By Jessica Connor
MAYESVILLE—She's young, she's a firefighter and she's about to be the first South Carolina woman in years to be commissioned as a United Methodist deaconess during General Conference.
Selena Smith, a member of St. Mark United Methodist Church, Mayesville, will receive her official commissioning April 29 at Palma Ceia UMC in Tampa, Fla., then will be recognized at General Conference worship that evening.
Her commissioning culminates more than seven years of discernment, study and extensive training through General Board of Global Ministries of the UMC. But Smith, who said she was called to serve the church as a deaconess, said the hard work is just a part of being a committed Christian leader in the church and the community. In addition to her deaconess preparation, the 35-year-old Smith is a full-time firefighter with Sumter Fire Department, has a degree in fire science, is an emergency medical technician and is on the Mayesville Town Council. She has been a member of St. Mark since the womb and is active in the United Methodist Women.
Being commissioned will be the cherry on the pie, said Smith, who will be one of just a handful of deaconesses in this state.
Deaconess Mary Lou Edens called Smith vibrant and alive and faithful.
Selena has a real calling for service through the deaconess program, said Edens, who mentored Smith along with Geneva Williams. I am very glad that a daughter of South Carolina is about to be commissioned as a deaconess at General Conference. And she set this as a goal and has pursued it for awhile. I am glad for her and for the deaconess program. My prayers are with her.
What is a deaconess?
Deaconesses are lay women who have a lifetime commitment to ministry through the church of love, justice and service. Men who do this are called home missioners.
Training is extensive. Deaconess candidates have to enter a time of discernment, select a ministry such as nursing or parish service, and take a battery of courses: theology of mission, Old Testament, New Testament, history of the UMC and polity and doctrine of the UMC. Upon completion, they must be affirmed by the General Board of Global Ministries and then commissioned. It s a process, Smith said.
It s also a lifelong commitment. Candidates have to pray deeply about what they feel called to spend their life doing in service to the church. Once commissioned, they are connected as lay members of the Annual Conference where they serve.
A ministry of safety
For Smith, her ministry is a natural extension of her profession: fire service.
But at first, she was not certain that would be her ministry. While she felt called to be a firefighter, as a youth, she initially felt led to life as a missionary. But she didn t know how to go about it, so she started getting more involved in her church and, eventually, in the UMW. But as a deaconess candidate, she struggled with what would be her ministry.
One day it hit me “ duh, you work at a fire department, Smith said.
She began to wonder about the safety and security of her own church. She started to look around the sanctuary.
Where are the exits? Where are the fire extinguishers? See those acolyte candles there “ if one fell over, what do you have right there to stop it? And you are supposed to have emergency exit signs, CPR training, first aid kits, Smith said. How would you like to come to your church and the walls are just standing? How would you feel if you were in church and your loved one got sick and no one knew CPR, no one knew what to do?
The fire service ministry is one of life and safety, so it is her mission to make sure churches are equipped and fireproof, that they are proactive, not reactive.
It s the little things “ you never know, Smith said. The building needs to be a safe sanctuary, too.
Power of the youth
In addition to her fire service ministry, Smith has another passion “ getting young people more involved not only in the church but in their community.
When she first became more active in her local church, she would look around her. She saw a lot of seasoned people but not many younger people. It didn t stop her from getting involved, but it remained in her mind.
Then when she entered politics, she became zealous in her quest to energize young people to vote, to participate in the world beyond themselves: I want young people to understand it doesn t matter your economic situation or whatever “ you can do things, Smith said. We need more young women. This is not just old fogey stuff. The generation gap is not as prevalent as it seems.
The Rev. Bobby Shaw, St. Mark pastor, said he and the rest of the church are extremely excited about Smith s commissioning. Calling her a church leader, Shaw applauded Smith s efforts to mobilize younger people to get more involved in the church.
Selena is a very faithful, determined and dedicated young person, and seems to be on a mission to change the world, he said. Since I ve been there the past six years, I ve seen her working so hard to change the church, change everything. We are certainly proud of her.
Once Smith is commissioned, she can help churches and provide resources and contacts. Email [email protected] .