Sunday, June 28, 2015

And God's People Said: New England Annual Conference 2015, Part 3

Friday afternoon through evening at Annual Conference was probably my favorite part of all of AC. The business was pretty straightforward; what really stood out was the worship. The afternoon started with the Memorial Service, and we ended the day with the Service of Ordination and Commissioning.

The sermon at the Memorial Service was given by Rev. Leigh Goodrich, the Ziegler Preaching Award honoree. She talked about how easy it is for fear to drive us into silence, with the example of the women at the tomb in Mark's gospel, and how there can be great risk in doing God's work. She continued the theme of stones that had started at the Act of Repentance, talking about moving away the stones blocking our way and rejoicing when we see the stones moved (especially in the context of social justice). We sang "For Everyone Born, a Place at the Table" at the end of the sermon:

And God will delight when we are creators
of justice and joy, compassion and peace:
yes, God will delight when we are creators
of justice, justice and joy!

We started the part of the service focused on memory of those who have died in the past year and the churches being discontinued by singing "For All the Saints." Not the one by William How, but this one by John Bell and Graham Maule:

For all the saints who showed your love
In how they lived and where they moved
For mindful women, caring men,
Accept our gratitude again.

(verse 4)
Bless all whose will or name or love
Reflects the grace of heaven above.
Though unacclaimed by earthly powers,
Your life through theirs has hallowed ours.

I didn't know anyone who was remembered in the service, but that last line was the one that stuck with me as the candles were processed, the names read, and a bell rung. Your life through theirs has hallowed ours. And even without having ever interacted with him, it still meant a lot to see the majority of the people in the room stand when Martin McLee 's (who was Bishop in the New York AC) name was read.

There wasn't much discussion around the business that afternoon. We took a few more General and Jurisdictional Conference ballots (I'll talk about all of that in the last post), approved the sale of the episcopal residence (hasn't been used since Bishop Devadhar became our Bishop) and the conference offices (building upkeep issues, too big for us), approved the consent calendar, and approved the reports and recommendations of the Stewardship Development Task Force. The most interesting part of that to me was part of the Task Force's report when they talked about giving in different cultures and communities in the Conference and how they treat tithing. "Tithing is the floor not the ceiling of transformational ministry."

The Ordination and Commissioning Service that night was incredible. We sang so much, and once again, Bishop Palmer was a fantastic preacher. There were five (!) bishops (four UMC, one ELCA) present to ordain the two ordinands and commission the eleven commissioners. The ELCA bishop, Bishop Hazelwood, was present because there's actually a joint UMC-ELCA congregation in the Metro Boston Hope District. which is pretty cool!

The clergy processed in as we all sang and clapped, and once everyone was in the room and seated we sang "What Shall I Do, What Shall I Bring." The commissioners and ordinands were commissioned and ordained, and along with them, we all remembered our baptisms and calls to common ministry.

Bishop Palmer started his sermon by reminding us -- in particular the ordinands and commissioners -- that everything we do and everything to which we are called should flow from the font:
"If you ever forget that water, you're dead on the inside."
Water of baptism is the "great leveler and equalizer of us all."
About "increase their faith, confirm their hope, and perfect them in love" from the baptismal liturgy: "You ain't gonna do any better than that."

From there, he talked about the responsibility and calling that we each take on:
"You can't pay me enough to be Christian in your place."
"You can't pay me or any of these (the congregation) to do what anybody who has been in that water has been called to do."
"The church doesn't owe me anything. I owe the church and the LORD of the church my very life."
"It's about the reign of God. It's about the church writ large. It's about God making all things new."

Bishop Palmer quoted both "A Charge to Keep I Have" and "Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah," which made the hymn geek in me very happy.

The rest of the service felt like a constant flow of song. In the midst of that song we had communion, got connected in a massive circle-ish-shape as we prayed the Lord's Prayer, and anyone who felt a call to ministry of any kind was invited to come forward near the end. The hymns were songs of joy and of call: "Precious Lord, Take Me Home," "Come to the Table of Grace," "There's a Spirit of Love in This Place," "My Life is not my Own," "Fill my Cup, Lord," "God of Grace and God of Glory," and "I Lift My Voice, I Lift My Hands."

The service ended as we sang "In the Midst of New Dimensions:"

God of rainbow, fiery pillar
Leading where the eagles soar
We your people, ours the journey
Now and ever, now and ever
Now and evermore!

It was the most united feeling of all of conference. It was the moment that felt most like the theme of "Circle of Hope." It was the part of those three days that felt like it mattered most. There was a phrase we repeated throughout all of the AC, but here it felt like it truly belonged:
And God's people said, "Amen."

No comments:

Post a Comment