male. “I really thought getting ordained was getting my union card,” he said. “I was getting the credentials I needed to do my job, and my job was to run the church and follow written and unwritten rules and roles.
“All I had to do was fill that role, do my job, and if I was good, I’d succeed.”
But he was wrong, Mueller said, 180 degrees wrong.
“Now I have a completely different understanding of what it means to carry out the office of an ordained elder or deacon. Church, you are set aside for leadership, but not to fill a role or follow rules. It’s to lead the people of God in faithfulness and deeper discipleship by following Jesus.”
At the end, it’s really about faith, he said.
Mueller highlighted the Gospel of the evening, Matthew 8:18-22, coming just after Jesus has done some great miracles. That’s when a teacher of the law, one looking for certainty, is so overcome and inspired he pledges to follow Jesus wherever he goes.
But Jesus tells him there’s no certainty in the places he goes. And that’s the same message Mueller hopes to underscore: there’s no certainty in the ministry, either. In fact, it’s just the opposite.
“As you stand on the cusp of ordination, think about that,” Mueller said. “It is so tempting to think getting ordained is about finding security.”
Giving up security
But following Jesus means there is no place you can rest your head, and you are giving up security according to the world’s standards.
No, Jesus is saying, there’s an urgency to following me, it’s most important thing of all, and there will be a sacrifice to do that.
“Those of you who stand on the cusp of ordination, you need to understand that,” Mueller said. “Following Jesus, leading by following Jesus, is costly.”
We often try to sugarcoat it, he said, but it’s not always an adoring flock at a nice church and an easy path into retirement.
“But with the cost comes a blessing, and the greater the cost, the greater the blessing.”
Sometimes you’ll want to be at your child’s birthday party, but someone is dying and you need to be with them. Sometimes you have to choose an unpopular or inflammatory path.
But when you feel the healing, calming presence of the Holy Spirit, the blessing moves in.
Two years ago in the height of the pandemic, his conference was scrambling to host an online annual conference session, and George Floyd had just been killed. Mueller felt a deep conviction to open the service, without telling most of the leadership ahead of time, with 9 minutes and 29 seconds of silence in remembrance and honor of Floyd.
The chat room lit up with what he called racist and nasty comments, much criticism for what he’d decided to do, but Mueller felt a peace wash over him.
“And when I heard the feedback from African-American pastors and laity, I knew we had done the right thing, and I walked away from there so blessed.”
Yes, following Jesus can be costly, he said. It can take a toll.
But it is freeing and beautiful—and the most important thing we can do.
‘The church now confirms your calling’
Mueller’s sermon came after gathering music from Williamsburg County UMCt Choir, followed by the processional hymn, “God of Grace and God of Glory,” as the 18 men and women to be commissioned or ordained as provisional or full elders or deacons processed and took their seats.
The candidates were presented by Conference Lay Leader Barbara Ware, Board of Ordained Ministry Chair the Rev. Morris Waymer Jr., Order of Elders Chair the Rev. Mary Johnson, Order of Deacons Chair the Rev. Meg Jiunnies and Board of Ordained Ministry Registrar the Rev. Leatha Brown.
“My sisters and brothers in Christ, you have been called to an ordination or commission in set-apart ministry. The church now confirms your calling,” Bishop L. Jonathan Holston said, before conducting the general examination of the candidates.
The Rev. Kenneth Middleton, provisional elder candidate, led the body in the Apostles Creed, and the Rev. Sheri White, full elder candidate, gave the first reading, from Isaiah 61:1-6a.
The Rev. Tae Park delivered in Korean the Gospel reading, from Matthew 8:18-22.
Holston next recognized Bishop Cho, a sponsor of Soon Suck Nix, being ordained as a deacon, and then introduced Mueller as ordination preacher.
After Mueller’s words, the body collected an offering totaling $815 for the South Carolina Conference Seminary Students Scholarship Fund, an endowment of the South Carolina United Methodist Foundation. The Rev. Jeffrey Salley noted the fund was able to award one $6,000 scholarship this year to Christopher Key, a first-year student at Duke Divinity School and a recent graduate of Claflin University.
‘I do so believe’
The service continued with the commissioning of provisional members, six preparing for ordained ministry as elders and one as deacon, including the prayer of commissioning and laying on of hands. (One joined online, and the rest were in person.)
Next, the two candidates to be ordained as deacons stood and faced Bishop Holston, who examined them for ordination, then offered prayer, a laying on of hands and their stole.
