‘Called up and called out to make a difference’

Bishop Frank L. Beard preaches service celebrating new clergy, retirees

By Jessica Brodie

GREENVILLE— Bringing a word for a church in the midst of what he called “reconstruction,” Bishop Frank L. Beard preached a service June 9 that commissioned or ordained 16 clergypersons and honored 36 retirees.

“I don’t think the church of Jesus Christ is dead. I don’t even believe The United Methodist Church is dead,” said Beard, resident bishop of the Illinois Great Rivers Conference, kicking off the first service of what was the 53rd session of Annual Conference.

In spite of some people insisting otherwise about the UMC, Beard proclaimed, “We still love Jesus Christ with our heart, soul, mind, body and strength, and the church is not irrelevant—we’re still needed in the world today.”

However, Beard noted today’s church is often trapped between two poles, one called “health” and one called “holiness.”

He said we all want health, with churches filled on Sunday morning and the resources to do what we want to do for God’s kingdom. But rather than focusing on how to get our church healthy, it’s far better to focus on God’s standard, which he said “has and always will be holiness.”

In doing so, he said, our churches will become healthy.

Beard lifted up four pictures found in the Book of Ephesians of what a healthy and holy church looks like. Three of these are commonly accepted—the church as a body (Ephesians 1:22-23), as a building currently being built (Ephesians 2:21-22), and as a bride (Ephesians 5:22-32).

But the fourth, he said, is found in Ephesians 6 through the description of the armor of Christ—that of a battle-ready battalion. While the Greek word used in this passage, ecclesia, does mean “church” and “called out,” it’s really a military term, as in called out to battle, or summoned. And for those called, it’s not really a choice about whether we stand up and fight the hard fight for God.

It’s a must. 

“We’re called up and called out to make a difference—salt and light in the world,” Beard said to applause.

He shared how, just before his senior year in high school, he went on a mission trip to Port-au-Prince, Haiti. At the time he was frustrated. Though he knew God had called him to the ministry, he was desperate for God to give him clear answers about how he was to serve.

There, crying, on a mountaintop overlooking the city just as the sky began to grow dark, Beard prayed to the Lord.

As he gazed out at the city, suddenly he saw the lights of the city transformed into the shape of a cross.

“That’s when I heard: ‘Don’t worry about what to do. Don’t worry about what to become. Just pick up your cross and follow me,’” Beard shared.

Jesus invited us all to do this, Beard said. It’s both a choice and an opportunity, this discipleship, to learn from him so that all we do becomes like Jesus.

It’s not always going to be easy, he said. He recounted the time, early in his ministry, when he went to visit a dying old woman in the hospital who cussed him out with racial slurs. Still, we are called, and we must do as God asks.

After all, when Elijah received the mantle from Elisha, “He did not go home to formulate a back-door plan.”

He slaughtered oxen and set plow on fire—no turning back.

It’s the same for those called today.

“It won’t always be easy, but he’s promised,”  Beard said. “Sometimes you might find yourself in the furnace of affliction. He never promised you wouldn’t get in the furnace. But hallelujah—he promised to walk with you in the flames.”

Wrapping his sermon to a close, Beard prayed that the Lord send the gentle wind of his Holy Spirit to fan us all—him, the ordinands and the church as a whole—into flames for Jesus.

“We’re not dead, y’all. We’re just sleeping,” he said. “But if we don’t get on the ball, we will die.”

Start of Annual Conference

The evening service was the first at Annual Conference, held June 9-12 at the Greenville Convention Center. It began at 7 p.m. as incoming provisional and full elders and deacons joined their counterparts processing into the arena.

Led by Bishop L. Jonathan Holston, resident bishop, clergy entered singing “The Church’s One Foundation” and “O God, Our Help in Ages Past.”

Holston led the body in a recognition of our common ministry and reaffirmation of baptism.

