‘Prayer and Praise’ services lift spirits during AC2024

By Allison Trussell

GREENVILLE—Two newly ordained elders and a new associate member offered words of encouragement and faith during the Prayer and Praise services held each day at Annual Conference.

The Rev. Morgan Barner Byars, associate pastor at Mount Hebron United Methodist Church, West Columbia, led the Monday evening service and focused on Isaiah 2:1-5 and the conference theme of “On the Leading Edge of Ministry.”

He questioned what sort of leading edge we want to be, pointing out the church is still important, still relevant, but warning that like the lessons he learned in running cross country, being in the lead doesn’t mean we’re doing good. “We as a church have a great responsibility to do good, but a great risk of doing harm. … We have two paths that lie before us: being the leading edge of a sword or the leading edge of plowshare.”

People are far too practiced at using swords against others because they offer quick and easy answers. But Byars insisted that quick and easy aren’t always the best answer and are often more destructive than intended.

“What we get is churches who become weaponized and driven by a theology that divides us into insiders and outsiders, theology that wounds outsiders and leaves insiders comfortable rather than faithful.”

But a plowshare is more fruitful, he said. Churches could be instruments of mass creation, of new hope, if only we choose to grasp it. Like a sword, a plowshare requires a sharp edge. But its edge is used to prepare for the harvest.

“If we put people with plowshare, we equip people to be catchers of people who will spread the word of God, giving good news to those who desperately need to hear it.”

Dr. Martin Luther Quick, pastor of Cumberland UMC, Florence, echoed that emphasis on faith during the Tuesday morning service, which focused on Luke 22:1-18, the passage of the Last Supper.

Here, he said, is Jesus knowing his time is near, trying to teach the disciples to trust the cup they’ve been given. Quick then offered some of the cups that we mistakenly put our faith in.

The cup of comfort glosses over the realities of life. In staying comfortable, we overlook opportunities. He relayed how Cumberland told him they needed more young people and he told them to get outside the four walls of the church. So they went to an elementary school and adopted it. Now they have 700 kids because they were willing to get out of the comfort of their walls.

The cup of culture makes us follow rather than lead. The disciples want to keep the culture they know, but Jesus says to be open to Gentiles. “We sometimes forget we’re adopted by Jesus,” Quick said. “But adoption comes with certain responsibilities that we lead the culture, not follow it.”

A third cup is one of pressure within the church, but more important is how we respond to that pressure. While at the table, Jesus didn’t show the issues he was facing and didn’t address them until he was alone in the Garden of Gethsemene. We as leaders and as Christians should emulate that, Quick said.

The fourth cup is one of suffering. In the passage, Jesus is watching the clock, knowing what is coming, but he’s having to trust the cup he’s been given.

Holding up a communion chalice, Quick said his last cup is the Christ cup, the cup of salvation. Not only do we get the cup, we have a responsibility to share the cup as Christ did at the Last Supper. Jesus shared the cup with his betrayer, with his followers.

“Trust the cup. Take it and divide it among you. In the words of Oprah Winfrey, ‘You get a cup!’ ‘You get a cup!’ ‘You get a cup!’

The Rev. Edward Timothy Stallworth III, pastor of the Pelion-Sharon Charge, Pelion, who was received as an associate member of the conference Sunday night, also focused on the events of the Last Supper as told in John 13:1-5 during the Wednesday morning service.

Stallworth asked for total silence following the reading and then rubbed his hands together, snapped his fingers, clapped his hands and slapped his legs, encouraging the delegates to join in. All this was done without speaking. In that moment, despite our differences, he said, we were one people, one body and one church.

Words matter, Stallworth said, but words aren’t remembered unless the speaker did something worth remembering. We know famous quotes from Muhammed Ali, from Neil Armstrong, from Martin Luther King Jr. in part because we remember their actions. Before saying a single word, Jesus washed the feet of his disciples.

He recalled his departure the previous week from his family in Japan. His stepfather who doesn’t speak much English started to cry, and Stallworth who doesn’t speak much Japanese started to cry. And they knew without words that they loved each other and would miss each other. “Don’t we all have memories with no words?”

There have been many words spoken between us and about us as United Methodists. Talking is necessary and words need to be said. “But, I’d argue that words are dividing us. Not our mission, but our words,” he said. “May our actions be louder than our words, may we rise above this rhetoric. … We are at a time and place where we can be the church we are called to be. Let us turn our swords into plowshares and seek a more excellent way.”

In a final word of hope, Stallworth encouraged the delegates to bring heaven to earth for all people by simply showing up with kindness and compassion. “Maybe,” he suggested, “people will hear what we have to say; maybe the unchurched will see our light; and maybe we can grow again as a church.”

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