Lastly, the nine candidates to be ordained as elders stood and faced Holston, who examined them for ordination as elder.
“An elder is called to share in the ministry of Christ and of the whole church: to preach and teach the Word of God and faithfully administer the sacraments of Holy Baptism and Holy Communion; to lead the people of God in worship and prayer; to lead persons to faith in Jesus Christ; to exercise pastoral supervision, to order the life of the congregation and the connection, to counsel the troubled and declare the forgiveness of sin; to lead the people of God in obedience to Christ’s mission in the world; to seek justice, peace and freedom for all people; and to take a responsible place in the government of the church and in service in and to the community,” Holston said to those gathered.
“This is the rule of life and work of an elder. Do you believe that God has called you to the life and work of an elder?
“I do so believe,” each ordinand answered.
Then came the prayer for elders and laying on of hands. Each new elder also received his or her stole.
The nine presented for ordination as elder were: William Douglas Herlong, Charles Brian Humphries, John David Jordan, Tae Suk Park, Bryan Wray Pigford, James David Taylor III, Sheri Yvette-Base White, Charles Lionel Wilbanks and Wade Anthony Wyatt Sr.
The two presented for ordination as deacon were Emma McClain Murphy and Soon Suck Nix.
The six presented for commissioning as provisional elders were William David Altman II, Morgan Barner Byars, Kenneth Bernard Middleton, Deborah McKnight Patterson, Martin Luther Quick and Claire Coven Van Den Berg.
Kathryn Miller Bariou was presented as a provisional deacon.
Honoring 41 retirees
Next, Annual Conference recognized the 41 clergy who retired in 2022.
The Rev. Christopher Lollis, conference benefits officer, read the names of the retirees as their photos displayed onscreen.
Holston offered a word of encouragement for the retirees, as well as a prayer for the ministry they lived.
“Give them a sense of your abiding presence,” Holston prayed over them, “that they many continue to love and serve you, and grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ, in whose name we pray. Amen.”
The retirement class of 2022 is as follows: Randall Eugene Bowers, Scott Meade Bratton, Randall Lee Calcutt Sr., Lisa Kim Eanes, Joyce Marie McMahand Edwards, Hazel Lathonya Epps, Emil Jerome Finley, Bobby Gordon, Michael Lewis Hammett, Donald Mitchell Houston, George Kenneth Howle, Margaret Hutcherson-Vance, Frank Vertell James, Ronnie Lee Jeffcoat, Joel Robert Jones Jr., Clayton Jonathon Jones Sr., Michael Steven Leonhardt, Julius Lavonia McDowell, Shirley Ann McKnight, Anna Graham Miller, Blondell Stephenson Miller, Warren Murdock Sr., Miyoung Paik, Louis Otto Perez, Davis Norris Phillips, William Harvey Phillips, Brian Thomas Rainwater, Victoria Richardson, Terry Abner Roof, Michael Ellis Rouse, Candice Yeary Sloan, Stuart Randolph Smith, Murray Arthur Snow, Kim Mallory Strong, Thomas Michael Summerlin, Richard Wilson Waldrep, John Lafitte Warren Jr., Jimmy Washington, John Paul Watts Sr., Charles Kemith Wilson and Frederick Nortei Yebuah.
The evening ended with the ceremonial “passing of the mantle,” in which a representative of the retiring class passes a stole, or mantle, from their shoulders to those of new class of ordinands. The Rev. Anna Graham Miller represented the retiring class, and the Rev. William Douglas Herlong represented the newly ordained class.
In his sending forth, Holston expressed a deep desire that this service “serve as another opportunity and indicator that we love and trust our God, that we trust and we know and that we believe God is with us.”
Twenty-seven licensed as local pastors
The following 27 men and women were licensed recently as local pastors in the South Carolina Conference of The United Methodist Church.
They are as follows: Richard Atkinson, Laurie Brandes, Lee Coyle, Jacquelyn Daniel-Hyche, Vincent S. Davis, James Fanning, Joan Frenzel, Laura Geloni, Morris Hall, Viki Hydrick, Corey LaSane, Mary Luoma, Robert Lybrand, Eric McGill, Jerold McKnight, Maurice McZeke, Chad Mullinix, Stacey Newlon, Daniel O’Connor, James Peterson, Michael Ponder, Myra Taylor, Pernerva Thomas, Bradley Thompson, Thomas Thornton, Cynthia Williams and Melissa Williams.