Next, those to be commissioned and ordained were presented to the body by Barbara Ware, conference lay leader; the Rev. Morris Waymer, chair of the Board of Ordained Ministry; the Rev. Mary Johnson, chair of the Order of Elders; the Rev. Meg Jiunnies, chair of the Order of Deacons; the Rev. Leatha Brown, BOM registrar; the Rev. Melton Arant, coordinator of Clergy Services; and the Rev. Brenda Washington, chair of the Fellowship of Local Pastors and Associate Members.

Holston then conducted the general examination, confirming their calling and reminding them of the task before them.

“My sisters and brothers in Christ, you have been called to an ordained or commissioned in set apart ministry,” Holston said. “The Church now confirms your calling.”

The candidates collectively affirmed their beliefs and accepted the covenant before all.

After the anthem, “Lord, Here Am I,” by the choir from St. John’s United Methodist Church in Anderson, provisional elder candidate Nona Margaret Woodle led the body in the Apostles Creed. Full elder candidate James William Smith led the first reading, from 1 Kings 19:19-21. Claire Covey Van Den Berg, full elder candidate, read the Gospel reading, Matthew 5:1-12.

Sixteen commissioned or ordained

After Beard’s sermon, The service continued with the commissioning of six preparing for ordained ministry as provisional elders, including the prayer of commissioning and laying on of hands. 

Next, the sole candidate to be ordained as deacon stood and faced Bishop Holston, who examined her for ordination, then offered prayer, a laying on of hands and her stole.

Next, the six candidates to be ordained as elders stood and faced Holston, who examined them for ordination as elder and offered a prayer. “Give to these your servants the grace and power they need to serve you in this ministry,” Holston said.

Then came the laying on of hands. Each new elder also received his or her stole. 

Next Holston recognized the orders of two people, and finally, he recognized the associate member.

The six presented for ordination as elder were Morgan Barner Byars, Bette Ann Hedden, Kenneth Bernard Middleton, Martin Luther Quick, James William Smith and Claire Covey Van Den Berg.

The one presented for ordination as deacon was Kathryn Miller Bariou.

The six presented for commissioning as provisional elders were James Bernard Grant, Kendell Linh Healy, Rebecca Anne Rowell, Amenti Sujai, Paige Danielle Wheeler and Nona Margaret Woodle.

Those presented for recognition of orders in The United Methodist Church were Daniel Troy Hembree (as a provisional member) and Matthew Lyn Alexander (as a full elder).

The one recognized as an associate member was Edward Timothy Stallworth III.

Honoring 36 retirees

Next, Annual Conference recognized the 36 clergy who retired in 2024. The Rev. Melton Arant 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.

“We give thanks for the ministry of these women and men, and for the ways in which you have ministered to us through them,” Holston prayed over them.”

The retirement class of 2024 is as follows: Fred W. Andrea III, William Lee Barber, Ben Lincoln Barnett, Edna Reece Bowers, Norman Aaron Brown, Sonia Ely Brum, Fred Vance Buchanan Jr., Willie Mae Cannon, Kenneth Neal Carter, Christopher William Cox, James Dickerson Dennis Jr., Daniel Kaye Fortney, Joan Elaine Frenzel, Robert E. Harper, William Neal Harper, Benjamin Wade Herlong, Leonard Huggins Jr., Larry Scott King, Gary Wayne Light, Maye Emma Malachi, William Timothy McClendon, Joseph Aubrey McDonald, Whittaker Vernon Middleton, Debra Louise Pisor, Nancy Creswell Reed, Anthony Scott Rowell, Robert Leonard Shuler, Thomas Ray Sims, Annie Hair Sistrunk, Cynthia Ann Smith, Edward Jay Stiltz, Kelli Waters Taylor, Pernerva Singleton Washington Thomas, Redonia McKnight Thomas, David Owens Ussery and Sara Ann White.

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. Sara Ann White represented the retiring class, and the Rev. Kenneth Bernard Middleton represented the newly ordained class.

Holston asked the retirees to gather around the ordinands as the Rev. Redonia McKnight Thomas prayed for the new class.

“May the work of their hands and minds build and improve upon all for which our generation has labored,” Thomas prayed.

The offering of the evening was collected for the South Carolina Seminary Students Scholarship, established in 1991. The scholarship fund gave four scholarships this past year.

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